Part 5: Is the Nazarene Church becoming part of the emerging church?
One of the unique things about the Church of the Nazarene is that even in its inception it was not one fully cohesive organization. The church was formed by people with diverse theological ideas and liturgical practices who agreed about the need for believers to live the holy life God called his children to live and were unified around the shared experience of having given themselves entirely to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. My guess is that we started with a great deal of diversity and we will continue to be very diverse.
For example, the Church of the Nazarene has always and will continue to contain theistic evolutionists and young earth literalists who agree that God created but disagree deeply over the process of that creation. The church has and will continue to contain pre-, post-, and a-millennialists who agree that Christ will return but share little in common regarding the way Christ will return. The church has always had members who are pacifists and others who hold and live out just-war theorists. The denomination will continue to call both sides to tolerate one another. And now, likewise, my guess is that the church will find a way to hold together (in tension) Nazarenes who think of themselves as “emerging” and those who view all things labeled “emerging” with great suspicion.
The one problem, however, with the “big tent” the Nazarenes have always tried to maintain is that eventually one side tries to push the other out. There may be some exceptions to this, but it is my impression that in the examples I mentioned above it is usually the side that would name itself “conservative” (although I hate liberal and conservative as descriptors because they are usually quite inaccurate) that does most of the pushing. Usually young earth creationists want to push out the theistic evolutionists. The pre-millennialists want to get rid of the post and a-millennialists. The just-war theorists shove out the messianic pacifists. And currently the anti-emergents want to label the EC heresy and rid the church of its “emergent” Christians.
I think its probably clear to those who have patiently read every section of these posts on the EC that although I believe there is much to be discussed and argued about regarding the EC, I believe it would be a tragedy for the denomination if the church forced out or even lost, due to frustration and hurt, the emergent believers among us. My hope is that the kind of leadership that Bresee gave during the early years of the denomination that allowed diversity instead of requiring sameness will be renewed in our current leaders. I am not optimistic that this will happen. I am not even optimistic that folk like me trying to promote open dialogue, while maintaining peace on both sides, will survive politically in the church. But to borrow a line from Zechariah, ultimately I am not optimistic or pessimistic. I am a “prisoner of hope.”
If you are interested in reading more about the EC from some Nazarene leaders who do consider themselves both EC and Nazarene, here is a link to a very recent and wonderful paper written by a handful of gifted young leaders (and good friends) who make a beautiful and articulate plea for the church to keep a place for them at the table: http://northst.org/Various/Is%20There%20Room%20At%20The%20Table.pdf
Thanks for the many positive comments about this set of FAQ blogs on the EC. I hope they have been helpful for those of you who have labored through them. Pray that God would continue to give the church discernment, wisdom, and courage to pursue his will in all things.