Posts from the ‘Church of the Nazarene’ Category

My Favorite Five

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the final day of 2011. Another year has passed, and it’s been a great year for this little blog of mine. I am blown away by the growth in visitors in just one year, and grateful for the growing number of people who find enough worth in what I’ve been doing here to actually subscribe. I thought I would take a moment to look back and reflect on my personal favorite posts of the past year. These are my favorite five, in chronological order of their original postings.

1. Corporate Prayer. Almost a year later, I continue to devote lots of thought to how congregations can move beyond being local bodies full of people with individual prayer lives to being a body with a communal prayer life.

2. Phoebe Palmer and Entire Sanctification. This is perhaps my favorite post of 2011, because it represented my entrance into a new level of theological pondering on my part considering the holiness movement in America. That it turn led to a major paper written for one of my graduate courses at Trevecca Nazarene University. I later modified that paper and turned it into a series of posts, which can be found at the page titled Altar Theology or Altered Theology? Whether you’ve visited A Heart That Burns previously and never read these, or are visiting for the first time, please peruse these for my thoughts on the identity crisis I believe the Church of the Nazarene has faced for some time, and what I see as the solution.

3. Serving or Surviving? This post sparked a meaningful discussion on the question of whether the life of Nazarene churches are oriented towards the service of those outside the doors of the church, or oriented towards the survival of the church (and by extension — with an insight that has come since the original post — the specific traditions and sacred cows of a particular church).

4. God Never Gives Up on People … Should We? There are some things I write that the most human and selfish part of me resists every step of the way, because of how vulnerable and exposed they make my heart. This one burned — and still burns! — like battery acid. Although I stand by what I wrote here, oh how I wish that things could be otherwise when it comes to broken relationships.

5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Success. Although this wasn’t the lengthiest of posts in the past year, it just might be the one that has caused me to return over and over to consider the question I myself raised: am I achieving success by God’s standards?

BONUS POSTS: This year I had two guest posts,  both of them by pastor friends of mine. These were fantastic posts that addressed important topics.

1. About Banners by Herb Halstead. Herb addressed the unity that occurs when churches chooses to focus on the mission God has given the Body of Christ, and to set aside the banner of a particular denomination or doctrine.

2. Zombie Land by Jeff Skinner. Leave it to my friend Jeff Skinner — a truly creative preacher and church planter — to come up with perhaps the most unusual post on this blog all year. Don’t let the title of the post fool you … this one had some depth to it.

Advertisements

And Now For Something Completely Different …

HOW A NICE JEWISH BOY FOUND JESUS IN THE YELLOW PAGES

This is the 100th post on A Heart That Burns, so I thought I would memorialize that by a different sort of post. I’d like to share my personal testimony of how I came to follow Jesus, and came to be involved with the Church of the Nazarene. May it give glory to God.

I was born into a Conservative Jewish household, and while I was still just a toddler, my family moved to Northern Illinois. There I spent most of my childhood. We attended a Conservative synagogue, and both my older brother and I went to Hebrew school and had bar mitzvahs (a rite of passage into manhood) at the age of 13. But oddly enough for all that, I don’t ever remember a single discussion my family had about God.

The year after my bar mitzvah we moved to Kentucky — not exactly known as a hotbed of Jewish cultural life — and as a result I had little further practice of my Judaism. As I entered high school I began to rebel against my parents and most other authorities in my life. By the time I was a sophomore I was in full-scale rebellion. I acted very tough, and looked it too — with long hair and a leather jacket. Inside I was scared. I hung out with the “wrong crowd”, and I was soon drinking, smoking, and doing as many drugs as I could. Through high school and college I continued to struggle with substance abuse and alcoholism, finally getting clean and sober right before graduation from college . I drifted from one thing to another, trying to find some focus for my life. I felt only confusion, rage, and turmoil inside of me. I was desperately unhappy, and in complete denial of that unhappiness.

By my mid-20’s something had to change. I had been out in the workplace for several years and had just taken a new job in a new city. I felt an urge to reconnect to my Jewish roots, so I decided to find a synagogue. Not knowing the city well, I opened up the Yellow Pages to see if I could find one that I felt able to locate easily. The one I picked said in its ad, “Messianic” and “Proclaiming Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah.” These things meant nothing to me at the time, but I sure had a surprise coming. Little did I know that I had just found Jesus in the Yellow Pages!

