Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So, I assume we all made it through Advent and Christmas, and are gearing up for the first Sunday of the new year. If your church is anything like mine, you probably had to tolerate some of the incessant tendencies to bypass Advent and "jump the gun" straight on to Christmas. Examples from my congregation include the pressure to sing Christmas songs - especially "Joy to the World" and the two best-known "angel" songs - during Advent, and, despite my strong urging, the placement of the Christ-child in the manger by the decorating committee, such that the Messiah has seemingly come beginning on Advent 1 (and yet we sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" each week, without anyone noticing the disparity).

Still, I must say we do pretty well with the Advent readings and candle-lighting, and our Pastor preaches us through Advent well. And we do a bang-up job (in my humble opinion) with Christmas Eve, which for my third year here was effectively lessons and carols without it necessarily being named thus.

With the exception of our choir musical and children's program (held on Advent 3 and 4 respectively), which inevitably skip ahead, primarily due to available material, we did pretty well. And this year, I didn't even hear that much about song selection during Advent - perhaps my Pastor did and merely shielded me from it - which I have in the past: "Why aren't we singing Christmas songs?!?" ("We will.") "When?!?" ("Christmas Eve, and at least the two Sundays following.") [blank stare]

All that to ask, well, two things I suppose: 1) how'd it go for you in your local context?, and 2) how will you observe Epiphany (if at all)?

I ask because I gather that many of our churches are doing much better (and increasingly so) at observing Advent/Christmas, and even Lent/Holy Week/Easter/Pentecost, which is a move toward better observance of the liturgical calendar that we should celebrate.

But I also gather that holy days like Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, All Saints, and Trinity Sunday (etc) will be a much longer time coming. I'm not sure if it's just ignorance (in which case, we have some teaching to do) or actually resistance (in which case we have some teaching AND some persuading to do) that I sense. Chime in with your thoughts. Grace and peace!

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Is A Sacrament Anyway?

Since the last General Assembly, we have talked here about collaborating to make some sacramental resolutions for the next General Assembly. Accordingly, I have been contemplating what resolutions we could make. This week I have encountered twice the claim that Nazarenes believe a sacrament is "an outward sign of an inward grace." This appeared in Dr. McGonigle's response in the new edition of Holiness Today, and in a curriculum piece I was examining for my youth group. I know this definition comes from the Book of Common Prayer, as Dr. McGonigle points out, but it is greatly shortened from what the BCP says. It leaves out what most of us would argue is the most important part, "and the means by which we receive the same."

I began looking to find out where the manual defines a sacrament. The Articles of Faith on Baptism and the Lord's Supper both affirm that the respective acts are indeed sacraments, but no where is there a definition of a sacrament. It occurred to me that perhaps this would be a great place to start for a group that calls themselves sacramental. How about a resolution to define what the Church of the Nazarene believes a sacrament is. I image a new article of faith to precede the articles on Baptism and The Lord's Supper, but perhaps that is not the best avenue. What do you all think? How do you define a sacrament?

"The Church of the Nazarene believes a sacrament to be an outward sign of an inward grace and the means by which we receive the same. Accordingly, a sacrament is both an act by which we remember, celebrate, memorialize, and proclaim the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and future return of our Lord Jesus Christ, and at the same time is the ordinary means by which God extends to the recipient the grace provided to the world in the life, death, resurrection and return of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe in two sacraments, ordained by Christ himself: Baptism and The Lord's Supper."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Frequency of the Lord's Supper - I've been caught!

Folks, I need your help. Give me some good arguments for and against having communion at least once a month. The reason I've been given for NOT is because it's becoming too ritualistic. I need help to navigate this, and I know there are many of you who have great words of wisdom for me. ~Amy

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Classifying Worship

I just finished reading a paper by Lester Ruth (professor of liturgics at Asbury Theological Seminary) dealing with the categorization of worship (A Rose By Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Protestant Worship). He begins by discussing the problems with most popular labels such as “traditional,” “contemporary,” “blended,” “seeker sensitive,” “liturgical,” etc. The meat of the paper is the three questions he asks in order to classify protestant worship.

1) What story does worship tell?

He suggests two possibilities: personal-story and cosmic-story. Those churches who tell personal stories in their worship organize worship around “felt needs.” In this worship, planning might begin with a theme or a need and developed from there so that music, prayer, scripture, sermon, etc all revolve around this theme. Those church who tell the cosmic stories in their worship tend to organize worship around the story of salvation history, often beginning with a piece of the story (eg, creation, fall, incarnation, etc) and the service would develop from there. He also mentions that cosmic-story churches tend toward the church calendar and the lectionary.

