Fundamentalists and Emergents and the rest of us

It feels as though a civil war is brewing between those who are seeking to drag my denomination into whatever it is that the future holds and those who are trying to drag us into fundamentalism. After years of Nazarene (hopefully) sanctified smugness that our Zion avoided the divisive pitfalls of the Battle for the Bible, a few who have no respect for our longstanding “plenary inspiration” and “all things necessary for salvation” approach to Biblical inerrancy are taking advantage of the Internet to organize and then put pressure on the denomination to take a big step toward joining the bloody fights over the nature of Scripture that have wounded other groups.

Meanwhile, the second group is busily trying to re-invent Christianity. These people are less than impressed with the track record of the Church over the last 100 years or so and think the problem is that culture has changed while the Church has stayed the same, perfecting an approach to Christianity that’s only of interest to “insiders” and irrelevant to “outsiders.” Their movement, overall, is called “emerging” because it’s not very well defined. No one claims to know how things will look in 100 years, but proponents hope the result will be a revitalized, world changing Christianity.

The fundamentalist-leaning and the emergent-leaning Nazarenes get along like cats and dogs. Fundamentalism is all about believing the right things. Its tenants are well defined. “Emergentism” isn’t very organized and its proponents are more united by a desire to bring new life to Christianity than they are organized around any unifying doctrinal position.

When an emergent and a fundamentalist interact they drive one another crazy. The fundamentalist is angry that he can’t pin the emergent down on things that matter the most to him. The emergent tends to be dismissive of the fundamentalist, thinking that his approach has already been proven to be a failure as the influence of Christianity is waned in many areas of the world.

Interacting with these groups is a challenge. The fundamentalist is a labeler. He tags everyone who doesn’t line up with his rigid positions as an enemy. It isn’t hard to get on the wrong side of a fundamentalist. His approach is “if you’re not with us you’re against us.”

On the other hand, it’s easy to get on the good side of an emergent. You can believe a variety of things yet agree that the Church needs to change to reach the lost and be okay in their eyes. You don’t have to really be one of them so long as you aren’t actively opposed to them. Their approach is “if you’re not against us you’re for us.”

Personally, I’m not a fundamentalist because I hold to the traditional Church of the Nazarene approach to Scripture. That is, I think the Bible is fully inspired by God and is inerrant in matters pertaining to our salvation. I can’t be a fundamentalist because I refuse to shoehorn all the historical, scientific, and other “not necessary for our salvation” material into an “it has to be literal or the Bible’s not true” classification.

I get along with the emergents okay, but I’m not one of them. I’m a baby boomer and I don’t think in post-modern terms as they do. To me they feel a bit clannish and sometimes come off as a little arrogant.   I’m not convinced that their approach is going to be the big, world changing version of Christianity that they think it will. Still, I guardedly cheer them on. I don’t want to see them de-Christianize Christianity, but I’m ready to see Christianity find itself, to fall in love with Jesus all over again, and to get back to living the Great Commandment and obeying the Great Commission.

Nazarenes – the Bible – Fundamentalism

Here’s an interesting article by Stan Ingersol from the official Church of the Nazarene website called “Strange Bedfellows The Nazarenes and Fundamentalism”  It’s not an especially easy read, after all it was written for publication in a Theological Journal.

In it Ingersol deals with the history of the Fundamentalist movement in the U.S. and how Nazarene and other Wesleyan theologians have responded to it.   If you want to get to the more current history just skip to the last third of the article.

There’s mention of the development of the famous 1928 Nazarene statement on Scripture in which the integrity of Scripture is affirmed even while the denomination pivots away from a more extreme point of view.  Ingersol writes: “the revised Nazarene article on Scripture in 1928 emphasized the church’s confession that Scripture is a reliable and trustworthy witness to salvation, while avoiding fundamentalism’s more extreme emphasis.”

There’s more with comments on topics like Creation Science and women in the ministry.  The article concludes:

The Church of the Nazarene formed in the century in which fundamentalism took shape as a movement. Both have grown up together. At times Nazarenes have even chosen to be bedfellows to fundamentalism. But the Nazarenes were the product of a very different set of theological ideas; their spiritual life the expression of a different essential quality. If they are wise, those are truths they will never forget.

