Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, reflections

Tom Oord calls for Nazarenes to “open the windows”

Thomas J. Oord

If the Church of the Nazarene were an army, then Tom Oord of Northwest Nazarene University would be one of the scouts riding out in front, probing new territory. Armies need scouts, and the Church of the Nazarene needs theologians like Dr. Oord.

Oord has written an intriguing essay, calling for us to “open the windows” in the Church of the Nazarene. He lists 10 areas where we need to “let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” (No doubt he means the Holy Spirit, and not just any “spirit.”)

You can read all ten points over at his blog. They are all worth the reader’s time, but here I’d like to quote two of them as a springboard for further reflection. Oord writes:

1. Engage contemporary theology. Theological scholars in the colleges and universities sponsored by the Church of the Nazarene explore a variety of theological ideas. Theology in the denomination is significantly different today than it was fifty years ago. And that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, however, pursuing new forms of Wesleyan-Holiness theology in dialogue with these contemporary theological ideas is not encouraged as it should be. I believe the Spirit intends to do new things and guide the denomination in new ways theologically.

Tom Oord is justified in calling the Church of the Nazarene to the theological task. Each generation must grasp the biblical underpinning of the doctrine of holiness, but – having done so – must clothe the message in language relevant to its own generation and cultural context. It is not enough to just reprint old holiness classics. Those books use a distinctive idiom and illustrations that spoke to a time past. Who will write holiness theology in a language and style that touches the hearts of people in the 21st century? And the very style that makes an American writer resonate with American culture may for that same reason make the book ineffective in cultures outside North America. Our task as a global church is to raise up theologians from each culture where we are at work.

Yet is it enough to engage only the theology being written in our own culture? Worldwide – not just in the Church of the Nazarene – the Church is growing in what Philip Jenkins has called the “Global South,” including Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. More and more, contemporary theology is being written in these parts of the world, yet to what degree do seminary students in the United States grapple with theologians from these other cultures? Do our Nazarene universities in the U.S. read these emerging theologians? I admit my weakness in this area, but as one serving in Africa, am determined to become more conversant with thinkers like Kwame Bediako of Ghana. Who among our Nazarene theologians in Africa will rise to his stature?

The late Prof. Kwame Bediako of Ghana

Oord continues, underscoring the need for us to re-empower women in ministry. He sounds a clarion call:

8. Reestablish the power of and number of women in leadership. Many members of the Church of the Nazarene happily note that while the Roman Catholic church has not embraced the Spirit’s move to establish women in the highest positions of leadership, Nazarenes have affirmed this throughout their history. And yet a very small percentage of Nazarene pastors are women. And leadership in various denominational sectors is dominated by men. Steps must be taken to encourage Nazarene members to promote women into positions of leadership.

I believe that the Church of the Nazarene in Africa will set an example for other denominations in Africa and the global Church of the Nazarene in this regard. Currently, 14% of the nearly 1,000 students enrolled in the Nazarene Theological Institute are women. While we are not satisfied with this paltry figure, it is nonetheless movement in the right direction. Of the 16 students in a class I taught in Madagascar in 2011, 14 were women. Likewise, of nine who were ordained in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of the Congo), three were women, and a recent seminar on spiritual gifts (see photo) included a healthy representation of women.

Church leaders in Bukavu, DRC

The obstacles that African women must overcome to become pastors are daunting. If they can do it, what other culture in the world can be excused from fully empowering women to pursue all roles of lay and ordained ministry?

Thank you, Dr. Oord, for raising important issues. May the Holy Spirit continue to blow, refreshing His Church, including the small branch we call the Church of the Nazarene!


Photo credits:

Thomas J. Oord – from the website of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science

Kwame Bediako – from the Akrofi-Christaller Institute website


Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

12 thoughts on “Tom Oord calls for Nazarenes to “open the windows”

  1. Thanks for adding your comments, Greg. You are fortunate to be working in one of the most exciting parts of the world! I’ve got to figure out how to engage folks on the African continent even more than I already have done!

  2. Having been originally ordained in the Church of the Nazarene, reared in Africa and lived lived on 4 continents and travelled in another 2, my interest in piqued by both your comments, but even more by some of Dr. Oords points which you did not treat.

