The Third Global Nazarene Theology Conference wrapped last week, and what an AMAZING time it was!
Imagine 300 from around the denomination, all six world regions, coming together to discuss God’s direction for the Church of the Nazarene, under four headings:
Like the two previous GNTCs (Guatemala – 2002, Amsterdam – 2007), most of the “heavy lifting” was done in small groups of 8-10, purposely diverse in terms of place of origin, gender, linguistic background and role in the church. The 22 regular papers and 4 summation papers (available at didache.nazarene.org), written around the four mentioned themes, gave us lots to talk about, and freely share we did.
The GNTC 3 was sponsored by the International Board of Education (IBOE), and all six General Superintendents were in attendance. The official theme was:
“Critical Issues in Ecclesiology”
As one serving on the Africa Region, I was proud of our contingent from Africa, made up of both Africans and missionaries to Africa. Together, we produced 5 of the 22 regular papers presented, and served on two of the four panels.
Post-conference, in relation to the “people called Nazarenes,” here are some of the incredible blessings that linger in my mind, as well as some of the questions:
1. The diversity was holy practice for the forthcoming consummated Kingdom of God come to a new earth, aka “heaven.”
2.What will it mean to be a truly global church vs. a North American church with overseas interests?
3. We put into practice part of our Wesleyan heritage, “conference” as a means of grace. The meaning of “connection” also came up, of “dependence” vs. “interdependence” in a world where financial means vary wildly by region.
4. Have we repented of our sin of silence and indifference during apartheid? What other corporate sins have we swept under the rug that need acknowledgement and cleansing?
5. Gathering together at the Table of the Lord was a powerful moment, a reminder that “In Christ, there is no East or West, in Him no North or South.” It’s cliched, but the ground truly is level at the foot of the Cross!
6. We all acknowledge the reality of poor people and rich people (not “the poor” and the “rich,” which are impersonal, reductionistic words), but we have radically different ideas of what that reality would have us DO as a church — give to poor people, or create systems that help poor people rise, i.e. wealth creation (redemption and lift)?
7. The CoTN seems to have an unresolved tension at its heart, since its inception. Are we a “believer’s church in the Wesleyan tradition,” as Tracy and Ingersol maintain in the introduction to their book, What is a Nazarene? (i.e. a voluntary association of the saved) or are we more “catholic,” the “Body of Christ,” with an emphasis upon our “people-hood” first and (subsequently, via catechism) upon the individual salvation of those who make up that people? This strand comes from Methodism/Anglicanism, whereas the former strand came from Congregationalist groups who were part of the 1907 and 1908 merger.
8. We are as diverse as any group I know on the meaning and practice (or non-practice) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I’m tempted to type “confused” in place of “diverse.” Is this an area worth contending for, or should we simply acknowledge a “big tent” approach growing out of how one answers question # 7? In Africa, the practical outworking has been that we rarely practice communion, though an unjustified “fear”or taking communion “unworthily” is another large part of that neglect. Do many Nazarene congregations around the world celebrate communion more as a memorial than a means of grace, as a “reward for the righteous” rather than a prevenient grace-filled call to all who “desire to follow Christ”? A partisan of the second position, one of the panelists, called our ritual on communion in the Manual an “abomination” and “non-Wesleyan.”
My question to you: Should we re-write that ritual, or just add a second one more consistent with a “means of grace” theology?
9. Holiness was discussed, and was alluded to in several papers. However, it seemed more like a starting assumption for discussion, more implicit that explicit.
10. Our heritage of enfranchising women in all roles of lay and ordained service was on display, with a healthy (if still too small) number of female participants. Now, if such solidarity at an official conference were only enough to break down prejudices at the local church level…
11. An accent upon the need for the Holy Spirit to act more often among us came through in multiple conversations. Deliverance ministry and divine healing had a fair hearing. I was reminded of a book title by Tony Campolo: How to be charismatic without speaking in tongues
And in-line with that final point, here’s my award for the most quotable quote:
“Our ecclesiology must be God-glorifying, Christ-centered, and Spirit-filled.”
– Dr Thomas A. Noble
May the Lord together give us a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit, leading to greater unity, renewed vision, and undying passion to keep making Christlike disciples who change the world.