Icons, Images, Nuns, and Confessionals

A Few Note​s

Concerns for a lot of things continue in the Church of the Nazarene.​   I am still finishing up translations, and when done, will post the General Assembly update and assessment of the “health” of the church sometime next week.  The prognosis is not good, although there remain some faithful and discerning churches; but will they survive?  Since General Assembly, more things have come to light that confirms the sickness spreading through the church.  Signs and wonders is now gaining a foothold in the church as you will continue to see in future reports.  The Gospel message is absent many times, yet our main concern is souls that need to be saved, and new Christians who don’t know better are being misled.  Thus our continued reports and exposing of even seemingly “small things” will not stop.  “A little leaven” comes to mind, and we cannot let these “little” things take a foothold, or as they say, allow the camel’s nose to get under the tent.​

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
 Eph. 2:8-9​

A Facebook group called Sacramental Nazarenes has proven to be an in-your-face declaration that Roman Catholic thought is here among many Nazarenes, including those in leadership.  This group is shamelessly promoting Roman Catholic thought, ritualism, and contemplative practices.  Yet, when we shine the light on them, some of them protest the fact that we are exposing them!

Now there is the increasing use of Roman Catholic imagery and icons.  For instance, a District Superintendent, Carla Sunberg, who is a member of Sacramental Nazarenes displayed on her Facebook page a gift of an icon depicting a “saint” from the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Macrina.

Sunberg with Icon

Who was Macrina?

A little research about this “saint” tells us that she was the daughter of Basil The Elder, and a sibling of Saint Gregory of Nyssa.  She was engaged to be married, but after her fiancée died, she dedicated herself to her religion, becoming a nun.  Her younger brother Peter helped her turn her family estate into a monastery and convent.  Not surprisingly, Macrina was a monastic, and also was known for adhering to an ascetic ideal.  Asceticism is a lifestyle that is characterized by abstinence “from various worldly pleasures; it is “is the practice of strict self-denial as a means of attaining a higher spiritual plane.” (1)  She slept on boards and kept no possessions.  Many claimed that she had the power to heal others.

In Luke 9:23, it says: “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  But asceticism takes this command to great extremes, including the inflicting of bodily harm on oneself, eating very little food, living in isolation, and other extremes.   Nowhere in Scripture are we told to purposely seek out physical discomfort or pain.  Yet, most of these saints participated in this unbiblical practice, to one extreme or another.

Regarding some of her beliefs, in his book The Ancient History of Universalism, Universalist Hosea Ballou claimed that Macrina was a universalist also, based on her writings, and that she believed that the wicked in purgatory would all eventually confess Christ.  Purgatory of course is one of the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and several other sister religions.  J.W. Hanson also cited her as a universalist in his book Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church.

So in responding to a friend’s questioning why she posted this picture (“Why? Are we Catholic now?”), Carla responded with this answer:

“Robert, I’m sorry you misunderstood this gift from my husband. I did my doctoral dissertation on holy women of the 4th century. The original holiness women. They were amazing and their lives even influenced John Wesley. The most famous of the women was Macrina. There are no pictures of her — only icons. There is no icon worship here — simply a gift from my husband representing six years of research that led me to understanding holiness in a very powerful way. This is much like having a picture of Phoebe Palmer. Therefore I am and always will be a Nazarene — but I also happen to be a professor of Church History, especially focusing on the early years of the church. May you too know the transformational power of the Holy Spirit who took a young teenage girl, Macrina and turned her into a woman who ministered to and helped to touch the lives of thousands of people in the region of Pontus and Cappadocia where she lived.”

Is holiness to be truly understood by the study of people who practiced asceticism and monasticism?  Does the Holy Spirit really motivate someone to “touch many lives” by leading them into practices that have no basis in Scripture?  Did Carla Sunberg miss answering this question in her six years of research?  John 16:13 says that “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.”  Since practicing monasticism, asceticism, and universalist thought is not of God, then we can only conclude that Macrina was not transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, but was changed by another “spirit.”  How could Carla Sunberg have missed this?

The continuing and growing trend of Nazarenes, including leaders and pastors, to embrace, and quote, and admire “saints’ of the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church, and them claim they were great influences on John Wesley, is very troubling.  I am not trying to beat up on Carla Sunberg, because she is not alone in this “new phenomenon.”  But she is a leader in the church, and she was a serious candidate for General Superintendent this year.  As I have said before, the national leaders (General Superintendents) have let this go on without comment, giving their tacit approval for pastors and other leaders to promote “saints” who taught ungodly and works-based practices.