I still remember the first night at that synagogue. Imagine how shocked I was to find that I had ended up at a Messianic congregation — a place where there were Jewish and Gentile people who worshiped Jesus together! They called him “Yeshua,” his Hebrew name. The people I met on that very first night were like none I had ever known before. They were so warm and welcoming. They seemed to really be happy to meet me, and they were obviously at peace within themselves. I compared this to my own inner turmoil, and I wanted what they had!

I began attending the synagogue and studying the Bible. One day I was shown some verses from Isaiah 53. The words seemed to point clearly to Jesus. That night, for the first time ever, I got on my knees and prayed.

“God, ” I asked, “can this be true? Can Yeshua be the Messiah?” I prayed for almost two weeks, and then He answered my prayer. A few days later, in November, 1997, I prayed once again, this time to receive Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord. At last I had peace within, for the first time. I grew swiftly in my newfound faith, and continued to devour the Word. I soon felt that God was calling me to serve Him, and that it wasn’t enough merely that I as a Jew had come to know my Messiah — the Lord wanted me to tell other Jewish people about Jesus.

In late 1999 I began to pursue this call as a domestic missionary with the ministry of Jews for Jesus, the largest mission to Jews worldwide. For eight years I did street evangelism, led bible studies, discipled individual Jewish people, spoke frequently in churches on subjects such as the Feasts of Israel and Jewish evangelism, and traveled as a member of the ministry’s music/evangelism team. At the end of this time, due to the illness of a family member, my wife and I left Jews for Jesus.

We began to attend the local Church of the Nazarene, where the pastor strongly urged me to seek God as to whether His call on me was finished. Acknowledging that His call hadn’t ended, but the form of the call had changed, I began my current journey towards ordination as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene. I continue to praise Jesus daily for all He has already done in my life, and all that I know He will accomplish in the future.

Lifting Up the Hood: A Sermon on Revelation 12

The following is the manuscript of a sermon I preached on Sunday, August 7 at Faith Community Church of the Nazarene in Ashland City, TN. The actual sermon as preached had some slight deviation from this text.

“I am haunted by waters,” Norman MacLean wrote, as he spun the tale of his family’s life and tragedy in Missoula, Montana in the early 20th century. His was a family who shared a passion for fly fishing, especially on the waters of the Big Blackfoot River, and their tragedy was the brutal murder of MacLean’s brother. As he grappled with loss and pain, MacLean reflected on how the river played a central role in his family story, remarking: “The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

In any era, stories do more than just entertain. They can teach us right behavior, correct values, and proper morals. Our stories can show rather than tell the difference between good and evil, paint a picture of what makes a hero, give an avenue for catharsis, and inspire hope in the midst of helplessness. There are stories we remember our entire lives because they reach deep down inside of us and touch something in our innermost being. Such stories stay with us because they speak to us of truths greater than ourselves.

  • The orphan farm girl is stranded in a land so very far from where she belongs, traveling with three odd companions. She’s just trying to get to the wizard who can send her home while her partners want respectively, a brain, a heart, and some courage. In the end all four will find that within each of them is enough wisdom, love, and bravery to conquer any challenge.
  • With the destruction of the ship imminent, the science officer exposes himself to a lethal dose of radiation so that by his sacrifice, the rest of the crew can make it to safety. Blinded and dying, he tells his best friend, the captain of the ship, not to grieve for him, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.
  • The young woman stole her crippled father’s armor and weapons and left in the middle of the night, pretending to be a son so her father wouldn’t have to answer the Emperor’s call to fight the invaders. Learning to be a soldier almost killed her, but she somehow survived. With luck, ingenuity, and the help of the other soldiers who came to respect her, she defeated the invading army and saved her whole country.

Today let’s explore a story that you and I are already a part of. It’s a story that began an eternity before any of us were born, and is cosmic in scale. Its ending has been written, but no one knows when it will happen.

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.  (Revelation 12:1-17)

I wonder, have any of you have ever had car trouble while taking a long trip? I recall such a trip, during one of my summers off in college. I was on my way to a conference for the music fraternity I was involved with as a music education major. It was about a five-hour drive, and after the first couple of hours I began to notice that my car seemed to be a bit underpowered when I was taking some of the larger hills. Shortly after that, a strange noise began to emanate from the engine: fuh flup. Fuh flup flup flap flap fuh flap flap CLONK. With the engine dead, I had to pull over to the side of the road. I knew before I even got out of the driver’s seat that whatever this was, it wasn’t good, but as with any car trouble, I couldn’t know for certain how bad the situation was until I lifted up the hood and saw what was underneath.

