Holiness and Healing: A critical book review

bohi mccorkleHow big is the “Big Tent” in the Church of the Nazarene? Evangelist Dan Bohi and Pastor Rob McCorkle have written a fascinating book that may provoke readers to ask this question with greater urgency.

Holiness and Healing (Groveport, Ohio: FSM Publishing, 2016, Kindle edition) was born out of the authors’ concern that we Nazarenes at some point dropped power from our sanctification message, focusing only upon purity. Corey Jones (who wrote the introduction) alludes to Bohi’s illustration of the Holy Spirit as a dove that can only fly if it flaps both wings simultaneously, the wing of power and the wing of purity:

The Holy Spirit’s work should result in both purity and power, in spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, and in holiness and miracles in and through the lives of believers (Kindle location 126).

This two-winged dove metaphor undergirds the rest of the book, a wide-ranging discussion of multiple topics including (among others) revival, the Five-fold ministry outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13, miracle stories, impartation, and a theology of healing.

The book gets some things right. Rob McCorkle zeroes in on the meaning of salvation. He correctly notes that the Greek word, soteria, has been too narrowly understood in the past as applying only to spiritual things. It is more than preparing individuals for heaven. Rather, “it includes deliverance, healing, and restoration” (Kindle location 816). In short, God wants to redeem all that has gone wrong, to destroy the devil’s work and all of the effects of sin upon creation (1 John 3:8). Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene affirms divine healing, as stated in our 14th Article of Faith. (See my support of this doctrine in a paper written a few years ago with the late Field Strategy Coordinator, Rev Mashangu Maluleka, of South Africa).

Bohi and McCorkle also repeatedly mention the malaise that affects the Church of the Nazarene, particularly in North America, which is their field of ministry. While there are bright spots, the decline in membership and the pace of the closing of churches (relative to new church starts) does not augur well for our future. As a missionary who has itinerated every couple of years in the U.S. on home assignment, I, too, have noted the graying of our American churches and the generally dispirited attitude in many congregations. The authors and I are of one mind in diagnosing the problem. Their proposed remedy is concerted corporate prayer coupled with a revivalism characterized by the manifestation of all nine of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. (See Kindle location 160).

Their willingness to admit the problem and propose a solution is admirable. Nonetheless, there are difficulties with their approach, in light of Scripture. After examining those, let us consider an alternative to revivalism from the book of Acts, one that is also more in keeping with our Nazarene DNA as descendants of John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement of 18th century Great Britain.

A faulty understanding of “apostle”?

Chapter 6 is entitled “An Apostolic Culture: A Biblical Model for Ministry.” Holiness and Healing espouses a re-organization of the church based on Ephesians 4:11-13. On Bohi’s and McCorkle’s reading, the Church of the Nazarene only practices three of the five roles mentioned by Paul (evangelist, pastor, and teacher). What is missing are the roles of apostles and prophets. According to the authors, the former “governs” while the latter “guides” through prophetic words (locations 1697, 1703). This appears to be close to the teachings of Alan Hirsch, an adjunct instructor at Asbury Theological Seminary and a prolific writer in the area of apostolic renewal and missional movements.

One of the postive features of the polity of the Church of the Nazarene is the checks-and-balances in-place that make for accountability. (Note: Dan Bohi is now a disrict licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene, as announced near the beginning of this video). Rob McCorkle calls Bohi an “apostle” (location 1850). It’s not clear in Holiness and Healing how an apostle as defined by the authors would fit into our polity. (The authors recognize this problem as well). Specfically, how would “governors” be accountable? The concept seems to invest too much authority in the hands of a single individual, opening a door to the likely abuse of ecclesiastical power.

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Between the already and the not yet

dawnThe phone rang with the tragic news. My thirty-something pastor friend, Tim (name changed), was dead. He had tried to swerve, but the small sedan took the brunt of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler. The car overturned, coming to rest upside down. The emergency crew unbuckled Tim from the driver’s seat and raced him to the hospital. It was too late. His wife survived the crash, but Tim passed away.

