Nazarene Roundtable

A forum for discussion, reflection, and calls to action. Everyone is welcome.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Not too long along we celebrated Easter. Naturally, that morning we talked about the resurrection with our students at church. While we have had some great conversations with our students lately, this was not one of them. Going off the assumption that the resurrection did indeed happen we asked them: so what? In other words, what does it mean for our lives today that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the grave 2,000 years ago. All we got were blank stares.

It wasn't that they were confused by the question, rather they had never really thought about it before. For them, and I think many of us, there seems to be this basic assumption that as Christians all we need to be concerned about the resurrection is that it happened. In other words, all we need is faith.

But this got me that really what faith is? Or least, is that the type of faith we see in the bible, or the lives of the saints?

It has been my experience that more often than not when we as Christian say we have "faith" what we mean is that we agree that something happened or something is true. Faith = intellectual ascent. But if that is what "faith" is, and "faith" is what saves us, then how are we any different from the devil? Or to push that a little further, if faith is agreeing that something is true then why isn't the devil "saved" because Paul is pretty clear that even the devil and his angels know that Jesus rose from the grave and they "shudder".

Maybe faith is something more....maybe even something else entirely.

I think if we are really to have a biblical understanding of what faith really is we will see that it has very little to do with agreeing that something happened. Instead, I think we see it played out predominately in two very distinct ways.

First, the faith of the saints isn't passive, it's active and VERY much so. Their faith has fruits and if their faith isn't bearing fruit, i.e. if they are loving the unlovable, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, etc., then there is no faith. It's something you do, not an intellectual stance that you take.

Second, and more importantly, faith in the bible is worship. It's not simply the intellectual acknowledgment that "Jesus is Lord", it is life lived in a posture of worship. It is a life of death to self. A life lived on bended knee. A life entirely dependent upon God wherein the creation doesn't try to put itself in the place of the Creator. Faith is the position our lives take at the feet of God.

Looking back, it's really no surprise to me that our students had that dumbfounded look on their faces when we asked them what the resurrection meant for their lives. For them, and so many of us, faith simply means intellectual ascent. Maybe it's just me, but I think we need to do a much better job of teaching and understanding what it means to have "faith."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Touching the Unclean

My annual meeting with the district board of credentials is coming up very quickly, so I made sure to look at the list of possible questions the Tennessee District asked us to be prepared to answer. It should come as no surprise that two of the questions are: 1)What is entire sanctification? and 2)What does it mean to be a Nazarene? As I began to work through how I will answer these questions in front of the board, the various issues at play in my life at the moment led me to begin thinking: Is is possible that as Nazarenes we have a very limited understanding of entire sanctification? In other words, if we are honest about how we play out this doctrine would be more accurate to call our beloved doctrine "limited sanctification"? Here's what I mean:

Last year at my district credentials meeting I was asked what I thought the manual means when it says that as pastors we are to have a "christian ethic." My response, in short, was that I think we too often define this by what we don't do, rather than the things we actually do. Generic answer to be sure, but truthful none the less, particularly, I think, in the context of the Church of the Nazarene and entire sanctification. It has been my experience that by and large the general consensus understanding of entire sanctification, at least among most laity and many pastors, is that is about "me" and what "I" don't do, or sometimes do, in order to be set apart.

As I have been wrestling with just how to answer this year's credentials questions I have begun to wonder: If that is all sanctification is, then is it really entire? In other words, if sanctification is meant to be entire, then shouldn't it extend beyond ourselves?

If we were to do an honest examination of our doctrine, or at least its popular understanding, I think that we would be forced to recognize that our understanding of sanctification, or holiness, tends to be confined almost exclusively to the Levitical holiness code. For the people of Israel holiness was achieved by not touching diseased skin, keeping away from corpses, doing nothing on the Sabbath, and eating the right food. For the people called Nazarene our holiness very often falls along these same lines: no dancing, no movies, no drinking, and make sure you wear a tie on Sunday. It would seem, that we forget that the holiness practiced by Jesus was, to say the least, a bit different.

