Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Order of St. Stephen

If you share a conviction for the COTN's historic roots in social justice, care for the downtrodden, compassionate ministry and the like, you might consider becoming involved with the newly emerging (there's that word again!) Nazarene Order of St. Stephen:

"Nearly 100 years ago the Church of the Nazarene began in Los Angeles California. Gathered were a group of Christians interested in proclaiming the radical optimism of God's love and grace to people on the margins. The early work of this new moment defied societal and class boundaries. Compassion and justice were inextricably linked to the holy call to love God and neighbor--no holiness but social holiness. People were added to their number daily who testified to lives changed by the grace of God. [...]

The Order of Saint Stephen is a community of brothers and sisters who are banding together to live this gospel as a way of life. We are recovering the Order of Saint Stephen which was part of that first Church of the Nazarene in LA. In so doing we desire to rediscover the potency of their commitment to discipleship, contemplation, compassion, and justice."

Not sure just yet how this will develop, but it has my unbridled support already. Email nazarenemonks(at)gmail(dot)com to express your interest.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Report from the Front Lines

I guess I am attempting this first blog mostly to earn the right to have my name in the prestigious list to the right (contributors). I've enjoyed reading the stuff I've found here, and I truly appreciate Brannon's efforts to make this a place where ideas can be exchanged about an area which is a passion of mine. I am a pastor in a Nazarene Church in the South. This is my 3rd church and I truly love the Church of the Nazarene. I have pastored in three different regions, with three very distinct groups of people inhabiting each Church. The Church I am in right now is largely white-collar, and we have an ever-increasing contingent of students and grad students from Baylor University attending. I have truly loved sharing with this Church my passion for worship, the Sacraments and the Christian calendar. I’ll share two interesting accounts very briefly, then try to sum up my rambling and get out as painlessly as possible.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Infant Baptism: The Plot Thickens

With a little self-motivation and hard work, Joseph has made some interesting discoveries about the history of infant baptism in the COTN and shares with us a summary of his preliminary research.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

For the Life of the World

Pastor John Wright of Mid-City COTN in San Diego (I'm pretty sure that means "Saint Diego"...although scholars maintain the original translation was lost years ago...) has written a fantastic post on "Transfiguration and the Eucharist." His insights, drawn largely from the work of Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, are well worth your attention.

Insights on Wesley

"For Wesley, there was no contradiction between sacramental and evangelical religion, as these terms were later formulated. He was both a Catholic sacramentalist - if by that is signified a deep attachment and devotion to the given forms through which God has promised to convey His grace and in which the believer is confirmed in faith and his life sanctified - and a revivalist who saw in the Supper a means not only of sanctification but of preaching unto conversion and justification. Without denying any of the richness of his Anglican eucharistic heritage, he broadened it to include new elements. This is paralleled by the fact that he adhered to the Anglican liturgy while at the same time adding characterist Methodist features, notably hymns and extempore prayer. The Catholic and Protestant features were present also in doctrine, and, as with baptism, Wesley strove for a genuine via media between the extremes of both positions..."

from John R. Parris, John Wesley's Doctrine of the Sacraments. London: The Epworth Press, 1963, pgs 95-96.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"Communion for two, please": On the Sacrament(s) of Marriage

Whether or not marriage should be regarded as a sacrament is a matter of debate in the Protestant world. To my mind, the issue is not really about whether or not marriage should be considered a "means [medium, mediation] of grace," for undoubtedly marriage is the graced, redemptive work of God. Further, I agree with those who remind us that God is not constrained by His sacraments; while there are a limited number of particular rites which the Church recognizes as sacraments, any number of life's moments can be, as it were, "sacramental."

Still, some would prefer to describe marriage as a "vocation" rather than a sacrament, reserving the designation of sacrament only for those symbols in which all Christians are expected to participate: namely, baptism (and correlatively, confirmation) and the Eucharist. By this logic, rites like ordination and marriage, although sacramental in the sense of involving a transmission of God's grace, are not properly identified as sacraments because only certain ones are called (hence, "vocation") to the married or prophetic-priestly life.

So while most Protestants don't consider marriage itself an official sacrament, based upon my own experience, I would conjecture that many if not most wedding ceremonies in the COTN include the sharing of the bread and the cup. Sometimes this Communion is shared only between the bride and groom, although I have observed that couples seem to be becoming more inclined to invite the congregation to participate. I think this latter trend is wonderful, but it is not without its problems: does one announce to the congregation, or print in the order of service, that Communion is only for baptized Christians; or if not referring to baptism specifically, stating that Communion is only for "all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour," as is common practice? Or does one assume that most people know the protocol and so will abstain if they are not professing/baptized Christians? To use an example from my own life, communion wasn't offered to the congregation (only the couple) at a recent family wedding, because, it was explained to me, the couple knew that many in attendance were not Christians, and they didn't want to create a necessarily exclusive dynamic. But is this particular exclusivity to be avoided?