2) Where is God’s presence?

Here, he contends churches answer in one of three ways: in the music, in the sermon, in the sacraments. This seems self-explanatory. Where do people expect God to “show up”? What is the most important part of the service? Which part of the service gets the most attention and preparation? Which part of the service is given the place of prominence in furniture, furnishings and equipment? When people “encounter God”, to what are they most likely to be referring?

3) Where is the ultimate authority for worship planning?

Ruth gives two possible options: “congregational” and “connectional.” In congregational churches it is most common that the pastor or some other local leader(s) sets the order, chooses the scriptures, decides if there will be a sacrament or not, determines how the sacrament will be celebrated. In connectional churches, the local church has very little say in such things. There is an official order and assigned readings. I have an acquaintance whose sole job is to view liturgical requests of parishes in a diocese and determine if the parish may or may not do a given thing in worship. There is, says Ruth, a third option. There are churches (he point out the United Methodist Church as an example) who are officially connectional, but are practically congregational.

As I read the article, I began asking myself two questions: (1) how would my congregation answer these questions and (2) how would I answer these questions.

1) What story do we tell? I would guess that before I came, this was a very personal-story church. However, since I have come, it is now much more toward a cosmic-story church. I like to start with the cosmic story and show how the cosmic story is our personal story and where our personal story fits within the cosmic story. I think this is the only one of the three questions asked by Ruth that a pastor has any immediate influence over.

2) Where is God’s presence? I don’t think this is a yes/no type question, but rather one of priorities. I think every church experiences God’s presence in each to differing degrees. In my church, I would say music is first, preaching is second, sacrament is third. For myself, I expect sacrament to be first, music to be second, and preaching to be third.

3) The source of authority? As Nazarene’s we are a cut and dry congregational authority. My people wouldn’t have it any other way. I, on the other hand, am not as sure. I am that way with many things, however. I don’t like to make up my own schedule of maintenance for my car, I want the Owners Manual to tell me what needs done and when. I just don’t know enough about cars to do it myself. I don’t like to make up my own workout routine (if I ever decide to work out!). I would much rather get a routine from someone who knows much more about exercise and physiology than I do. I think of worship in the same way. Very few pastors (myself included) have thought about and studied worship long enough and deep enough to really feel comfortable making my own liturgy. Worship is far too important to me to just do whatever.

I guess I am curious (1) how you would answer those questions for yourself and the church you either serve or in which you worship. (2) What comparing your responses and your church’s responses might reveal.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Church History in Fiction

A question for all you readers - help me out here: are there any *good* novels (whether a series, or individual works by individual authors) about the history of the Christian Church?

I'm not talking about "(Christian) historical fiction," a la Francine Rivers, but rather, something more along the lines of what Steven Pressfield does with ancient Greece in several of his novels (Tides of War, Gates of Fire, etc), or what Susan Howatch does with the recent history of the Church of England in her "Starbridge" series (Glittering Images, Mystical Paths, etc - six books in all), or even sort of what Umberto Eco does with medieval monastic life in The Name of the Rose - make the historical narrative come alive in Story in a way that scholarly texts never quite (and simply cannot) accomplish.

If there is a striking absence of such novels - rather than it just being my own ignorance - then as a student of literature, I have to ask, why? The history of Christianity is fascinating, full of all the things that make novels great - right? Intrigue, deception, corruption, sex, violence...it's all there.

So. Do you know of any such books that fill the bill? I can think of several worthy examples of biblical historical fiction (Anita Diamant's The Red Tent; even Walter Wangerin's Jesus: A Novel isn't too bad), but what about church history? A novel set amidst the backdrop of the early church, or the councils of Nicea or Chalcedon, or the Iconoclastic controversies of the 8th and 9th centuries, or the Great Schism, or the Reformation - I mean, if it was well-researched and well-written, wouldn't that be fantastic? Those seem like worthy time periods for fictional treatment, and could potentially make the required reading for an undergrad church history course MUCH more exciting.

Finally, if you haven't read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, DO. IT. RIGHT. NOW.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Naming the Seasons

All this talk about a Nazarene Book of Worship got me thinking about conversations I've had recently about the various names for the seasons, particularly the seasons that follow Christmastide and Eastertide. So I was wondering, what your church celebrates and why?

