Come share the dream

What Nazarenes do well:
1. Model disciplined life
2. Offer learning
3. Live as pilgrims
4. Enjoy redemption
5. Build relationships
  — Hermann Gschwandtner, missionary

Dreaming the Nazarene dream

This article by Howard Culbertson originally appeared in the Herald of Holiness, a periodical now called Holiness Today. This is an updated version of the print article.

Are you good at thinking on your feet? I'm not. I get caught off guard all the time. It happened recently at Southern Nazarene University.

I was the missionary-in-residence there at SNU. I often had students in my Christian Thought who are not Nazarenes. Suzanne was one of those. One day after class she stopped to talk. She said she was thinking about joining our church.

"But I'm not sure why," she said almost as a challenge. "Can you help me decide? Why are you a Nazarene?"

I began to hem and haw around. As I said, no one thinks of me as a brilliant off-the-cuff thinker. Finally, I mumbled something. Days passed. Suzanne's question kept coming up. I couldn't keep from thinking about it.

Finally, I've got an answer. Unfortunately, the semester has ended. Suzanne is no longer in my class. So I'm trying to answer her here.

Why are you thinking about becoming a Nazarene, Suzanne? Is it because you agree wholeheartedly with the moral standards set by General Assembly delegates?

We're against sin. I hope you are. We're for righteousness. I hope you are. We're not, however, the only group preaching tithing and clean living. A lot of evangelical churches set tough moral standards. Many voice their convictions clearly and coherently.

Looking for a church with high moral standards? You have a broad range of choices.

Should you become a Nazarene because you like our Articles of Faith?

A few days ago, I sat beside a nonChristian on a flight out of Denver. I said I was a missionary with the Church of the Nazarene. "Nazarenes? Baptists?" he said, "Aren't you about the same?"

"Yes," I told him. Naturally, we insiders can see significant differences. On many major issues, however, we agree. To a non-churchgoer, Baptists and Nazarenes are very much the same.

We have a couple of unique doctrinal views. Many churches differ with us on sin and sanctification. If you oppose us on these key doctrines, Suzanne, you'll be uncomfortable being a Nazarene. On the other hand, we're not the only ones believing in the Bible, the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Atonement, Communion, and baptism. On most issues we're right in the mainstream of evangelical Christianity.

I've known Nazarenes who left to join other churches. They still believed in the Trinity, the Bible, and the Atonement. But they weren't Nazarenes anymore. Agreeing to a list of "I believes" is probably not reason enough to join our church.

Should you become a Nazarene because you believe in entire sanctification? Does this doctrine describe your experience and your understanding of God's Word?

This argument has merit. Entire sanctification as a second work of grace is a distinctive. Not every evangelical church believes in it like we do. Some disagree strongly with us. Believing in entire sanctification significantly narrows your choice of churches.

Still, there are several "holiness" churches. Those preaching entire sanctification include: The Wesleyan Church, God's Missionary Church, the Church of God (Anderson), and the Free Methodist Church. So, believing in entire sanctification does not automatically mean you should become a Nazarene. [ How entire is entire? ]

Looking for a holiness church? You could join any of those other groups.

Should you join the Church of the Nazarene simply because you like the church?

I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. I've been a part of it for more than 60 years. I like the freedom of expression in our services. I love General Assemblies. The story of aggressive outreach and mergers that gave birth to us fascinates me. Still, emotional appeal alone is not enough to make you a Nazarene.

Suzanne, are you attracted to us because of some local church? Don't join, however, based on what you see in one local church. Remember: When you become a Nazarene, you join more than a local church. You're joining a movement. You may like one church, Suzanne. Is that reason enough to join a whole movement'?

So, what's the better answer? Should you become a Nazarene because of:
a. Doctrine?
b. Lifestyle standards?
c. Emotional appeal.

I've thought a lot about your question, Suzanne. None of these first responses satisfies me entirely. If I have to choose from this list, I'd prefer to say: all of the above. It's, however, something more.

The other day I flew to Washington, D.C. During that flight, the answer came to me. Why do I choose to be a Nazarene, Suzanne? It's because of the dream. I'm a Nazarene because I share the Nazarene dream!

Emotional appeal. Doctrine. Lifestyle standards. They're all part of the Nazarene dream. But our dream is something more. It's a vision of Spirit filled believers invading every nook and cranny of this world. In sacrificial service they seek "the entire sanctification of believers and their upbuilding in holiness." The Church of the Nazarene doesn't have a fortress mentality. That is, we're not hunkered down behind something, trying to survive Satan's onslaughts. "We don't need forts and barricades," Phineas F. Bresee wrote in our early days. "We need a marching, conquering army."

We're assault troops, not fortified defenders. Our dream is a wonderful mix of second blessing holiness and aggressive evangelism. That dream has driven its to plant a Nazarene church in 60% of the U.S. counties. That's more extensive coverage than many older and even larger denominations. Phineas Bresee was one of our founders. I was fascinated to find his name in a recent book titled Seven Hundred Plans to Evangelize the World. That book catalogs the plans and dreams of Christian leaders and organizations through the centuries. Only a few denominational leaders make that list. Bresee is among the select few. "We are debtors," he said, "to every man to give him the gospel in the same measure we have received it."

We published our first Manual in 1908. Under Bresee's leadership those early Nazarenes wrote: "We seek . . . the preaching of the Gospel to every creature." Barrett and Reapsome saw Bresee as having a plan to evangelize the world.

Many of the 700 plans they looked at have fizzled. They sounded great but didn't produce results. Among those which Barrett and Reapsome declared "alive and well" is Bresee's. Bresee's plan is, said Barrett and Reapsome, being "massively implemented." That's true. Today, the Church of the Nazarene is at work in 160 countries. The dream of planting the holiness banner everywhere drives us onward and outward. I've dreamed that dream, too. I want to help make it happen.

Along the way I've seen some Nazarenes drop out. They wandered off to other churches. I've talked with some of them. They didn't leave primarily over moral issues or because of disillusionment with our heritage. Doctrinal differences did not trigger the change. They simply drifted away, having lost the dream. The vision no longer gripped them as it once did.

When my parents married, they were members of another holiness group. They changed churches when they discovered that the Nazarene vision harmonized better with their own hopes and dreams as Spirit-filled believers. They've helped conserve that dream so that I could dream it, too.

That, Suzanne, is why I'm a Nazarene. If you're dreaming that dream, we'd like to have you. Come, help us make it happen.

Are you a contagious Christian?

NextYou can share your faith in infectious ways. [ read more ]

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Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement (History of  Missions)    Nazarene Missions    Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions
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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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