So, I simply ask: should Communion be included in a wedding ceremony? More pointedly, should it be included at all if not all (Christians) are going to be invited to receive? How should one handle situations like this, pastorally and liturgically? This leads into obvious questions about how the church is to minister in our day and age, with the myriad of people and circumstances with which pastors and churches have to deal. Do we need to play it hard-and-fast, or take things on more of a case-by-case, day-to-day basis?

It would do well to recall that Nazarenes beginning with Phineas Bresee have maintained agreement with St. Augustine: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." But how do we bear this out in our churches, locally, and in our denomination, globally? (And by all means, draw upon real-life scenarios in responding!)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Nazarenes take over a water park

I was just browsing on the internet and I stumbled across this interesting article about how a large number of people from a Guatamalan church rode a bus for over an hour to a water park to have a large baptismal service. The article mentions that the crowd would cheer when a person came up out of the water and that the church shared a meal together afterwards.

From an outsider's view, I think it was more important to the church to make a big deal out of baptism than it was to make sure they had immersion-type baptism (and that's not where I wanted this discussion to go since I think we all agree that the type doesn't matter).


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baptism and Dispossession

Hey folks,

My name is Dave Belcher, and though Brannon has already listed me as a contributor, I have yet to actually contribute to this great conversation. It's late where I'm at and it's been a long day--my band played on the 12:00 Kansas City Fox4 News, then our bass player cut his leg wide open with a razor blade (accidentally), we got lost multiple times on the way to our evening gig, and we played a concert for recovering addicts of all sorts ("Celebrate Recovery")--but I'd like to just give a preface to my interest with "the Church," the sacraments, and my research for my master's thesis [and though I share this here with trust, I haven't finished this, and this will be a published work, so please don't share it elsewhere...sorry for the disclaimer].

The Church can only appear as it is One; not only is this affirmed all over Scripture, but in nearly all of Christian tradition(s), especially up to the Reformation period. Because Jesus Christ is One, and brings the scattered Adam into Unity--the Unity of his very body--there can be no division in his body...this is Paul's point when he says to the churches in Galatia and Colossia: "There is no longer Jew nor Greek..." However, with the division of the body of Christ--which we can say with certainty occured in the Reformation, if not in other instances of Christian history, e.g., the 5th century split of Eastern and Western Roman orthodoxy--we must say with confidence that the Church has disappeared. Two things must follow this statement. First of all, we must recognize that though this language sounds harsh, it is absolutely necessary. The countless ecumenical councils and conferences that have followed in the wake of the Reformation, though they have been a step in the right direction, have more often than not served as a veil to the problem, or a way for one denomination to blame another; concrete worldwide Unity is not forthcoming. If we do not recognize that the Church cannot appear as it is One, and that refusing to join with one another in worldwide Unity also restricts Christ's lordship, we deceive ourselves, and pompously remain in rebellion against God's will to bring healing and restoration to the brokenness (read, "sin") of fallen humanity. As St. Paul asks the churches in Rome, "What shall we say then? Shall we remain in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!"

Secondly, the statement that the Church has disappeared does not mean that the Church has died or failed; as Augustine said in response to the Donatists, the Church cannot fail, because that would mean that Christ would fail in His mission (sent from the Father, and with the Holy Spirit) to bless the whole world through his body (the Church). Rather, the Church exists because it is the body of Christ, and because of the constitutive gift of His Spirit...Christ is thus present where two or three are gathered (by the Holy Spirit), in the Sacrament of Unity at the Eucharistic table, where Church happens. However, because the Church is the marriage of the Holy, blameless Christ to the human bride of the Lamb, and because we persist in our sinful brokenness even after Christ has already freed us from that sin, we can indeed, and do, fail to make Christ present to the world. The way that I have described it in my thesis is that the Church does not disappear ontologically, but rather, phenomenally.

The Church's response to this severe, urgent problem must be something more than the sterile, neutral "agree to talk about not disagreeing" debate of ecumenism; what is required of us is nothing short of (actively) remembering our very entrance into the body of Christ in Baptism. The shape of the baptismal liturgy is the shape of dispossession: we are to "put off" our old humanity, and put on the garment of Christ, who is our new life--as Bonhoeffer puts it, our "new human being." We are drowned in the baptismal waters, buried with Christ in a death like his, and we die to sin so that we too might walk in the newness of resurrected life in the nourishment granted in the very flesh and blood of Christ's body in the Eucharistic meal. In early Christian rites, however, the cathecumens were not permitted to participate in or even see the mysteries of the bread and wine--to join in loving embrace with their new family and body--until they had been washed in the purging waters of baptism, dispossessed of all of their possessions (as Christ says, "No one can be my disciple who does not give away all his possessions"), so that they may receive new life in complete gratuity.