A) The Season of Epiphany/Pentecost
B) The Season after Epiphany/Pentecost
C) Ordinary Time
D) Other: _________________________
E) Nothing -- we don't do the season thing

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Book of Worship Ideas

The previous post was about general assembly generally. In the discussion, the main thing to arise was the possibility of a Book of Worship. I thought a separate thread for that would be helpful. Please continue the Book of Worship discussion here.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

General Assembly rundown...

Just thought I'd put together a quick post and paste in a few of the legislative items that pertain to the theological, liturgical and sacramental life of our church (and some that I simply find interesting). Discuss the relative merits of these actions in the comments; personally, I'm more encouraged than not, but I was disappointed by a few "non-action" actions...but hey, there's always next time.
  • The delegates voted to accept the report of the International Church Committee's report with a strong vote, authorized the creation of a global Manual that would be streamlined in comparison to recent Manuals. The global Manual would consist of the Foreward, and Parts I, II, and III of the current Manual. It would also includes parts of Manual sections 100, 200, and 300 that are global in scope, retaining the universally appropriate polity and principles. The other parts of the current Manual would be adapted by the different regions to fit specific cultural contexts and would function as a "regional Manual policy handbook." The change authorizes a Global Manual Advisory Council that would give final approval to changes made by the regions to the handbook portions.
  • Voted that gender inclusive language be used in church publications, including the Manual, and in other public language of the church, but that language changes must not be applied to scriptural quotations or references.
  • Added a new paragraph on Christian compassion to Manual section "A. The Christian Life." The new paragraph states in part that "throughout the Bible and in the life and example of Jesus, God identifies with and assists the poor, the oppressed, and those in society who cannot speak for themselves. In the same way, we, too, are called to identify with and enter into solidarity with the poor."
  • Adopted a new paragraph on "Creation Care" that will be added to the resolutions section of the Manual. It states in part that the church "accepts the individual and collective responsibilities" of Christians to "exhibit the stewardship qualities that help preserve [God's] work."
  • Voted to refer to the Nazarene Future Commission a resolution that would have resulted in one ordained order and eliminated the Deacon track.
  • Adopted a new paragraph on "Wellness" that will be added to the resolutions section of the Manual. It affirms health and exercise, makes a distinction between obesity and gluttony and discourages gluttony.
  • Voted to refer to the Board of General Superintendents the resolution that would have made the sacrament of Christian Baptism a requirement for membership.
  • Voted to refer to the Board of General Superintendents the Article of Faith on Holy Scripture.
  • Modified Article of Faith I, The Triune God, by describing God as creator, sustainer, and one who is holy, love, and light.
  • Modified Article of Faith XI, The Church, by defining the mission of the church as "making disciples through evangelism, education, showing compassion, working for justice, and bearing witness to the kingdom of God."
  • Voted to refer Article of Faith VI, Atonement, for a comprehensive study with particular attention being given to including, within the article, references to the love of God as a motivating faction in the atonement and broader references to other aspects of the atonement.
  • By a strong vote modified Article of Faith X, Entire Sanctification. Renamed the article "Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification." Clarified the meaning of entire sanctification by describing it as a work of God which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ. Emphasized that transformation occurred through the Holy Spirit both instantaneously in initial sanctification, entire sanctification, and glorification and in a continuing perfecting work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Voted to amend Manual paragraph 413.11 to encourage pastors "to move toward a more frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper."
  • Adopted a new liturgy for the Organization of a Local Church, Manual paragraph 801.
  • Edited the liturgy on the Baptism of Infants or Young Children, Manual paragraph 800.2 by defining Christian baptism for the infant: "Christian baptism signifies for this young child God's acceptance within the community of Christian faith on the basis of prevenient grace. It anticipates his/her personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ . . . Baptism also signifies the acceptance of this child into the community of Christian faith."
Also: any general discussion about GAC2009 is welcome in the comments. I'm especially interested in what folks think about the GS elections. What a...uhm...I don't even know what to call it...mess?

MED524 (Frequecy of the Lord's Supper) Adopted!

According to www.gacorlando.com, MED524 dealing with the frequency of the Lord's Supper was adopted today at General Assembly. The new statement will read:

"... Acknowledging John Wesley's advice that elders should "administer the Supper of the Lord on every Lord's day," and recognizing that a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper was the New Testament and historic norm, we encourage pastors to see quarterly administration as a bare minimum. We further encourage them to move toward a more frequent celebration of this means of grace..."