Tim had pastored a radically charismatic storefront church. He had preached that God does miracles in our day, that He can even raise the dead. When some members of his church arrived at the hospital, they asked where their pastor’s body was being stored. Steven (name changed) – my friend and Tim’s and a fellow pastor from another charismatic church – was there to comfort the family. “We believe God is going to raise our pastor from the dead,” one of Tim’s church members announced to Steven. “Will you come and pray over Tim with us?” Steven refused; he even dissuaded them from doing what they planned. For days, one member told others that her pastor wasn’t dead, he was only “on vacation” and that he would soon return. A few days later, many attended his funeral and shed tears of sorrow. Tim had been well-loved. As best we could, we comforted his traumatized wife. Tim was buried; there was no miraculous resurrection.

This is an important dividing line between various church traditions. It is the eschatological question of the “already” vs. the “not yet.” All Christians believe that when Christ came to earth, he inaugurated the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus meant when he said that the Kingdom of God was “in your midst” (Luke 17:21). Throughout Matthew’s Gospel – often dubbed the “Gospel of the Kingdom” – Jesus told parables of the Kingdom, but he did much more. He made the Kingdom concrete by healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, mulitplying loaves and fish to feed the hungry, and even making the winds and the waves obey his bidding. He brought the dead back to life. Already – it’s a word that unscores that Jesus got the ball rolling, that through his ministry – like rays of light penetrating the darkness at sunrise – the Kingdom had begun to dawn.

More than any group of believers, charismatics are the people of the already. Did not Jesus say that we would do even “greater things” than he did (John 14:12)? The spiritual gifts spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14 were not for the first centuries alone, as some claim. Charismatics more than any other Christian tradition emphasize that gifts are for the here-and-now, powerful endowments given by the Holy Spirit to the Church that allow her to carry out her ministry in a triumphant manner, opposing the forces of evil and advancing the Kingdom of God on earth.

Seen in this light, it’s less surprising that Tim’s church member would expect God to raise their pastor. Yet most Christian traditions have been reluctant to see everything through the single lens of the already. Long experience has taught us that we live in a world of suffering, that bad things happen to good people. Though we see the rays of a dawning Kingdom, the full light of day has not yet come. As long as we are caught in the parentheses between the already and the not yet – as long as Jesus has not yet returned to consummate the Kingdom – tractor trailers will slam into cars and good people will die, even good pastors. A thousand other heartaches will strike – the cruelty of cancer, the horrors of war, the madness of terrorism. Jesus tells us to pray “your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) precisely because we’re not yet there. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

I believe God can still work miracles, but I’m not counting on it. Even when we look at the Gospels, we don’t see everyone getting a miracle. Yes, a handful received their sight, but what of those who couldn’t make it to Jesus? Lepers were cleansed, no doubt about it, but surely many still went to their grave still suffering from the skin disease. As for resurrection? Jesus raised three from the dead, namely, the widow’s son at Nain, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus (Luke 7:11-17, Matthew 9:18-26, John 11:1-44). That is an infinitessimally small amount compared to the many who remained dead. Even the Acts of the Apostles record only one instance of Paul raising the dead (Acts 20:7-12). This is not to denigrate the signs and wonders that our Lord performed nor those performed by Peter, Paul, and others. Rather, it’s a caution to those who lean too heavily toward the already. Martha confessed her faith that Lazarus would be raised on the last day (John 11:24). Jesus had other plans for her brother, but Martha’s confession of faith is still the default one for believers today. The Apostles’ Creed places faith in the resurrection of the dead at the very end of the Creed, after our confession that Jesus will return to judge the “living and the dead.” Life everlasting follows the resurrection but after the return of Christ, not now. We’ll get there, but we have not yet arrived.

Where does that leave us? I believe our charismatic friends serve an important role. They are a corrective to churches that are lifeless, where the winds of the Holy Spirit have not blown in decades. By reminding us that Jesus has already inaugurated the Kingdom, they encourage us to push back the darkness, to live into the Kingdom. Yet we must be careful not to set up our people for a fall, to promise in the now what Jesus has only reserved for later. There is an already, but there is also a not yet. May God give us the courage to trust Him for what He longs to give us in the present and the patience to wait for what God has kept back for a future time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth

These rice harvesters outside Antananarivo model good teamwork.
These rice harvesters outside Antananarivo (Madagascar) model good teamwork.

In two weeks, members of the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene will vote on a new pastor. Here is the sermon I was honored to preach there this morning, in slightly modified form.
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SCRIPTURE READING: Ephesians 4:1-16 (Common English Bible)

I.  INTRODUCTION

There’s something about the word “secret” that draws attention. Marketers know this. Take KFC for example. They draw us in with talk of the Colonel’s “secret recipe” made from 11 tasty herbs and spices. Or what about the website, WebMD? A recent article spoke about “10 Diet secrets for lasting weight loss success.”

