I am writing this because I love the Nazarene church, yet I am deeply saddened at what is happening to it. My roots in the Nazarene denomination go deep. My father was a Nazarene pastor for over 50 years. I grew up Nazarene, became a Christian at 18, and I still am a Nazarene.
The denomination was founded 100 years ago with the help of Phineas Bresee, who left the Methodist church when they disagreed with his vision of reaching out to the poor and downtrodden. The emphasis by the denomination on holiness and sanctification are probably its most visible identifying markers. “Holiness unto the Lord” is one of the most common phrases you will see inside the walls of a Nazarene church. Yet recently, the denomination seems to be accepting much of what is called the emergent church movement and its ideology, and many are asking why?
Those at the forefront of the emergent church movement will tell you that they are simply questioning whether our “old” ways of reaching out and evangelizing can be used to reach the young generation anymore. But in reality, what this movement is trying to do is to change or re-define almost everything that has been taught as orthodox Christianity for 2,000 years, and a common phrase they use is that they are in a “conversation”. Unfortunately, that conversation will go on forever without ever getting to the truth. It is a deadly, dangerous movement that has practically infiltrated every single evangelical denomination, and is drawing away countless people from the true gospel and into mystical practices that have no scriptural basis, and denies the sole authority, inerrancy and infallibility of the word of God. Much of the emergent church is re-packaged liberalism, with an emphasis on tolerance of almost anything, non-judgmentalism and ecumenism, as well as an embrace of Roman Catholic rituals and pagan practices.
Now the questions are coming from many troubled Nazarenes across the country. Is the Nazarene denomination abandoning its solid biblically grounded theological roots based on the infallible word of God, and instead turning to the emergent church movement with all its errors as the solution that it needs going into the next century? I believe I can make a case that the church is already well on its way to abandoning its holiness roots and sound Christian doctrine, and has been for some time.
One of the problems with writing about the emergent church movement is that even though this movement has come into practically all denominations, there are still many people and church leaders who never heard of this movement. In a way, that is good, because most likely, those churches that have not been affected are still grounded in solid Bible based theology and teaching. The bad news is that many congregations are slowly being fed this error filled ideology by their pastors or leadership in small doses, much like slowly heating up a frog in a pan of water. Combine that with a lack of discernment among many, a shallow knowledge of scripture, a reluctance to “judge”, a fear of controversy or “division”, and an unhealthy loyalty to the church or pastor, instead of first to Jesus Christ, and the resulting combination is deadly. So I urge every Christian, Nazarene or otherwise, to look into this movement if you don’t know anything about it. Eventually, you or someone you know will encounter it, and you need to be prepared for the onslaught of this deceptive “new reformation.”
Some of the Nazarene Problems
So the problems are real, and many. Contemplative spirituality practices, which are nothing more than “Christianized” transcendental meditation, are being taught in Nazarene universities, seminaries, and churches. Professors such as Thomas Oord of Northwest Nazarene University are teaching Open Theism, the heresy that God does not know the future, among other heresies. Professors such as Karl Giberson at Eastern Nazarene College are teaching that evolution is fully compatible with the Bible. Trevecca Nazarene University has a prayer labyrinth on campus, and some Nazarene churches now use prayer labyrinths, which is a practice from pagan cultures that was invented and used thousands of years before Christ. There is nothing Christian about it, but now it is becoming more commonplace in the Nazarene church. Leaders at Point Loma Nazarene University and others are promoting contemplative spirituality practices. Even Nazarene Theological Seminary is going “contemplative”, promoting a “spiritual formation” retreat at a Catholic retreat center a few days before General Assembly. These practices promote an unhealthy and unbiblical emphasis on experiences and teach methods that supposedly will help you get closer to God and hear His voice, rather than a reliance on what God has revealed in the scriptures to find His will and “hear His voice.” This is also called monastic mysticism, and it is not from the Bible.
Another area of concern has been Barefoot Ministries, the youth arm of the Nazarene Publishing House. I recently wrote articles (Part 1, Part 2) criticizing two of their books, which promote the use of prayer ropes, prayer labyrinths, lectio divina and other contemplative prayer practices. They also promote going on pilgrimages (which are not necessarily bad), but one of the recommended pilgrimages is to a prayer community in France called Taize, which is a hotbed of contemplative mysticism and interspirituality. I was shocked to find out that Nazarene Theological Seminary recently promoted a preteen retreat, complete with teaching young kids how to use prayer stations, prayer beads, and other contemplative practices, custom designed and tailor made according to what “were meaningful for his or her own personality.” Degrees are now available in spiritual formation (another phrase for contemplative spirituality), and you can now study to be a spiritual director, which is perhaps the evangelical equivalent now of a priest who does confessions in the Roman Catholic system.
