Open the Windows of the Church

October 8th, 2012 / 27 Comments

Fifty years ago this month, Pope John XXIII initiated the Second Vatican Council. He said it was time to “throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” It’s time to throw open the windows again!

The Roman Catholic Church has changed in dramatic ways in the last fifty years. Many people say they’d like to have seen even more change, however. No matter what one’s views, it seems clear that the Catholicism today is significantly different thanks to the Second Vatican Council.

The task for renewal in the Church never stops, of course. But there are some moments when the need for renewal seems more palpable, more urgent, more real. We live today in such a moment.

I’ve been thinking about the church globally, including its denominations, groups, and movements. Some amazing things are occurring, as creatures cooperate with the work of our Creator. But there are also reasons to seek change.

Change in the Church of the Nazarene

I want to step out on a limb in this short essay. I suggest ten ways the windows of the church might be thrown open so that the wind of the Spirit might blow through.

Much of what I propose applies to the Church generally. But because I know my own denomination — the Church of the Nazarene — much better, this essay is aimed at this collection of about 2.5 million Nazarenes across the world.

Here, then, are ten ways the windows of the Church of the Nazarene might be thrown open to let the Spirit blow through the church. I could probably write a book on each one, but I’ve limited myself to a few sentences.

I list these in no particular order:

1. Engage contemporary theology. Theological scholars in the colleges and universities sponsored by the Church of the Nazarene explore a variety of theological ideas. Theology in the denomination is significantly different today than it was fifty years ago. And that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, however, pursuing new forms of Wesleyan-Holiness theology in dialogue with these contemporary theological ideas is not encouraged as it should be. I believe the Spirit intends to do new things and guide the denomination in new ways theologically.

2Embrace the wisdom of the wider Christian tradition. The Church of the Nazarene is but one small part of a much larger Christian family. And that family has much to teach Nazarenes. Sometimes Nazarenes forget their indebtedness to the wider Christian tradition. The result is impoverished liturgy, worship, theology, and practice. The Church of the Nazarene can embrace the wisdom in other Christian traditions without losing its identity.

3. Reexamine what makes the Church of the Nazarene unique and affirm elements helpful for today. The denomination’s own history offers a rich resource. Of course, there are also aspects in its history better left in the past. I know of no one, for instance, who thinks we should return to the practice of forbidding members to attend baseball games. But other elements in our history can help us live faithfully today.  As a denomination, we must do the hard work of gleaning wheat and leaving chaff.

4. Support the poor, powerless, and deprived. From its beginning, the Church of the Nazarene has felt especially called to help those most in need. Such help can be financial, emotional, intellectual, etc. I find many young Nazarenes wanting to affirm this history of helpfulness, although today these issues typically are called matters of “social justice.” The wind of the Spirit in the Church seems to be calling us to renew our resolve to act for the good of the least of these.

5Embrace knowledge offered in the sciences, humanities, and arts. As important as the Bible is for Nazarenes, we have never been a “Bible only” people. Leaders from the beginning understood, for instance, the importance of liberal arts university education. Unfortunately, however, those who embrace the knowledge found in the sciences, humanities, and arts are sometimes deemed as “liberal” or concerned with peripheral issues. The windows of the Church are not opened wide for the Spirit if we ignore some portions of God’s truth.

6. Create space in positions of leadership for non-North Americans and minority voices. We’re already behind the curve when it comes to having good representation in leadership of non-white Nazarenes. The denomination is growing fastest outside the U.S., and many more Nazarenes live outside North America than in it. And yet our leadership at denominational headquarters – top to bottom – is by far dominated by white males. Perhaps embracing diversity will require decentralization, but it at least involves diverse representation at the leadership level.

7Promote an evangelistic/missional strategy of love toward nonChristians. Unfortunately, some act as if befriending those of different religious traditions — without the relentless goal of converting them — is unwise. But we are called first to love, and that may or may not involve inviting others to embrace the Christian faith. In a world of increasing religious diversity, we should affirm the universality of God’s prevenient grace toward all peoples. And this affirmation need not lead to pluralism or extreme relativism.

8. Reestablish the power and number of women in leadership. Many members of the Church of the Nazarene happily note that while the Roman Catholic church has not embraced the Spirit’s move to establish women in the highest positions of leadership, Nazarenes have affirmed this throughout their history. And yet a very small percentage of Nazarene pastors are women. And leadership in various denominational sectors is dominated by men. Steps must be taken to encourage Nazarene members to promote women into positions of leadership.

