This morning I spent some time e-mailing back and forth with Dr. H. Ray Dunning about two workshops I attended at M11 and how they reflect the direction our denomination is headed with our beliefs about holiness in the life of the believer. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to dialogue with such a well-respected thinker about the doctrine of holiness in the Church of the Nazarene.
As I was finishing sharing my thoughts on the workshops I attended and my feelings about the direction our denomination is headed (especially in relationship to our American Holiness Movement and Wesleyan roots), I realized that there is a much more important conversation that needs to be initiated, particularly in reference to the representation of the CotN in North America. Here are some prompting questions for this conversation:
When is the last time your youth group heard a lesson or sermon sanctification?
When is the last time your young adult ministries (if you even have young adults in your church) learned about the doctrine of holiness?
If you were to name the most dedicated member of your congregation between the ages of 30 and 50, would that person be able to explain the Church of the Nazarene's belief about holiness?
I am afraid to say that the answers to these questions for most of us would be quite discouraging. Many lay peers that I speak with realize that holiness is an important belief in the tradition of our denomination, but that's the problem - it's tradition. We have to remember that holiness is as dynamic, relational, relevant, and real as it has ever been. A life free from the bondage of sin and in right relationship with God is what God desires for us and has already offered us. Scripture makes this clear! Holiness is not just a antiquated doctrine of our denomination - is a Scriptural reality that can be lived out in the here and now! God the Holy Spirit is working and sanctifying His people each and every day!
Why have so many pastors (senior, worship, youth, children, and every other title a pastor could have), evangelists, and lay leaders stopped preaching and teaching holiness? Why have our lay people stopped believing that they can be free from sin? I would suggest these causes:
- Some are confused about holiness. If you've heard different people try to explain the same thing in different ways, it's easy to be unsure about the right way to understand holiness. Or, if someone explains holiness in a way that seems to contradict with your personal experience, it's hard to know how you should receive this explanation. It's nearly impossible to teach something you don't understand.
- Some don't believe that the doctrine of holiness is true. Although they understand the explanations of the doctrine, they think it's too optimistic to think that humans can be free from sin; we are "only human" after all. You can't very well teach something you don't believe yourself.
- Reformed/Calvinist Theology is predominate in our lives. Many of our lay leaders (and even pastors) listen to, read, and teach from Reformed thinkers. To be sure, these people have a lot of good and helpful things to say about God, Christianity, Faith, and how to live. One of the most important aspects of this tradition is the high belief in God's sovereignty. On the flipside of this belief is the sinfulness of man. The Reformed tradition believes and teaches that it is impossible to be free from sin in this life. Often this belief shows up in sermons, devotional books, and small group curriculum in subtle and hidden ways and it has made its way into the beliefs of many Nazarenes. If your formation comes primarily from Christians who believe it's impossible to be free from sin, you will not be able to teach or believe that the holy life is possible.
- Some of our laity and clergy are put into places of leadership in the local church before they've learned about the doctrine of holiness themselves. You have to have a firm grasp on something yourself before you can teach it to others. If you don't have a good understanding of holiness, you can't teach it to others.
- Some people think sanctification happens later in life that teenage years. Sanctification is a wonderful work of God in the life of the believer. Many of our youth groups are made up of teens just trying to figure out what it means to be Christian in the first place. However, some teenagers have been Christians since they were a young child and are searching for total commitment to God, but don't know how to receive it. But, if we don't realize this need, we won't teach about sometime we don't think our teens are ready for.
- Some churches don't have a clear roadmap for Christian discipleship. A lot of churches function as several different and separate departments operating together - Sunday School, Children's Ministries, Youth Ministries, Adult Ministries, Senior Ministries, Small Groups, Bible Studies, etc. If there isn't some overarching plan, no one knows which groups should teach what topics. Often, many of the groups teach the same things, leaving large gaps in the overall discipleship of the church. If there's not a plan for discipleship, the church will miss some really important things -- like holiness!
These six suggests are probably just some of the causes for the holiness gap in several of our younger generations. Maybe you can think of more! But what do we do about these? How can we address the issue that our young families, adults, and teenagers (and probably children too!) aren't being taught about holiness and sanctification. And, even more important, they're not surrendering their lives to the sanctifying power of God!
