Monday, January 17, 2011

Distinctively Nazarene

Last week I felt like a little kid on the first day of school. I had the unique joy of going back to school. I am working on a DMin at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. They bill themselves as "An Evangelical Seminary in the Anglican Tradition." Having spent the week immersed in the world of Anglicanism, I found myself reflecting quite a lot about the Anglican tradition and the Nazarene tradition.

At TSM, each day begins with Morning Prayer at 8:30 and Evening Prayer at 4:30. Eucharist is on Wednesday. This place is clearly Anglican. You can see it. You can feel it. You can hear it. The liturgy is unique. The vestments are unique. The whole thing is unique. It is a whole other world with a whole other ethos. From the Prayer that begins and ends the day, to the lectures throughout the day, the place oozes Anglicanism. There is absolutely no way a person could spend any time in this community and not sense the Anglicanism.

I found myself wondering if the same could be said of the Church of the Nazarene. I wonder if a person spending time at our seminary would be able to see and hear and know that we are Nazarene and not Wesleyan, Free Methodist, or any of the other generic evangelical seminaries. I wonder what is truly distinct and definitive of the Church of the Nazarene.

I think there was a day when "holiness" was our distinctive. But I don't think "holiness" was the distinctive, but rather a certain brand of holiness -- particularly the campmeeting-frontier-revivalist-American Holiness. Our distinctive has historically been a second definite/instantaneous work of grace. In recent days, however, that has largely gone by the wayside. As a result we have struggled to keep our distinctiveness. Our preaching has become more generic. Our distinctive hymnody has largely been lost.

It certainly seems plausible that the Nazarene future could be a gradual drift toward generic evangelicalism. However, I do not think that the future is necessarily generic, but our present struggle is whether to continue on the road to generic-evangelicalism or to re-envision a distinctively Nazarene identity.

So I am left to wonder: What makes us uniquely Nazarene?


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I've experienced and have had others tell me that there was a distinctive 'arrogance'. God help us!

J.B. Chapman said...

A distinctive legalism. :)

Brannon Hancock said...

Gloria and I were talking about this last night. I'm reading Timothy Smith's history of the formation and early years of the denomination (Called Unto Holiness), and am getting the distinct (heh) impression that one common sensibility of these early holiness folks who came together to form a new denomination was (as Smith puts it at one point) a "suspicion of ecclesiastical machinery."

In other words, I am left to wonder if a disdain for authority and, at the most negative extreme, perhaps even a disregard for the church and her authority, is something that is built into our DNA as a denomination. And if so, is that something we can ever shake? It's hard for someone (me) who believes in the Church as the Body of Christ through which God does His redemptive work in the world to reconcile that conviction with a denomination that seems to be based on a suspicion, or at least disregard, for the "established" or "institutional" (or whatever) church.

I should also say, it seems clear to me that this (what I've articulated above) is an outgrowth of the prioritization of individual spiritual experience over and above corporate accountability and common experience. This individualism and experientialism also seems to define us, perhaps even more fundamentally.

Dave Belcher said...

Hi Eric,

(I will try not to offer this disclaimer every time I post here, but I just feel like I should add for those who may not know that I speak as someone who, though "officially" a former Nazarene and at present an Episcopalian/Anglican, I still care very much for the Church of the Nazarene and consider myself to be a part of the CoN insofar as we are all of us a part of the *one* body of Christ....anyhow.)

It seems like the distinction of the Anglican tradition you are experiencing at Trinity is specifically liturgical, right? I mean, what you "can see" and "hear" and "feel" has to do with the vestments, the prayers, grounded in a very other-worldly sense, etc. Am I right? I only point this out because it seems to me that one of the purposes of this blog has to do with a commitment to and reflection on the liturgical life of the church amidst what are arguably very non-descript forms of worship and liturgy -- specifically within the CoN. Which is perhaps a way of saying that I'm not sure what exactly could or would make the CoN distinctive in this regard (liturgically, or with regard to its worship). In addition, "holiness" is something that, arguably, is not empirically verified -- or if it is, that empirical verification certainly is not what makes such holiness holy. So, while holiness might be a contender for the distinctive and identifying mark of the CoN, it appears to be distinct and identifying only at an abstract level, abstracted specifically from *being* holy. I also recognize that the "sense" you are describing vis-a-vis the liturgical setting at Trinity is not necessarily the kind of "sensing" involved in empirical verification (and so also the kind of distinctive feature you are seeking in the CoN is not limited to "seeing" and "hearing" and "feeling" in exactly an empirical sense either).