9Change the leadership General Superintendent structure. Since its early days, the Church of the Nazarene has elected beginning with three and then six leaders to the highest position of leadership: General Superintendent. When the denomination numbered a few hundred thousand, this was a sufficient number of leaders to fulfill the tasks assigned the position. While the denomination has grown ten times bigger in the last sixty years, the same number of general superintendents is called to govern. We either need a single bishop with dozens of key leaders under her to fulfill the tasks of leadership, or we need 18-20 general superintendents located in and representing various parts of the world. The denomination cannot function well in its current leadership format.

10.  Engage culture rather than simply condemn it. I recently read the Pew Research Center study of religion among the American “millennial generation.” I was struck by how young people think about issues of religion and culture. In particular, most younger Americans think differently than their parents about abortion, evolution, the influence of Hollywood, homosexuality, and the proper size of government. This, of course, doesn’t mean that their views are better or should necessarily change the positions of the denomination. But it does mean that the Church of the Nazarene must engage culture – American and other cultures – to discern what should be embraced and what should be rejected. Besides, it’s quite clear that the denomination changed its views on many issues – e.g., dancing, wearing rings, movies, sports – as cultures changed in the last century.


One of the theological presuppositions of Pope John XXIII’s statement about “throwing open the windows of the church” is that what we do influences what the Spirit does. That’s a presupposition that fits well in Wesleyan theology. And it rightly puts responsibility on our shoulders to cooperate with what God might want to do in our world today.

I remain optimistic about the future of the church, in general, and the Church of the Nazarene, in particular. My optimism is grounded in God’s grace. But I also believe we as a church and as individuals must heed the call for a fresh anointing of the Spirit in our lifetime.

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Greg Crofford

Thank you, Dr. Oord, for an excellent essay.

As you know, there will be a report at the next Nazarene General Assembly from the “Commission on the Nazarene Future.” It will be interesting to see what they recommend regarding the number of General Superintendents. If they were willing to release the authority to ordain to the Regional Directors, this could ease the tremendous travel burden the Generals currently bear.

I do see growing distance between the trajectory of North American culture on social issues (divorce and homosexuality, to name two of the most obvious) and where most African nations currently are. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in coming years, but if the experience of the UMC and the worldwide Anglican community is any indication, African Nazarenes will likely be conservative ballast in the Nazarene “ship.”

My two cents—May the LORD grant us great wisdom and mutual understanding in coming days.



I’m intrigued by a number of these points; particularly 9 and 10.

I would both broaden the reference to leadership, in general while giving specificity to a higher sense of accountability of leadership at all levels.  We have done well to establish a lot of structure both the local and district levels, but very little attention is given to field and regional leaders – let alone GS’s.

Our leaders need strong systems of accountability – for resources, strategy, personnel decisions, etc.  Openness, transparency, and vulnerability are not models that are encouraged currently.

Number 10 – while the church has become increasingly global in participation, we haven’t noticed the identity of the church reflecting that transnationalism.  Still, many cultures as a whole that I encounter are increasingly reflective of the depraved Hollywood culture. 

The Church MUST engage culture…not to condemn what they discover, haphazardly, but to be salt and light in the midst of a spiraling wave of sinfulness that is much too common in modern day, 21st century cultures…modeling holy living within relationships with unsaved friends and family – this is critical to the future of the Church of the Nazarene.

Kathy Burns

Thanks you so much for this essay, Tom!  I am excited to see the church moving toward the gospel of helping the poor, powerless and deprived.  For years we as a denomination have been afraid of what has been called the “social gospel.”

The ways the church might “throw open the windows” concerning governance in the church are all spot on.  After reading “Half the Church,” I am concerned about the lack of women who are kept from using their gifts to lead in the church.

Also, moving from a denomination that seems to choose only leaders from North America – with very few exceptions.  Moving out of this 100 year tradition is alarming and intimidating to many. 

Friends of mine visited a Nazarene Church and described it as a “Norman Rockwell Church” because of the lack of ethnic diversity. Along with opening windows to ethnic diversity, we need to revisit other kinds of diversity and be willing to open our hearts in love to ALL people groups.

Thanks again!