How far will it go?  Well, here, you see a Nazarene pastor at a confessional booth at St. Peter’s Church in Rome.

Naz pastor at confessional

In his comments, this pastor said he wanted to remind his friend that he did not forget his roots.  Really?  This may well be his real roots, but apparently he has forgotten what the Reformation was about.  Perhaps he never heard of the pope’s “shock troops”, known as the Jesuits and led by St. Ignatius, who vigorously and enthusiastically persecuted and killed many Christians.  Yes, those roots; people who tried to deny ordinary Christians access to the Bible.  Apparently the seminaries are failing to teach history to our future pastors, and here is the result.

Am I missing something here?  Am I protesting too much?  Can the leadership at least put it in writing and officially declare what is already happening in the Church of the Nazarene?  At least hypocrisy can be set aside, and they can be forthright with the people.

(1) http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-asceticism-monasticism.html

6 responses to “Icons, Images, Nuns, and Confessionals

  1. Manny,

    From 380 AD, until the 16th century reformation, Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire. There are major differences between what the Protestant Church and the RCC believes. Until the reformation I believe salvation in the RCC was based primarily upon works and rituals. Example, Forgiveness of Sin -Catholics believes forgiveness of sin is achieved through Church ritual, with the assistance of a priest in confession. This would include examination of conscience, confession showing remorse, and performance of some act of amends determined by the priest granting absolution. Protestants believe forgiveness of sin is received through repentance and confession to God through Christ directly without any human intercessor.

    The Lord’s Supper (Eucharist/Communion) – Catholics believe this sacrifice is Christ’s body and blood physically present and consumed by believers, referred to as (“transubstantiation”). Most Protestants believe this observance is a meal in memory of Christ’s sacrificed body and blood, and it symbolizes only His life now present in the believer. They reject the concept of transubstantiation. Regarding Sacraments – Catholics believe the sacraments are a means of grace involving communion, baptism, penance, confirmation, holy orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick. Protestants believe they are a symbol of grace when participating in baptism or receiving communion, some recognize marriage as a sacrament.

    The RCC teaches that the fullness of the “means of salvation” exists only in the Catholic Church, but the Church acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of Christian communities separated from itself, (meaning RCC) to “impel towards Catholic unity” and thus bring people to salvation. This would imply that we are not saved outside the RCC. In this last sentence the word “impel” is an interesting word in how it can be used. One is to force somebody to do something or make them feel the need to do something. Second is to keep something moving in a particular direction. I do not believe the Holy Spirit is in this as the RCC suggests. For those in the COTN who support or practice some of these rituals in their church (example, ashes to fire) may well have fallen into the trap of self-vanity.

    Jesus expounded upon the vanity of service in Matthew [23:5] 5 “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.”(NKJV) True these are the fringes which the Jews were commanded to wear (Nu 15:38-40) as a mark and memorial of their being God’s peculiar people, to be distinguished from other nations. However, the Pharisees Jesus spoke about, enlarged their borders for purposes of vanity and ostentation, or show.

  2. Just a quick note on the Sacramental Nazarenes facebook group, since I’ve been a member of that group for over a year… There’s a lot of diversity in that group. While some are clearly very fond of all things Roman Catholic, not everyone is, and the group doesn’t have that as a specific focus. The description you gave (“This group is shamelessly promoting Roman Catholic thought, ritualism, and contemplative practices.”) certainly doesn’t apply to everyone in that group. It doesn’t fit me, nor does it fit some of the others in that group whom I happen to know personally.

    The group’s “About” description says: “This is an open conversational space for Christians, especially members of the Church of the Nazarene, who care deeply about the worship of our churches, locally and globally. We are devoted to thinking about the past, present and future of our liturgical traditions and sacramental life, and to exploring together what it means to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.” I’ve found that to be an accurate description… especially the “open conversational space” part. That means you’ll find some who completely fit the description you gave, but you’ll also find others who don’t fit it at all.

    Just tossing that out there for those who are unfamiliar with that group. Trying not to paint with too broad a brush…

    I don’t remember if I’ve said it yet or not, Manny, but it was good to finally meet you face-to-face at General Assembly!