Dave Belcher said...

So, let me stop rambling and try to make a point here! Clearly there are indeed specific forms of worship in most Nazarene churches: opening music and praise, an opening prayer or invocation, more music and praise, pastoral prayer, tithes and offering, sermon, closing music and praise, and a closing prayer. That's the structure I grew up on at least -- and witnessed at all the other CoN's I attended. There was typically not Scripture read regularly -- though sometimes there would be a reading by one of the pastors in between songs or as an entree to prayer, or even the entire text for the sermon would be read aloud (sometimes with the request that all stand), etc; celebrating the Lord's Supper was rare, and thus also wasn't a regular part of that structure. What strikes me, though, is that you might find this exact structure in so many other churches -- and I think this is your point, isn't it, Eric? Someone might rightly remark that the structure is entirely based on "the Liturgy of the Word" and so the connection with a kind of "generic evangelicalism" is perhaps already present in this fact (that is to say, perhaps what is characteristic of evangelicalism when it comes to worship is its focus on the Word -- but, geez, I'm over-generalizing now).

All of this might suggest that we may not find what we are looking for here. But, something else needs to be pointed out, I believe. Not only are there "Word and Table" services among Churches of the Nazarene (though most remain quite "low" compared to other churches that have a kind of "catholic" bent -- again, there are exceptions), but there are also plenty of quite low Episcopal forms of liturgy. There is a spectrum within every church that has to be considered that might blur the lines between what is considered distinct in only one setting. And to me, this tells me less that there are no absolute identifying or distinctive features about churches than it does that, within the broad spectrum of a given church's professed identity and distinction, what makes a church distinct according to the sort of "sense" you experienced is delimited by local congregations. And to say more than that requires an ecclesial perspective that moves beyond mere congregationalism. And yet, we at once do not need a universalism to be able to see beyond these local delimitations. What is it in each local congregation that is, as St. Paul had it, "always and everywhere the same"? One could argue that, according to Paul, it is the celebration of the eucharist. Perhaps all we can say here, though, is that Jesus is present in the gatherings of the Church of the Nazarene, as much as in other churches, only because they are gatherings in his name (in the hearing of the Word and in response of praise and thanksgiving), and this is truly the only distinct mark of all of these churches: the name of Jesus. Perhaps an entirely unhelpful response I imagine!

Dave Belcher said...

None of that, of course, is to say that our worship could not be more intentional in many respects (which it certainly could), nor that it need not be more Trinitarian (which it certainly does). But, I digress...

Todd Stepp said...

Siince I have already discussed some of this with Eric, I am not going to post much, here.

I only want to say two things: 1.) I would not be concerned that one attending our seminary/churches be able to distinguish it from a Wesleyan or FM seminary/church. I would be happy that these three denominations be seen as essentially the same, just as (I'm guessing here) there were more than one "brand" of Anglican at the seminary (e.g., TEC, ACNA, APA, REC, AMIA, CANA, etc.)

2.) To Brannon: Have you read the new history "Our Watchword & Song"? - That history has gone a very long way in being able to look back and make it pretty clear that the Church of the Nazarene is, at its base, a Methodist denomination. - Except for one line at the end (which I discussed with the author, and hope will be edited in any reprintings), this is one of the "points" that is made.


Brannon Hancock said...

Todd: I have not read "Our Watchword and Song" yet. Thanks for the recommendation. I would say that even in Smith's history, our Methodist lineage is pretty clear (or at least appears so to me, although I grant that I may be wanting to see that in there), but it is perhaps even more clear that our lineage is Methodist defectors who didn't like The Church telling them what to do. It is this pathology that concerns me in the grand scheme of things.

Todd Stepp said...