Brian Ketchum

Thank you Dr. Oord for your contributions for the edification of our shared faith community. You’re an encouragement to me.

nathan roskam


As always, I love to read your posts. Always helps me nap better. I kid!!
I very much agree with several points, especially point of change 3. Reexamine what makes the Church of the Nazarene unique and affirm elements helpful for today.
In my work with Millennials, I am often reminded of the power of vision in the context of story as a means of inspiring a movement of this generation. Telling the story of where we come from and have been as a denomination (both the beauty and the ugliness) gives young people answers to their questions of “why”. Living by the list which produces legalism is not inspiring or inviting, but story is!
In reading your cousins little book several years ago, “All Things Necessary to our Salvation”, I was reminded of what I believe is a very important piece of our story. From the very beginning of our beloved denomination, the focus was orphan and the widow, the poor, marginalized and oppressed. The denomination was led first by our “Agreed statement of belief” which included a succinct vision of what united this body of believers and the distinct call to be about the business of Christ in loving those the world rejected. Lodahl points out a shift in the 1915 Manual that moved the “Articles of Faith” in front of the “Agreed statement of Belief”, a move that seems to be contrary to the initial vision of having “no harmful or divisive difference).
It seems to me, that while theology is crucial in the Church universal, for us as a movement we ought to stop and ask the question if it is to be as crucial as we at times make it. From the day the Articles were moved to the front seat, it seems the shift in mission and vision happened. If we desire to lead desiring to increase theological conversations, openness and dialogue, with that comes a decrease in being about the business of the Kingdom.
I’m not saying it’s an “either/or” mentality here. But what I want to say, is that for an increase in vision/perspective theologically, the best place may not be within the confines of a movement that was founded on care for the poor not dialogue for the intellectually rich. Bresee hoped to avoid societal debates and simply stand with those in they were called to serve.
I love these words from the 1898 Manual,
“We seek the simplicity and the pentecostal power of the primitive New Testament Church. The field of labor to which we feel especially called is in the neglected quarters of the cities and wherever else may be found waste places and souls seeking pardon and cleansing from sin. This work we aim to do through the agency of city missions, evangelistic services, house to house visitation, caring for the poor, comforting the dying. To this end we strive personally to walk with God and to incite others so to do.”
I will always hold to the reality that the Wesleyan-Arminian theological tent is large enough for all these conversations. It seems that many are outside the tent, not as a result of a theology that is too fundamentalist or too liberal, but from a praxis that is not found in “the neglected quarters of the cities and wherever else may be found waste places and souls seeking pardon and cleansing from sin”.
Maybe the simple solution is reemphasizing the Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Centers. But, delegating the work for the poor doesn’t seem to be Nazarene. After all, Bresee left a church for that very reason.
Can’t wait to keep talking… although, since we’re in the same town we ought to finish this over coffee… so much better! smile

Doug Hardy


Thank you for the challenge and for offering helpful directions. We could do worse than follow these trajectories.

It strikes me that to move in these directions with more intention will require significant courage and a deep trust in God. Centrifugal movement (outward focused, expansive, inclusive), though a central Gospel dynamic, is often limited by our fears. May God, by the Holy Spirit, fill us with love sufficient to cast out these fears.

Dennis Carreiro

Brilliant! Thanks for writing! And thanks to Mike Schutz for sharing it on facebook!


the tyranny of the means is always a threat to the living-spirit/inspiration of any endeavor, the tricky part is trying to find the right ‘alchemical’ approach to discernment such that the all-too-human prejudices of the day don’t get con-fused with, and than institutionalized as,  theo-logoi…

Sherri Walker

Thank you for this blog.  I resonate very closely with these opportunities for growth as well.  I believe many of these things stem from one grand issue: The Church of the Nazarene has developed good systems for “what” it is that we do, but in the meantime we have neglected to continue answering “why” it is that we do them.  I believe we are more unified behind why rather than what.

Jeannine Howard

As always, you have given me a lot to ponder upon.  As for number 5—embracing “the knowledge found in science”—the church must be aware of “science” dictating theology.  Spontaneous generation, according to science was the truth for over a thousand years—alas it was false. As Dr. Jay Wile,PhD-Nuclear Chemistry states and the editor of Science Magazine confirms, “In fact, it is impossible for science to prove anything, because science is based on experiments and observations, both of which can be flawed. Often, those flaws don’t become apparent to the scientific community for quite some time. Flawed experiments and observations, of course, lead to flawed conclusions, so even the most secure scientific statements have never been proven. There might be gobs and gobs of evidence for them, but they have not been proven.”  As far as number 10—perhaps the reason views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality etc. differ in the younger generation is because they have never been taught by the church why the church takes a particular stand on these issues.  We had to take our four kids to another church to learn the reasoning behind the church stand regarding abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, homosexuality etc. because it was never addressed at our church.  Before we put these issues in the same category as dancing, wearing rings etc. perhaps we should address why the church has the stand they do regarding these issues. Again, thanks for the thought-provoking article.


