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.

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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.

SCRIPTURE READING: 1 Peter 4:12-19 (TNIV)

– Prayer –

I.  INTRODUCTION

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)”

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”?

Continue reading “Nazarene or “Baptarene”? When traditions collide”