Brannon, I would say that the latter history make even more clear our "Methodist lineage," in that it clarifies the Methodist background to some of our parent branches (those that came together to form the CotN), that are not made explicit in the previous history.
Also, it does more than make clear our "Methodist lineage," it demonstrates that the new denomination (the CotN) is essentially a Methodist denomination. That is, not only did we "come from the Methodists," but we formed a new/different Methodist church. (Of course, it does demonstrate where those from outside of the main-Methodist tradition were brought in, as well.)
I guess, the distinction is that, when one reads the new history, one cannot simply say, "We are not Methodists; we left the Methodists." Instead, while one must say, "We left the Methodist Episcopla Church (& the MEC South)," one must also say, "And we formed a new denomination that is, none-the-less a Methodist denomination." - We are not "United Methodists," but we are Methodists; a Wesleyan-holiness brand of Methodism.


Brannon Hancock said...

Todd: gotcha. Thanks for the explanation. Although, it's interesting: my History & Polity teacher would contend (pretty convincingly) that when we formed as a denomination, the more rural, less-"Wesleyan/Methodist," more "legalistic" (for lack of a better term), independent/congregationalist cohort are the ones who "won the day." Do you agree with that? Would Ingersol?

Brannon Hancock said...

(or rather, Cunningham, Ingersol, et al. - the contributors to the new history, is what I meant.)

Eric + said...


In one regard, you are right. My reflection is in the arena of liturgy. But I don't think it is limited to just that. The Anglican distinctive is "Common Prayer." I've heard it said that within Anglicanism there can be (always has been and always will be) a wide variety of theologies. But there is always a unity in the "Common Prayer." This distinctive is not just what happens when the people gather, but is also seen in the very fact that the people do gather. In my case the very fact that the day begins and ends together in prayer speaks volumes. This is not an issue of high church or low church or sacramentalism or non-sacramentalism. It is a common commitment to prayer being the very core of Anglican faith and practice.

This commitment also bled into the classroom. Not only did every class begin and end with prayer, but often there were simply pauses in the lecture (it was a missions class so often there would be a discussion of what the church is doing in -- for instance -- the Sundan) to make room to pray about what was being discussed. This common "practice" of prayer permeated the time I was there.

Now, as far as I can tell, there is no such common practice in CotN. But there is a distinctive theology: holiness. But what happens when that common distinct theology is called into question? Or at least is redefined? Where does that leave us?

I am not sure I am communicating well... is this making sense?

@Todd: thanks for the previous conversation. Perhaps your comments made privately to me would be as helpful to the group as the were to me.

Brannon Hancock said...

Yeah, Todd - don't deprive us of your insights just because you previously expressed them privately! That hurts the whole blog! ;-)

Todd Stepp said...

I don't know, Brannon. There is a lot to that. I'm not sure that the distinctions between the various things you mention and "Wesleyan/Methodist" are always that cut and dry.

Methodism was largely rural.

Certainly, the new denomiation was more congregational than the MEC. But the congregationalists did not get rid of the superintendency or the G.A. or the (Book of Discipline) Manual.

And, the structure of government is not necessarily essential to Methodism, beyond the commitment to connectionalism. (Look at British Methodism).

Legalism was high, but it was too in certain parts of the MEC.

I wouldn't argue against what you have said, except to say that I don't know that it is cut and dry, and I'm not sure that it can be set against Methodism, as such. (Certainly, when you talk about calsical Wesleyan theology, then we have something to say.)

I won't speak for Ingersol (though we have talked a number of times about Methodism, the CotN & the history), except to say that he is quite "big" on the idea that we did form a distinctively "believers church."


Todd Stepp said...

I don't know that I would call this any kind of great insight, but here is a cut/paste of one of my emails:

I agree, there is nothing distinctive about our services of worship. They are largely interchangeable with Baptists . . . or independent contemporary . . . or whatever. They are largely "generic evangelical" in its various styles . . . except when we do sing "holiness songs" (for those who do still use the gospel hymnody!).

We are distinctly not charismatic and distinctly not RC or denomination in one of the "liturgical traditions" (with very, very few exceptions), or even mainline (for the most part, in that most mainline will probably have multiple Scripture readings or have some sort of formal liturgy).

So, except for the occasional holiness hymn, or when the preacher may preach on ES, or, if we happen to baptize an infant (which is not real widespread) or baptize by pouring/sprinkling, we are by and large a "generic evangelical" church in terms of worship.

