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?

Continue reading “What is a Nazarene? (preceded by the case of the secret panel)”

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, reflections

When more is less: Dubious words attached to “Christian”

Learning French, I came across the word aimer. It means “to like or to love.” I assumed that to place the word beaucoup (very much) after aimer would be an intensifier, i.e. “I love you very much.” That’s not so,” said my French teacher. “The verb for love is so strong, that to add any adverb afterwards is only to weaken its meaning.”

In the same way, some adjectives attached to the front of the word “Christian” just weaken the term. Like barnacles on a ship’s hull, is it time to scrape them off?  Here’s a quick list of some candidates for scrubbing:

Evangelical Christian” – From the Greek for Good News, “evangelical” emphasizes the act of evangelism, of telling others the Good News of Jesus. This is the Gospel, that God sent Jesus to save the world — that Jesus was born, died, rose again and will one day return. Yet truth be told, all communities that bear the name of Christ preach the Gospel as they understand it, so why the back-handed slight on others by claiming the word “Good News” (evangelical) in an exclusive way? Some of the readers over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog seem to agree, and are ready to jettison this word that divides.

Born again Christian”- Jesus told Nicodemus: “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Yet “born again” attached to “Christan” is arguably redundant. According to the theology of some, the New Birth happens for a baby at the moment of its baptism. Others see it happening when a adult makes a decision to follow Christ. Still others believe the New Birth happens at the moment of adult baptism. All three agree upon one thing: The New Birth is the gateway to Christian faith. So, the only kind of Christian is the born again kind! To ask a Christian – “Have you been born again?” – is a simple question. There is only one answer: “I’m a Christian; therefore, I have been born again.” Let’s drop “born again” as an adjective in front of “Christian.” It’s a needless piling up of words, and only causes confusion. Say: “I’m born again” or say “I am a Christian.” Labeling yourself a “born again Christian” is like saying: “I’m a bison buffalo” – two different names, same animal.

Bible believing Christian”- This one is a bit trickier. I understand what people mean by it. They mean that the Bible is God’s Word, and should be our guide for our salvation and how we live. Some go further, saying that the Bible is without error in the original autographs (now lost, we are told). I think that there are other ways of getting this message across, without the kind of self-righteousness that the term “Bible believing Christian” exudes. Why not just say: “I’m a Christian, and the Bible is very important to me. I love how practical it is, and try to live by its guidelines.” You’ve made the same point in a non-combative way.

Spirit-filled Christian” – By definition, all Christians are temples where the Holy Spirit resides (Romans 8:9, 1 Cor. 6:19). Yes, we are to be open to the constant outpouring and renewing of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Eph. 5:18). However, using the term “Spirit-filled Christian” seems to imply that there are Christians who do not have the Holy Spirit. It would be better to say: “Are you a Christian who overflows with the presence of God?” Such a way of putting it makes the Christian hungry for the fullness of God without implying that they are bereft of the Holy Spirit.

Some today want to avoid the term “Christian” altogether, thinking it carries too much baggage. Interestingly, the word “Christian” only appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). In all three cases, it appears as a noun. It is never used as an adjective, i.e. “That’s not very Christian of you!” This sparse use in the Bible should give us pause when we insist too much on the word. On the other hand, the terms “disciple” (follower) and “believer” are replete throughout the New Testament. The former is the term of choice in the Gospels, while the latter is common in the book of Acts. Both words place emphasis upon action, i.e. to follow and to believe. When it comes to Christ, to do one is to do the other.


Photo credit: Catholic Encyclopedia