I wholeheartedly join you on you limb you are stepping out on! Thank you gor this blog entry


On #8: “Many members of the Church of the Nazarene happily note that while the Roman Catholic church has not embraced the Spirit’s move to establish women in the highest positions of leadership, Nazarenes have affirmed this throughout their history.” Uh huh. Well, as one Naz pastor said, not too long ago: “Oh, we have wimmin pastors in our church; we just let them do much.” The Naz seems to have more in common with the Papists than they would care to admit. For a less snarky assessment, I would suggest Metcalf, Janine T., Ablaze with Love: The Living Legacy of Our Nazarene Foremothers. A Video Documentary. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2001 (NPH Product VA-2400)


On changes in The One True Church … there is presently a seething undercurrent of disenchantment with The Robed Ones who are running that particular show. We take a brief look at it here:

and Carol DeChant’s open letter to His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan (a good Irish lad if ever there was one … we can only wonder what he thinks of the “Boondock Saints” …) is not to be missed:

Point 9 is interesting. Do you favor the commander-in-chief model, or the “all pigs are equal but that one who isn’t” model?

In any case, the Naz is in fact an international church, yet at least some policies of the church are driven by a uniquely American – actually, US – perspective, and have no credibility or value outside a limited US audience. Some of that, if not all of it, seems to me to be driven by the American Holiness component (I call it “the Chivington complex”)and our attachment to the vestigial remnants of Manifest Destiny.

Kyle Lauf

I am confused by your statement to embrace the knowledge of humanities and arts…why must a denomination in and of itself ‘embrace’ literature and the arts, as opposed to individuals within the church feeling free to read widely and participate in the artistic life of society.

And secondly, what do you mean by ‘embrace’? You are obviously using the word as a metaphor, but an embrace signifies a very close connection. How intimate and how close must the church come to the humanities and/or science in your view.

South Africa

Ken Ardrey

There is so much good in this article… Care for the poor, don’t be afraid of science, encourage minorities and women in leadership, consider the uniqueness of the holiness perspective.

I am having a bit of trouble, however, identifying the dramatic changes in the Catholic Church in the last 50 years. I have read the contemporary catechisms and googled “changing the Catholic Church”, for what that is worth.

I see little if any change in the Catholic Church on the institutional level and although there is change in the opinion of North American Catholics regarding some social issues, living in a predominantly Catholic northeast United States, I see little change in the constituent life style of the Catholic Church.

I am not anti-Catholic. I affirm their role in the family of God in spreading the gospel. Some of “my best friends are Catholic” smile But just as we need to affirm the value of the Wesleyan uniqueness, while still addressing our weaknesses and failures: we need to recognize clearly, if not address, the very significant differences between the Wesleyan and Catholic understanding of grace, atonement, hermeneutics, and sacraments. I really don’t want to be “Concerned Nazarene-esque”, but my observation, not happily made, is that the Catholic Church does not have a great record.

I am sure there are other resources with which I am unfamiliar. Any guidance would be appreciated.

James Petticrew

AMEN ! …. Haven’t you just put the cat among the concerned pigeons grin I must admit that given the predominance of one nation in our senior leadership positions our talk about being an international church to those of us outside the states seems lip service

Stephen Borger

I read your blog Monday night and early Tuesday morning as I was reading in “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers” a quote caught my attention. It seems that Abba Arsenius said; “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having been silent.”


@JanineH: I am curious. Why is it that you lump homosexuality in with abortion and euthanasia? Abortion is arguably a form of murder. Euthanasia, depending on circumstances, may also be a form of murder. Am I to understand that homosexuality is on the same plane as murder?  The church has never managed to explain that one to me, either. Perhaps you can succeed where the church has utterly failed? Does the ‘etc’ include other sins, such as the gluttony to be observed at church pot lucks? Or the vicious gossip to be heard at the back of the Sunday school class, where parishioners unctuously assassinate character – including their own? And this opens the door to the old argument regarding ‘degrees of sin’. Are you implying that some sins are of more significance than others? It seems that you are.  Kind of like the Catholics and mortal and venial sin? And if that is so, what say you to Tomas Aquinas’ arguments as to how a sin may be venial in one fact pattern, but mortal in another?