In Revelation 12, we find the author John lifting up the hood of the car so that his audience – brother and sister Christians in the churches of Asia Minor – could find out just how bad the situation they were in really was. Mind you, they already knew it wasn’t good. They knew they were in trouble. John’s audience lived in the midst of the Roman Empire at a time when being a Christian wasn’t just frowned upon – it was illegal. The seven churches of Asia Minor, whom John had named earlier in Revelation, were experiencing suffering and persecution due to their faith in Jesus Christ, because they refused to worship the Emperor of Rome as divine.

Listen. Can you hear the signs of trouble? Fuh flup. Fuh flup flup flup.

These churches in Revelation daily faced a flood of images and propaganda that were intrinsic to the Roman worldview, to Roman imperial power, and to pagan religions. They were suffering for their faith, and they were suffering economically as well. The cult of emperor worship acted like a trade union, and you couldn’t get membership in the union unless you worshipped the emperor. If you didn’t belong to the union, you couldn’t even do business. It was economic exclusion. The Christians to whom John wrote were grappling with the grim reality that the famed pax Romana – the peace of Rome – came at great cost to the mass of people in the Empire. Rome was controlling and oppressing every aspect of their lives, from the economic to the spiritual.

And the problems they faced were going to get a lot worse: fuh flup. Flup flup flap flap.

The Revelation was meant to give hope to faithful believers in the midst of persecution and suffering. John needed his readers to get a look under the hood of the car, and to see what the situation really was. He needed them to achiever a greater perspective, and see that their suffering on earth was part of a bigger picture, which spanned the heavens and the earth alike.

John did this by weaving together images and stories that were familiar to his audience in Asia Minor, in order to demonstrate superior Christian truths. He began with a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, crying out in the agony of birth. Her child is described as one who will rule the nations with a rod of iron, which was a very well known Messianic reference from Psalm 2:9. It would be easy to conclude from this that the woman must be the Messiah’s mother, and it’s true that the passage contains elements of the birth narrative of Jesus, which we find elsewhere in the New Testament. Jesus’ mother Mary had to flee from those who sought her infant son’s death. John has something more than just Mary, the mother of Jesus in mind, in order to help his readers understand their own place in the order of things.

His description of the woman dressed in the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and twelve stars in her crown hearkens to Genesis 37:9, where Joseph describes a dream in which sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. Although the image of the twelve stars in the woman’s crown would have been familiar to John’s original readers as pagan images corresponding to the 12 zodiac signs, the symbolic connection he makes is to Joseph and his eleven brothers, the twelve children of Israel. The twelve sons – later the Twelve Tribes — represent all of Israel, God’s chosen people. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets described Israel as a bride, and the Lord as her husband, as when the Lord told Hosea, “I will betroth you to me forever.” (Hosea 2:19) It was out of this Chosen People that Jesus the Messiah came, through whose work in the past God birthed the Church itself. John wanted the Christians of Asia Minor to remember that they too were part of the universal community of God’s people.

The tribulations that the brethren faced were part of a battle that was being waged not just on earth but also in the heavens themselves. John identifies the chief opponent in this battle as a great red dragon, which menaces the woman – the people of God – and threatens to devour her child, the Messiah. This image of the red dragon is taken from Babylonian mythology and was familiar to the churches of Asia Minor, coming as they did from backgrounds steeped in pagan religions and legends. With this image of the dragon tied to Satan, the serpent in the Garden, the message is that the power that threatens the people of God is not the earthly authority of Rome. Although Rome is a tireless promoter of its own glory and supremacy, the Empire is ultimately merely an agent and tool of that power. That power is Satan; the Word of God tells us that he waged a war in heaven and that he was cast down to the earth.

The engine, people, is screaming now: FLUP FLUP FLUP FLAP CLONK!

The dragon was thrown down to earth, and he pursued the woman. In his anger, the dragon came after the people of God, after the Body of Christ. Everything that the Christians of Asia Minor had patiently endured – the persecution, the economic and social marginalization – was a measure of something more vast. The apostle Paul was very explicit about the nature of this battle, writing to the church in Ephesus: “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)

John was drawing the attention of the brethren to awareness of a more immense and supernatural reality outside of their everyday lives. Their pain and distress was a consequence of a cosmic battle, a battle that Satan lost in the heavens but continued here on earth. Revelation is very clear that the devil has come down to earth with great wrath, and that all those who keep the commands of God and who give testimony of the salvation of Jesus Christ are the targets of his anger. Now that is awful news. I can imagine that faced with such tidings the temptation for those churches must have been strong to simply pack it in, join the union, and assimilate into the wickedness of the culture around them.