Thanks to Br. Todd and the SW Indiana District, as well as JB and the Minnesota District for sponsoring this resolution and working toward a more sacramental alignment with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Tradition to which we belong.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Worship as Sanctuary

There is a beautiful old church in the next town down that was one of the very first Episcopal Churches in Ohio. It has classic stone architecture, beautiful Tiffany windows, rich tapestries, and divided pews reminiscent of days gone by when people had to rent pews for their families. The only indication that this church is situated in the 21st century is the increasingly common double altar. It has the original and ornate high altar on the east wall, and it has the more recent free standing altar in the middle of the transept.

The church is struggling. It is a traditional Episcopal church committed to Anglo-Catholic faith and practice in an increasingly “contemporary” and “relevant” Episcopal environment. But I don’t want to get into all that.

What interests me is the sign they have by the front door. It contains three powerful words:

Come, Rest, Pray

I don’t know how many of you are aware of the issues going on in my life. My wife and I just had our second son on April 19. He is a wonderful baby boy. Five pounds, one ounce, and 18 inches long. His name is Pierce. Pierce has severe hemophilia. His blood will not clot. It is a genetic disorder and barring a miracle it is something he will have all his life. Right now his treatments are over $200 a dose, but we are told it is not uncommon for adult males to spend over $100,000 per year for treatment. Needless to say, life has been hectic, frustrating, lonely, helpless, stressful and a whole lot of other things too.

I think that is why I noticed the invitation at the door of St. Paul’s the other day. I need to rest. I need to pray. I need sanctuary. I need peace. Now more than ever.

I have challenged several friends in my lifetime that worship should be a component of our Sabbath rest. It should be a safe place where people can escape from the troubles of the world into the loving embrace of the Father. It should be a quiet place where people can escape from the noise of the world and be comforted by the still small voice of the Spirit. It should be a sacred place where people can escape from the pain and profanity of the world and be touched by the outstretched arms of the Savior. Worship ought to be that place where all the troubles of life melt away in the presence of almighty and all-loving God, and we find true rest and peace.

But so often that is just a pipe dream. More often worship is an emotional roller coaster. More often worship leaves us drained rather than renewed. More often worship is more noise than it is quiet. More often worship is this-worldly rather than other-worldly. More often worship is about getting people worked up and excited rather than helping them find peace and rest.

I believe people today are hurting more than ever. I believe people today are more exhausted than ever. I believe people today are broken more than ever. I believe people today are more distracted than ever. I believe people today need sanctuary more than ever. I know I do.

Perhaps that is why three simple words seared into my mind as I drove past St Paul’s Episcopal Church:

Come, Rest, Pray.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Well I was afraid this could happen and it has, even though our small congregation has fought to keep things going we have not been able to do so. The economy and a aging congregation has left our small Nazarene church faced with dealing with the closing of our church in the next 60 days or so. Not a prospect any Pastor wants to have to deal with, even though I will probably be done at the church before that actually happens. So here we are wondering what to do next with two teenagers to boot. For us it has been a five year journey here with our small community of faith, it is a shame it has only been in the last couple of years that we have seen several new young couples attending.

But to get to the point of the matter and I'm very much aware of how the CotN works. But at the same time I was wondering, does anyone out there know of any good leads for a Pastor who has strong sacramental convictions, and is very much open to the ancient future form of worship, who is classically Wesleyan in theology. Be it either as Pastor or Associate Pastor in the Church of the Nazarene. Regardless please pray for me and my family during this time of transition in our lives. If you have any thoughts you can contact me through my profile here on the Sanctifying Worship blog.

Now for some food for thought, how hard do you think it is for a Nazarene Pastor with sacramental convictions to find a good match with a like minded congregation in the CotN?



Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Via Dolorosa "Way of Grief"

Yesterday on Holy Tuesday I went to pray with my friends at St. Johns Episcopal Church. The Holy Week meditation was the fourteen traditional stations of the cross, sometimes known as the "Way of the Cross." As we prayed I found myself spiritually in Jerusalem walking the Via Dolorosa with my Lord, which is believed to be the road our Lord Jesus traveled to Golgotha. For me this is what good holy week liturgy is all about, being able to once again enter into the mystery of the passion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as we await the celebration of His glorious resurrection.
Have a blessed Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lenten Reflections on Prayer and Ministry

Two great readings this week from Henri Nouwen in A Guide to Prayer, week 18 (leading up to the Third Sunday in Lent):

“Listen, O Lord, to my prayers. Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell in your house, and to let my whole being be filled with your presence. But none of this is possible without you. When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you. Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author.

O Lord, thinking about you, being fascinated with theological ideas and discussions, being excited about histories of Christian spirituality and stimulated by thoughts and ideas about prayer and meditation, all of this can be as much an expression of greed as the unruly desire for food, possessions, or power.

Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.

But Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen.”

