There is a small group of individuals who are making a lot of noise lately concerning what they fear is a movement away from an authoritative view of scripture in our Nazarene tradition. In calling them “small” I am not saying that some broader concern doesn’t exist; there is some concern that extends beyond these few but mostly because of how and what they have communicated. I call them small because there are only a small handful of voices that our making the most resounding noise; the kind of noise that we are reminded to avoid in 1 Corinthians 13:1. Tim Wirth, Manny Silva and Joe Staniforth are the three loudest protesters that operate with the support of various so called “discernment ministries” from outside the Nazarene denomination as they make it their mission to attack everything these “discernment ministries” consider “heresy”.
What these individuals claim is that the church of the Nazarene has somehow moved away from a high view of scripture that embraces it as authoritative in our lives. Nothing is further from the truth, even among “emerging” Nazarenes. Let’s look at the fourth Article of faith in our manual.
IV. The Holy Scriptures
We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.
(Luke 24:44-47; John 10:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21)
Now that we have clarified what this phrase doesn’t say, let’s look at what it does say. This phrase isn’t dealing with what scripture IS; the previous statement about believing in “plenary inspiration” speaks to what we believe the bible IS. So the phrase in question doesn’t say what scripture IS, it says what scripture DOES. The word “inerrantly” here is complimenting the verb “revealing” telling us that all scripture is perfectly sufficient as it makes known God’s will for us regarding everything we need to be saved. As Nazarenes we affirm that scripture is “perfect” in a truly Wesleyan understanding of God’s “perfecting” work as Creator in his creation (and new creation). Scripture is perfect in regards to what it is for and what it does. So what do we believe that scripture perfectly does? To paraphrase our Article of faith, Scripture, being completely and fully inspired by God, perfectly reveals all things concerning God’s will for us to be reconciled to his Kingdom through Jesus Christ. That’s the point isn’t it? Scripture is more than sufficient to point us to the Way concerning God’s desire for us to be reconciled together and to live into his saving work through Jesus Christ.
Despite the criticism from a few, who are able to make their small voice louder because of technology and the internet, our view of scripture as stated in our Nazarenes manual beautifully articulates not only what scripture is, but what it does as it perfectly reveals everything “necessary to our salvation”. I would hope that we all could agree that this is the essential point concerning scripture that we can be unified in. What better thing can we be unified in than in those things that move us toward God’s redemptive plan for the world? Unfortunately, there are a few to whom redemption and unity in Christ is not the point.
Regrettably some think the point of scripture is about having the “right” answers about various topics and to show how others are wrong about those topics. They use their “understanding” of scripture to draw lines between people based on who they think is right about a particular topic and who is wrong. This is not what scripture is for. Of course scripture is useful for “teaching”, “rebuking”, and “correcting”, but not for the purpose of having all the “right answers”, but for “training in righteousness”.
2 Timothy 3:15-17: “…from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”Paul tells Timothy that his knowledge of the scriptures made him “wise for SALVATION through faith in Christ Jesus” and that all scripture is useful in directing us in “righteousness” and “good works”. The point of scripture has to do with helping us live into God’s holiness and justice which God has worked, and is working, in us by our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Paul also warns Titus to be mindful about the point of it all concerning our salvation in Jesus Christ, so that in this we would devote ourselves to “doing what is good”.
Titus 3:4-8: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”Scripture teaches that this salvation work God does for us, he also does in us, and not just for our reconciliation, but for the reconciliation of the whole world. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God has “committed to us the WORD of reconciliation”. So according to the scripture our salvation is not just profitable for us, but as we respond and are transformed by it to do good works, these things are “excellent and profitable for everyone.” This is what Nazarenes are unified in, the biblical message of holiness; that God’s saving works in us also sanctifies us, and then works through us for the benefit of everyone.
But Paul knew as he emphasized the point of salvation to Titus that some would try to make the point of scripture and the law about other things. He warns Titus in the very next verses...
Titus 3:9-10, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”All this talk about “heresy” by some is ironic when the biggest “heresy” Paul often fought against was that which threatened to divide the body of Christ over foolish things that missed the point. In fact the King James Bible translates “divisive person” in Titus 3:10 as “heretic”. We are told to warn such people, and warn them again, and if after all that trying they still refuse to find unity with us and they still seek to be divisive then to leave them to their own divisiveness and have nothing to do with them. In verse 11 Paul calls this person, among other things, “self-condemned” because they are separated by their own choice to be divided from the reconciling work within the body of Christ.