Fundamentally, to be holy in Israel meant to be spiritually clean, and any contact with anything unclean, whether that be an object or an action, made one unclean. Then Jesus comes along as the cleanest of the clean, the holiest of the holy, and turns this notion upside down. He seeks about the unclean things of the world (leapers, prostitutes, tax collectors, dead bodies), reaches out and does the unthinkable: he touches them. However, rather than becoming unclean himself, those things which his holiness comes in contact with in turn become clean themselves.

I think that this is an incredibly important idea that as a holiness people we tragically too often forget. We define ourselves by the via negativa and scream out in protest if something or someone or especially some way of doing the faith enters our doors. Is it possible, that it in the embracing of the unclean, even, or perhaps especially if, it reeks of the "pagan", it is made clean through the grace of God and reconciled back to its Creator and His purposes? Is it not fundamental to our beloved doctrine that in order for it to truly be "entire" it must extend beyond ourselves and out to the rest of creation? In other words, isn't God's sanctifying work meant to encompass EVERYTHING and EVERYONE? And if it does not, if we keep it to ourselves, then does this gift of sanctification not lose both its grace and it's holiness? Such a self centered understanding of sanctification surely cannot called either "entire" or "holy."

As a sanctified people don't we need recognize that in being "called unto holiness" we are called, like Jesus, to extend that holiness, that grace, to the unclean?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Church's Future...

Hello to All, I trust you are enjoying the season of Epiphany. I hope that God is revealing Himself to you in a variety of ways, as we journey towards Lent.

I just finished a book that spoke of re-imagining/re-thinking the structures of the church. Written by an Anglican who lives in Britain, this book outlined what the author saw as an imminent problem emerging in Anglicanism. He observes the current Christian climate in the UK and says that the Christian population is dwindling, and the attendance at public worship is becoming smaller and smaller. Looking at the statistics, this is true, particularly regarding the Church of England.

As a result, this author suggests that the church needs to re-think its conception of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are entering the quest for holy orders, which may be reflective of the church population receding on the whole. The lack of ministers, he thinks, will ultimately dwindle down to nothing and the church as we know it (meaning in structure; his case being episcopal) will not be able to continue.

His proposal to remedy this is quite radical. He basically suggests that the proposition of the 'priesthood of all believers' must be taking to its extreme end: every member of the church is as if he/she was a priest, holding the same calling, privileges, and office. To be fair, he does suggest that the 're-thought' church would continue to have those with the labels of priests, bishops, and deacons, but the authority of the ordained would not be any different than the authority of the lay-person. Everyone would be on an equal level with each other regarding all things required of the gathered community.

His dream is that all the members of the body of Christ would participate equally in the life of the church. An ambitious proposal, a radical proposal, but a viable proposal?

Some questions:

What do we think about the meaning of the term: 'The priesthood of all believers'?
What does this proposal say about the ministerial office?
What does this say about the sacramental aspects of the worshiping community?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to work through some decisions being made about a church that I am connected to. It is in need of some change (think small congregation, not enough money to support, but definitely needs to continue being a light to its community), we are just not sure what that change needs to be.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

She's Gone Country...

I come from Southern USA, Tennessee to be more precise. As a result, my life has been bombarded by country music. I have to admit, for years and years I detested this particular genre, but after I moved to Nashville I found that when you live in that city for a while country music invades your life and you must listen to it. After a few years I came to embrace this genre of music and I listen to it quite often.

I heard a song last night (I live in the UK and came across a country station last night while driving through Wales, which is the first and only station of its kind that I have found, so it was a nice discovery) on the radio called, 'Down the Road' by Kenny Chesney and I listened to an interesting lyric. The song talks about this man's life and how he grows and progresses through its stages. One of the lyrics in the refrain made me have a double-take. It says,

'Her momma wants to know/Am I washed in the blood or just in the water.'

Hmmm? This is a very interesting statement about Mr. Chesney's sacramental theology. I believe I know what he is trying to say, but it made me think more about country music and its theological influence on its listeners. The lyric suggests that one can be baptised but not 'saved', but if I understand correctly, to be baptised one (or one's parents in the case of infant baptism) must first profess a belief in the salvific work of Christ.

There are many lyrics like this in country music and I often wonder how influential the theology in country music is on its listeners.

