Tag Archives: Church of the Nazarene

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.”

I am a concerned Nazarene article

Here’s an article entitled “I am a concerned Nazarene” from our denominational publication “Holiness Today.” I think it strikes a balance by acknowledging the legitimacy of being concerned about the direction of the denomination and, at the same time insisting that those expressions of concern be, well, Christian in nature. After all, the Bible does give us some fairly specific instructions for dealing with disagreements within the church. If we’re followers of Jesus we ought to follow his directions in such situations.

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

More on Nazarenes and the Bible

Hans Deventer of NazNet.com fame has a nice article on Nazarenes and Bible inerrancy.  His conclusion is: “That is why we believe in the Holy Spirit, but not in the same way, in the Bible.”

Check it out at http://nazareneblogs.org/hansdeventer/2010/03/11/the_bible/

Nazarene theologian on inerrancy

I keep thinking I’m going to get over this “inerrancy” stuff and move on to other topics, then something else comes along and I’m back on that topic again. I’ve just been re-reading Dr. C.S. Cowles’ open letter entitled, “Scriptural Inerrancy?”  Dr. Cowles is a professor of theology at our Nazarene Point Loma University.

It’s another challenging read for me. I do pretty good staying with him for awhile, then come unplugged. Still, it may be worth your while if you want to think about this topic.  One of the challenges we Nazarenes face is that our doctrine of “plenary inspiration” and “all things necessary for salvation” is a “thinking-man’s doctrine” and doesn’t very well fit on a bumper sticker.

Apparently, my response to this letter on NazNet has been quoted elsewhere.  My only post on the topic had to do with a statement referred to by Dr. Cowles.  He talks about an avowed Bible Inerrancy advocate named A Van de Beek concerning the inconsistent way God is pictured in the Bible.  Van de Beek refers to the God-ordered massacre of children in the O.T. verses the N.T. picture of Jesus who loves the little children.  I imagine that every serious student of the Bible has wondered about that.  I found it somewhat helpful to see Cowles’ use of the views of an avowed Bible inerrancy advocate as an example of how using the scriptures as Nazarenes use them is superior to that of the Bible inerrancy advocates.

Really, if a person wants to be upset about my post, they should probably take it up with one of “their own” – this Reformed theologian who wrestles with this sticky issue.

Again, I’m hoping to move on to other topics, maybe a juicy computer problem to write about, but this open letter from a Nazarene university theologian got me to thinking again.

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.