The New Nazarenes II

December 8th, 2009 / 10 Comments

The Church of the Nazarene, as a denomination, must find its way anew. It must seek unity without legislating uniformity. It must celebrate diversity within its membership without its core principles becoming diffuse.

In my previous blog (see link below), I noted some labels New Nazarenes are trying on for size. The list was not exhaustive. Some have suggested additions.

We should add Bob Luhn’s “charismatic Nazarene” (which also Jamie Wayne Schmotzer affirmed) to the list of New Nazarene labels. The increasing globalization of the denomination and the accompanying diverse expressions of the Spirit makes the denomination’s “tongues controversy” of the 1970s seem less consequential now. My guess is that culling non North American tongues-speaking Nazarenes from the denominational fold would place a serious dent in membership totals.

I’m hoping those whom Mario Zani labels, “Comfort Zone Nazarenes,” will see the  value of a taking a Spirit-led adventure!

Some labels I placed on the previous list are mutually supportive.  Others are, as Jim Hampton pointed out, likely mutually exclusive. The question remains whether the denomination has an umbrella big enough to encompass these potentially exclusive sub-options. I think the umbrella is big enough.

I like the idea of being apprentices, which Brian Postlewait suggests. We all must take the posture of learners. This idea dovetails nicely into Hans Deventer’s notion that we can be changed into the likeness of God with ever-increasing glory.

Both Dennis Carter and Scott Daniels wonder about those ties that bind us together. Dennis sees evangelism and the integration of faith in all aspects of life as characteristic of early Nazarenes.  I hope he’s right, but I don’t know for sure.  I at least hope we can develop these virtues as we move into a new century.

Perhaps David Pettigrew is right when he wonders if the question the church faces today is “Are we going to be defined by love?”  Not surprisingly, I’m hoping the answer is “yes!” I hope love defines us both love as a matter of our heart orientation and as a center of theological formulation. The two must be mutually informing, in my opinion.

I’m hoping that some day we will look back to today and say that Jason McPherson’s worry – ultimate denomination division – was ill founded. I suppose time will tell. I, for one, am on the side of working to maintain unity.

Ron Hunter Jr. wonders just how big the umbrella can be. He wonders if the future denomination will allow “conservative/quasi-fundamentalist Nazarenes” a place under the umbrella. I appreciate Ron’s passion and his raising this question. It’s a vital question — or at least it may someday become one.

My response to Ron is that typically those who do not identify as conservative or quasi-fundamentalist endorse a wide umbrella. This umbrella is wide enough to include the kinds of folk Ron describes.  But the folks Ron describes as conservative or quasi-fundamentalist often don’t endorse an umbrella wide enough to include many who embrace the New Nazarene labels. 

Jeffrey Sykes’s testimonial supports what I have also witnessed in this regard. Especially as we diversify around the globe, the Church must not identify itself with the state/country/government.

Terry Mattson’s appeal to a Nazarene history of openness and inclusivity seems to me the healthy approach. I suggest we embrace a hermeneutics of charity and a posture of hospitality.

The question of whether belief or behavior is primary proves difficult to answer well. It may be a chicken/egg dilemma. In general, however, Wesley’s gave greatest emphasis upon one’s heart.  This seems the essence of his highly important writing, “Catholic Spirit.”

I want close by returning to Scott Daniels’s questions about what unites Nazarenes. I agree with him that affirming love as our common bond and sharing a historical trajectory are probably not enough to maintain unity in the coming years. And I agree with Scott that a shared religious experience is likely not sufficient to be the gelling factor.

I’m still formulating my ideas on this “what are the essentials?” question. But I’m beginning to wonder if a better approach is to identify several factors we might call “our orienting concerns.” I’m thinking we could talk about a cluster of orienting concerns. Among those concerns would be the three we’ve already mentioned: the centrality of love, a shared history, a common experience. 

But we might add to the mix concerns such as 1) a theology emphasizing freedom-providing prevenient grace, 2) transformation from a life oriented toward sin toward a life oriented toward holiness [which is one important way to talk about sanctification], 3) concern and care for the poor, marginalized, and neglected, 4) passion to share the good news (which Dennis identified in his comments), 5) the integration of Christian faith into all spheres of life, etc.

We might expand this list to include some other orienting concerns. I’m sure there are others of import that I’m not thinking of right now (suggestions?). I think we might identify a dozen or so. However many we finally identify, the idea would be for members to affirm these orienting concerns to greater or lesser degrees and with various nuanced formulations. In fact, this seems the current de facto approach of many in the Church of the Nazarene.

I’m not suggesting we throw out the Articles of Faith.  I’m not suggesting we do away with the Agreed Statement of Belief. These all have an important function.

At least that’s what I’m thinking lately.  I want to find a balance between for example, on one extreme, forcing members of the denomination to affirm a particular theory of atonement as the only orthodox theory and, on the other hand, having a “believe whatever you want to believe” attitude.

I’m hopeful that we can “conform to the image of Christ,” which has to do mainly with love (thanks Daryl Johnson), But the image of Christ would involve reflecting a prism of colors.  The New Nazarene labels I have identified are one way to account for this emerging color palette.