There is no doubt that the Church of the Nazarene is just as involved in this as is the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches. We cannot be content to be invisibly joined to our Christian brethren--past, present, and future--by the faith that lies in our hearts; if the Church is not visibly One, we must see that the Church disappears. This has massive implications for sacramental worship in the Church of the Nazarene, but even more so for our day to day life--which should be an outgrowth...or actually they should be the same dang thing...of our sacramental worship. This is my prayer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Baptizin' Babies

Just wanted to let everyone know about the good discussion that is shaping up over at Nazarene Roundtable about infant baptism. A brother in Christ has solicited advice on this matter as it relates to his own child, so a young life hangs in the balance. So...join in! You know you want to...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

SacNaz Honour Roll Spotlight: Epworth Chapel on the Green

If you haven't noticed, I made good on the promise to start an "Honour Roll" of Nazarene (or, in one case, quasi-Nazarene) churches which are making gestures toward more liturgical and sacramental ways of worshipping. So far we have 10 churches on the list (in the right-hand sidebar), and are of course always keen to add more, so keep the nominations coming.

I sent out emails to the pastors and staff of all the churches who had been nominated to inform them of this great honour, and I have received a few gratifying responses, gratifying if only because this indicates that the pastor or church apparently cares enough to read my email, have a look at the site, and type a response. For instance, Rev. Dr. Brook Thelander, rector of Epworth Chapel on the Green, wrote:

Thank you for honouring Epworth Chapel on the Green in your attempts to recognize churches working toward sacramental and liturgical renewal. Even though Epworth is now "independent," the core group of people who started the church were Nazarenes. I myself am an ordained Nazarene elder, and still work with the Intermountain District to get permission to minister here... Thanks for noticing what we are trying to do. It means a lot to us.

It means a lot to us, too! I have to applaud this creative and deliberate approach to being a local church that situates itself within a tradition that does not really exist (yet). What I mean is, by being a "Wesleyan-Anglican" church, they are carving out a "traditioned" identity that does not exist per se as a Tradition (proper), or which did not exist heretofore except by absence, by the gap left by the lack of any such tradition. While I suppose a very high-church Methodist congregation could describe themselves as "Wesleyan-Anglicans," as far as I know, Epworth is entirely unique in their solution to the "problem" of situating their Wesleyan-holiness identity within its proper Anglican ecclesial and liturgical tradition, of reconciling these two aspects, once inextricably joined but now almost entirely divorced.

This testimonial about Epworth, which I ran across on another blog, seemed to me worth sharing:

We had a very good visit to Epworth Chapel on the Green in Boise yesterday. It’s a Wesleyan-Anglican church that is totally liturgical, and stresses the right kind of ecumenicity as well as evangelism. The people were exceptionally kind to us and the liturgy was wonderful. The cantors and the organist were first-rate which made it a great listening and singing experience. We were so excited to find this diamond in the rough so close at hand when it seemed like there wasn’t much around here in an Anglican stream that wasn’t totally liberal and corrupt. It was interesting to me to observe how my kids reacted to the liturgical service. They seemed interested, maybe because it is so new to them. But I think it would be a really positive environment for them to learn Christianity in...

*Sigh*...oh, to hear such things said often of Nazarenes churches. I wonder, though: would it be possible to follow Epworth Chapel's lead without becoming independent? Or was their detachment from the denomination a kind of necessary sacrifice? Is there room within the COTN for churches who are compelled to move so fully and deliberately in this direction?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Blog Roll Spotlight: Pastor John Wright

[hey, that rhymes!]

Pastor John Wright of Church of the Nazarene in Mid-City (San Diego, CA) has written an exceptional reflection on eating bread. Following theologians like Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas, Pastor John reminds us that

...the church does not make the Eucharist; the Eucharist makes the Church. As Christians, grace comes before works, and works flow out of what the grace has already accomplished. The Eucharist represents the "already" as we live towards its full reality in the "not yet." Christ's presence in the Eucharist is real by the descent if the Spirit on the Bread and Cup in the Eucharistic prayer lead by the elder at the altar. As we participate in the One Body that is Christ's presence in the Bread, we then go out to live what we read in Deuteronomy and Ephesians -- now with no reason to not do so, because it is only by God's grace, not our merit or worth, that we have been made participatants in Christ's body.

And all God's people said, Amen.

"We should take Communion more often...": On the Bad Words Christians Use

"Oh, we're having Communion"

"Well, we take Communion at least once a month at our church."

"I prefer taking Communion by intinction."