The official publication of the denomination, Holiness Today, recently published an article titled “Are The Emerging Church Folks Stealing The Church?” It was written by the Editor in Chief, Rev. David Felter. I posted an opinion piece on his article, and my conclusion is that Holiness Today is all but putting its stamp of approval on this movement and its false teachings. Rev. Felter’s comments were very approving towards those Nazarenes who are “emergent”, but at the same time, he never gave specifics on what he likes about the movement. And he also criticized those who oppose the emergents with unexplained phrases such as “caricatures of exaggeration and “use of disingenuous rhetoric”. I concluded that his criticisms were directed at folks like me and others who have been trying to raise awareness amongst Nazarenes for the past 12 months. I have written a letter to Rev. Felter and I hope that he can clarify some of his statements so that we know exactly what he means.
This is all very alarming to those of us who are familiar with the emergent ideology, and I believe this article he wrote could be signaling an acceptance of this movement by more leaders in our denomination. Our General Superintendents will eventually need to make a statement and clarify to the body of the church where they stand. It is certainly much more than what I have given you here, but what I have said already, ought to cause any discerning Christian to take heed.
Brothers and sisters, Paul said in Galatians:
- “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-10
We need to be loyal to God above all else. If practices and teachings that are coming into the Christian church are clearly unbiblical, it is our duty as Christians to oppose them, even if we have to oppose our leadership. We must not be silent on these matters, because it goes against scripture. Leadership, pastors, church manuals are all imperfect; the word of God is not, and that should be always our guide and sole, final authority in all matters for our Christian living and practice. Mystical experiences and the undermining of the authority of scripture have no place in the Christian church.
How did I and Others Get So Concerned?
Just about a year ago, I began doing some serious research into the movement, and quickly knew that this was not something of God, and if something is not of God, it can only be from Satan. I began sending out regular email reports to friends, including members of my local church and also non-Nazarenes, to educate them about the emergent church. A few months later, I stumbled onto the main Nazarene website, in a section for missions, and got my first clues that this movement was possibly being welcomed into the church. However I spent several more months researching, before realizing that this movement had all but overrun the denomination, it’s universities, and even it’s main seminary.
All the problems I have mentioned are very real and they are already in the denomination, like a cancer would be inside a body, but not completely noticed yet. And like a slow growing cancer, unless it is eradicated quickly and treated properly, this movement threatens the very existence of the Nazarene denomination, and more seriously, the eternal souls of many. Contemplative spirituality practices are running rampant throughout many of the universities. The first university that caught my attention was Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, when I read about a three day seminar led by Brian McLaren, who is considered by most emergents to be the “godfather” and leader of the movement.
Eric Barger of Take A Stand! Ministries attended that seminar, and documented three days of stunningly unbiblical teaching from McLaren, and frankly made me wonder where was the discernment in some of the leaders there who invited McLaren to speak, unchallenged. As an example of some of the goings on, at the last night of the seminar, Mr. McLaren invited people to come down and be re-baptized into the “new Christianity”, and stick their hands into a tub of dirt to feel what needs to be saved in the world! This YouTube video shows what Eric said:
After starting my blog in January, others from around the country starting contacting me, sharing the same serious concerns about what was happening in the Nazarene denomination. I started getting stories from Nazarenes, of either being ostracized and forced to leave their church, or telling of others who suffered the same fate. Folks, it is heart breaking to think of all the emails I have gotten over the last year, from faithful Nazarenes who have been forced to leave their church of many years, all because they were not allowed to speak up and share their concerns of what was happening. The pattern seemed to be the same: either be quiet and get with the program, or leave. It did not matter whether they were 40 year members, or members of only a few years. The strategy was clear: follow the model of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, “some people are going to have to die, or leave”. Many have left the denomination disgusted and heartbroken, and have found a church home outside of their former Nazarene church, where the Bible is taught as the inerrant, infallible word of God. It is amazing that this teaching is not the case anymore in so many Nazarene churches and universities!