A question

I don’t understand the idea of engaging contemporary theology (Point 1).  I’ll admit that I am a layman and probably much more interested in essentials than nuance but I had thought that theology was the study of God and how God relates to the world.  If we can agree on that definition and we believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever why would what we believe about him need to change?

Mark Stanford

…I was just introduced to your name this morning and have read the blog, “Open the Windows of the Church.” You are right that you could have written much more on each point of your essay as it came across more as baiting than satisfying. Like Kyle from South Africa I am bewildered by this “embracing.” Frankly, it seems that the embracing of new theologies is what has eroded the COTN for the past 50 years or more. Gone is the preaching of repentance. Gone. “Embracing” is not the language of Jesus Christ. Repentance and being completely different from the world is what He spoke of…..I have much to learn about this trend called Emergent.

Thomas Jay Oord


Thanks for your great comments! I could write a long response on all of your thoughts, but I think I’ll just comment on the “embrace” worry a couple people mentioned.

By “embrace” I mean something like “be open to learning from.” I definitely don’t mean “accept everything.” Although I think God’s nature never changes, we have seen major changes across the ages in how we think about God. Because we all “see through a dark glass” (Cor 13), our ongoing efforts to know something of God are always in need of improvement. To put it another way, although God’s nature doesn’t change, our theology does. In addition, to embrace new theologies does not mean we forsake repentance. In fact, some recent theological writing has emphasized repentance, including repenting for ways we have not cooperated with God’s working in the world.

Thanks again to all for your comments!



I enjoyed reading this blog and many of the comments. I have recently read “Square Peg: Why Wesleyans are not Fundamentalist.” I confess to not really knowing or understanding clearly the theological foundation of the denomination I have been a part of for 20 plus years until reading and discussing this book with some friends of mine (who are Nazarene pastors). In my opinion, (which is what we all have to offer – our own opinion, understanding and interpretation) you have brought up some excellent points. I especially appreciate your closing line, “we as a church and as individuals must heed the call for a fresh anointing of the Spirit in our lifetime.” Wesleyanism, and hence the Church of the Nazarene, is focused on holiness, which requires the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to work and move. I will be praying with you (and have been) for a fresh anointing, a powerful move of the Spirit.
Thank you for being open to discussion and open to learn from (whether by deciding to agree or disagree with what is shared) regarding matters of faith, life and where they intersect.

Dar Brasch

I just discovered your blog and appreciate it more than you can know!  Reading these 10 points and the comments ALMOST makes up for not being there in the SS class.  We have yet to find a church here in the Gilbert/Phoenix area that has an open discussion adult SS class that would even come close to what you have there.
Needless to say, I loved your use of “her” in number 9.  Thanks for your thoughts, vision, and caring of people and our “church.”

Beverly Hines

Thank you for your essay, Tom.  I said a loud “Amen” after reading it.  I agree with all your points but I particularly want to affirm point #1 about engaging contemporary theology.  It seems to me once pastors leave seminary they have the potential to get stuck in a time warp with whatever theological teachings were in vogue when they went to school.  I would love to see pastors regularly engage with our theologians (like every couple of years or so) so that what we hear from the pulpit is similar to the understandings of our theologians. Hey! Here’s an idea…What if staff had annual CTE (Continuing Theological Education) requirements to maintain their ministerial license?  Like the CME’s [continuing medical education] annually required in the medical community.

I personally would also love to see more lay people keeping up with new developments in theology. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so at the Wesley Conference each year at NNU.

I don’t usually comment but I want you to know I love reading your blog.

Dan Smitley

Really enjoyed the post and if I were ever to renew my Nazarene membership I would want to see manay of these areas already improving. What I am curious about is are you already seeing some movements on any of these 10 fronts? If so when and where?

I would love to hear more about Nazarenes embracing contemporary theology and the poor more.

Roy Oosthuizen

Hi Thomas, this is right on the money. Appreciate you articulating it so clearly.

God bless



Beware of the growth of the bureaucracy of the denomination. Christ biggest adversary to His ministry was the Scribes and the Pharisees and all the pomp and circumstance that went with the temple. We as Nazarenes need to strive for the simplest structure of church government with the least number of layers of authority and least number of positions in those layers. The Bible is our authority and the Holy Spirit is our teacher.

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