~ from A Cry for Mercy, Henri J. M. Nouwen

“From all I have said about the minister as a sustaining reminder, it becomes clear that a certain unavailability is essential for the spiritual life of the minister. I am not trying to build a religious argument for a game of golf, a trip to a conference, a cruise to the Caribbean, or a sabbatical. These arguments have been made and they all strike me as quite unconvincing in the midst of our suffering world. No, I would like to make a plea for prayer as the creative way of being unavailable.

How would it sound when the question, “Can I speak to the minister?” is not answered by “I am sorry, he has someone in his office” but by “I am sorry, he is praying.” When someone says, “The minister is unavailable because this is his day of solitude, this is his day in the hermitage, this is his desert day,” could that not be a consoling ministry? What it says is that the minister is unavailable to me, not because he is more available to others, but because he is with God, and God alone – the God who is our God.”

~ from The Living Reminder, Henri J. M. Nouwen

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Pastor's Responsibility to Prepare

Twice yesterday, I came across accounts of pastors administering the sacraments. Each pastor seemed to have a different approach to his responsibility to prepare the one receiving the sacrament to receive the sacrament. Consider these two scenarios.

1) A pastor has a young college student attending his church. That college student is a self-proclaimed atheist. The student has been in attendance at several communion services, but has never received because of his atheism. This particular service, however, the student came to the altar to receive communion. Before serving him, the pastor asked him a question, "Has something about your atheism changed?" The student convincingly answered affirmatively and for the first time received the sacrament as a follower of Christ. Later the pastor and the student got together to discuss this perceived change.

2) A pastor has felt the need to encourage his people to experience the sacrament of baptism. So he prepares a beautiful worship service that will conclude with a baptism service. He includes videos of people talking about baptism and preaches a sermon discussing the sacrament. At the close of the sermon, instead of the traditional "altar call," there is a baptism call. Many people stood up, came forward, and right there and then got baptized.

These two pastors seem to take very different approaches to "preparing" their people to rightfully receive the sacraments. So my question is this: (1) What is a pastor's responsibility to the church and to the people to prepare candidates for receiving the sacraments' (2) What do you do to prepare your parishioners or how does your pastor prepare you/your congregation to receive the sacraments?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How to be a theologian...

Ben Myers post over at Faith & Theology - "Advice for Theological Students: 10 Steps to a Brilliant Career" - was too good, I thought, not to link to.

And as a (less humorous) counterpoint, his "Ten Virtues for Theological Students."

I figure most of us around here, whether formally or informally, either are or have been theological students, so this should hit home on some level.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WTS Paper on Wesleyan Worship

Todd Stepp, pastor of one of our Nazarene churches, has a paper on the agenda for the upcoming WTS meeting at Anderson. Check it out here:

"Athentic Christian Worship: Discovering Wesley's Criteria"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inclusive Prayers

In the wake of the media frenzied Inauguration Day and the glut of inaugural prayers, I wonder: should Christian clergy be expected to pray "inclusive" prayers? How far is too far? How would you have prayed, had you been asked to pray one of the inaugural prayers?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Water Is Thicker Than Blood

In honor of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I thought I might point you in the direction of the recent issue of Holiness Today in which there appears an article by Jamie Gates (director of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego) entitled "Remember Your Baptism." Here are a few quotes, but our discussion need not be limited to just these quotes. The entire article can be found here.

"Baptism is wide in the sense that it ties us to a global body of Christians who are called by one Lord, one Spirit, and one faith to be one Body. Baptism became one of the early church practices that initiated new converts into a new way of being a group of people. "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:10, NRSV). We have received mercy so we might be holy people, a group whose lives together should be a sign of God's kingdom at hand."

"As members of Christ's Body, we are no longer to hold on too tightly to the ties that used to bind us. We are like a husband and wife who, because they are bound together, should no longer seek their individual interests at the other's expense. Water is thicker than blood. Ties to our brothers and sisters in Christ should become more important than our ties to people of our own extended family, race, ethnicity, or nationality."

"I guess living in the San Diego-Tijuana metropolitan area, a border town between Mexico and the U. S., makes me more aware of how often our citizenship trumps our baptism. It is difficult to see the San Diego-Tijuana region as one parish when a big fence with armed guards cuts off part of our community from the other. It is difficult for us to live in the "year of Jubilee," holding all things in common so that none go without, when we have wealth disparities reinforced by the international border. It is difficult to be one body and one faith with one baptism when immigration laws increasingly hinder our brothers and sisters from south of the border to join us for worship and fellowship north of the border."