But John didn’t just lift up the hood and tell them the obvious, “guess what, the engine is seized on the car, people!” The engine was seized, just like the engine of my car seized during my trip to the conference. Yet John had fantastic news for his brothers and sisters. Beginning in verse 10, a loud voice in heaven announces that the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God have come, that the authority of His Messiah is proclaimed! Yes, there was suffering and pain, but that suffering and pain was the last desperate lashing out of an enemy who was already conquered.

Do you understand what it means when the text tells us that Satan was conquered by the blood of the Lamb? It means that when Christ died on the cross, the wily old dragon thought he had scored a victory, but it was the furthest thing from it. The very act that had all the powers of evil chuckling and gloating was the means by which evil was vanquished, for when Christ died on the cross and ascended to Heaven, He prevailed over anything that sin and evil could ever do.

It is not just Christ victorious over Satan that Revelation depicts, but Christ’s people victorious as well. That victory comes first and foremost through His death and Resurrection, but in sharing in His resurrection, John says that their testimony of His salvation has helped to conquer Satan. John points his readers to the victory achieved by the shed blood of Christians who would not renounce their faith in the Lord Jesus even when the price for that was their own life. These are Christian martyrs whom John describes, men and woman who placed fidelity to Christ above worldly peace, financial security, or personal safety. They have conquered Satan’s sway over them through their loyalty to a principle laid out in John 12:25, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Do you understand the significance of the good news that John was sending to Asia Minor? Yes, the engine of the car has seized, and it feels like you’re stranded all alone by the side of the road. But you have the best roadside assistance you can get – you have the Lord Jesus Christ, who will not only never leave you or forsake you, but he is going to replace your engine with a new engine, one that will never stop running!

I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t have difficulty placing ourselves into stories. I wonder if when it comes to a passage like this, we get so focused on understanding what it says that we miss that the story hasn’t ended yet, and that we’re part of it. You and I ride in the same car of which John lifted up the hood. It’s true, John was writing to specific Christians in specific churches, but we too are his brothers and sisters. We too are part of the Body of Christ, united together across all the centuries by the saving grace of God expressed through the death of Jesus on the cross.

It’s perhaps hard for Christians today, particularly Western Christians, to relate to the idea of being persecuted for their religious faith. In this nation, Christians have been blessed in that as a body we have never been prevented from following Jesus. It might be even harder for us to relate to economic exclusion or social marginalization due to Jesus. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that there is not real suffering and pain among Christians today, as many grapple with a poor economy and high unemployment.

As holiness people, I do think that we can relate to being excluded or marginalized due to our beliefs. As a church in the Wesleyan tradition, we Nazarenes strive to be holy people in a world that does not value holiness. This often prohibits us from full participation in popular culture. We have historically taken a stance of abstinence due to the harmful consequences on human life that alcohol can have, setting us apart from a dominant culture in which social drinking is an accepted norm. As Nazarenes, we desire to choose what our Manual calls, “the high road of holy living” when it comes to entertainment. This excludes us from watching many movies or television shows, due to their glorification of violence, sensuality, and the profane. The cost of giving in to what our culture says is OK is the same cost the churches of Revelation faced: to turn away from God and His standards.

What’s your story today, my friends? Are you suffering, haunted by the memory of tragedies in your lives? Or are you facing obstacles right now that seem insurmountable and hopeless? Take heart. You are part of the same battle, and facing the same enemy today that the Christians of Asia Minor faced in the first century. Satan continues to focus his wrath on all who follow the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12 tells us that Satan knows that his time is short, and his wrath is directed against us until Jesus returns, hoping to turn as many away from Christ as he can. Be encouraged by the same words that John used to encourage his afflicted fellows: we have conquered by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of the testimony of those who will not be turned from Jesus Christ even though it cost them their lives. For now have come the salvation and the power and kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah, who died to give you eternal life.

What Direction Is Your Church Headed?


Have you given consideration lately to what direction your church is headed? It’s been an important question for me of late, what with a new senior pastor at my home church. I’ve been excited to be part of the vision that is being cast for where our church is headed, and what it will take to accomplish that.