The truth is, though, as I have said before, I don't think there is any denomination that is "distinctly Wesleyan" in their worship services (or Methodist). You may know that you are in a UMC, or not, when attending worship. (It could be that the cross & flame is the only clue.)

We have, however, made an attempt to keep our Wesleyan-Holiness identity with the Core Values, the Roots project, the "Our Watchword & Song" history, our Sunday School material, our fairly distinctive government structure/Manual, our continued cooperation with other "holiness" denominations (though, I do get concerned that our involvement with those who are less "Methodist" will take us further away from Methodism and Wesleyanism as a whole), and our continued connection with the World Methodist Council.

There are vocal attempts to make us fundamentalist (Concerned Nazarenes, etc.), and, not necessarily conscious attempts, but attempts, the results of which would make us "generic evangelical," with perhaps a Wesleyan background (we're still not "once saved, always saved," etc.). I really have my concerns about where we will end up with the Nazarene Futures stuff. I am not hearing a lot of voices (at least prominently placed voices) calling us to recapture a classical Wesleyanism. I am afraid that gone are the days of having folks like William Greathouse, Ray Dunning, Rob Staples and the rest of the "Trevecca Connection" actively calling us back to a more classical Wesleyanism.

So, if you step into a small rural Nazarene service, chances are you can know what you're going to get (and it may be little different from any other small rural evangelic church), but across the country, you can't know for sure what the service will be like (just like other evangelicals across the country).

But again, the frustration is there are no fully Wesleyan denominations! So you can try to be Wesleyan in the CotN, the UMC or one of the other "Wesleyan" churches, or you can try to be Wesleyan in an Anglican Church. There are pluses and minuses anywhere you go. At least in a "Wesleyan" denomination you can guess that they have to put up with some talk of being Wesleyan. Anglicans may get tired of hearing about that "Methodist," and they may interpret stuff far differently than a Wesleyan-Arminian. Of course, you get divine worship and the sacraments, and the various "Wesleyans" may want none of that.

Brannon Hancock said...

Todd: that is helpful - thanks. And I concede entirely that the view I summarized as being that of my History & Polity teacher is painting in very broad (and perhaps monochrome) brushstrokes. I'm sure you are right that it's not that cut and dried and that those characteristics - the "cohort" I described - were not distinct from methodism, but rather within methodism. But the influence of that ethos is undeniable, it seems to me. Whether they thought of what they were doing/forming as a purer branch of methodism is a tough question to answer, it seems to me. Whether WE can look back and narrate it that way is only easier because, well, that's how we want to tell the story! (which is not to minimize it's truth/accuracy. Just to say that not everyone would choose/desire to tell the story that way!)

Dave Belcher said...

Hi Eric,

That's a helpful response, thanks. I think my point was simply to say that if "holiness" is the only distinctive mark of the CoN -- and specifically a theology of holiness -- then there is nothing distinct about it at all (something I believe you are also affirming). And I completely agree with you that what is distinctive about Anglicanism is its common prayer -- except I would want to add the proviso that what is especially distinctive about this "distinctive" is that it is the common prayer of the whole body of Christ. In other words, while "common prayer" is distinctive to Anglicanism, yes, Anglicanism itself understands that common prayer to be the possession of the whole Catholic Church (thus neutralizing its distinction as of particular Anglican provenance -- this is my own read of Anglicanism). Perhaps CoN should be reflecting on how there can be fostered (in what is already present among the liturgical forms of the CoN) a kind of "common prayer" in this same regard -- an orientation to being holy that is itself not at all distinct from all those other gatherings in the name of Jesus and thus under the umbrella term of the "Una sancta." That is to say, because the Anglican "common commitment to prayer" is decidedly not about a commitment to a constellation of ideas, but to a specific embodied posture before the living God, neither should the CoN common commitment to holiness be any different (and I think this would mean there is at this point no need for such distinction in the CoN, but only a need for faithfulness). All I was trying to do in my comment was to boil down what it is at the heart of the CoN in its common practices that share this same kind of commitment...and I think it has to do with gathering around the proclamation of the Word of God, around the very name of Jesus, under a common call to holiness. That is of course a call the whole body of Christ shares, just as it does a common prayer. Peace.