If a marketer had been assigned to the Apostle Paul, what might she have labelled Ephesians 4:1-16? Perhaps she would have spoken of “Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth.” And here they are:

1) Keep the focus on Christ.

2) Find your niche and fill it.

3) Above all, let us love one another.

II. KEEP THE FOCUS ON CHRIST

When you read Ephesians 4:1-16, there’s no question about who the star of the show is. It’s Christ!

v. 1 – Paul was a prisoner for whom? The Lord Jesus Christ

v. 7 – our gifting is from Christ

vv. 9-10 – It is Christ who descended to earth and who ascended to Heaven

v. 12 – We are the body of Christ.

v. 13 – As his body, we are striving for the standard of the fullness of Christ.

v. 15 – We are to “grow in every way into Christ.”

Theologians like fancy words. They would say that our faith must be Christocentric. In other words, Jesus must be at the center.

By no means do I agree with all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches. However, one of things that I really like is the sanctuary. When I go into a Catholic church, very often there is a cross at the front, in the center, a cross depicting the crucified Christ. The old hymn says it well:

Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus

I’ve lost sight of all besides.

So enchained my spirit’s vision

Looking at the crucified.

It is far too easy for us as the church to be distracted by minor things and turn our gaze from Christ. We are tempted to put our eyes on minor things:

Why did our pastor not do that? Isn’t that her job?

Why would sister so-and-so say such a thing?

Why was the music too loud this morning? Why was it too soft?

And when we start down that negative path, our eyes are diverted from the One who brings us together and the One in whom we find our unity! I’m glad that I’m part of a denomination that has chosen to put Jesus in our name. We are the Church of the Nazarene. Who is the Nazarene? The Nazarene is Jesus Christ.

Yet what kind of a Christ do we preach? We preach a Christ who reaches out to the marginalized, the forgotten of our society. Because Jesus loves people, he is never content to leave us where we are. Rather, Jesus is all about setting us on a new path. We serve Christus Victor, the Christ who is victorious over the unholy Trinity of sin, death, and the devil. Because Jesus loves us so much, he can never be satisfied to leave us mired in our sin.

As the Church of the Nazarene, we’ve understood that historically. For example, in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early decades of the 20th century, we started a rescue mission for alcoholics, and to this day the churches of the Kansas City area support that rescue mission, loving the poor and homeless, many of whom are caught in the trap of substance abuse.

But who are the other marginalized people of our day, right here in South Africa? If someone stood up among us and admitted that he’s addicted to drugs, asking for God’s help and ours, would we not help him? Yet I wonder what our reaction would be if someone stood up in church and admitted being attracted to the same sex, then asked for God’s help and ours? Would we distance ourselves and reply: “No, there’s nothing to be done for that one”? Would we not welcome them with outstretched arms?

And so we keep Christ the Saviour, the one victorious over sin, death, and the devil, at the center of all we do. It is this Jesus that will draw people to himself and to his church.

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What will your contribution be?

Dan Ketchum gives an excellent summary of team leadership principles from John Maxwell. The key line? It takes teamwork to make the dream work.

Of the five principles given, the one that grabbed my attention was the “law of the niche.” Like on a football team, each person has a position where he or she plays best.

When I was pastoring, “Susan” (not her real name) was one of our most committed church members. At the time, we had a Caravan program (like Scouting) that was effectively serving our community. Susan admitted that working with children wasn’t her strong point, but she was willing, so she accepted the “Guide’s” book and reported for duty. Three months later on a Sunday night before the service, she came to me with tears in her eyes. “Pastor,” she said,  laying the guide book down, “I just can’t do this anymore. I tried, but I can’t.”

What had happened? Susan was a player playing in the wrong position. Later, she got involved in the women’s ministry program and did an excellent job. She had found her “niche.”

In “The Emperor’s Club,” Mr. Hundert knew about how important it was for people to find their niche, the place where they could most effectively serve. He teaches ancient history in an all-boys school. He mocks an arrogant and violent conqueror who later becomes a virtual unknown. Then he asks the wide-eyed students this haunting question:

“What will your contribution be?”

It’s a big world, and God needs world Christians. The question is: What is your niche? What will your contribution be?

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Photo credit: Allmoviephoto.com