"Are we gonna put Communion before the sermon or after?"
How often have I heard these very verbs used in conjunction with communion in my own experiences with the church? I suppose "postmoderns" like me aren't supposed to get too hung up on language: one of the key characteristics of our "post-"age is often referred to as a "crisis of language," an inability to accept any longer, at least with any certitude, that words mean what they're meant to mean. But these words bother me, especially when juxtaposed with the words that we ought to be using when we talk about Communion, words like:

receive... celebrate... participate in... keep

You see, I believe firmly that the shape of our worship shapes us. Therefore, I believe the words, gestures and postures we adopt makes a profound difference to our understanding of what we are doing when we worship, and why.

I think our fatal flaw is this tendency to view Communion as something we do, rather than something God does and indeed is doing, and in which we are invited (or better, con-voked: called-together) to participate. We are told to keep the feast; we are invited to step out, come forward, kneel humbly and receive the body and blood; we are gathered together (ecclesia = assembly) to celebrate the story of our salvation, for how often we forget that every Sunday is a celebration of Easter.

This in no way exhausts the symbolic significance of the Communion meal; this is not even the tip of the iceberg. But I hope it exposes the characteristically impoverished nature of our standard ritual of the Lord's Supper. This poverty, it seems to me, is directly related to the words we use and the gestures and postures we assume in our ritual enactment. For example: are we really acknowledging the fact that we are invited to come (Jesus said: "Whoever comes to me will never hunger or thirst") when the elements are brought to us, requiring no real effort on our part, not even any change to our physical posture? We don't get out of our seats most of the time, much less kneel. So it's no wonder, perhaps, that we use the word "take" so often: we do, in fact, take Communion...the tray is passed down our row and we take the cup, we take the wafer. We'll feed ourselves, thank you very much. The problem is, this "taking" makes the Eucharist into a commodity, placing it within the realm of value or a market economy of sorts; this can never be the case if sacraments are truly "means of grace," and if grace is truly free, lavish, gratuitous.

How different, then, is our coming forward and kneeling before a sacrificial altar which is also a banqueting table and extending empty open hands to be graced with the bread that is his Body, this bread that, in receiving, makes us his Body? Or even, as is standard practice in some traditions, coming forward so helplessly that all we can do is open our mouths to have the bread placed on our tongue, or to be spoon-fed the bread co-mingled with the wine, like little babies who can't even feed themselves?

You see, I'm afraid we're much too adult for all of that; much too sure of ourselves and of what this ritual is all about, to be bothered with such symbolism, such inconvenient pageantry. For if the meal is all about remembrance or memorial, in the rather one-dimensional sense of simply meditating upon a memory, like flicking through an old photo album, then why should we bother worrying about such questions of form? However, surely the next question then becomes: If the significance of communion is only what takes place in my (individual) head and heart, then why bother with a cup and a wafer at all? Surely we could all simply sit in silence with closed eyes and ponder upon images of the crucifixion, or, better yet, project such images (perhaps from a popular film) on a screen so that we may call them to mind more readily?

But no: we are given bread and wine. We hold it in our hands. We gaze at its texture, its materiality: a thin, porous wafer, so easily snapped in two; a thimble-ful of deep red liquid, which reflects and refracts the light so beautifully. We place it to our lips. We chew, we swish, we swallow. We tongue the crevices in our teeth to free those stuck bits of the wafer that didn't go down. We shove a grubby finger into our mouths to pick it free from our teeth, and suck that finger clean and swallow again. This is bodily, material, human. Eating, digestion, is messy business. This is God's way of telling us that matter matters... that God indeed in-dwells the very stuff of our lives, the stuff that keeps us alive: food, drink, relationships... communion with one another and with Almighty God.

This is anything but a mere mental exercise. This re-member-ance is what puts us back together again: puts the pieces of our individual lives together and makes us into whole persons; puts us as individuals back together into a Body that is worthy of the name Church. This memorial re-collects a mess of busted-up fragments into a community that, as the Body of Christ, participates in the eternal communion of a Triune God. In this sense, there is only one Eucharist, only one Communion meal, one that is on-going, and one to which even the least-of-these are always welcome. Every once in awhile, we accept this invitation. We eat and drink, in the words of one liturgy, "to our soul's comfort."

The thing is, then: if this communion meal is always going on, and if we're always already invited to the celebration - why in Heaven's name would we ever want to be anywhere else, doing anything else?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Just Hit the Highlights

We continued out study of the Nazarene Articles of Faith last night. This was our third session and we began the night with where we left off, Article 9. Before we left the house to go to the church, my father, the pastor, asked if I would be finished teaching tonight. I responded by saying, " There is no way we will finish tonight." He responded, "Well, just hit the highlights."

