Most of my life has been connected, in varying degrees, with a body of Christians known as the Church of the Nazarene. There have been several meaningful associations throughout my life, notably in school and a couple of workplaces, but virtually everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done has had some sort of attachment to Nazarenes and/or their institutions.
At the outset, I could say – and probably should – that anything in which people are involved will offer the prospect of joy or pain or a little of both. That’s been my experience, for sure, even in my beloved church.
So, after 53 years of living under the shadow of the Nazarene wing of evangelical Christianity, I’ve been asking myself why I’m still there. It’s clear that many of my generation, and even more of those younger than myself, have left for other congregations or denominational affiliations.
Am I still Nazarene because of convenience? Family tradition? Employment? Not that any of these reasons are necessarily bad ones, but I think maybe one’s religious affiliation ought to involve a deeper reason for being.
And so I’ve been taking stock. Here are some reasons I’m still a Nazarene.
1. I believe in the central doctrines and Articles of Faith as set forth by our church. I believe that there is something valuable in a church body staking a claim that “subsequent to regeneration, there is a deeper work of the Holy Spirit” that is referred to as heart holiness or sanctification or total commitment of one’s life to Christ. I do not believe that our human nature can be eradicated, but I do believe that, as we submit our lives to Christ and ask for God’s spirit to fill us, we can be better humans in the process. God’s spirit is the empowering force that can shape us into what we ought to be. It’s up to us to choose to relinquish our will to His.
2. Having been born into a family steeped in the work of the Church of the Nazarene, I can affirm that tradition plays a role. We have a lot invested in it. Not just time, but a real passion for the work of the church locally and globally. Staying with something over time isn’t a bad thing when what you’ve committed to is a “good thing.” The aims of the Church of the Nazarene are good.
3. Organizations, the church included, have a hard time living up to the highest ideals put forth in vision and mission statements. Despite this reality, the Church of the Nazarene is full of deeply devoted disciples of the One whose name we bear. The Nazarenes of Jesus’ day were common folk. For the most part, present day Nazarenes are, too. We seek to help people across the street and around the world.
4. Nazarenes, from their earliest days, focused on meeting needs of the poor and disenfranchised, but they also had two outward points of emphasis – education and missions. For a denomination of its size, it does more with a dollar than most: eight respected liberal arts colleges and universities in the USA, a seminary, a bible college, and a unique partnership with the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Canada through Ambrose College. In other world areas we have over 40 other colleges and seminaries that serve with distinction. We have missionaries in 160 world areas and global partnerships with para-church organizations such as Jesus Film Partners and Heart to Heart, among others. Nazarenes are a generous and ambitious people who care for others!
5. It’s clear that many of the most dynamic churches today are those that are defined as independent or non-denominational. In spite of current anti-denomination attitudes, those perceptions do not indicate that denominational affiliation is the root cause for decline, or that non-affiliation is a cure all. Denominational structure provides for help for many situations in the life of the local church. Among them are assistance in pastoral arrangements, resourcing and training, guidance in matters of mutual accountability and church discipline, and partnership in ministry to extend beyond the local church.
6. The fellowship of the believers was something that the early church recognized as valuable. While there is plenty of scripture dedicated to the dysfunction of some of those early groups, it’s also obvious that they understood the importance of “spurring one another on to love and good works.” The bonds of friendship and shared mission are one of the most treasured hallmarks of my association with the Church of the Nazarene. Because of the family into which I was born, I have connections with a number of people that exceeds my fondest imaginations. I am grateful for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of friends I have through our church.
So there are a few of the reasons for why I appreciate my heritage in the Church of the Nazarene and why I intend to stick around for as long it’s here.
I know Nazarenes have said and done some things they’d like to take back across the years. I do, too. But in the grand scheme of human history, I think the Church of the Nazarene has been faithful to the call to make the world a better place.
Here’s the bottom line of what I’m trying to say. If you’re a Nazarene today, I hope you’ll stand a little taller and thank God for the blessing of your church. If you’re among the many former Nazarenes, I hope you’ll think about how our church attempted to make a positive impact on your life.
Nazarenes are not, and never have been, perfect… Well, except for that one – Jesus of Nazareth.