Karibuni: Coming close in 2016

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God’s people worship in rural Benin (West Africa)

There’s a wonderful tradition I learned in Nairobi, Kenya. When visiting someone at home, instead of knocking on the door, the visitor calls out in Swahili: “Hodi.” If the host answers “Karibu!” (or to a group, “Karibuni”), then you are welcome to enter. In both singular and plural forms, the greeting means the same the thing: Come close.

God put on flesh; his name was Jesus, “the LORD saves.” We celebrate Advent as a Karibu moment, as the time when God in Christ came close.

It’s difficult to know someone at a distance. A Skype call can keep a relationship going, but it works best as an interlude between in-person encounters. Even in a world drawn closer together by technology, there’s no substitute for incarnation.

The well-known question is appropriate: If God seems far away from you, then who moved? (Hint: It wasn’t God). Following the Advent season – a time when we reflect upon Jesus coming close to us – I sense in return God’s call for me to individually draw closer. It’s God saying to me: Karibu. Yet we live in community and work out our faith corporately. So Jesus also says to us as a group, as the church: Karibuni.

One reason I advocate for frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper is that it dramatizes the divine Karibuni. Communion symbolizes our Lord Jesus with strong arms outstretched in welcome to us. He says:

You are welcome! Come close.

In partaking of the bread and the wine, we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, the drawing grace of God that woos us away from our sin toward something better, a life of holy love. At the Table, we are transformed, we are one and we are at home.

In Philippians 3:10a, Paul expresses his deepest desire in life: “I want to know Christ…” Only surface knowledge can be gained at a distance. Deeper understanding comes with close proximity. This year, I’m saying to God with all my heart: “Hodi.” I’m sensing his loving response: Karibu! Will you join me and together draw closer to Christ than we ever have before?

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Nazarene or “Baptarene”? When traditions collide

Phineas F. Bresee served for 38 years as a Methodist minister before beginning the fledgling “Church of the Nazarene” at the turn of the 20th century. Other non-Methodist groups fused with his in 1907 and 1908.

My dad grew up Nazarene, but my mom was raised independent Baptist. So, if ever there was a “Baptarene,” it was me. But I suspect I’m not the only former Baptarene who has rediscovered what being a Nazarene is, and now, I refuse to look back.

Don’t get me wrong. I harbor no animus against Baptists. I’ve always admired their fervor in evangelism, their giving for world missions and their emphasis upon the importance of Scripture. All three of those characterized John Wesley (1703-91) as well, the 18th century Anglican evangelist  who is the ecclesiastical ancestor of Nazarenes. But Wesley wasn’t a Baptist; he was an Anglican/Methodist, and I’ve come to treasure that heritage as something valuable and worth protecting.

Take the issue of women in ministry. From our official beginning in 1908, Nazarenes have formally acknowledged in our Manual that God calls both men and women to all roles of ordained ministry. Among other passages, we’ve always taken Acts 2:17-18 seriously, that in the “last days” God will pour out the Holy Spirit on everyone. The evidence of this outpouring will be (in part) that “servants” who are “both men and women” will “prophesy.” Prophecy is preaching, the telling forth of the message of salvation through Christ. This message is so important that you just can’t keep half of your team planted on the bench. Everyone – male and female – must get into the game.

Another legacy from our Methodist roots is infant baptism for the children of church-going parents, practiced alongside believer baptism for older converts. In the same message on Pentecost, Peter assured his Jewish listeners – the Covenant people of God – that God has done something new in Jesus Christ. After a scathing message where he accused them of having crucified Jesus, he ended with a word of hope: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The promise of the Holy Spirit – as symbolized in baptism – was for all, regardless of age: “The promise is for you and your children, for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (v. 39, italics added). And so on that Day of Pentecost, whole families were baptized — dads, moms, and kids. That set a pattern that was repeated at key junctures in the book of Acts, where entire “households” (Gk. oikos) were baptized. It’s inconceivable that this did not include babes in arms. This was a New Covenant, and the sign of the New Covenant people of God was baptism.

A third heritage from our Methodist roots is the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist) as a means of grace. John Wesley himself celebrated communion frequently, as a way to fortify his faith. Today in Methodist churches and a growing number of Nazarene congregations, Eucharist is the high moment of worship, following a meaty sermon. It is the culmination of the moments spent together as the adoring community of faith.

But what about the Church of the Nazarene?

Have we kept these strands of our heritage from Methodism, or have we been squeezed into a Baptist mold, becoming “Baptarenes”?

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