Tag Archives: Church of the Nazarene

Advise to young pastors: Baptism

Coming from a low church background I had very little pastoral training for conducting baptisms.  Also, in spite of my denomination’s acceptance of infant baptism, it was never practiced in the portions of the country where I grew up or ministered – everywhere I served people wanted to get wet all over and that’s what happened.  Because of that, I’ll focus in on baptism services for youth and adults – and, for the sake of this article, I’m more thinking of in-church baptisms rather than I am those that take place at a lake or river (although most of my suggestions work either way).

  • Be sure people are prepared for baptism.  Pastor, that’s your job.  Don’t leave it to the youth pastor or Sunday School teacher or a parent.  Be ready to sit down with a candidate and, in an age appropriate way, work through what it means to be a Christian and why we baptize.  Of course, that means you have to understand it.  In our tradition we baptize as a means of grace.  That means, to us, it’s more than an outward witness.  It’s a sacrament – can you explain what that means to a 12 year old?  That’s exactly what you have to do if you are going to officiate at their baptism.
  • Write your own version of the baptism ritual.  I don’t mean that you have the freedom to make it say something it doesn’t already say, but if your candidates’ (and your congregations’) eyes glaze over as you read the ritual you are just saying meaningless words.  Say it in such a way that they will understand what you are saying to them.
  • Have the candidates write out (or video) their testimony and have it read by a spiritual mentor just prior to their baptism.
  • Have everyone say the Apostle’s Creed together.  Don’t read the creed to the candidates – have them and the congregation say it and affirm it together.  After all, you are, by baptizing the candidates, uniting them with the congregation at a whole new level.  By the way, you and your congregation ought to be familiar with the Creed…maybe not memorized, but used to saying it.  This is who we are and what we believe.  Work it into Communion services or just include it in a service once a month.
  • If you are using some kind of hybrid baptistery where people sit down, etc.  then practice!  Let them get into the baptistery when it is dry and see what you expect of them (and yourself).  This is a big deal!  We rehearse weddings, why shouldn’t we rehearse baptisms?
  • Be prepared to help people in and out of the baptistery – they are nervous and distracted, and then wet!  Have someone ready to lend them a hand and hand them a towel.
  • Depending on how your baptistery is set up, invite family and guests to come to the platform to serve as witnesses (and take photos).  Beyond that, if you can, have the children and teens of the congregation to come up front to see it all.
  • Have everyone ready to cheer after each one – this is a big deal and a time of celebration.  Don’t let people just sit there watching the candidates get wet.
  • Once in a while, maybe once a year, prior to the baptismal service, preach on baptism.  Tell the congregation why it is a means of grace – have some of the senior saints ready to share the story of their baptism.  Then, with everyone freshly reminded of how wonderful it is, bring the candidates up!  Wow – what a great time you will have!
  • Once you are finished with the baptisms, and depending on your setup, take a bowl of the water from the baptismal and walk through the congregation inviting people to touch the water and “remember your baptism.”  If your sanctuary is set up to allow it, you might even have all who will to come forward and touch the water in the baptismal.
  • Even as you conclude the service, announce that you are ready to meet with others who would like to prepare for baptism.  You might just end up keeping the water for use next Sunday!

These are my thoughts…what are yours?

Reflections on the second anniversary of my retirement

IMG_2465.JPG Wow, retirement anniversary number two.  It was the first Sunday of May, 2013 that we concluded our pastoral ministry and entered into retirement.  In our case, we retired to travel and the very next day we drove off with our RV, starting the next primary chapter of our lives.

This last year has been terrific.  We traveled from Houston to the northwestern corner of the continental United States and then journeyed at a leisurely pace south along the western coast where we enjoyed amazing scenery and cool Pacific Ocean temperatures.  We visited numerous national parks and, in general, had a blast.

100_3734.JPGOur winter and early spring has been spent doing a variation of our fulltime RVing lifestyle.  We’ve volunteered at the Texas San Jacinto Battleground/Battleship Texas State Historic Park.  In exchange for donating 100 hours of our time each month we’ve enjoyed “free parking.”  That “trade” has saved us some serious, and needed, cash! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience which allowed us to do some very interesting things while being close to family and friends.  While we’re more than ready to begin our travels again we enjoyed the volunteering experience enough that we’ve already signed up to do it again next year.

I did a few more clergy-like things than I did our first year but not a lot.  I filled for our pastor when he was away, filled in for our Sunday School teacher (who happens to be my son) when he was away, did a baby dedication, and finalized my series of books of devotionals.  Aside from that I’ve happily sat in the pew, appreciating the ministry of others.
clearlakenaz.jpgAll in all, we’ve spent over 4 months in the Houston area during this stay.  That means we suspended our “church hopping” ways and settled into a more typical church attendance routine.  While visiting many different churches during our travels is enjoyable we’ve missed the sense of community associated with being a part of a congregation.  This being our second winter as part of our home church helped us feel more a part of things.  It’s interesting to me how things we at first felt were somehow different become, in just a few weeks, just “the way it is done here.”  One thing that become increasingly clear is that no church can be evaluated in just a week or two.  Churches have personalities and that personality isn’t apparent until one is part of the congregation (and involved beyond an hour on Sunday mornings) for a while.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy visiting churches, but I know that being a regular, contributing part of a church family is superior.