Unfortunately, it sometimes comes to “have nothing to do with them” as the only decision we can make for the sake of unity and peace. Jesus teaches in Matthew 10, Mark 6 and Luke 9 concerning those who will not receive us and our message of salvation and reconciliation to keep moving and in doing so “shake off the dust from our feet”. If they will not receive us and reconciled with us what else can we do? If someone refuses the kind of reconciliation God calls his people to have with him and others then going in peace may be the most “peace” we can have, and going our separate ways may be the most we can be “unified” about. But even this is done in hopes of reconciliation.
To be divided and going our separate ways is not God’s desire and will for people as they interact with each other. This division is not what God wants in our relationships even when we are told it may be best to move on without someone as a last resort. It is a lot like a divorce in a marriage. God may have allowed divorce in the law as a last resort because of the hardness of hearts of those involved (Mark 10:5), but this was not God’s plan that he created us for in the beginning. Jesus came to restore us to a new beginning, one where we are saved, restored and reconciled with God and others. To live divided from others when we can help it works counter to God’s saving work in the world.
In Romans 12:18 Paul tells us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. This is part of being “a living sacrifice” in view of God’s mercy that Paul mentions in the beginning of the chapter. How far should we go to live at peace with others? What does God consider “possible” as far as it depends on us? Paul tells us in the next verse, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” Echoing Jesus; Sermon of the Mount where he instructs us to seek the kingdom of God by “turning the other cheek” and “going the extra mile” Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That is how far we are to go to live in the kind of redemptive peace in the Kingdom of God in hopes of finding solidarity with even those who may be against us.
You see scripture teaches that Jesus lived this teaching out himself as it reflects the very nature of God. He lived out what he calls us to do when we are told, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. This kind of peace isn’t passive or the kind that just avoids conflict, but one that confronts conflict and divisiveness in a peaceful way for the purpose of redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. The cross was about “over coming evil with good” for the sake of our redemption. As followers of Jesus we are called to pick up that cross and follow Jesus and walk as he did, for he is the Way the Truth and the Life- there is no other.
So the point of scripture is to point us to the redemption and reconciliation that we can have with God through Jesus Christ. Scripture is not the end of the line of discovering “truth”, but the means that perfectly and sufficiently points to Truth. Jesus told some of those who thought very highly of scripture, yet somehow also missed the point, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40) “Life” as Jesus defines it by his teachings and actions is one of love, sacrifice, redemption, and reconciliation. God wants to make us ONE in Him and he was willing to suffer and even sacrifice his very life to achieve solidarity with even those who were violently against him. (Romans 5:6-8)
There is a lot of divisive talk from some in the name of protecting the “truth”, but Jesus is the Truth personified, the Word made flesh for the sake of seeking solidarity with mankind, not dividing it. The sinful world around us is about divisions, but Jesus said that in him we are not of this world. The kind of truth scripture points us to is the kind that sanctifies us and makes us holy participants with God’s reconciling work. The Truth is all about salvation and being made one with God and each other.
John 17:17-23: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”This also reminds me of what Jesus said to his disciples a few chapters earlier, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)
You are missing the point of biblical truth if in claiming to protect the “truth” you live divisively against the body. This is where we come back to those few who in the name of being “concerned” are being divisive. Of course they will argue that they are not divisive, but their actions say differently. They have created their own space where other Nazarenes or any Christians who do not agree with them are not welcome. They do this in the name of “encouraging” their own with whom they agree with. But the fact that they do not consider other Nazarenes “their own” is evidence of how they are dividing and drawing lines across our denomination concerning who should be “in” and who should be “out”. They are not interested in being reconciled with others as instructed by scripture, but rather they use scripture for something it is not meant for; to divide the church.