    In response to his points 1 and 2, my impression is that the denomination, as does many other denominations, needs to adopt a much wider vision of “Kingdom”, moving away from the subtle but real inference that little gets accomplished in Christendom unless in the context of one’s own denomination.

    Although I agree with the basic premise of his point 5, asking for a broader acceptance of modern findings of science, the humanities etc, I see a significant danger. It is very easy to get drawn to a motivation that tries to make Scripture fit with modern findings. While it is true that “all truth is God’s truth”, the “truth” of science, etc, continues to evolve. A related danger is to approach decisions of policy from the primary perspective of cultural expectations rather than scriptural imperative, i.e. “if we enforce this scriptural principle, it will have a dramatic negative impact on our people due to [such and such].”

    I would also suggest the possiblity that the Pope’s comments alluded to in Oord’s conclusion seems to stand in contrast to that of Blackaby when he makes the recommendation to “find out where the Spirit is working, then join Him.”

    1. Thanks, Gary, for your comment. The quote from Blackaby is helpful. Also, I understand Scripture to contain parts that are both culturally bound and parts that transcend culture and thus are to be applied across time and geography. God’s directives for the expression of human sexuality (Gen. 2:27, Matt. 19:1-6) clearly fall into the latter category, while hair length (see 1 Cor. 11) would fall into the first, to give two examples. There’s no question that the way one goes about interpreting Scripture will influence the conclusions we draw from the Bible, and this certainly is in-play as well on the question of evolution.

  3. I’m currently doing graduate work which includes social issues, ethics and missions and have yet to be asked to read a book from a non-western author. It seems that if theologians from the “Global South” aren’t on our North American school’s required reading lists (as you urge), then I don’t think that it will be long before we (North America) are relegated to a footnote in Church history as the rest of the world church grows and advances without us!

    1. We celebrate what God is up to in the “Global South,” but it’s far too soon to write off North America! Our own American history tells us that awakenings happen on a periodic basis. We are due, my brother, for a new moving of God’s Holy Spirit.

  4. Toutes les remarques sont très interessantes:
    1. L’avenir théologique et biblique de l’église du Nazaréen viendra de la poussée spirituelle grandissante des peuples non européens dont la culture et la vie sociale sont historiquement très proches d’Israël de l’Ancien et le Nouveau Testament.
    2. La promotion des femmes dans l’église du Nazaréen n’est plus une question de projet mais une évidence présente. En tant qu’ancien enseignant, j’ai eu à constater que la plupart des salles de classe comptaient plus de jeunes filles que de garçons. Cependant dans la vie civile, on ne les voit pas aux postes de responsabilités. Nos églises sont aussi à l’image de nos sociétés. Nous devons aussi prier pour que cela change.
    Cher prof, tes remarques sont justes et dans un bref avenir, elles se vérifieront. Que Dieu te bénisse. Rév Djédjé, Abidjan.

    1. First, the English translation of your remark in French:

      All the remarks are very interesting.

      1. The theological and biblical future of the Church of the Nazarene will come from the growing spiritual thrust from non-European peoples whose culture and social life historically is very close to that of Israel in the Old Testament and that of the New Testament.

      2. The promotion of women in the Church of the Nazarene is no longer a “project” but a obvious necessity. As a former teacher, I saw that most of my classes had more girls than boys. However, in civil service, you couldn’t find them (women) in posts of responsibility. OUr churches reflect in large part the same image. We must pray that this will change.

      Dear prof, your remarks are correct and in the near future, they will be verified. God bless you. Reverend DjeDje, Abidjan.

    2. Merci, Rév DJE DJE, de vos remarques ici sur mon weblog. Elles m’encouragent!

      Allez-vous commencer en français/anglais un blog pour vous? Il faut que nous ayons des voix africaines nazaréennes à la portée du monde entier, par le moyen de l’internet.

      Paix et bénédictions,

      Dr Crofford

      Thank you, Reverend DJE DJE, for your remarks here on my weblog. They encourage me!

      Will you start in French and English a weblog of your own? We must have African Nazarene voices easily accessible to the whole world, through the internet.

      Peace and blessings,

      Dr Crofford

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