Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, sermons & addresses

What is a Nazarene? (preceded by the case of the secret panel)

Greg discovers Tracy & Ingersol's What is a Nazarene? at a Johannesburg secondhand bookshop
Greg discovers Tracy & Ingersol’s What is a Nazarene? at a Johannesburg secondhand bookshop

Note: This sermon inaugurated a series entitled “Christian, Holiness, Missional: Core Values in the Church of the Nazarene” at the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene in Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa. What follows is not a word-for-word transcript, but captures the essence of what I said.


Opening remarks

It’s  a joy for Amy and me to be with you today. We’ve visited several churches in Johannesburg area, and knew when we worshiped with you that this would be our church home.

When I was a boy, for a period of about 10 years, my family traveled around to various churches and gave Gospel concerts. Looking at this building this morning, which used to belong to a Dutch Reformed congregation, I’m reminded of one of those concerts in Marion, New York. We sang at the Dutch Reformed church, and as usual, set up our sound equipment on the platform prior to the concert. Some of you who know sound equipment might remember high impedance systems. One curious thing about them was the microphone cords couldn’t be longer than 15 feet, or you would lose signal. Because of this, my dad that Sunday morning had to stretch the microphone cords about 4 feet high across the paneled wall at the back of the platform to plug into the amplifier.

My older brother, Mark – probably 11 or 12 at the time – was an avid reader of the Hardy Boys detective series. One of the books was entitled “The Case of the Secret Panel.” As we sat listening to the organist play the prelude, and the congregation filtered in, Mark looked at that front panel where the microphone cords were stretched taut. “Dad,” he said, “I think there’s a secret panel on that wall.” My dad rolled his eyes and said: “Mark, I think you’re reading too many Hardy Boys books.”

Strangely, we hadn’t seen the pastor in a while. All of the sudden, can you believe it? A panel in that platform back wall opened up, and out came the pastor. When he saw the cords there, much to the delight of the congregation, he nimbly hurdled them like an Olympic champion!

I want you to know this morning that I’ve checked the paneled back wall here at Maraisburg church, and I can assure you that there is no secret panel.


– Prayer –


Today, we begin a series on the core values of the Church of the Nazarene.

That’s a fancy way of answering the question: What is a Nazarene?

You may have seen the booklet a few years back, authored by the General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene. Here’s how they answered that question, “What is a Nazarene?”

Nazarenes are…

1) Christian

2) Holiness

3) Missional

In coming weeks, Pastor Kenneth and other preachers will address the second and third points. Today, we’ll look at the first one:

What does it mean to say we are Christian?


A man was visiting an open air market, looking for a chain to wear around his neck. The vendor showed him many crosses, all of which were simple. Finally, in frustration he asked: “Don’t you have any of the crosses with that little man on it?”

Sometimes, that’s about how shallow people’s knowledge is of Christianity. When Christianity is no deeper than a symbol hanging around our neck or engraved on a tombstone, it risks becoming no more than a relic of a bygone time, a curiosity, a mere memory.

To be “Christian” today can be a sign of social respectability, a popular thing to do. Yet in the three times the word “Christian” or “Christians” appears in the New Testament, it has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with who is looked down upon.

When Paul appeared before King Agrippa, the King scoffed: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Then in Acts 11:26 we read: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

There we have a clue about the meaning of the word “Christian.” The “disciples” were called Christians. What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower, in this case, a follower of Jesus Christ.

Scholars are not sure where the term “Christian” first came from. Some trace it back to the ancient Greek term, chrestos, meaning “moral” or “good.” So if you were a “Chrestian” you were a morally good person. To use modern language, they were calling them “goodie-goodies,” wet blankets, party poopers.

This appears to be the context of Peter’s thoughts that we’ve read in our text today (1 Peter 4:12-19). Listen to this from earlier in the chapter, verses 3-4 (TNIV):

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans chose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

I remember during college days working at night as a part-time loan collector. (It’s not a job I would recommend!) We would also work 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays mornings because that was the best time to catch people at home and ask them when they were going to send in their loan payment. Many of my co-workers came in those Saturday mornings with hangovers from partying the night before, trying to hide their blood-shot eyes with dark sunglasses. One day a fellow worker said to me: “I notice, Greg, that you don’t go out drinking like we do. Why not?” I told her that I didn’t need to do that to be happy, that I had Jesus, and that was enough.

With time, the so-called “Chrestians” were known as “Christians,” from the koine Greek word Christos, meaning Christ. A Christian then is one who follows Christ. Some say that the word “Christian” means “like Christ.” They were known for their abiding love of God and neighbor.

Sadly, the word has been compromised over the years. Our mission statement in the Church of the Nazarene gives us our mandate:

Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations

It’s a shame that we have to say “Christlike disciples.” It’s really a heaping up of words, since a disciple is a Christian, and the word Christian already means “like Christ.” But the word “Christian” has been so watered down that we have to specify “Christlike disciple” to say what we mean.

The stoning of Stephen (Acts 7)
The stoning of Stephen (Acts 7)


But let’s come back to our text in 1 Peter 4:12-19. The heading for this section in the TNIV reads: “Suffering for being a Christian.”