Yes the gospel can be a dividing sword, but as such it separates us from the world as far as its corrupt systems that divide according to their own desires and refuses reconciliation to God's Kingdom. This "sword" cuts through all other allegiances to various groups, including families, which are sometimes used to draw ungodly lines of who is "in" and who is "out"; this is counter to the call for us ALL to be reconciled together to God's Kingdom and the Way of the cross. So when we refuse to be reconciled to God's kingdom in favor of a way of the world that unifies some against others, we don’t stand with the word, but against it. (Matthew 10:34-38)
Recently, a Nazarene Pastor I know was kicked out of the “Concerned Nazarene" facebook group. This is a common practice. Tim Wirth said, this person was not “banned so much because of his comments but because we know he does not support our group.” Tim said he was dividing this person out, as he has done with many others (I am also banned), because “he does not support OUR group.” Which group? Nazarenes as a whole? No, a separate and exclusive group they call “Concerned Nazarenes”. They are not interested in dialogue or conversation with any Nazarene outside the group they created for themselves. You can’t chat with them on facebook, they control and deny comments on their blogs, and conversations by email are extremely limited as they often chose not to engage in what they call “debate”. For them there is no “debate” with the lines they have drawn concerning those they have decided are out.
So they go on, publicly and viciously attacking leaders and professors and institutions in our denomination attempting to draw new dividing lines that claim these leaders are excluded from being “real Christians” when our tradition makes no such division. They allow for no discussion or debate to work these differences out. They plainly say to Nazarenes they oppose and disagrees with that they are "heretics" and should be stopped. This is counter to the confession of our Nazarene community concerning many of these individuals they attack, for they target those who have been affirmed by our community as ordained Elders and encouraged to lead in a way that offers far more accountability than what is seen in the accusations of these divisive few.
If someone they attack wishes to tell their side of the story, or if some other Nazarene wishes to defend those they accuse, they are not interested in hearing it and they tell them to go some place else, write about it on their own blog. So, I write this on our blog, in hopes that the Concerned Nazarenes will read it here because they have provided me no place else to say what I have to say to them…
Dear Concerned Nazarenes,
After you banned yet another Nazarene from participating on your facebook page, a friend said in frustration on NazNet concerning you, “I feel justified in asking them to leave our group, that is, The Church of the Nazarene. They do not agree with the stated doctrine of the church concerning scripture. They should not be allowed membership. There are plenty of other churches with which they would agree. They need to leave.”
This was my reply:
Yea, I have seen Tim say on their facebook group and their blogs that there are other places to go if people want to express a different opinion as a way to justify kicking people out. So I can see why you would feel that way about them- I have often felt that way too.I don’t know how many times you have been asked to give up this divisiveness, but I ask you again in the spirit of Luke 13:8 hoping that given time we together can bear the fruit of reconciliation.
On the other hand, their view of scripture does not actually run counter to ours as much as it runs beyond it. They do believe that scripture comes from plenary inspiration (meaning all of it is inspired) and it inerrantly reveals all things necessarily for salvation. They just believe that it also inerrantly reveals all things concerning history, science, and everything and anything else.
I think there is room under our tent for people who want to take it this far- the problem is that they need to respect the broader common shared confession of everyone else (which is our salvation- the point of scripture anyway).
There is no reason that we can not find unity under our Article of Faith concerning scripture and in the meantime receive and embrace our differing opinions in Christian love and Charity.
Our statement absolutely affirms scripture's complete inspiration and sufficiency for salvation; which includes reconciliation to God and each other. It is time to find ways to live in that reconciliation if we really believe scripture is sufficient in pointing us to the Way.
If we can't live into the reality of this shared message of God's salvation then I am not sure what the point is in arguing about anything else.
As I mentioned on NazNet and as I described it here, I am sure you can agree with our Article of Faith concerning the Holy Scriptures. Nothing in our big tent as Nazarenes prevents you from believing that scripture is “more” than what is stated. Though I would argue what more is there than the love and salvation of our God?
Philippians 3:8-11, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the LAW, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”Come inside the tent with us, there is room. Also, please do not try to cut our tent in half. If you want to make a case against “evolution”, or “prayer labyrinths”, “open theism” or whatever, than do it- but do it as brothers and sisters who share in the free gift of God’s saving work to which we all believe scripture perfectly testifies of.
Many of the things you disagree about, you can find others in our Nazarene tradition who may also disagree. So we are not asking you to give up your concerns about any of these things, just don’t participate in heresy (division) in the name of being against “heresy”. Let all who are concerned about the division these things are causing among us be “Concerned Nazarenes” together. Loose the chains and mechanisms that you are promoting and have already designed to keep certain Nazarenes separated from you and let’s work together as we follow THE Nazarene. Stop promoting a spirit within the Nazarene tradition of “us” verses “them”- let us be US together as we all embrace the reconciling work of God as perfectly revealed through scripture.