That phrase resounded in my mind for the next few moments. Isn't this what the Church of the Nazarene has done for years? Isn't this the reason I am teaching these classes on the Articles in the first place? In our church, we have just "hit the highlights". What better way to produce ignorance and apathy in our cogregations than to just hit the tip of the iceberg on everything and forget the details. We are a denomination BECAUSE of the details. We are a part of the Protestant Church BECAUSE of the details, so why continue to "hit the highlights"?

I responded to my father by saying what you have just read and he passively agreed. But here is the beauty of the Holy Spirit. We began the service last night with a couple of songs and prayer, then I began to speak. We spoke about justification, regeneration, adoption, entire sanctification, and baptism. In those, I did, more or less, "hit the highlights", and I explained to the congregation that I wished I could dive more into the details, but time would not allow.

What happened next was the glorious work of the Holy Spirit. We moved to the next Article on the Lord's Supper and I began to explain the factors involved in this sacrament. We began to talk about who is allowed to take communion, and what do we as the Church of the Nazarene believe about this debate. I began to see the legalism involved in having an exclusive table, or a closed table, and I mentioned the "means of grace", and the Spirit began to speak. The Spirit of the Lord took over and for a few moments I could not talk. I knew something had to get out, but I physically could not talk. After a while of fighting back my physical muteness, I began to speak, but it is like I have never spoken before. I was not talking. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit was speaking through me.

For the next 20 minutes, the Spirit spoke through me about how the non-Chirstian can walk into this church and sense a love so powerful, it is overwhelming. We went through the order of a typical worship service and explained how the practices of the Church can speak to the one who knows nothing about God. We continued to speak about how much each part of the service can mean to someone. Even the offering means that we are a giving people, who do not have to give, but we give out of love for God and for others. We then spoke about the sermon, and we said whether or not it is a salvation sermon, it doesn't matter for the Word is being pronounced. We spoke about how much worth is found within the hymns, and how much a hymn can speak to someone. We spoke about the Lord's Supper next and it is only by the Grace of God that my voice continued to be audible. "Who are we to say that God cannot work through this practice of the Faith?" "Who is to say that a person who does not know the Lord, cannot be made to know Him at this sacred moment?" "Who is to say that God's Holy Spirit cannot move upon a person partaking of this practice that was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself?" The congregation began to speak up with the same Spirit. We ended the night with prayer, joined hands in a circle as one, the Body of Christ, and we talked to God and thanked Him for coming and speaking.

I believe in the Lord's Supper as a means of Grace. I believe that the Spirit can speak to anyone through this sacred act, and I believe that Salvation can come at the Table, where we meet God Himself.

I thank God for last night. I pray that He will continue to move His Church. Out of a service where we were supposed to "hit the hightlights", Christ came and led us into the details.

Thanks be to God.

Humbled and Open,

Sunday, August 06, 2006

August Hymn-of-the-Month: "O Thou, Who at Thy Eucharist Didst Pray"

O Thou, who at Thy Eucharist didst pray
that all Thy Church might be forever one,
grant us at every Eucharist to say
with longing heart and soul, "Thy will be done."
O may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

For all Thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make Thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to Thee, O Prince of Peace;
Thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

We pray Thee too for wanderers from Thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep.
Soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all Thy Church above,
one with Thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with Thy saints in one unbounded love.
More bless├Ęd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.

Words: William Harry Turton, 1881
Tune: Song 1 Orlando Gibbons, 1623 (alt: Sacramentum Unitatis, Ffigysbren)
Meter: 10 10 10 10 10 10

The first time we sang it at St. Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow, I immediately fell in love with this hymn. We are reminded in the first stanza that Jesus celebrated the very first Eucharist, and that he inaugurated this peculiar ritual not only for his own "remembrance" - that is, so his disciples would simply call him to mind, pondering their memory of his sacrifice on Calvary - but also that we, his followers throughout the ages, might be that "re-member-ing" itself. In saying "Thy will be done," and in our perpetual celebration of this sacrament, we are made into Jesus' likeness, and thereby, as a unified church, "one Bread, one Body," His Body is made incarnate in the world. By this populating, i.e. "(re)membering," Christ is present among and in us and we in Him.

The middle two stanzas remind us of two other aspects of our "being" as the Body of Christ called Church: our intercession on behalf of the world (universally) and the lost (particularly). We plead for peace; we pray that wanderers we brought back to the faith. But we acknowledge that this cannot happen, we cannot truly "be" for the world, until our "sad divisions" cease. These divisions prevent us from fully and holistically reflecting Christ to the world. They are like the cracks in a mirror that distort the image it displays. But these cracks are mended in our eucharistic worship, as we hear the Word proclaimed; as we confess our sin and inadequacy as well as confessing the Credo of our faith; as we offer back to God what God has so graciously given us; as we share His peace with one another; as we receive back God's gifts once again as spiritual food; and as we "go in peace to love and serve the Lord," we are brought together by drawing, or really being drawn, ever-nearer to Christ. With precision, these actions make us the Church.