Peter begins (v.12):

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Some of the other tough words in the passage include:

– insults

– test

– judgment

Have you looked at the titles in a Christian bookstore lately? Here are a few titles that you’ll have trouble finding:

Your guide to successful suffering

The joy of being insulted for Jesus

Your 30 day makeover through divine testing

Instead, you’ll find what I call “gumdrops and ponies,” a hundred variations on how God wants to serve you better, and rarely how you can serve God better. It’s almost as if we believe that we are the center of the solar system, like the sun, and God is like the planets that revolve around us. Yet isn’t that backwards? Should not God be the center of our lives, and we revolve around God? Dare I say that we have fallen into a magical approach to Christianity, where God becomes our magic formula to get what we want?

Recently I was talking to Pastor Kenneth, who is the Africa Regional President of Nazarene Youth International (NYI). He was lamenting how many of our children and teens leave the church once they reach university age. Look around you – Where are the twenty-somethings?

I can’t tell you for sure why they aren’t here, but could it be that all we’ve given them is entertainment? Could it be that we haven’t given them a cause bigger than themselves to live for, certainly no cause worthy dying for?

Out with the soft, self-centered message, in with the Dietrich Bonhoeffers, who said in The Cost of Discipleship:

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century German pastor, theologian and martyr
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century German pastor, theologian and martyr

Give me 100 of those kind of Christians, male or female, and we’ll storm the gates of hell!

What can Christians expect? Expect opposition, and if you don’t get it, question why.

Let’s be careful here! Some people, even Christians, can be obnoxious, then wrongly call it “persecution.” That’s just silly! If you’re being annoying, don’t blame Jesus for that. That’s your problem.

Peter says something similar in v. 15 –

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or criminal, or even as a meddler.

But read on (v. 16):

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

“So preacher, are you saying that the Christian should only expect gloom, despair, and agony? That’s pretty dark, isn’t it?”

YES, it can be. But which way would you rather have it? Would you prefer me to say: “Follow Jesus, and your life will be nothing but smooth sailing”?

What would you think when the inevitable problems come? How would you react when you discover that you’re now on hell’s hit list?

I much prefer Peter’s approach. Don’t be surprised, he says, when the fiery ordeal comes.

As Christians, we’re in a battle. When you’re on the Lord’s side, expect enemy fire!

Yet even in the battle, even in the struggle of the fray, Peter promises something good. The reward is not a something, but a someone. Verse 14 –

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

What’s in it for me?


No, you didn’t understand my question: What do I get if I’m a faithful Christian?


No, no, listen to me now. What can I expect in return?

Just one word: God.

“The Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

I ask you this morning, my brothers and sisters: Is God enough for you?


catsHow many here have visited Kruger Park? Amy and I haven’t visited it yet, but we’ve visited several game parks in Kenya. Now I’m no zoologist, but I know there’s such a thing as the cat family. In those game parks, we can find many kinds of cats, such as lions, cheetahs, and leopards. If we go to India, we can find tigers, too. There are many kinds of cats with significant differences, but all of them share something important in common. Whatever their differences, they are all cats.

In the same way, there are many kinds of Christians. There are Baptists and Methodists, Presbyterians and Seventh Day Adventists, Nazarenes and Wesleyans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox. And though we have differences, all of us share something important. Like those different cats all belong to the cat family, so these different denominations (despite our differences) all belong to the Christian family.

So far, we’ve talked about how Christians act. But just like this 5 Rand coin has two sides, there’s a second side to our topic. Yes, it’s important how Christians act, but it’s also important what Christians believe. I like theology, and one reason I like it is because I am convinced how we think directly affects the way we act.

So what do all Christians share in common when it comes to our beliefs?

That’s an important question, and one that could take a long time to answer. But let me suggest a few key beliefs that all Christians share:

1) We believe in the Triune God.

We do not worship three gods, but one God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is Father,the Creator and sustainer of life. God is the Son, our Savior. God is the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us and guides us into the truth.


2) We believe in Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we are followers of Christ. We believe the eternal Christ was born, lived a spotless life, and died on the cross for our sins , that God raised him from the dead on the third day. We believe that he returned to heaven and one day will come back to judge the world.

3) We believe in the resurrection.

On January 12, 2010, a strong earthquake hit Haiti. More than 200,000 were killed. Amy I had served as missionaries there prior to that time for 17 months, so to see the reports were heartbreaking. We read reports of people trapped under the rubble. I remember especially the report of one 11 year old young girl who was pinned under the rubble. She cried out to God: “God, save me!  I want to live.” That same girl was a strong Christian, and had sung in her choir every Sunday. They finally got her out from under the rubble, but before she could get the proper medical treatment, she died.

I cannot explain why God allows such things to happen, but I do know this: I believe in the resurrection! In this world of misery, I do not believe that evil and suffering will have the last say. There is a final chapter to the book, when God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. It’s when Jesus will say: “I am making everything new.” I believe what Scripture teaches, that we will live forever in God’s kingdom together, in heaven, where the old order of things will have passed away.


These are the things all Christians believe. We must take the time to teach them to our children. As a church, we should have catechism at the age of 12, a “second coat of paint” so that our children before they enter their rocky teen years can be reminded of what they believe about God. We have to be intentional!

I’m also glad in the Church of the Nazarene that we know that we are part of a larger family of Christian believers. A few Sundays ago, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. You don’t have to be a Nazarene to take part. We believe in open communion, that any person who acknowledges themselves as a follower of Christ, whatever their denominational label, they are welcome at our Table.

To close this morning, let us recite the words of the Apostles’ Creed, the basic confession of Christian faith:


I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.


Image credits:

Crucifix – Saccoscom

Stephen’s stoning – Rev DHJ

Bonhoeffer – A boat against the current

Lion/Tiger – Animals SW

Trinity symbol – Chase After Truth


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

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