  3. Thank you, I was glad to meet you finally Rich.

    I will have to strongly disagree. Although I know that some of the members do not promote Roman Catholicism within the group, the effect of this group is a strong promotion of it; that is very obvious. I

    What bothers me also is that not one member out of that group came out and rebuked/called out Brannon and the others for posting such favorable comments regarding the blasphemous post on the Eucharist and its supposed connection with sexual references. Very disappointing that everything practically goes there without any correction of the most egregious things said.
    t is like me being a member of Naznet. NazNet strongly promotes many unbiblical things, yet not all members agree with the positions and ideas that are generally spread around there. The difference is that I called out members there until it got too toxic and had to leave.

    Tacit silence equates to tacit approval.

  4. “In his comments, this pastor said he wanted to remind his friend that he did not forget his roots.”

    In that case, he should be going to Wittenburg, Germany, not Rome. It was in reading Luther that Wesley abandoned his works-righteousness that had plagued him in his early ministry years.

  5. Manny,

    Your assessment of Carla Sunberg’s “icon photo” was at once both amusing and heart breaking. It is amusing in that you could find something nefarius in something so obscure. It is heart breaking in that you would employ something so obscure and trivial in your attempt to dismiss and discredit one of God’s faithful servants.

    It is obvious in sampling your blog that you like to spin and select “facts” to prove your point of view. One of your methods is to utilize quotes from authors who make unsubstantiated biographical claims about someone you disagree with, to wit: you bent two universalists into your service by using them to paint Macrina as a universalist rather than using her own words. She may or may not have been—but she certainly is not a universalist because two universalist decided to call her one. If you can demonstrate through a careful, contextual examination of Macrina’s works that she is indeed a universalist, that is another thing.

    On the strength (however flimsy) of your “research” into Macrina you then proceeded to indirectly malign Carla Sunberg’s Christian faith through a series of rhetorical questions. Then, more dangerously for you, you directly attributed the works of Macrina to “another ‘spirit’.” Immediately this brought to mind the text in Matthew’s gospel where the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out evil spirits in the name of Beelzebub. Jesus sternly warned them against attributing God’s work to Satan saying that to do so was to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” (12:22-32). In so maligning Macrina—especially without real evidence—you seem to be walking perilously close to that line. And for someone who ostensibly cares so much about truth, you are certainly rather cavalier with the way you employ the data.

    Jesus concluded His rebuke to the Pharisees with these words: “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (12:36-37, emphasis mine).

    It’s okay, even commendable, to seek to help the Church examine its biblical interpretations and theological doctrines. It’s quite another to slander the saints of God and others by misusing, ignoring, or obscuring important source material.

    I respectfully encourage you to reconsider your entire project on “Reformed Nazarene.”

    Andy Lauer, Lead Pastor
    South Bend First Church of the Nazarene
    South Bend, Indiana

  6. Rev. Lauer,

    It is what it is. You have either missed all the things that are going on in the past 5 years, or you are simply closing your eyes or defending the false teachings that are destroying the church. I hope you are against the many things we have pointed out in this blog.
    By the way, this is not a one person project. I am not alone in this, not by a long shot. There are countless Nazarenes who oppose:

    the Roman “Catholization” of the church, the emergent church movement, the lowering of biblical standards, the promotion of a weak god who does not know the future and who makes mistakes, the teaching of mysticism, the gradual affirmation of homosexual “Christians”, the trips to monasteries and interfaith worship centers, the welcoming of heretics to speak at pastor’s seminars, the teaching of an anti-biblical evolution theory, the real slandering of Bible-believing Christians, etc, etc.

    And so, I will not re-consider this “project” as you say. It has helped open up too many eyes, through God’s help, and so I will continue.

    As far as slandering “saints of God”, however that is defined- I have not slandered anyone, and I stand by what I wrote.

    Look, I am just a small part of a much larger group of faithful, Bible-believing Nazarenes, and if you are a supporter of all the false teachings going on in the church, we will expose you as well and warn others. But the one you would really have to be “concerned” about is the Lord on judgment day, if you happen to be one of those who are promoting and supporting all this false teaching that has become a cancer in the church.

    Finally, I wonder if you could let me know in specifics what you agree with me about, and what are you doing to educate your church about the false teachings going on? A pastor has the responsibility to protect his flock from danger, and if you have recognized the danger but don’t do anything about it, you are just as guilty as those who are the purveyors of false doctrines.

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