Dr. Carl Leth recently posted an open letter to Manny Silva as an article in “The Epworth Pulpit.” While I cannot speak for the accuracy of Leth’s comments on the websites, his overall tone and approach were quite refreshing. As I read the article and the comments that followed, I was faced with the clear distinction between Leth’s approach to conversation and Silva’s. Seeing the need to describe conflict from a Biblical perspective, I began writing this blog.
My original intent was to also include some Biblical foundations for Spiritual Disciplines. To start my research, I began reviewing several blogs and websites from Silva and the Concerned Nazarenes to attempt to ascertain what exactly the group identifies as “Spiritual Formations.” While I was able to accomplish this task in finding that the group opposes the use of prayer beads, prayer labyrinths, meditation, and lectio divina, I also found some other theological perspectives from the group that would make a conversation on these topics quite difficult.
Based on my findings, I came to the conclusion that my original blogging intentions would not suffice for such an occasion. Instead, I seek to make some of the issues quite clear in this “controversy.” If you were to read no further, you could simply read this next sentence to understanding my point: Theologically speaking, Concerned Nazarenes are not really Nazarenes. While they share the same name, they neither believe nor perpetuate the specific beliefs of the Church of the Nazarene. Please let this distinction be clear: I am in no way attempting to imply that the group is not Christian. On the contrary, I believe that this sub-community of Christians has a strong theological heritage within the history of the church. However, their theological beliefs are not from the tradition of the Church of the Nazarene.
The Concerned Nazarenes, in belief and practice, are more accurately defined as Fundamentalists. Stan Ingersol does an excellent job of describing the relationship between Fundamentalism and the Church of the Nazarene is his paper “Strange Bedfellows: The Nazarenes and Fundamentalism.” Although the Church of the Nazarene and Fundamentalism were birthed and developed in the same century and have been intermingled at times, there is a clear distinction between them. According to Ingersol, Fundamentalism is an extremely conservative branch of Christian Protestantism that emphasizes the literal interpretation of Scripture. Characteristic of this movement are separatism from and militant opposition against any tradition that does not adhere to its theological beliefs (Ingersol).
Wes Tracy does a great job at describing some of the risks & tendencies of Fundamentalism in this blog from “Holiness Today.”
Based on this description of Fundamentalism, the Concerned Nazarenes are undoubtedly Fundamentalist in nature.
1. Concerned Nazarenes believe that the Old and New Testaments are the inerrant Word of God and, in addition to theology, are accurate both historically and scientifically. This is evidenced on several of the group’s webpages/blogs.
2. The group has sought to separate itself from all other groups. Any group that practices faith differently than the CNs or believes differently than they do is wrong and, many times, heretical. The CNs regularly identify Roman Catholic, social theology, and “emergents” as heretics or, at least, in the wrong.
3. The means of communication from the CNs is quite militant. The comments on Leth’s article are evidence of this, but this fact can be seen in many of their publications and even in the means of distributing such publications.
Edwin E. Crawford explains in his online article “Fundamentalism and the Church of the Nazarene” that the 1928 and 1932 General Assemblies made clear that the Church of the Nazarene is not a Fundamentalist denomination. Fundamentalism, according to Crawford’s summary of Timothy Smith’s Called Unto Holiness, trace its roots from Calvinism. The Church of the Nazarene, on the other hand, is Wesleyan-Arminian.
Here are some elements of distinction of the Church of the Nazarene from both Fundamentalism and Concerned Nazarenes:
1. The Church of the Nazarene believes that the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant in everything needed for our relationship with God. In other words, it’s the prime and absolute authority on theology. Unlike Fundamentalism and the CNs, the denomination believes the Bible is a theological textbook, not a science or history textbook. However, even within the instances of scientific or historic inaccuracies, there are often theological points being made. Additionally, the Church of the Nazarene does not promote a modernistic (the philosophy, not “current day”) approach to miracles and the supernatural in Scripture. Simply, real people wrote the books as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit within history and were not themselves, all-knowing.
2. The Church of the Nazarene, while Wesleyan-Arminian in heritage, does not believe that other traditions are heretical simply based on the fact that they are different than its own beliefs. In other words, we believe that there will be Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Pentecostals, and a whole lot of other people who will be in heaven. There are central elements of theology that must be maintained (like those included in the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed), but there are different expressions within these bounds. On this note, I must reaffirm that fact that Concerned Nazarenes are Christians. Although I am distinguishing them from the Church of the Nazarene, I am in no way attempting to question their relationship with God through Christ.
3. Members of the Church of the Nazarene seem to go about conversations differently. The CN voice has obviously been quite “loud.” One does not have to go very far to find examples of lists of individuals or schools that have been blacklisted by the CNs. The unfortunate truth is that some (not “all” and probably not even “most”) have actually insulted and ridiculed individuals personally and in public. However, the majority of responses to these claims have been done in a much gentler tone. For example, although Carl Leth specifically pointed out some faults in Silva’s methods, he did not attack personally Silva by calling him names or insulting him. Leth intentionally offered his services to serve as a host to Silva and invite him to speak with members of the faculty and staff. He considered Silva’s concerns seriously and took action with the university chaplain and is continuing to act on his concerns with his teaching faculty. Quite simply, the Church of the Nazarene is not militant. We are not on a crusade to kill every theological tradition or belief that differs from our own.
Fundamentalism developed within the Church in response to the rise of modernity. This philosophical stance maintains that human reason is the source for all truth and that nothing can be true if it cannot be proven. Alister McGrath provides a great description of this interaction in his book, The Twilight of Atheism. Since science began to question the creation accounts in Scripture , the miracles, and even Jesus resurrection, the Church began by trying to defend Scripture and God. From this developed the theological premises of Fundamentalism. God is Sovereign (He is in control of everything) and He inspired Scripture inerrantly. To them, questioning Scripture is actually questioning the integrity of God Himself. Obviously, this is a serious and honorable stance. However, this response from the Church continued to drive a wedge between the secular and the sacred into what exists even today – the conflict of Science and Religion.
The world we live in is no longer defined by modernity. People are open to spiritual realities. And, as Ingersol points out in the paper mentioned above, Fundamentalism cannot adequately deal with such a reality.Wesleyan-Arminianism does not solve all of the “problems” with Scripture and Science. And, to be sure, it does not have everything figured out theologically. Even so, the Church of the Nazarene in its true essence is open to conversations about faith. The Bible will always remain as the source for all theological truth, but will not be used as means to be militant against other groups.
The grievances that the Concerned Nazarenes have brought to the table against individuals and institutions should not be automatically dismissed as irrelevant. However, by my observation, any attempt by these targeted individuals or groups to respond gracefully to the concerns has been greeted with closed minds and often public degradation by the CNs. On this note, I leave you with some verses that deal with resolving conflict and confronting sin or theological debate (I have bolded the words I would like to emphasize):
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you…
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witness.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus Said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.