Beyond the doors of the local church, our denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, has been asking some tough questions regarding its own future. While looking into the past is not always a good idea when planning for the future, it can provide valuable insight for a path to the future. In the latest issue of Holiness Today, Jan Lanham points out,

In the very earliest days of the Church of the Nazarene, the focus on concern for the poor was a distinguishing characteristic of this holiness group. Rescue missions, orphanages, and homes for unwed mothers were some of the ways the church sought to meet needs. When displaced survivors from the San Francisco earthquake came to Los Angeles, Phineas Bresee turned Sunday School rooms and the church basement into a temporary shelter for victims.

Those who joined the Church of the Nazarene in those early days were challenged to: “Do good to the bodies and the souls of men. Feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and ministering to the needy, as opportunity and ability are given.”

In no way do I presume to think that the Church of the Nazarene no longer views the acts of mercy that Lanham mentions as worthy of their attention, but I would say that for many Nazarene churches, they do not constitute the primary focus of the life of the church. Both local churches and denominations change over time. In the early 20th century, as the  Church of the Nazarene experienced rapid numerical growth, the primary focus became sending missionaries.

Today, the Board of General Superintendents (BGS) is grappling with the changes that more than a century have wrought on the Nazarene church. One such change is that the vast majority of our membership lies outside the USA/Canada region. In fact, only 15% of our membership is in this region, as indicated in the annual report that the BGS released this past February. That is a small percentage of the international membership, yet that 15% contributes a whopping 85% of the financial resources of the Church of the Nazarene. Such a change from historical membership numbers requires consideration of the focus of what our church does, and how it does it. The BGS is to be commended for acknowledging the importance of this, and in 2009 establishing a Commission on the Nazarene Future.

Here are some of the questions that are being asked: *

1. What should be the new role of missionaries in a world with few technological boundaries?

2. What should be the new role of the general superintendency in a church that will gain 200,000 members and 1,ooo ministers every year?

3. What should be the new role of regions and fields in facilitating growth and discipleship?

4. What should be the new role of the GMC (Lenexa, Kansas) in a church with 85 percent of the membership outside the U.S.?

5. What should be the new role of the USA/Canada Region when it has 15 percent of the membership and 85 percent of the financial resources?

6. What should be the new role of partnerships with like-minded faith groups, as suggested by the 2009 General Assembly?

7. What should be the new role of technology with the community of faith, as the most remote parts of the world become connected?

What direction is your church or denomination headed?

* These questions are drawn from the May/June 2001 issue of Holiness Today

Serving or Surviving?

Not too long ago, I received an incredible gift from a pastor friend of mine. He was leaving the church he had been at for many years and no longer had storage space for a collection of forty years worth of the denominational magazine for the Church of the Nazarene, which started out life as the Herald of Holiness, and is known now as Holiness Today. As someone who is completing studies in order to be a Nazarene pastor myself, this is a priceless treasure. As I have begun to slowly read my way through the collection, I am struck by how many concerns that were being discussed forty years ago are just as relevant today.

The April 28, 1971 issue of Herald of Holiness contained an article by Dr. K.S. Rice (Executive Secretary at the time of the Department of Church Schools) entitled, “Survival or Service, Which?” In this article, Dr. Rice addressed the issue of churches being inwardly directed rather than reaching outward with acts of mercy. Consider some of what Rice had to say:

… The strongest and most highly visible trend in the churches today is the shift to organize themselves and to make decisions on the basis of survival rather than service. The primary emphasis is on internal concerns rather than on outreach to the unchurched, on ministry to members rather than on mission in the world.

… It depicts the faltering of faith and the lack of vision characteristic of establishments rather than movements. It suggests futile activity directed inward rather than compassion expressed outwardly. The hand position is grasping rather than giving.

… To the extent that churches seek to serve rather than just survive, they are growing and effective.

My perception is that this is a concern which has not diminished in the decades since 1971. My perception is that there are too many churches — Nazarene or otherwise — in which survival has become the standard modus operandi. The expectation of members is that church is a place where they come to be served, rather than an avenue for service. The programs offered for members have become more important than feeding the hungry in the community, providing clothing for the needy, visiting the sick, and so on.

How about it? What is your church doing to serve rather than just survive?

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Four

Why is it that I believe that a solution to the identity crisis of the Holiness movement lies within liturgy?