Really it was the last stanza that had the biggest initial impact on me. This was, perhaps, the first time the thought occurred to me that sacraments, however important and necessary, are only stop-gaps. A day will come when they will indeed cease; then we will receive not just a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet that we await when Christ calls his bride the Church home, but will actually sit down to enjoy that cosmic feast. Though we should never stop working to the end of unity in the here-and-now, we must remember that then, and only then, will the Church be truly one in "unbroken peace" and "unbounded love." Until that time, we are always Christ's blessed-yet-broken Body, torn apart that it might be given away to and for the life of the world.

Selection and Commentary by Brannon Hancock

Lutherans Like Us

[Please don't let the dual meaning of my post title pass unnoticed: I spent a good 3 minutes trying to think of a decent title.]

Stat Counter is cooler than I realized: it tells me where blog-visitors are from (roughly) and, in some cases, how they were referred to the blog (e.g. the email I sent around, a link from another site, etc).

Thanks to this handy web-tool, I discovered that my buddy Nate Hilkert, a Lutheran seminarian with some Nazarene family roots, has given us some free press, and we thank him for this!

Nate's short reflection on his early experiences with the COTN and on the relationship between mainline and evangelical churches is insightful, and I encourage you to go read it. I appreciate that at least one "sacramental Lutheran" (soon-to-be-pastor, no less) approves of our efforts here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Upcoming Attractions

Just a quick post to let everyone know about two "features" that I hope to run regularly on this blog. And as with everything else, I hope to not be the only one taking the lead on this, and will not hesitate to call on some of you and start handing out assignments.

First, I want to do a Hymn of the Month, which will consist simply of posting the text to a particular hymn, including the tune name and metrical 'code' so you hymnal-savvy few can try singing it. The point here is two-fold: 1) to introduce a hymn that might not be familiar to most Nazarenes, who are becoming less hymn-literate all the time, and 2) particularly a hymn that has a sacramental theme. (This second criterion can be construed loosely if one so desires.) There are plenty of "eucharistic hymns" out there, hundreded even written by the Wesleys that we never sing (we've only got about 6 in the latest COTN hymnal), and perhaps we can give a few of them a second lease on life.

Second, I would like to publish a monthly Book Review. This could, but needn't necessarily be, a book about worship, liturgy, the sacraments, sacred music, contemporary worship trends, the emergent/emerging church, or just theology or church history in general. This could also, but again, not necessarily, be a work of fiction or collection of poetry that has a sacramental or generally theological current running through it (such as the poetry of Scott Cairns). It would be great if those who might be interested in contributing to the monthly book reviews would contact me and "sign up" to do so by suggesting the book title and when it would be convenient for them to submit the review.

I'm open to suggestions of other "features" as well, so click on "comments" and bring it. What else would people like to see? Think outside of the box...not standard fare like CD and film reviews, which would be a bit outside the scope of this site, but...I dunno, things like "Church Reviews," where someone reviews a worship service they've attended recently (perhaps in the style of the now-deceased "Church Blog"), or reviews of recently, or not-so-recently visited worship spaces: from cathedrals to store-fronts and everything in between...this could fall under the title "Church Reviews" too...but a better name, for either idea, would be good. Anyway, I'm just throwing this out there...if you don't like it, you can send it right on back.

SO, unless I receive a barrage of interest, I will likely kick us off this month with a hymn and a book. Check back over the next few weeks to see what we've got on offer!

(Late) Summer Reading

Perhaps you've noticed some new content in the sidebar...? Or if not, scroll down...down...keep going until you see book covers off to the right.

Okay, I know the summer's almost's about to start back up and the like. And "summer reading," at least as it was assigned at my high school, was always handed out by the English teacher in May or June before the end of the previous school year. That way you had plenty of time to read over the summer and could pass your tests administered the first week or two of school.

So I realize this is late...but better late than never. Of course, there will be no tests. In fact, you don't have to read any of these books! Not if you don't want to. They are merely recommended. However, and this is important, I don't want to be the only one recommending books. So post your suggestions in the comments and I will add them to "our library."

The point here is to compile a list of books on sacraments, liturgy, worship, the church, ministry, mission, preaching, pastoral care - whatever you find really useful - in keeping, as far as possible, with the scope of this site. I mean, if there is book you're just dying to recommend but it's not about worship (etc.), still shout it out...we're all here to benefit from each other and our collective experiences, personalities and opinions, so don't hold back. But do think about why this site is here and how this might serve as a resource to any and all.