Any one have any other loaded/theological country music lyrics to share? I know there must be a ton of them out there. Let's see how many we can come up with, Good and Bad.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

'I am the Vine and you are the branches'

Happy New Year to you all and Happy Season of Epiphany for those who care :-) . As a first blog for the year I wanted to share with everyone one of my Christmas presents. It's the icon called, 'Tree of Life', or 'I am the Vine'. The iconographer bases this icon on the passage from John 15 when Jesus says,

'I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.'

To all who read this blog, may Christ be in you and you in Him and may your joy be made complete this new year and every year. Bear good fruit, represent Christ in all things, and most of all Love one another.

Grace and Peace to all of you,


Monday, November 17, 2008

Can the Word alone do its Job?

I've been reading Richard Hooker (1554-1600) as a part of my studies, and I've come across an interesting idea that he discusses in Book V of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Defending the Church of England practice of the Public Reading of the Scriptures, Hooker makes the case that preaching is not absolutely necessary to evangelism. The Puritans decided that the goal of salvation could only be reached through the preaching of the Word, therefore, the public reading of the Scriptures as part of Worship was not needed, or should not be practiced, unless preaching followed. In other words, the only passages to be read aloud in a worship service were the ones that would presently be preached, exposed, and added to with commentary. Otherwise, according to the Puritan way, no public reading of the Scriptures would be allowed.

I found this story quite interesting and contemporary to us today. Many churches today have neglected the public reading of the Scriptures as a part of the worship service, except for the passages that will be preached on the day. Many argue that it is a time issue, that it takes too much time just to read the Bible aloud. Also, some would not see the point of reading a passage if it was not preached in the same service.

A few questions:

Is preaching necessary for salvation (evangelism)?
Must preaching follow the reading of the Word?
Can hearing the Scriptures alone be effectual for salvation (evangelism)?
What are the public Scripture reading practices in your local Nazarene congregations?

And please do not get me wrong. I am in no way claiming that preaching is unnecessary or useless.

The Peace of Christ be always with You,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The ecclesiology of blogging...

I've had some interesting back-and-forth recently, and with a few people even going back three years now to the inception of this blog and it's companion, about not simply the value but even the sheer possibility of having healthy conversation, especially about things of a theological nature, in venues such as blogs, social-networking sites, discussion boards and the like. While I fully acknowledge that such "online conversation spaces" (as I like to call them) can turn nasty and inhospitable, and at such a time are usually best disestablished and laid to rest, I've also seen them become a very encouraging and redemptive resource for pastors, lay persons and students of all sorts for the exchange of insights and experiences, for those who seek understanding and sometimes just for the purpose of floating an idea and allowing it to be scrutinized.

On the other hand, I've read my postmodern critical theory, and I know that words, once spoken or written, are orphaned and no longer under my control (as if they ever were or are), and can very easily be misconstrued, twisted, de-contextualized and abused as weapons against me or against anyone else for that matter. Then again, this risk is inherent to all language and therefore any and every form of communication. Which is to say, one might be able to minimize the risk (by limiting oneself to certain forms of communication, and avoiding others, like blogs), but it is ultimately inescapable....whether I publish something in a peer-reviewed journal, or speak it from a pulpit or a lectern in the classroom, or say it to somebody face-to-face, my words take on a life of their own from the moment they are uttered; they control me, not I them. I can seek to explain, clarify, retract - all of which merely increase the risk of further linguistic mis-fire.

So here's what I wonder, in light of all this: most of us would probably agree that the best place to "do theology" or to have theological discussions is within the church, the ecclesia or "assembly" - not off on my own somewhere; not in the ivory towers of academia; but within a "body" of some sort. Are we who populate this online conversation space a "body"? We are clearly dis-embodied insofar as we are digitally-mediated, separated by geography, time-zones, etc; but might we still understand there to be a sense and a spirit of "community," of ecclesia, about our interaction and conversation? Perhaps not, I don't know. What is at stake, I suppose, is whether or not a venue such as this is a viable space to engage in theological discourse. If not, we best abandon it. If so, is it worth fighting for, and to what lengths?