So, I’d say retirement is going quite well, thank you!  We’re well aware that we are blessed to live this life and we don’t take it for granted.

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Contemporary Worship: things that bug me

No, I’m not going to complain about the style of music or being asked to stand through the song -er- worship service. Here are three contemporary worship services practices that I am seeing that bug me.

  1. Volume of instruments in the praise band. This may surprise you, but I’m not talking about the music being too loud. We seldom come away from a service in a church of our flavor (Church of the Nazarene) thinking the music is too loud. What I do hear fairly often, though, is unbalanced volume from the various instruments in the band. Often, even when the stage has several instruments, the only two I can hear clearly are the strumming of the worship leader on the guitar and the drummer. If you closed your eyes you would think that was all there was: no keyboard, no bass, no second guitar. Of course there are variations to that. Sometimes the music guy plays keyboard and it’s the keyboard you hear. Really, if you are going to recruit instrumentalists to your praise band and have them come to rehearsal it’s reasonable that your music and sound people work together to balance the sound. Obviously, there are exemptions – maybe you have a not-so-talented musician that you want to encourage by having them sit in. Aside from that, though, an effort needs to be made to equalize the sound.
  2. Self-serve communion. It is becoming more common to put the communion elements out and announce to the congregation that during the next song they can come and receive communion if they want. I can’t tell you what poor symbolism I think this is. Communion isn’t a self-serve event. It isn’t an “if you want it” kind of ordinance. Just continuing with the music portion of the service as though communion is just a side line misses the mark. I love communion and I think it has enough spiritual “weight” to hold it’s own in a service. I don’t mind the ritual being updated in some reasonable ways, but I want the pastor to lend his/her authority to the serving of the sacrament.  It bugs me to hear the pastor taking time to do announcements as though that is really important stuff but leaving the serving of the Lord’s Supper on automatic as though it’s just an optional part of that Sunday’s worship service.
  3. Preaching from floor level rather than the platform. I understand the desire of pastors to be informal and approachable during the sermon. I understand that in a contemporary worship service the speaker doesn’t want to appear preachy. Apparently, a lot of pastors have decided that, not only do they not want a pulpit, but they want to be down front rather than on the stage looking down on people. But let me tell you what happens out in the seats: some of us spend the whole sermon trying to look around the people in front of us. After awhile I gain a whole new appreciation for Zacchaeus of New Testament fame who climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus. If the speaker would just stand on the platform we could all see him or her. Some pastors think they are enhancing their communication effort by staying off the platform, but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by creating an absolutely unnecessary distraction.

Any time I see young adults in the church who are really into worship it blesses my heart and I’m happily convinced that a lot of contemporary churches are doing a lot of things right.  Still, I have to confess that these things bug me.

How about you?

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”

Quote from P.F. Bresee concerning Nazarene doctrine

P.F. Bresee is considered to be the founder of the Church of the Nazarene.  He was one of the people instrumental in helping the various groups who came together to form the denomination to find common ground.  They didn’t agree at every point, but they agreed to allow people to arrive at their own understanding on a broad range of doctrinal issues while holding fast to certain core beliefs.  To find out what those core beliefs are, check out the “Agreed Statement of Belief” section around page 37 in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

Concerning all the other stuff, Bresee urged tolerance governed by love.  I recently read something written by Fletcher Tink in which he quotes Brezee on this topic:

“On the great fundamentals we are all agreed. Pertaining to things not essential to salvation, we have liberty. To attempt to emphasize that which is not essential to salvation and thus to divide forces, would be a crime. An unwillingness for others to enjoy the liberty that we enjoy in reference to doctrines not vital to salvation is bigotry, from which the spirit of holiness withdraws itself.” (Bold by me)

I’ve heard various versions of the first part of this quote several times, but the second is new to me.  Apparently, Bresee isn’t just all warm and fuzzy on this topic.  Rather, he’s rather stern about it, saying those who insist on loading other stuff into the equation are practicing a sort of doctrinal “bigotry” and, because of that are operating somewhere outside the “spirit of holiness.”

I can’t help but wonder what he would think of some of the debates and finger pointing we see within our number today.

Why I don’t believe in hell

The subject, “Why I don’t believe in hell” is really just an attention grabber. What I mean is that I don’t think belief in hell is necessary for salvation. You see, I believe IN Jesus. I trust him to be my Savior and I’ve made him Lord of my life. Without him I’m hopelessly lost.

Beyond that, I really don’t want to believe hell exists, at least as a destination for human beings. Really, I’ve tried to not believe it exists but I can’t find a way to do so without abandoning Scripture on the topic and I’m not ready to do that.