[The URL of our "sacnaz" library is]

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Speaking Of Caricatures

For your amusement, this cartoon by Dave Walker of Cartoon Church, via Captain Sacrament.

[UPDATE:] Upon further reflection, I realized that the cartoon should actually look like this (with apologies to the artist)...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Condition for Eucharist: follower of Christ?

Bouncing off Brannon's comment, I figured this should be it's own post.

I remember visiting to a friend's Church of Christ (southern 'We're the true church' style as opposed to northern Episcopal-like style) when I was a kid and being told I couldn't have communion in their church since I hadn't been baptized. My little mind wondered: I had been allowed to take communion in my church - why not this church?

I would value requiring baptism before participating in the eucharist (and before becoming a member), but unless the practice of infant baptism also increased, I don't see value in not allowing people to come to the table.

Maybe throughout church tradition the sacrament of baptism was a step towards the sacrament of eucharist and maybe today that path reversed due to the logistics of baptizing (many wanting only full immersion baptism, but not having a baptistry).

Or maybe I need to keep trying to increase my value of baptism as I have in recent years with my value of the eucharist.

The last two months when we've had Communion at church, I've wanted to go get my son out of nursery and allow him to participate. Now, he's only two, but was "dedicated" and has recently been learning to pray and learning who Jesus is. Besides all that, I'm not sure whether it would be right in praxis or in theology. Thoughts on that?

An open letter to Nazarenes everywhere

Sisters and Brothers:

After much thought, deliberation, conversation and prayer, and in keeping with the times, I have created this weblog (or "blog") to have an online space to foster community amongst Nazarenes around the globe – something Gloria and I especially relish right now as we are living as “strangers in a strange land” – and, as self-proclaimed missionaries to the Anglicans, as we are worshipping as “strangers in a strange church”…but that’s another story.

Now, if you’re looking at this site, I rejoice in the fact that you must be at least semi-interested, either for your own sake or for the sake of someone you know and love – that pesky nephew who won’t shut up some new trend called “liturgy” or perhaps that strange lady in your Sunday School class who refuses to come to the church’s July 4th Extravaganza but comes to every service on offer during Holy Week (remember when we did Easter cantatas?).

Perhaps a few other clarifications are in order: I’ve said “members of the Church of the Nazarene” but really I’d like to foster participation by anyone who associates themselves with the COTN in any capacity – for example, certain friends who have begun worshipping in other traditions but who have deep personal and familial connections to the COTN and still care about the denomination: I would love for these folks to get involved as well. The invitation extends to all, provided all are aware that the focus of the site is on the Nazarene Church, and particularly about the realities and possibilities of her worship and practice on (first) the local level and (second) as a denomination. It is, in my newly-coined phrase, a place for “thinking Nazarenes thinking Nazarenely,” but thinking defectors are welcome, too.

Also, while I have set up this site, I eventually want to get away from it feeling like it’s “my site” – I will by necessity serve as the site administrator (which just means I hand out memberships and can if necessary delete posts or deny access or close down the site); however, I want any and everyone who becomes involved to feel a sense of communal ownership. Indeed, the worship of the church belongs to no one in particular, but to God alone, and as worship is the subject of the site, this shall be our ethos. We need men, women, young people, old people, Europeans, Latin Americans, Papua New Guineans, pastors, laypersons, heck, even guitar-playin' worship leaders (like me)…that is, we need Nazarenes, people who represent who Nazarenes are…and not only those who identify themselves as “Nazarene” but even including those the Church of the Nazarene identifies as belonging to her (“I’m your Mother no matter what you say!”), regardless of their present affiliation.

“Participate”?...”Get involved”? you might be wondering…how does one do this? Well, immediately, there are three (really four) things you can do:

  1. Browse around the blog a bit – read recent posts (very few so far). While you're here, dig my groovy site design...and yes, I did in fact take the photo of the candles at Notre Dame in Paris, thank you very much.

  2. Post a comment by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post – comments are open to all and can even be made anonymously, although I would discourage this in the name of conversation. Voice your agreement – tell me off – better yet, tell another contributor off – periodically remind me that I’m “full of it.” We want to know what you think.

  3. If you’re really REALLY interested in what we’re doing and think you have more to offer than the odd snide comment, email me (or post a comment) expressing interest in becoming a “member” of the blog, which simply means you will be listed as a contributor and will have full posting privileges. I will have to send you an invitation via email and you will have to sign-up for a blogger ID, which is quick and painless – all you need is an email address. But after that, you’re free to rant and rave as you wish, without even being editorialized by me (well, within reason – I can always remove inappropriate material).