I don't think I'm just making this problem up. On a personal note, I didn't learn what sanctification was until I was a junior in high school and I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene! And what I learned about holiness then came in 1 or 2 sermons from an evangelist and was not through our youth group! After I found out what it was, I realized that I had received that work of Grace in my life a couple of years before, but just didn't know what it was called.
So how do we solve these problems? What are the solutions?
- We can't give up on holiness just when we're confused about holiness. Holiness is a major theme in Scripture, we can't just give up on what God's Word says because we don't understand it at first. It can be confusing, but God doesn't want us to be confused about it and will help us understand it better. There are some great books out there on holiness that explain the doctrine in understandable ways. In addition to this list, there are several books that have been written and are in process of being written that share it in conversational ways. Relational Holiness by Oord and Lodahl and A Layman's Guide to Sanctification by Dunning are just two examples. Besides books, we can talk to pastors, professors, or denominational leadership to help us understand the doctrine better.
- We can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. A lot of people question the validity of holiness because they've heard people testify to being sanctified in church but live a different life outside of the church. There's nothing that can kill a belief faster than hypocrisy...nothing except just not talking about at all. We can't give up on the biblical idea of holiness because we've run into some hypocrites. Again, if we do some more study about holiness maybe we can better understand what it should look like in the believer. Also, talking to godly Nazarenes about their holiness experience can be helpful. Jeren Rowell, my District Superintendent, often talks about the power of testimonies. If our churches begin intentionally using testimonies again of people live out the holy life, the gap between word and deed becomes so much smaller!
- We need reevaluate the voices we're letting form our faith. There is no doubt that Mark Driscoll, Beth Moore, and John Piper (and many others) have been helping people grow closer to God for a long time. But they don't preach a message of holiness! Instead of listening to all of their podcasts, reading all of their books, and utilizing all their small group material, we need to find these sources in the Wesleyan tradition. Perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, the Wesleyan selection was poor, but today there are a lot of great Wesleyan resources out there. Admittedly, Wesleyans don't often speak on nationally syndicated radio programs, but there are plenty of podcasts, CDs, and tapes you can get (check out our Nazarene university chapel services on itunes!) If we want to live out holiness, if we want our children and grandchildren to hear the holiness message, we need to start using holiness curriculum and devotional material!
- Let's make sure we aren't compromising our leadership. In many places around our denomination, people who are willing to lead ministries and churches are in short supply and large demand. We often read over the part in the Manual that board members and church staff should live out and testify to being sanctified. In a couple of years, when my daughter is old enough to attend Sunday School and Children's Church, I want to be sure that the children's workers who are teaching her can testify to the sanctifying work of God in their lives. And I want my daughter to learn about holiness from other adults besides just her mother and me. If we want our children and peers to know about holiness, we have to have leaders who know about holiness! We need to hold off on putting leaders in position until they can testify to holiness. And, in my opinion, it might not be a bad idea to hold off on hiring pastors who haven't yet taken a course of holiness in their studies for ordination.
- Holiness isn't too hard to work into our curriculum. This is a solution that's easy to implement. I think that if youth pastors specifically talk about holiness with the whole youth group at least once a year, then at least everyone might know what holiness and sanctification are. Special events like summer camp, lock-ins, and retreats are also great times to invite special speakers to share the message of holiness or to encourage students to surrender their whole lives to Christ.
- Let's map out discipleship in our churches. Let's just sit down and make a list of everything that a Christian needs to know. Then let's work through the list and see if, where, when, and to what age group each of these topics are being taught. We need to offer all of these topics to each age group. It's also good to evaluate the types of small groups we have. I now teach young adult Sunday School and house church in my local congregation. In the past, both of these venues were issues-based conversational small groups. There wasn't a lot of instruction, there was no Bible study, and very little theology study. So now we try to get a good rotation in these two groups. Currently, we're teaching theology in Sunday School with NPH's Christianity 101 material (which I supplement a little) and the Gospel of Mark in home churches. During Lent, we'll be teaching biblical theology in Sunday School and Spiritual Formation in home churches with Ashes to Fire. When we look over our lists, we can easily see where the weaknesses are. I don't think we would be surprised to find "holiness" being left on our lists without a home in our current discipleship patterns.
This is only a start to this conversation. Now that you've read this talk about it on here, and with others. Talk to your pastor, Sunday School teacher, or District Superintendent about it. Let us continue to proclaim Scriptural holiness!