Still, I don’t think believing in or doubting the existence of hell has any direct bearing on one’s salvation. I’m saved because I’ve believed in the right Person, not because I’ve believed all the right things. I don’t think I should use one’s views on hell as a sort of litmus test as to whether or not I think they’re saved.

I do think that, in some very specific cases, warnings of hell can cause a person to rethink their life and turn to Jesus for Salvation from that place. If a person believes hell exists and that they can potentially go there, then offering hope of being “saved” from that destiny can have a real influence on their response to the Gospel message.

On the other hand, if a person doubts hell exists then threatening them with hell is going to get me nowhere. They’ll probably think of me as quaint, superstitious, and hopelessly out of touch. At that point I can either spend a lot of time and energy trying to prove the reality of hell to them or I can try to prove something else to them; maybe that God loves them and has sent his Son into this world to make it possible for us to have a genuine relationship with him. I think that’s the more reasonable approach.

My denomination believes hell exists and that people are going there. Our church Manual states:

We believe in the resurrection of the dead, that the bodies both of the just and of the unjust shall be raised to life and united with their spirits—“they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

We don’t rejoice in that fact. We’d rather that people come to know the Lord, letting him transform their lives. We’re a lot more interested in helping people realize God’s transforming grace than we are in telling them they’re bound for hell. Again, in some cases, the warning might help a few seriously consider responding to the Lord’s offer to “save” them.

So, I don’t believe IN hell – that believing it is a part of my being saved. Still, to “be saved” means being saved from something doesn’t it? On the other hand I believe IN Jesus. My eternal hope is in him and nothing else and no one else.

Please note: there have been a number of nice comments to this article, but for some reason when I changed blog addresses they didn’t transfer. You can see them here.

What Nazarenes Believe

One of the first questions people ask about a church is “What do you believe.”  Since I want our alvinnazarene.org website to actually minister and serve as an outreach for the church I made the effort some years ago to put pertinent portions of the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene on the site, under the subject of “Our Faith.”  According to the server logs those pages receive many hits as people search for “What do Nazarenes believe about….”

Recently, our beliefs concerning the Bible have come under scrutiny from a small, but vocal group, so I’ve referred people to our Articles of Faith.  People don’t have to agree with what Nazarenes believe about the Bible, but they ought to be honest enough to not pretend that some denominational leader or pastor is being something less than “Nazarene” for believing exactly what our Manual says.  To attack a Nazarene for believing about the Bible what Nazarenes have believed about the Bible since 1928 is either an indication that one is ignorant about what Nazarenes believe or is somewhat dishonest.  Anyway, you’ll find that information under Article IV here: http://www.alvinnazarene.org/articles-of-faith-faith.html

The main purpose of this post, though, is not to rehash all that tired old stuff.  Rather, as I worked through this section of the church website, updating the information to be sure it meshes with the new 2009-2013 version of the Manual I’m impressed with how complete and well thought out it is.  Our theology is a “thinking man’s theology” and it is no where more clear than in the statements of our Church Manual.

As I think about issues like “Human Sexuality” and “War and Military Service” I’m proud of both my heritage and of the current application of our faith.

You’ll find lots of thoughtful material on how Christians apply Biblical principles to life in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

http://www.alvinnazarene.org/our-faith-mainmenu.html

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.

So what makes a Nazarene a Nazarene?

I’ve heard versions of this question for many years. Usually it is something like, “So how is your church different than…” then they name some church they know something about.

Honestly, I think that if we can’t answer that question and name something that makes us unique we need to shut down and go join whatever group it is that indistinguishable from us.

At one time, many answered that question with stuff we had no business thinking: we’re different than the Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians became we DON’T go to movies or let our women cut their hair or let our women wear pants, etc. That kind of stuff was never an acceptable claim to uniqueness and, over time, we not only quit saying it, but we quit doing it too. (Although we have lots of folks who (seriously) need counseling to this very day.)

The more legitimate answer was “We believe there is a deeper work of God, after our salvation experience, in which he purifies our hearts and fills us with his love.”

I think that the first error was an honest but misguided effort to live out the actual reason we exist in the first place: heart holiness.

These days some of our best thinkers are tackling that “deeper work” in an effort to better articulate it to our world. I’m not against that. After all, the Church wrestled with, and restated the doctrine of the Trinity for 500 years before it decided it had it right. Surely the holiness folk ought to revisit our “deeper work” doctrine as we near our 100 year anniversary.

That isn’t to say I am unconcerned. As we put “sanctification” on the table it causes confusion for the folks at the grassroots level, including the pastors. If we aren’t careful, while the “big guys” are debating the finer points of the doctrine, we locals will drift to being just “general Christians” able to unplug from our denomination and plug into just about anybody else. Something that is already happening. They remember the Nazarenes fondly but don’t value our distinctiveness enough to forgive our past legalism or to put up with our smaller program, etc.

Wesley started out to Christianize Christianity. He had a mission and a purpose. We Nazarenes started out to proclaim holiness: to “Girdle the Globe” (anybody remember that song?) with that message. If that “deeper work” becomes something less that our driving purpose, a doctrinal antique to us, who are we?