Let me emphasize, however, that these ideas are still percolating.  I’m sure they need refinement.  I surely don’t have it all figured out! And I’d love to hear comments on how my ideas might be improved…


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Hans Deventer

Tom, especially in line with what you wrote here: “My response to Ron is to note that typically those who do not identify as conservative or quasi-fundamentalist endorse a wide enough umbrella to subsume the kinds of folk Ron describes.  But the folks Ron describes typically don’t have an umbrella big enough to include many of those who embrace the New Nazarene labels I have listed.”, I feel the unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and charity in all itself is an essential.

David Pettigrew

I love the idea of being a part of a group in which holiness once again shapes every area of our life.  This was the passion of our forefathers.  Are there any groups out there wrestling with the implications of heart holiness and how we treat the environment, or the sanctified response to runaway capitalism?  I’d love to see the Church of the Nazarene fill this void.  It’s obvious the political solutions the powers of this world are offering are only making things worse.  We are called to offer a holy alternative.

Jamie Wayne Schmotzer


I believe that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman and will not impose tongues, for example, upon a denomination which does not want tongues; however, why would any denomination desire that God be limited?

If we want God to have freedom and be creative when it comes to prevenient grace, why do we restrict that freedom and creativity when it comes to sanctifying grace?

Jeffrey Sykes

I know there is limited value in defining something by what it is not, but how would we answer the question “What does a Nazarene not look like?”  I understand logical definitions should state something positively, but I wonder what kinds of things we feel comfortable rejecting out of hand as defining characteristics?

I think many times we try to answer the question, “What do you love about the Church of the Nazarene?”  That is a noble pursuit, but sometimes I think there is a place for a kind of holy anger that rejects certain kinds of behaviors in order to increase the peace. 

For example, I hate the way that infighting among some Nazarenes leaves bruised and bloody casualties (sometimes the direct object of attack and other times collateral damage).  I hate excuses that seem to patently accept this kind of violence in the Church as unavoidable.  I’m sick of the Church “eating its own young” as people honestly seek answers to questions.

Perhaps these concerns are a diversion, and I certainly see how they line up with the positive statements you offer, but even if we cannot agree on a set of essentials which are defined positively, perhaps we can agree that certain kinds of behavior are out of bounds.

Perhaps these comments are unhelpful, but it is what percolated in my puny brain.


Michael Curry

The more I hear/see of the “New” churches within the established denominations, the more I believe we need to get back to basics. Getting back to basics would be “new” because we haven’t been there for so long. For this reason, the church as a body is in a complete mess! I haven’t heard the simple message of the “Good News” preached in so long… I wonder if we really even remember what it is. We’re too busy defining and refining things that were obvious and foundational back in the day. And the more we do it, the less we have in common. The last thing this new movement does within the denominations is unify and strengthen.

Bob Luhn

In Peter Kreeft’s book, Love Is Stronger Than Death, he says that we Christians are “post-mortem” people, that is, since we’ve died with Christ and been raised up with Him, we’re already on the other side of death. So what if we all move beyond the post-modern debate and simple be post-mortem Christians? For me, that moves us beyond labels and hyphens and lets us live in the power of the resurrected Christ, living, loving as He does.

Bob Hunter

You said… and it was echoed by Hans “My response to Ron is to note that typically those who do not identify as conservative or quasi-fundamentalist endorse a wide enough umbrella to subsume the kinds of folk Ron describes.  But the folks Ron describes typically don’t have an umbrella big enough to include many of those who embrace the New Nazarene labels I have listed.”

My experience with the neo-nazarene/fundamentalist crowd is that their vision of inclusion is so small that it would set us up for a Southern Baptist style showdown where several groups secede to form their own associations.  This mentality has been characterized by the conduct of the Concerned Nazarenes.  Ultimately, if they have their way the entire denomination would cannibalize itself.  Thankfully, leading voices in the denomination are speaking up and promoting something far greater and more unifying, Love! 

As to orienting concerns, I have been one who has said publicly that I feel we must somehow find a way to include church members who embrace a moderation view of alcohol consumption, which is already the lifestyle of many Nazarenes.  Sadly, it is a hidden fact that many practice responsible consumption but feel the need to keep it hidden away because we have a storied history of abstinence.  Anyway, given the Nazarene/Methodist history of temperance/abstinence and legalism, we have a lot to overcome in regards to this issue. At some point, I would like to see the discussion though. I’m afraid it would be an ugly one though.  Moderation Nazarenes shouldn’t have to hide.

Jamie Wayne Schmotzer


That’s another one that probably should be added to the list:

“Moderation Nazarenes”


Chuck Wilkes

I always appreciate your thoughts, Tom. I do, however, wonder if you are fighting a losing battle. It seems to me that we’ve reached the tipping point within the denomination where the long-existing tension between optimism and fear has tipped in favor of fear. My observation is that more and more of our Nazarenes are dreadfully afraid of the future and, therefore, cling to the past like shipwrecked sailors…wanting to believe rescue is on the way, but pretty sure it isn’t. In essence, we have lost our sense that God is a capable God and from that loss comes the fear-driven responses we see to any new initiative from him for a new time.

Bob Hunter


As one who is currently struggling with my relationship to the denomination, I would just say that I haven’t given up yet. Like you, I am disturbed with the fear driven tactics of groups like the Concerned Nazarenes.  But we have to realize that this issue is bigger than the Church of the Nazarene, it cuts across all denominational lines.  Phylis Tickle says we are living through a time of great upheaval in the Church, like a once in a 500 year phenomenon.  Maybe she’s right. So fasten your seatbelts,we’re in for a ride. Len Sweet tried to capture some of this in his book, “Church of the Perfect Storm.”

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