The Concerned Nazarenes group became more formalized and started organizing a plan. The original website was founded by a former rock and roll drummer for Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Tim Wirth. At a Ray Yungen seminar at his church in 2008, Tim met Sue and Don Butler, which resulted in a collaboration to produce a DVD that exposed the Emergent Church movement. As other pastors and laypeople joined us, we formulated a plan to distribute up to 10,000 DVDs at the General Assembly in Orlando in late June. The General Assembly is where, every four years, about 25,000 Nazarenes from all around the world come to worship together, to learn, to elect new leadership, and to formulate plans for the future of the church.
As General Assembly approached, we prayed, fasted, and prayed some more. We had a prayer line in place across the country, and sent out prayer requests as needed for the most urgent issues that came up. Opposition from some emergent Nazarenes was fierce, including pastors. The emergent Nazarenes were not about to lie down and allow us to spread the information about their movement unimpeded. Their blogs began to show comment after comment depicting Concerned Nazarenes as radicals, hateful, judgmental, unloving, and extreme fundamentalists! We were called out of touch and non-Wesleyan in our thinking. Oddly enough, it is the emergents who are trying to re-write John Wesley’s history, in an attempt to paint him as someone who never believed that the Bible was inerrant, even though his writings prove otherwise.
General Assembly And Beyond
When we first arrived at General Assembly in Orlando, several of us took DVDs and brochures and ventured into the convention center, and passed out a few hundred in a matter of hours. We were able to pass out over 6,000 DVDs that week and we very effectively communicated with many people. Eric Barger held twice a day workshops for three days. Many were alarmed and upset at the information we gave them. Many asked for further information, or where they could go for information on this movement. I spoke in my best Portuguese to Spanish speaking pastors, who wanted resources in their language. Most people were receptive to the information, although we got into some interesting conversations with others who obviously supported the emergent agenda.
We were disappointed that the resolution to clarify the inerrancy of scripture was sent to the leadership for review over the next four years, rather than coming up for a vote, but we are hopeful that there will be good results at the next Assembly. We are still awaiting a statement by the General Superintendents, which we were promised by one of the leaders would come out soon after the Assembly, which would address the emergent church problem. This could be the most critical statement by our leadership in decades, but they must speak on the subject. How their statement comes out, will affect the future of many Nazarenes. We await their answer with anticipation and prayerfulness, and that God will guide their decisions.
This is not just a Nazarene problem. It is a cancer that is spreading everywhere. This could very well be a major turning point in the history of many denominations. I believe we are seeing, in this emergent church movement, some of the influences that are misleading so many Christians around the world. It is so pervasive that we are probably seeing the beginnings of the great apostasy which was predicted in the scriptures. Christ will not return when there is great revival; the Bible prophesies that His return will come after there is a great falling away from the faith by countless millions. We will be shocked at the well known leaders who will be fooled by the great deceiver, as is happening now. Even now we see famous pastors like Rick Warren, who are defying scriptural commands to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers”, who are foolishly working towards eradicating poverty and bringing “peace” to the world, not understanding or ignoring biblical prophesy and what it says about the end times, that only Christ can bring peace.
It is my prayer that faithful Christians be watchmen at this time, to guard themselves with the Word of God, so that they too will not be deceived by the one who comes often disguised as an angel of light. Deception is on the rise, and we need to stay awake, watch, warn, and as needed, we should expose, rebuke and shun false teachers.
I am first of all a Christian. Christians should not casually create serious problems in their churches because they did not agree with a certain policy, or they did not agree with the selected color for the walls in the fellowship hall. However, when there is a serious problem in doctrinal matters, loyalty to any one person, persons, or denomination, should be secondary to loyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.
For those Nazarenes and other Christians who are reading this, may God bless you as you search for the truth. I ask you not to stay silent if God opens your eyes to this. I ask you to speak out and question those in authority and challenge them to justify these practices with scripture, not with their own human reasoning. I ask you not to allow anything to get in the way of the truth. Don’t try to win the approval of men, but of God. Rely only on the word of God, and not the intellectual reasoning and wisdom of men, which can lead you down a broad road which is only paved with destruction. Seek to defend the one true gospel with all that you have. Eternity is at stake for many.
Galatians 1:6-10 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
(Preview of the free Emerging Church DVD)
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