Dave Belcher said...

And I guess a subsequent point I am making in all of this is to say that this prayerful posture before the living God, gathered around the Word, "called unto holiness," to give praise and thanksgiving for the redemptive acts of the Triune God is what liturgy is at the end of the day.

Now, I also think more has to be said at exactly this point, and that's where this conversation might expand (which is of course the point of this blog). But, I think this is sort of the "baseline," the place to begin a rethinking of what is happening when we say "church" in the CoN. I hope that doesn't sound overly presumptuous or something. Peace.

Todd Stepp said...

Before my current setting as pastor of a UM church, I used to keep the following quotes framed in my study concerning early Nazarene's understanding of our i.d.

"The Church of the Nazarene is nothing in the world but old-fashioned Methodism." - C.W. ruther, Assistant (yes, assitant) G.S., 1903

"Scratch a real Nazarene, and you will touch an original Methodist; skin a genuine Methodist, and behold a Nazarene!" - E.F. Walker, G.S., 1909

"Our theology is that of Methodism, and our mission is that of early Methodists, to spread holiness throughout the world." & "The Church of the Nazarene is the fairest flower that has ever bloomed in the Methodist garden, the most promising ecclesiastical daughter the prolific Mother Methodism has ever given to the world." - A. M. Hills, Early nazarene Theologian.

Dave Belcher said...

Geez, one more disclaimer:

None of my comments here are meant to denigrate thought or the intellectual activity involved in "theology" -- I simply think that theology emerges as a discursive aspect of the liturgical encounter with the living God and thus does not ground or constitute that liturgical encounter...anyway...think Aidan Kavanagh here: liturgical theology as theologia prima.

SusanU said...

Being too sick to do much this month, I have spent my time researching Episcopal Churches in Manhattan [I live just a few hours away]. My dream vacation would be to spend a week there visiting different EC services [morning prayer, Eucharist, evening prayer] and then picking one of them for a sung Mass on Sunday. But then after I planned my week [which I have referred to my "liturgial" campmeeting equivalent] I didn't know if I dared tell anyone of my dream vacation for fear that everyone I'd know would think me crazy. :) So it was nice to read of someone else's enjoyment of such an atmosphere.

As for distintive Nazarene stuff, I would say [good] hymnody and thorough sermons. The not so good stuff would be legalism and a snobbery against those who are educated and better off financially. The last part is my still unhealed impression - I could be wrong on this.

Eric + said...


I've never done that in NYC, but I have done it in DC. I highly recommend DC. When I went we did the Anglo-Catholic parishes of:

St Monica/St James (on Capitol Hill -- it is a beautiful old rustic church with lots of stone and rough timber, dimly lit),

Ascension/St Agnes (a monstrocity of a church that was prominent and beautiful in its day but downturns in economics & attendance have left it in a little disrepair, but I really enjoyed Fr Davenport)

St Paul's (K Street - my favorite of the three... a vibrant growing community, a new building with a modern twist on classic Christian architecture. I think they do a special Evensong on Sunday Evenings you would enjoy).

If you do DC you also get to do National Cathedral which is absolutely phenomenal. I did my tour with a friend who was a regular organist there while doing his PhD at Catholic University. I told him I can't even imagine coming to work every day in a place like that!

Blessings on your pilgrimage!

Todd Stepp said...

Let me add, two resources that have done a VERY good job (imho)to set out the Nazarene distinctive within the context of our being a part of the larger Church are Wes Tracy & Stan Ingersol's "What Is A Nazarene? Understanding Our Place in the Religious Community" (1998) and the expansion of that book "Here We Stand: Where Nazarenes Fit in the Religious Marketplace" (1999).

Though they are slightly dated at certain points (e.g., stats & the fact that we are now a member of the WMC), I think these two books are fantastic.

They seem to me to be quite fair in showing where we agree with others and where we have differences.


SusanU said...

Eric, if I couldn't do NYC trip, DC sounded good, too. I would love to check out the Washington Cathedral. Thanks for the ideas.

chrispatton said...

Great Question. Wish I had a real answer.