And finally (#4): TELL OTHER PEOPLE ABOUT THE SITE. Especially people who might be particularly sympathetic to what’s going on on the blog. “How do I spot such a person,” you are wondering. Well, take a look around you at church sometime – do you see anyone (young or old) who might be really into church – the fellowship, teaching, preaching, etc – but seems less into the worship…like, the more clapping and gettin’ down everyone else seems to be doing, the less inclined to do so this one seems to be? Or do you ever run across folks who seem to find antiquated things like saying the Lord’s Prayer strangely meaningful, or who mutter things under their breath like “well, if we’d only have communion every week…” or who reach for a hymnal and look up the number in the index (assuming your church still sings the occasional hymn) even though the words are clearly provided for their convenience thanks to Microsoft PowerPoint and a rockin’ video projector (or four)…? Well, I might be stepping out on a limb here, and encouraging you to do so, too, but these folks just might have something in common with those of us at Sacramental Nazarenes – or else they just might be the kind of anti-social, nasty people who always find something to gripe about and are impossible to please, in which case we don’t want them…send them elsewhere, perhaps to the Landover Baptist website.

A note on the name: “Well,” you might huff, “aren’t all Nazarenes 'sacramental'? I mean, if we’re baptized and if we receive communion at least quarterly…those are sacraments, right?” To which I reply: ABSOLUTELY! All Nazarenes ARE sacramental (even those who don’t realize it), and by giving this blog its name, I absolutely do not wish to give the impression that only an elite and blog-savvy few are truly "Sacramental Nazarenes."

Let me, then, say a few additional words about what the blog IS NOT:

  1. While this venture stems from a certain dissatisfaction that I and others dear to me have begun to feel, the blog will NOT be a place to complain about or bash the Church of the Nazarene; we love our church and will conduct ourselves in a spirit of Christian charity.

  2. While critique and critical thinking will be encouraged, the blog will NOT be a place to criticize individual pastors, local churches, and the like.

  3. While hoping to give voice and venue to those who, like me, desire a liturgical/sacramental life that is continuous with the 2000-year-old Christian tradition, the blog will NOT (I hope) be a virtual “support-group” for disgruntled Nazarenes; in addition to a spirit of charity, we will keep faith and hope in clear focus as well, faith in our church and her leadership and hope for our collective future; further, I hope some true dialogue and even dissent will take place from time to time, which means we don’t want a homogeneous group.

  4. While they are welcome to the discussion, this is not a place to debate the merits of Roman Catholicism (or Eastern Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism) with formerly-Nazarene members of those traditions. We will be respectful of those traditions and of those who represent them, and hope to learn all that we can from them, and them from us, and all of us from one another, but we will not put other traditions under the microscope nor will we debate differences of doctrine between these traditions, except insofar as it serves our ability to think critically about the Nazarene Church.

  5. While there are bound to be lots of very bright people poking around this blog, this is not a “scholars-only” blog, and I hope it will be more practical - which is to say, mindful of mission and ministry - than academic.

Anyway, hope to see you around! We’re off to a good start already, so we’ll just keep shaking this tree and see who or what falls out and where it leads us!

In the peace of Christ,

Brannon Hancock

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"changes come...turn my (comment-)world around..."

[10 cool points to anyone besides my wife who can name the lyric reference in this post's title.]

commenting and trackback has been added. I think this will make the whole comment and discussion scene flow more easily, and it allows me to edit comments, rather than only having the option to delete. (Someone will notice that a critical comment directed at a particular church and pastor has been modified slightly - I do apologize to that someone for taking this liberty.)

I've seen Haloscan at work, very well actually, on other blogs. Still, in the spirit of "it's not my blog, it's OUR blog," please let me know if you absolutely hate this and I'll consider switching it back - however, I've already spent 15 minutes copying and pasting previous comments from blogger into Haloscan so we haven't lost anything important - and I'm pretty sure switching back would mean that I'd have to do the same thing all over again for any new Haloscan comments to show up in the blogger comments.

Sorry about the little ads at the bottom - but that's why it's free. Ignore them.

Beware: Haloscan can and will cut-off long comments at 3,000 CHARACTERS [UPDATE: I'd previously misunderstood this as 3K WORDS, which is NOT the case...3K characters is more like 500 words], I have discovered. I can upgrade to a "premium" account for $12/yr. (which gets rid of the ads) to allow up to 10,000-character comments. Still, if that need arises, it's probably worth the $12. Anyway, for now don't get TOO long-winded (if it's THAT good, it deserves to be its own post, people!), and if you do post a long comment, check after clicking "publish" to see that it's all on there. If not, you can tack it on by immediately posting a follow-up comment.

One last thing: after posting a comment, you can't post another one for 30 seconds. Again, just a head's up. No limit on how many comments in a row you can publish, you just have to space them by 30 seconds.

Blah, blah, web-jargon, blah. Now, back to the good stuff...