An edited portion from the roundtable panel discussion
“Reflecting on our Nazarene Heritage” is a three-hour history panel discussion featuring Stan Ingersol, Janine Metcalf, Paul M. Bassett, and Tom Noble, which was included as a DVD in the book, Nazarene Roots: Pastors, Prophets, Revivalists, and Reformers, by Stan Ingersol. Below is an edited portion of part of the discussion. Questions used in the program were solicited in advance from Nazarene clergy in the United States and Canada. The panel was moderated by Bob Broadbooks, USA/Canada Regional Director. Copies of Nazarene Roots are available for purchase online from Nazarene Publishing House at www.nph.com.
Founders and Shapers
Broadbooks: What were the contributions of Phineas Bresee and Hiram F. Reynolds to the Church of the Nazarene?
Basset: Phineas Bresee was the galvanizer of the movement. That is to say, when he walked in the room, everything gravitated toward him. When things needed to happen, you had to have somebody who knew how to organize and how to get things done. This was Reynolds’ strength, an administrative strength. Bresee was a splendid “front man.” I don’t mean to make him sound like P. T. Barnum, but he was a splendid advertiser for the church and a great preacher. Reynolds was much more quiet in his operation, especially once he had settled down; he’d done a lot of world travel at first. Once he settled down, then he began, bit by bit, to take organizational steps. We owe a great deal of our organizational wisdom to him.
Noble: It’s also true that the international character of the church probably is due more to Reynolds than anyone else. He was a very significant figure preparing the way for that.
Broadbooks: We use the term Wesleyan-Holiness to describe our theological tradition. What are the roles of Wesleyan and American Holiness theology in the Church of the Nazarene, and how do they fit together?
Noble: Wesley formulated his doctrine in 18th-century England. His doctrine of holiness, particularly of Christian perfection, was formulated in that context. The American Holiness Movement was in America, so there you have already a geographical difference, a cultural difference. And a temporal difference because we’re now talking about the 19th century. So, you’re in a different cultural context, one that is particularly shaped by American revivalism, which is already there, which is a different kind of animal from the British culture. The American Holiness Movement, I think, saw the development of some particular emphases that were not there in Wesley. Two, basically: 1) The entrance of Phoebe Palmer with her altar theology, her shorter way to holiness—consecrate, believe Scripture, testify, profess. That was very controversial in its own day.
The second development was the way in which the Wesleyan tradition was influenced from outside by two particular figures: Asa Mahan and Charles Finney who wanted to identify Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification with the Pentecostal experience of the apostles in Acts 2. Now that was a new development. Wesley did not make that connection, although some of his colleagues did.
Those two differences mean that you’ve got two different stages. A lot of people have concentrated on the differences between those two. However, I think it’s important for us to see that there are two different stages in the development of the same tradition, and there are deep underlying unities. Just to name a few, one is that both of these stages of development agree on the basic doctrine of Christian perfection—understood as perfect love, loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s not in dispute. Second, at both stages, this came about by entire sanctification, an act of grace, an act of God, which took place in an instant. There’s no dispute between the two groups about that. Third, this was by the Holy Spirit and could be called being filled with the Holy Spirit. Fourth, it involved the death of the carnal mind, to use the old King James translation—the mind set upon the flesh, the self-centered mindset. Finally, this could only be experienced by the Christian who had grown in grace: gradual sanctification. Now, it seems to me on those five underlying points, both the 18th-century formulation of Wesley and 19th-century formulation of the Holiness Movement, were in fundamental agreement. I think that’s where we need to focus, and that’s what we’re about.
Broadbooks: Nazarene theologians like H. Orton Wiley didn’t engage other theologians much, like Karl Barth. Why didn’t they, and should Nazarene pastors be aware of contemporary theologians? If so, who should they be aware of, and who should they be reading?
Noble: Although Wiley was published from 1940 onwards, it is said that he actually started writing 20 years before that. In 1920, or a year before, Barth’s Epistle to the Romans was published. That was in Europe, which, in those days, was a long way from California. Those are both reasons why Wiley did not engage contemporary theologians: that is, those for whom Wiley was writing, and the general tendency to be rather suspicious of any modern theologian. In addition, Wiley, to a large degree, followed in the tradition of William Burt Pope, the British Methodist theologian whose work was published from the 1870s onwards, and who was, already in his day, regarded as somewhat conservative. Pope did not deal with the German theologians of his day either. If that was Wiley’s model, you could see that was also an influence.
Should Nazarene pastors be reading contemporary theologians today? I remember a Nazarene pastor coming into the library once at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester and looking at all the new books and saying, “Ah, you’ve got to be so careful who you read these days.” We rather chuckled at this because our philosophy was you don’t agree with everything you read, but you read them in order to sharpen your understanding of your own position. So, yes, we should be reading people within our own tradition.
I think of those within the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition, historical theologians like Randy Maddox and Kenneth Collins or systematic theologians like Geoffrey Wainwright or Thomas C. Oden or William J. Abraham. There are also plenty within Methodism, within the Wesleyan tradition—biblical scholars like Richard Hays or Ben Witherington.
Moving beyond the Wesleyan tradition, there are theologians like Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann; and there’s Robert Jensen, a Lutheran, whom some would reckon to be the greatest American theologian today. Two theologians whom I think Nazarene pastors could get into perhaps more easily than some of these are Leslie Newbigin, who came back from having been a missionary to India to his home country, to Britain, and found that it was in a post-Christian era. He has a lot to say to us today. Or someone like Stanley Grentz, a Baptist evangelical theologian who, sadly, died rather young, just a few years ago.
Broadbooks: We have in the church today varying worship styles. Some Nazarene churches are liturgical, some are contemporary. What have we learned from these different traditions, and how has that affected the practice of worship in our churches?