When correct usage of liturgy is employed, the rules that liturgy employs provide a means of not just solidifying identity but of critiquing and examining the behaviors of the church. This has long been described by the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi or “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” This is ignored at some peril, and Steve Hoskins has argued that this is precisely what the Holiness movement has done. Rather than lex orandi, lex credendi, Hoskins has made the case that the Holiness movement has instead operated by lex orandi, lex oblivisci or “the rule of prayer, the rule ignored.” In other words, as the Holiness movement has ignored its roots within the liturgy of the Christian church, it has lost its sense of identity and subsequently its core beliefs.

Charles Hohenstein notes that the “notion of liturgy as an authoritative source for theology is a congenial one for many in the Wesleyan tradition who have attached such significance to the sermons and hymns of the Wesleys that these have served not only as grist for theological reflection, but as a doctrinal standard.” This reinforces the argument that a return to liturgy is a solution to the crisis that has resulted from the tension between a Holiness movement self-defined by a Wesleyan theological model versus self-definition by the alterations of theology that plague a Palmerian model. Liturgy allows individuals to be active participants in the recovery of memory of the developmental events of the Christian faith and of the principles of holiness.

Paul Bradshaw has written as to the relevance of such memory, in which remembrance does not seek the past for its own sake but because of some contemporary interest. Recollection on the part of the community therefore takes place in order to comprehend the present day. Bradshaw was writing specifically in regards to celebration of the Eucharist, yet the principle he is getting at is one that can be broadly applied. Liturgical participation is an act in which Holiness people will be able not only to re-member their lineage as part of the greater Christian church, but also re-member – to draw together as members of a distinct community within the Church. Hoskins cautions, “Such a remembering is dependent on a liturgy which is theologically and historically well-defined and defining, with rubrics and rules and acts which have proved to be appropriate expressions of the faith.”

This concept of appropriate expressions of faith is important to comprehend in terms of how liturgy can resolve the question of identity, particularly when the goal is a return to a pure Wesleyan identity. John Wesley’s teachings on holiness were formed within the crucible of the Anglican Church; as such, concepts of holiness were set in a particular context. This context included not just Scripture, but time-honored traditions of the Church calendar, life-cycle events that defined how one’s faith was to be lived, and the historic creeds and confessions of the Church. All these aspects of liturgy were considered fundamental and indispensable expressions of faith that formed an identity, which placed one clearly in the community of God’s people. For the Holiness movement to re-orient itself into such a context – albeit one that acknowledges that it is not the 18th century, and makes accommodation for the age in which the movement exists – will allow for the establishment of clearly defined theological boundaries while still permitting for spontaneous expressions of faith that are uniquely part of a Holiness heritage.

It should be obvious that what I am arguing for here is not simply that the Holiness movement return to liturgy as a cure for problems with identity, but that it return to liturgy as a means of recovering a specifically Wesleyan Holiness identity. This does not preclude acknowledgement of other influences on the identity of the movement – it would be utter foolishness to deny that Phoebe Palmer and her theology greatly shaped the movement – but allows for those influences to be evaluated through the lens of Wesleyan identity. Examination of these other influences in such a manner permits those within the movement to appraise the merits of such influences in regards to such a Wesleyan identity.

While there may be historical and theological objections to be raised to this choice, the fact remains that a Wesleyan identity intrinsically seeks self-definition (at least in part) through liturgy. The means of grace that Wesley so urged the early Methodists to partake of – such as searching Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and participation in the life of the Church – found their expression in liturgy, and as Henry Knight observes, “functioned to portray the identity of God and the resulting identity of the Christian.” Knight also cogently notes that while the liturgical tradition was key to John Wesley’s ideas of the growth of holiness in the individual, Wesley was particular in the parts of that tradition he emphasized, especially in regards to theology. One has only to give attention to the material in Wesley’s famous Christian Library and take note of the abridgement of some of the works to realize that Wesley was presenting only the parts of those works that dovetailed with his vision of holiness of heart and life.

In this as well, the choice to concentrate on a Wesleyan genesis can only assist the contemporary Holiness movement in moving towards resolving a crisis of identity via  liturgical renewal. Wesley drew upon a great diversity of sources both ancient and contemporary for his time in order to devise an expression of faith that would be true to the historical faith and life of the Church, and yet address the needs of his own day. The Holiness movement has the opportunity to do the same today. The movement must commit itself to seeking expressions of faith that draw upon the rich and profound treasures represented by the liturgical traditions of the Church universal.

