Posted in book reviews

Making a difference in West Africa

Responding_to_the_Call-thCan one little girl from an obscure village in Côte d’Ivoire make a difference? Read Responding to the Call: The Story of Jacqueline Dje Dje (Nazarene Publishing House, 2013) and you will answer with a resounding “yes.”

Amy Crofford* has written 6 missionary books for NPH, and in some ways, this is the best of the lot. Where other books have centered around the lives and experiences of Western missionaries, this biography revolves around the first ordained French-speaking  female pastor in the Church of the Nazarene in West Africa.

The reader is quickly caught up in young Jacqueline’s quest to fulfill her call from God, setting out in search of a denomination that will allow her to preach and shepherd God’s flock. Obstacles are not easily overcome, but with a patient spirit and a quiet determination, Jacqueline first conquers academic disadvantages to graduate from the Bible Institute. Later, she overcomes longstanding cultural biases, planting a new church and eventually receiving Nazarene ordination as an elder. To discover the moving ending to her story, the reader can find the book here or ask to borrow it from the NMI President at a local Church of the Nazarene near you.

While strong overall, the book has its weaknesses. It’s not clear what connection two profiles of other female African Nazarene pastors have to the main narrative. Also, some missing details will leave the reader in suspense, like the name of a “life changing book” that someone gave Jacqueline. More information, please!

Whatever the book’s flaws, Rev. Jacqueline Dje Dje’s courage shines through. She became a pioneer for other Nazarene women called by God to pastoral ministry. (A French translation of the book is planned). One serendipity is that by presenting the story of a female pastor overseas, perhaps the American Nazarene reader will be more open to considering some of his or her own biases about what gender a Nazarene pastor in the United States should be.

*Full disclosure: The author is married to the owner of this blog.


Image credit: Nazarene Missions International

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, reflections

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”

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, reflections

Tom Oord calls for Nazarenes to “open the windows”

Thomas J. Oord

If the Church of the Nazarene were an army, then Tom Oord of Northwest Nazarene University would be one of the scouts riding out in front, probing new territory. Armies need scouts, and the Church of the Nazarene needs theologians like Dr. Oord.

Oord has written an intriguing essay, calling for us to “open the windows” in the Church of the Nazarene. He lists 10 areas where we need to “let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” (No doubt he means the Holy Spirit, and not just any “spirit.”)

You can read all ten points over at his blog. They are all worth the reader’s time, but here I’d like to quote two of them as a springboard for further reflection. Oord writes:

1. Engage contemporary theology. Theological scholars in the colleges and universities sponsored by the Church of the Nazarene explore a variety of theological ideas. Theology in the denomination is significantly different today than it was fifty years ago. And that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, however, pursuing new forms of Wesleyan-Holiness theology in dialogue with these contemporary theological ideas is not encouraged as it should be. I believe the Spirit intends to do new things and guide the denomination in new ways theologically.

Tom Oord is justified in calling the Church of the Nazarene to the theological task. Each generation must grasp the biblical underpinning of the doctrine of holiness, but – having done so – must clothe the message in language relevant to its own generation and cultural context. It is not enough to just reprint old holiness classics. Those books use a distinctive idiom and illustrations that spoke to a time past. Who will write holiness theology in a language and style that touches the hearts of people in the 21st century? And the very style that makes an American writer resonate with American culture may for that same reason make the book ineffective in cultures outside North America. Our task as a global church is to raise up theologians from each culture where we are at work.

Yet is it enough to engage only the theology being written in our own culture? Worldwide – not just in the Church of the Nazarene – the Church is growing in what Philip Jenkins has called the “Global South,” including Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. More and more, contemporary theology is being written in these parts of the world, yet to what degree do seminary students in the United States grapple with theologians from these other cultures? Do our Nazarene universities in the U.S. read these emerging theologians? I admit my weakness in this area, but as one serving in Africa, am determined to become more conversant with thinkers like Kwame Bediako of Ghana. Who among our Nazarene theologians in Africa will rise to his stature?

The late Prof. Kwame Bediako of Ghana

Oord continues, underscoring the need for us to re-empower women in ministry. He sounds a clarion call:

8. Reestablish the power of and number of women in leadership. Many members of the Church of the Nazarene happily note that while the Roman Catholic church has not embraced the Spirit’s move to establish women in the highest positions of leadership, Nazarenes have affirmed this throughout their history. And yet a very small percentage of Nazarene pastors are women. And leadership in various denominational sectors is dominated by men. Steps must be taken to encourage Nazarene members to promote women into positions of leadership.

I believe that the Church of the Nazarene in Africa will set an example for other denominations in Africa and the global Church of the Nazarene in this regard. Currently, 14% of the nearly 1,000 students enrolled in the Nazarene Theological Institute are women. While we are not satisfied with this paltry figure, it is nonetheless movement in the right direction. Of the 16 students in a class I taught in Madagascar in 2011, 14 were women. Likewise, of nine who were ordained in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of the Congo), three were women, and a recent seminar on spiritual gifts (see photo) included a healthy representation of women.

Church leaders in Bukavu, DRC

The obstacles that African women must overcome to become pastors are daunting. If they can do it, what other culture in the world can be excused from fully empowering women to pursue all roles of lay and ordained ministry?

Thank you, Dr. Oord, for raising important issues. May the Holy Spirit continue to blow, refreshing His Church, including the small branch we call the Church of the Nazarene!


Photo credits:

Thomas J. Oord – from the website of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science

Kwame Bediako – from the Akrofi-Christaller Institute website

Posted in From soup to nuts

A Publishing House for a Peculiar People

Here’s a taste of an essay I wrote for the NNU Wesley Center, looking back at the Herald of Holiness 100 years ago:

Multiple editorials in the early pages of Vol. 1 No. 25 urged pastors, evangelists, and church members to view theHerald and books that would be produced as an essential way to increase the effectiveness of holiness evangelism.  As a former pastor who has heard many sales pitches at District Assembly from a representative of Nazarene Publishing House, it’s intriguing to see that this approach has a long pedigree!

Read the whole blog here.

Plus ça change…