Metcalf: I think one of the things we need to remember is that the method is not as important as the heart from which comes the worship, and the state of the heart and the heart of a congregation and a people offering worship to God. We get all hot and bothered about whether it’s contemporary or liturgical or whatever. The fact of the matter is God is more interested in the expression of our praise through undivided hearts.
We could learn a lot from our past. What was sung five years ago might not be considered contemporary today. There are so many different forms of contemporary worship. In my congregation, we have a blended worship service. We have both contemporary worship and liturgy in our church service. At times, we incorporate the reading of a creed; we stand up and acknowledge what we believe as a people of God. We also incorporate communion, the Lord’s Supper, more than once a month. We come back to the table and learn something about what it means to approach the table with a pure heart.
We learn from each other using different forms of worship, because it takes grace for generations to come together and to celebrate the presence of God. Rather than getting all upset—“Well, this isn’t my form of music. It’s not my form of worship.” As long as there is proper education as we incorporate our past, we incorporate that which is relevant and biblically grounded in our present. It begins with proper education and the raising up of a congregation to understand what worship really means. It’s not so much the method as the motive behind it and that we are truly prepared to enter into worship of our Savior. This is not something that we do just in one particular service on a Sunday morning; this is something that we live. Worship becomes breath; it is who we are as a people of God. As long as there is proper education and what we do is biblically grounded, led, and infused by the Spirit of God, then, in fact, we’re moving in the right direction.
Bassett: There’s another point, and I saw it made recently, that we have an aesthetic sense to us. That’s one of the things that has been missing in our worship—in fact, in our lives in general, in the contemporary American religion, not just the contemporary Wesleyan form of American religion, or the Holiness Movement. We’ve been missing the sense of the beautiful, that it is Almighty God who comes to us in the Spirit.
Noble: I was going to add that all worship is by definition liturgical, because liturgy is worship. You either do it in an informed way, in a biblically-informed way, a theologically-informed way, a biblically-structured way, a theologically-structured way, or you do it “any old how.” Or by aping the entertainment industry. Those are some of the key issues we haven’t even begun to think about, our theology of worship.
Broadbooks: In light of our history, what is our church’s theological task?
Noble: I would highlight two things specifically. We have developed into an international church. That by definition means a multi-cultural church. Yet our theology is all Anglo-Saxon; it’s all British-American. I don’t think we have yet realized what a big job we have given ourselves in the future. We have to develop our tradition in all of these different cultures; we must indigenize it. That is an enormous task that will take several generations and I don’t think it’s yet hit us how big that is.
The second thing we need to do is be more persuasive in the presentation of our Wesleyan theology. I think too often we have wanted to differentiate ourselves, and so we’ve created barriers. We actually have enormous points of agreement with other parts of the Christian church. We need to build on those agreements in such a way as to persuade others that what Wesley had to say about Christian holiness is actually biblical, and not some sectarian distinctive; it belongs to the great mainline tradition of the Christian church. More persuasive, more multi-cultural—those are the two theological tasks for the next century.
Nazarene Identity and Challenges/Opportunities
Broadbooks: What can we learn from our history that can help us find our way?
Metcalf: I think one of the things we can do is learn from our history, not be afraid of it. We have deconstructed the church to be an individual congregation that has no past; it is important to learn from our past, to learn the story, to live the story, to continue the story. There are so many wonderful stories from our past that we need to share, not only with our children but with this new generation of Nazarenes who need to know who we are, why we exist. It’s informing our pastors of our history, to not be afraid of the term, to not be afraid of our past, but to understand it and to continue to grow and to learn from others, to keep our ears open, our hearts open, and grow.
Broadbooks: What do you see as our greatest hurdle as a denomination at this time in our existence?
Ingersol: I think the ability to bring others into leadership and to learn from them even when their experiences are very different from ours goes to the heart of what it is to be a Holiness church. It’s important that “holiness” not just be a word. It has to be embodied. When I go back and think about Pilot Point, the great thing there was that it was experienced holiness. People who had been separated by bitterness and the legacy of the Civil War came together because their hearts told them they should, and their heads told them they should, and the experience of holiness made that possible. As we look at where we are today as an international church, if over half of Nazarenes today are people of color, over half of them have a lifestyle that is very different from the American middle-class lifestyle, then being open to their gifts is the next big step we need to take to embody the Holiness church.
Metcalf: One of the greatest things we’ve got to admit is that we can learn from others. There are buzz words that set people off, such as “the emergent church”; even the term “missional” can set people off because any new phrase has a way of conjuring up different interpretations. I would pray that we would grow and examine what these words mean, to learn even from those we disagree with, and to have the grace to listen, to have the grace to learn, and to explore what it means to be the church of God.
Bassett: I think our greatest hurdle was noted after Vatican II, and that is the problem of confusing structure and content, or form and content. We tend to believe that if we get the structure right, we’ve got the message right. Maybe the message can tell us something about how the structure should be. Since it’s from the Holy Spirit, it will probably be much more free than we’re inclined to think. So, it will be a bit scary. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us, and if we’re going to talk about loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, that’s what we’re going to run across; burning bushes and seas that fall apart and all kinds of phenomenon. Let’s not confuse getting it right as we think organizationally; let’s not say, “Okay, now we’ve got the perfect vessel to carry the doctrine.” It’s the doctrine and experience that matter, as Stan has continually said this afternoon, the doctrine and the experience. It’s Christ’s church; it’s Christ’s body—so let’s not confuse form and content.
Noble: I agree with all of these points. I think our greatest hurdle is to learn how to be more persuasive, more attractive in presenting, articulating, and expressing our doctrine, our message, and in embodying it.
Broadbooks: I want to thank all of you for your participation.