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.