Again, this isn’t a light read for most of us.  Still, in a time when individuals and groups are seeking to rewrite the history and theology of the church I think it’s telling that this article is posted on the official denominational website.

Cutting and Slashing in Jesus’ Name

The location is the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus is about to be arrested. Peter decides that if Jesus won’t defend himself he’ll have to do it for him. Being a fisherman and not a swordsman he swings at the wrong person (a mere servant) tries to take his head off (and misses) but does manage to cut off his ear. Somehow a full scale riot doesn’t break out and Jesus reattaches poor Malchus’ ear. He also reprimands Peter. Cutting off heads or even lopping off ears in Jesus’ Name isn’t acceptable behavior.

Peter should have known this. He’s seen that “power plays” aren’t Jesus’ way. It’s his enemies, the religious leaders, who wrap themselves up in their robes of righteousness and then say and do anything for the sake of God. As we’ll see later on this same night, they aren’t above lying or even manipulating murder “for the Lord.”

As for Jesus, he practices what he preaches. Even as he’s nailed to a cruel cross there’s no “sword language” from him. He could have called “twelve legions of angels” but instead he prays for those who have it all wrong and are putting him to death.

Later on, the infant Church takes the teachings of Jesus to heart. For them, becoming a follower of Jesus is to start down the road to martyrdom. A part of converting to Christianity is to prepare for a violent death in the Roman Coliseum. Clearly, these aren’t a people of the sword.

It would be nice if we could say that followers of Jesus have always obeyed his “no swords” policy but we know it’s not true. At times Christians have reverted to force, not only in “taking the gospel” to the world, but also in how they deal with one another. Sometimes, those who wouldn’t toe some ecclesiastical line have paid dearly for their willingness to hold to their convictions. It wasn’t the “sinners” who burned them at the stake; it was the “Christians.”

To this day there are those who, for the sake of Jesus, take out the sword and start swinging. Happily, in this day it’s not the “blood letting” kind of sword. Rather they use the sword of the tongue or pen. Wrapping themselves in robes of righteousness they swing wildly at those with whom they disagree. In righteousness indignation they do all they can to draw some blood in Jesus’ Name.

Maybe things would be different if they’d pay attention to the command of the Jesus they think they’re defending. As he says to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place.”

What to think of someone who accuses us of telling lies or says other unkind things about us

Have you ever had someone unjustly accuse you of being a liar or who says hurtful things to you or about you? In spite of the old “sticks and stones” rhyme, the fact is that words can hurt, especially if they’re skillfully stated or made in public. What are we to think of the person who says such things?

Jesus gives us an insight into the matter when he says: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come…false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19)

He tells us that words flow from the heart. The kinds of things a person says tells us the kind of person they are. Unclean words come, he says, from an unclean heart. If I go to a cesspool and find filthy water flowing out of it I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, consider the source.

However, I think there’s further application to be made from this teaching of Jesus. I think hurtful words often flow from an injured heart. An individual who’s in emotional pain will often speak or maybe write hurtful things to or about others. A person who feels they’ve been mistreated or judged unfairly and then cherishes that sense of injustice will start producing words of injustice of their own. After all, they’re filled with and being consumed by indignation. The result is verbal or written anger and injustice.

So what do we do when we’re falsely accused of telling lies or in some other way find ourselves the target of such abuse? When Jesus describes the source of “unclean” words he tells his disciples that “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides.” (Matthew 15:13-14)

It’s interesting that elsewhere Jesus says that when there’s disagreement in the Church that we’re to go to one another and work things out. However, when we’re dealing with unclean words coming from unclean hearts we’re to leave it up to the heavenly Father to handle the weeding. If we respond, we’re likely playing into their hands and just throwing gasoline on the fire. Instead, we’re to focus on doing the right thing and let God handle things.

In the case of “hurt causing hurt” I think we need to tread very carefully. In spite of the fact that we’ve been unfairly chosen as a target the truth is that it really doesn’t have much to do with us. Instead, we just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some people are so wounded that they’re equal opportunity wound-ers. The only answer may be to just take it. (Note: I’m not talking about physical abuse here.) Frankly, I think its okay to feel pity for them. However, unless you want to double their fury you’d better keep your pity toward them to yourself. They’re hurting at heart a lot more than they’re hurting you.