These liturgical traditions must be allowed to establish the boundaries of identity that place the Holiness movement within the long line of Christian faith, while still allowing for a singular expression of the doctrines that make Holiness people a peculiar people within the greater community of God’s people. While not without its difficulties, this is a task made easier by what has been one of the great strengths of the Holiness movement: the unwillingness of most groups of holiness people to castigate other holiness people over differences in theology or doctrine. If we in the Holiness movement can continue to seek such a unity even as we explore liturgical renewal, then there is hope that our movement may become one marked by a well-defined identity rooted in the wealth of the Christian past and truly moving into the future towards the fulfillment of a Wesleyan goal of spreading holiness throughout the land.

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Three

It is reasonable at this point to question whether the conflict between Wesleyan and Palmerian definitions of entire sanctification is enough to be considered a point of crisis for the Holiness movement. After all, the movement has endured for a very long time in relative unity. Melvin Dieter certainly seems to have felt that the question of identity was reaching a crisis point as far back as 1985, in a paper titled, “The Development of Nineteenth Century Holiness Theology.” He believed that the movement must choose between the two identities or risk being assimilated into a more general context within the Church. While Dieter was in favor of the choice of a Palmerian identity, other voices within the movement would argue instead for allowing the Holiness movement to move to the selection of an exclusively Wesleyan character. This leads to other questions, such as should the Holiness movement prefer one aspect of its formative past over the other, and why should it examine the past as a solution to a current lack of growth both in numbers and social impact?

The answer to the former question is that it has been a lack of accuracy about the true distinctiveness of the movement that has caused the crisis that Dieter and others have been addressing for over 20 years. In terms of an identity that concerns itself with accuracy, there is no question that the Wesleyan model would present itself as superior. A Wesleyan model would by its nature incorporate logic and reason as part of its identity. John Wesley left capacious writings to indicate that the experience of holiness must be examined theologically to ensure that it did not conflict with Scripture. A Palmerian model, by contrast, would be concerned primarily with the experience of holiness itself. Phoebe Palmer’s writings indicate a primary commitment that is centered on leading the individual Christian to the experience. Some might accuse Palmer of being completely unconcerned with theology; this is not disdain, but simply a belief that the exactness of the theology behind sanctification is simply not as important as achievement of the experience.

The answer to the latter question, why the Holiness movement should turn to the past for a solution to present-day woes, is that embracing either model could well mean a return to the successes that were previously associated with that identity. Certainly within the context of the American Holiness movement, it is unarguable that Phoebe Palmer and her followers enjoyed the fruit of numerical growth and widespread social impact fully as much as John Wesley and Methodism did during the Revival in an English context. A decision for either model would seem to hold the hope of return to such successes and while the argument against Palmer’s lack of theological correctness is quite valid, it is fair to note that Wesleyan model does contain problems of theological exactitude as well.

Chief among these troubles is an inconsistency in Wesley’s own teachings, which Randy Maddox demonstrated to be products of three chronological periods of Wesley’s life. There is little disagreement with Wesley’s own positions during the earlier two periods, yet much disagreement in the third and latest period. Mainly at issue would be the subject of Biblical inerrancy, a position to which for much of his life Wesley did not subscribe; only in the third period, according to Maddox, does Wesley proclaim that the Bible contains no error.

Nevertheless, the Wesleyan model seems to offer a clearer path for the Holiness movement to avoid the ambiguity caused by two differing theological identities. Yet if both the Wesleyan and Palmerian identity present difficulties, what solution can be offered? One can argue that the answer to the dilemma lies in a return to liturgy. Why liturgy? Because it can be proposed that one of the causes of the recent predicament of the Holiness movement lies in insufficient attention being paid within the movement to the critical importance of spiritual formation and practices. The historical liturgies of the broader Christian church provide a means for denominations in the Holiness movement to maintain connection to their past lineage within the Church. This loss of a link to that lineage can have very damaging results; Keith Drury, in his infamous address The Holiness Movement Is Dead, identified one of these results as the adoption of “church-growth thinking without theological thinking.” When holiness denominations become severed from their pedigree, they risk ceasing to be a part of what Steven Hoskins has labeled, “the ancient procession of those who have trod the path of Christian faith that has followed the way of holiness.”

In Part Four, the final part of this series, I will explain why I believe that liturgy is a solution to the identity crisis within the holiness movement, which I believe was caused (at least the majority of it) by Phoebe Palmer’s theology of entire sanctification.

%d bloggers like this: