The Tension of In-Between

I followed a stream of conversation on Facebook with the basic premise that the Church of the Nazarene was abandoning its holiness roots.

Our denomination has been struggling to define holiness, both to itself and to the world. To the world, the Church of the Nazarene (and other holiness denominations) has a list of things to not do. When you are not doing all these things on the list, you’re in the holiness crown. However, as one can imagine, a list of don’ts becomes legalism rather than definition. The danger of a list is that it can be culturally wrong, or can create a false sense of salvation, holiness, or (to me, even worse) a lack of desire to better reflect the change of heart that Jesus has wrought in my heart. It the same stream of conversation was an amen of we are no longer the legalistic denomination we were, yet the list of don’ts kept showing up with more amens. It confuses me as a Nazarene. I can only imagine what it does to those outside of our denomination (and aware of its internal wranglings) or faith.

To those inside the denomination, I probably am not providing any great insight. Having experienced the seemingly polar opposites of our Wesleyan (i.e., Methodist) Holiness heritage and our American Holiness heritage, I can see how the legalistic piece was able to get in. This post is not intended to discuss the differences between the two (Wesleyan and American Holiness) strains. However, having been caught (and emotionally scarred, I will admit) between those of the American Holiness thought and Wesleyan thought, I can see how the most politically expedient (i.e., easy and worldly) way to merge the two would be a set of rules that both would agree with for much of the same reasons.

Rules that define who is in and out, however, can (and often do) damage, limit, or flat-prevent spiritual growth. Do I think that rules are good? Of course. It is what kind of rules, and most importantly how they are used, followed and lived that affect my (and anyone’s) interaction with them. The danger for myself and others is when the behaviors (or lack thereof) that others would define me as a Holiness person become my in. In other words, drinking alcoholic beverages (but not using them in cooking) is “unholy”. Smoking is unholy. Driving too fast isn’t unholy. Doing a California stop isn’t unholy. A motorcyclist not wearing a helmet or leathers is not unholy. The first two behaviors (within “legal age” limits) are legal. The last three are (technically) against most state laws. Now not following the law of the land is not holy, except (oh, you knew that was coming) when it violates the “spirit” of the Christian life.

T.S. Elliot and J.R.R. Tolkein both drank (in moderation, from what I understand) and smoked. Many holiness Christians admire their writings from a Christian perspective. Yet, from the Holiness perspective, these men were not Holiness men. The same can be said for many, many Christians over the years. However, there is something that draws us to a person when their being reflects the holiness of the One True God. Sometimes they are not wearing the signs (i.e., behaviors) that make it easy for us to categorize them. Perhaps that’s the whole point.

Back to what kicked-started this opening post of this new blog. There are two primary streams of thought, both in the church and in the greater society, reactionaries and revolutionaries (using on old sociological model). Reactionaries (often misidentified as conservatives, Republicans, establishment, etc.) are those that hold onto the things of the past (or, the ways of yore). Revolutionaries (often misidentified as progressives, liberals, Democrats, Socialists, etc.) are those that seek to change the things that are. The Reactionary guards the past as “the best”. The Revolutionary strives for change as “the best”. The truth of the best can be found in old, new, or even somewhere in between. The in between, however, is often despised or ignored by both Reactionary and Revolutionary.

The Church of the Nazarene has often had (and currently has) both Reactionary and Revolutionary streams in operation at the same time. As crazy as it sounds (and sometimes feels), my perception is that the big tent of our denomination works best this way, as that way we are more inclined to chose a path that preserves the essentials of our faith, and challenging the non-essentials of our faith that often take the form of societal and cultural norms. It doesn’t make staying in the denomination easy. From what I can tell (I’m still a relative newcomer), our denomination started in tension (American and Wesleyan differences), which continues today. Sometimes it works well. Other times, not so much.

Separate and Not

I’ve been reading Principles for the Gathering of Believers Under the Headship of Jesus Christ by Gospel Fellowships

In Principle 6, they speak of the fact/truth that God does not need buildings to dwell in. They really hammer on it. While I am reading between the lines, I’m guessing that there have been many who have condemned/judged them for not having “proper” church buildings, so they feel the need to defend/justify their house church meetings. That is really sad.

God is omnipresent, but not only that. God is present in each of us. The authors (and scripture) make that quite clear. Paul notes that we are now God’s Holy Temple. Note that there is a tension here. If God is omnipresent, why then would we need to note that God is dwelling in us? It’s an obvious conclusion. That Paul feels it necessary to make this statement means that there is a difference between omnipresence and dwelling.

My struggle with the authors’ point isn’t that I think that it is necessary for there to be a physical building for there to be a church (or “the” church), but that we need a physical place.

Think of the Deborah, the judge. When she is approached by the people of Israel, she is under a tree. If it was any old tree, how would they know to find her there? Now, I could be reading too much into the passage, but I don’t see a “they searched for Deborah and found her under a tree.” I see a definite sense of place. When Saul is wandering after a donkey, we learn that there are multiple places of residences for seers. They are known as the towns of the seers.

There is a definite sense of presence.

God uses the words “to tabernacle” when He talks about dwelling with the Israelites. God uses dwelling with, too. When God set out the rules for the tabernacle, it wasn’t for God. It was for the people. Even with the Holy of Holies, it isn’t for God, it is for the people. The setup of the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies is to set the space (and psychology) for the people’s interaction with God, using the framework of space to display the separateness of the Fallen (i.e, broken, separated, sin-filled) world from God.

One of the repeated components of both journaling and prayer (spiritual practice-wise) is setting aside a quiet place to do it, and many teach that it should be the same place.

It is not that the house church movement is wrong, nor is it to say “the traditional” church-y structure is wrong. It is how we set aside space to meet with God. The authors speak of the early church meeting outside of the city walls, or even meeting in the catacombs of the cities. I’m going to guess, however, that the early church met at only a few specific places. In other words, they had places set aside to meet with God in the presence of one another.

And this is where the Western church in the midst of its apparent decline is discovering a new tension. When you are launching church or choose not to build a building, you are often using spaces that were built to fulfill other purposes (i.e., school gyms, movie theaters, conference rooms, etc.). As the church finds that it can no longer maintain the buildings it created or chooses to serve in different ways in which they find buildings to be in conflict in with their mission, the church is struggling to find a way to have a holy place in the midst of the secular.

For some of us (me), we need the pomp and circumstance as part of our religious practice. We struggle with these dual purpose secular/holy places. We feel a need for these places that are set apart.

If you are not one of those, be happy with that. If you are not one of those, be grace-filled toward those of us who are.

This is not to say that I always need a “special” place to meet God. That would deny the nature and character of God and my faith. I will often find my self more aware (and present) of God’s presence when surrounded by His Creation of nature. For standard practice, I need some of that ritual which is aided by a physical structure. That is not to I am bound by them.

This leads me back to the tension showing up in the church today. We cannot deny that God calls us to live in the world, yet not be of the world. We have to think of that particular tension in the light of ambassadors. The ambassador of a foreign country lives among others who are not of their country, yet they are separate.

If God set apart part of His Tabernacle aside to be a special place, why would we not recognize the pattern, and do so ourselves? If we take Paul’s words about being a temple to heart, then those that are Christian are set apart from the world. This, it seems to me, is the same pattern…a setting apart.

Christians and Authority

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:1-10 NRSV

I wrote #Purple for Royalty after the POTUS election, and I am still struggling with the Christian response to President Trump’s existence, let alone his behavior and/or policies.

I struggled with many Christians’ response to the (re-)election of Obama. There were so many shrill voices full of anti-Obama rhetoric. There was a significant portion that believed that there was a conspiracy to get Obama elected and that he led (or was a significant partner in) other conspiracies to suborn the US to global authority. Really, it got old.

Now that Trump has been elected, we have exactly the same kind of rhetoric. With Obama, the progressive/liberal Christians were saying that the stereotyped conservative evangelical was deceived regarding Obama’s conspiracies. With Trump, now many conservative evangelicals are doing the same thing toward the stereotyped progressive/liberals.

This is not to pick on either side (or maybe picking on both sides equally). This is about our Christian voices, and devaluing the Christian voices of perspectives different than our own. Reread the passage in Romans that I quoted above. What struck me as I read it this time, was how we treat and respond to those in authority is part of our Christian witness. Let that sink in.

When you ripped Obama or Trump, you are impacting your Christian witness negatively, according to Paul, and that is *regardless* of which side of the political spectrum you put yourself.

The context, however, of Paul’s letter is definitely different than our own. In Paul’s context, you had the Roman government, which had a strict hierarchy in place, and you did not push it; to do so would be to invite death. I am not saying that Roman rule was just, but I believe we can say it was less just than what we have today. Yet, Paul said to be subject and honor that same authority.

Yet, how does this authority work in a republic such as ours? We are the authority, while at the same time we are subject to the authority of others (by the power our vote). How does respect and authority work, then? That’s where the last sentence comes in, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Who is my neighbor…the person in front of you. That applies even when they are an authority figure.