A second statement from the Church of the Nazarene Board of General Superintendents on the emergent Church

As of August, 2010 the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene have issued a second, and more detailed statement on the emergent/emerging conversation.

I see here an acknowledgment that, from our denomination’s point of view, some in this conversation have gone too far into unorthodoxy. They have, in our view, set themselves adrift from foundational beliefs necessary to following Jesus.

However, speaking from our “side” just as big a problem is people who have overreacted to that error and painted every person who sees value in having this emergent/emerging conversation as endorsing these most extreme views.

I see people do this in political circles all the time. The left wing finds one nutty fringe person who associates themselves with the Tea Party and then pretends all who are involved with the Tea Party are like that. Slap a label on them and then it’s easy to discount everything they say. Of course, the same thing happens from the other direction too.

So…since one person who says they’re emergent (or even writes books in the name of the emergent church) makes some outlandish statements about atonement, eternity, or some current moral issue, it must be that all who are involved in the emergent conversation believe the same thing….they’re bad, bad, bad!

This statement from the BoGS calls us to not park our brains at the door on this topic. Some, we’re told are carefully listening to what’s being said and seeking answers that might help the Church to better minister to a post-modern culture. They understand that this isn’t a “take it or leave it” proposition.

It’s clear from this statement that the BoGS are in favor of paying attention to what emergents among us are saying. Most of “our” emergents aren’t numbered with those who have bought into some of the more fringe stuff, instead, they’re trying to minister to their own generation and culture.

I think the key statement in the entire statement, which I’m including in this post is this: “Nonetheless, it is our hope and prayer that those in the Church of the Nazarene who are engaged in this conversation will do so with grace and humility. We believe it is possible to move beyond mischaracterizations, embrace what is legitimate, and reject any unorthodox positions without hesitation.”

A Statement on the Emergent Church

As a denomination of 2 million members in 156 world areas, there are conversations on a variety of topics taking place within the Church of the Nazarene.

One discussion centers on “emergent” or “emerging” churches. This subject creates confusion and conflict in some circles. There are several issues related to “the emergent church.” Some are helpful and positive; others are problematic and troubling. This is compounded because those who self-identify as “emerging” reflect a wide array of positions and perspectives and differ among themselves.

There are authors with a significant readership who readily identify themselves as “emergent church leaders.” They are aware of the Church’s need to increase its engagement with society. Some are completely orthodox in their theology and views of Scripture, but others embrace positions that the Church of the Nazarene would view as unorthodox and therefore unacceptable.

Some of our pastors, superintendents and lay members believe that there is a certain segment within the Church of the Nazarene who is embracing a new “movement” filled with risks to our theological coherence as a denomination. They fear this direction will only serve to undermine the Church of the Nazarene with heresy.

Their concerns are seemingly reinforced by a few “emergent” leaders who have made statements that to them are troubling. These comments reflect theological positions denying several of the basic tenets of Scripture and orthodox Christianity as held by the Church of the Nazarene in our Articles of Faith.

There are others within our denomination, including pastors, superintendents and scholars, who view the concept of an “emerging” church as a positive and hopeful expression of what it means to be the Church. They are seeking to genuinely come to terms with ministry in a complex and rapidly-changing culture. Their goal is to demonstrate the relevance of biblical truth through incarnational and transformational living.

This latter group is deeply committed to the authority and infallibility of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives, communities, and nations. They are often engaged with the brokenness in society through active, compassionate ministries working diligently to bring renewal, conversion, and transformation.

The Board of General Superintendents neither endorses nor affirms “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology. “We Believe,” the statement issued by the BGS, clearly articulates the position of the Board regarding the Articles of Faith, the values, and the mission stated in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, encouraging Nazarenes everywhere to join them in embracing these vital truths. (See “Official Statements” on the nazarene.org website.)

The involvement of many Nazarenes in this conversation reveals a sincere desire to embrace our missional objectives. They are attempting to reach the emerging cultures around us while clearly articulating an orthodox interpretation of Scripture and theology.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism and a firm believer in the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify and cleanse the heart of all unrighteousness, was intentionally and forcefully engaged in the social needs around him. In that same tradition, P. F. Bresee established the first “Church of the Nazarene” with a focus on both the physical and spiritual needs of people while calling men and women to make a total commitment to Christ and to the fullness of the Spirit in cleansing and heart purity.

This is the objective toward which Nazarenes, including those engaged in ministry to emerging cultures, are committed.

Any conversation of this nature carries with it the risk of being misunderstood or being classified with positions that are not healthy or appropriate. Issues involved in discussions such as these are often complex. The communication is sometimes at inappropriate volume levels.

Nonetheless, it is our hope and prayer that those in the Church of the Nazarene who are engaged in this conversation will do so with grace and humility. We believe it is possible to move beyond mischaracterizations, embrace what is legitimate, and reject any unorthodox positions without hesitation.

The Board of General Superintendents is engaged in study and conversations with numerous Nazarene scholars, pastors, districts superintendents and laity on this subject. Each general superintendent continues in prayer and in a careful search for what is true and best in all things related to Scripture and mission.

While the Board does not embrace anything that is heretical it does encourage healthy conversations among Nazarenes who are part of a holiness and Great Commission church.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was resurrected to save the lost and broken of the whole world. He is coming again, to set to right all things. The mission He gave to His Church was to announce and embody the Kingdom, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the sick and imprisoned. His mission is our mission as well.

Board of General Superintendents
August 2010
bgs@nazarene.org

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Thom, thanks for the comment. I mostly just read and responded in my post. I appreciate the BoGS working through this and their effort to treat everyone with respect. I don't know that it's possible to reel in some who are already at war but perhaps this softer touch will help the majority who aren't yet entrenched.

    I agree with your two take-aways. Well stated.

  2. Thanks, Scott. I think the BoGS needed to make a balanced statement. But I think your comments are helpful.

    One thing I noticed about this statement: There are very few theological specifics. In one sense, I'm grateful. I'd like to think a good group of theologians were consulted before the BoGS generated a statement with theological specifics.

    In another sense, however, this statement loses a great deal of significance because of its lack of specifics.

    The "take home message" I get from the statement is 1) we should be in conversation with emergent leaders and emergent ideas but 2) we need to remain committed to our Manual statements.

    Tom