If the church could take a selfie

DSCN3653Admit it. You’ve done it. You’ve snapped a photo of yourself – a “selfie” – at least once. Maybe you’ve even gone to the next level and bought one of those trendy selfie sticks, a trick to make a selfie appear like someone else took it.

Sometimes I wonder: What if wasn’t just individuals who took selfies?

What if the church could take a selfie?

What would she see? A better question might be: What should she see?

These are the kinds of questions that more than 300 Nazarene thinkers asked at the March 2014 Global Theology Conference, held in Johannesburg, South Africa. In a summation, Dr Thomas Noble, Professor of Theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary concluded:

The church must be God-glorifying, Christ-centered, and Spirit-filled.

Dr Thomas Noble, Nazarene Theological Seminary
Dr Thomas Noble, Nazarene Theological Seminary

The statement is strong for several reasons. First, it is brief, making it more memorable. Secondly, it is Trinitarian, focusing equally upon God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That is no small virtue at a time when so much of our worship music centers on Jesus to the point that the Father and the Spirit are in danger of being eclipsed. Finally, it is not a halfhearted suggestion. It breathes urgency by using the word “must.” To neglect any of three characteristics is – in some sense – to cease being the church.

But let’s unpack the parts of this triplet.

The church must be God-glorifying.

Worship is the church gathered, but what is the purpose of worship? Pastor Victoria Osteen, Co-Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, was roundly criticized following her remarks in a widely-circulated video. She opined:

When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?

Self-absorption runs counter to Christ’s call to a life centered upon God and poured out in service to the world. Self-glorification is the antithesis of the two Great Commandments, loving God and neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). John Calvin (1509-64), the great Reformer from Geneva, noted regarding God the Father: “As all good flows, without any exception, from him, so ought all praise deservedly to return to him.” (1) Beyond worship, if the church receives human praise for a work of charity, shall she accept the credit for herself or deflect it back to the Father, the source of all that is good?

The church must be Christ-centered.

If God the Father is the one who to be glorified by the church’s worship and deeds, this does not dismiss the importance of Christ in all  that we do. To be Christ-centered as a community of faith means above all never losing sight of Christ crucified. In his self-giving love at Calvary, we behold the exemplar of who we are called to be both individually and corporately. In The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann observed:

The gospels intentionally direct the gaze of Christians away from the experiences of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit back to the earthly Jesus and his way to the cross. They represent faith as a call to follow Jesus. The call to follow him (Mark 8:31-38 par.) is associated with Jesus’ proclamation of suffering. To follow Jesus always means to deny oneself and to take ‘his cross’ on oneself. (2)

Christ crucified is the antidote to the narcissistic ethos of our time. As the church contemplates the self-giving love of Christ most excellently displayed in his death, she will be disgusted by every ingrown, time-consuming program that makes the church a comfortable club for the saints instead of a rescue squad rushing to the aid of those sick and dying from sin.

The church must be Spirit-filled. Make no mistake: This is not just any spirit, for the New Testament recounts the life-sucking and malevolent presence of evil spirits in the cosmos (Ephesians 6:10-20). Rather, God calls the church to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Wesleyan-Holiness teaching has emphasized the need for God to pour the Holy Spirit out like a river upon individual believers. Too often, we forget the corporate nature of this filling as exemplified on the Day of Pentecost. On that momentous occasion, it was the church gathered together in prayer that experienced the miraculous descent of the Dove (Acts 2:1-4). Only through the ongoing effusion of the Third Person of the Trinity is the church unified, cleansed, gifted and empowered for her outwardly-focused mission. Clark Pinnock explained:

God did not pour the Spirit out for us to exult in it as a private benefit. The purpose was ( and is) to empower witnesses to God’s kingdom (Acts 1:8)…God wants a community that, like Jesus, gets caught up in the transformation of the world. (3)

The Holy Spirit is the dynamo of the church (Acts 1:8). Though potentially dangerous if overdone, the metaphor of spiritual warfare demands reliance on the continual protection and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This is especially important when the church begins living out its call to pierce the darkness by loving the last, the lost and the least, resulting in fierce push-back from the Enemy. Only the Spirit can instill courage amidst the fight, filling the church with stubborn love toward all even if she is at times the target of undeserved hate. Only the Spirit can energize the People of God to advance the Kingdom of Heaven, often against seemingly impossible odds.

If the church took a selfie, I wonder what she’d see? Would she capture the image of a community of faith that glorifies God, is centered on Christ and his selfless example, and overflows with the power and love of the Holy Spirit? Give me that kind of a church and we’ll change the world.

———

Notes:

(1) John Calvin, in I. John Hesselink, Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Prss, 1997), 9.

(2) Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 54.

(3) Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 141.

———

Image credit:

Dr Thomas Noble: NTS.edu

Advertisements

Third Global Nazarene Theology Conference, Johannesburg (23-27 March)

The first meeting of the Africa Nazarene Women Clergy met just prior to the GTC-3. We have some amazing female ministers in Africa!
The first meeting of the Africa Nazarene Women Clergy convened for three days prior to the GTC-3. We have some amazing female ministers in Africa!

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:

– context
– Bible
– theology
– history

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.

Think Tank
Africa Theological Think Tank

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.

Volume 1 of the Africa Journal of Wesleyan Theology, went on sale at the GTC-3. Topics addressed by Think Tank writers were ancestor worship, polygamy, marriage customs, homosexuality, and Christus Victor.
Volume 1 of the Africa Journal of Wesleyan Theology, went on sale at the theology conference.. Topics addressed inside by Think Tank writers were ancestor worship, polygamy, marriage customs, homosexuality, and Christus Victor.

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.