With this in mind, Grace & Peace Magazine convened a panel to discuss denominational identity and ways to connect people to Nazarene faith communities. The discussion was moderated by Bo Cassell, Professor of Sociology at MidAmerica Nazarene University, and included the following participants: Ron Benefiel, Dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry at Point Loma Nazarene University (Benefiel previously served as pastor of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene and as president of Nazarene Theological Seminary); Rustin E. Brian, former lead pastor of Kansas City Trinity Church of the Nazarene, and recent author of Covering Up Luther; Ken Crow, a retired sociologist and researcher, who served at MidAmerica Nazarene University and Nazarene Bible College before becoming a researcher in the Research Services office of the Global Ministry Center of the Church; Diane Leclerc, who serves as Professor of Historical Theology at Northwest Nazarene University, and is the author of Discovering Christian Holiness: The Heart of Wesleyan Holiness Theology; and Eugenio Duarte, who was elected as the 37th General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene. He is a native of the Cape Verde Islands and has served as a pastor, district superintendent, field strategy coordinator, and regional director for the Africa Region. An abbreviated and edited* portion of the panel discussion appears below. Video portions of the discussion are available HERE.
CASSELL: LET’S START WITH THIS QUESTION: WHAT IS “IDENTITY” AND WHAT DOES IT DO FOR US?
Benefiel: A working definition for identity in a religious group includes shared beliefs, practices, and experiences that, over time, are formed into a shaping narrative that guides or gives direction. Christian Smith, in his important book, Moral Believing Animals, says that people live by stories. They have meta-narratives that shape their lives: a family story that becomes part of an individual story that becomes part of a corporate, or in this case, a Nazarene story.
Cassell: RUSTY, AS A PASTOR, DO YOU SEE PEOPLE LIVING OUT A LARGER STORY, OR ARE THEY PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH THEIR STORY?
Brian: People are concerned with their story, but if the church is doing a good job telling the larger story, they will move into that realm. In adding to Ron’s working definition, I suggest that belief comes last. In our culture today, people join not because of a particular doctrinal stance or ethical position, but because they want to be part of a church community—they want a story. They might not be able to articulate it, but they want a deeper sense of belonging.
Cassell: HOW MIGHT A PASTOR FACILITATE CONNECTION TO A LARGER IDENTITY—TO A BIGGER STORY—THAN JUST THE INDIVIDUAL OR LOCAL CHURCH STORY?
Duarte: People find stories like theirs that attract them to a larger group, a larger community—and this is part of what builds a denomination. As a pastor, that’s what I did. I found points of connection between people in my church, other local Nazarene churches, and the denomination.
Crow: As individuals, we want to be connected to something that’s meaningful and makes our lives better—and having examples helps. When I try to figure out what it means to be Nazarene, and a general superintendent (or notable Nazarene) comes and shares their story, I have a demonstration of what this means.
Benefiel: Let’s revisit why the idea of story is important. Narratives function almost like concentric circles: you have a personal story that’s part of a family story, which, if you’re Nazarene, is part of a religious story, which is then part of a larger Christian story. There are narratives within narratives, and sometimes these stories compete with each other. One challenge is to know if our story has resonance with or is an alternative to stories found elsewhere. The Christian story is an alternative to secular stories found in the broader culture. In evangelism, we invite people into a different story than the one they are living. The Nazarene story is part of the broader Christian story but is also distinct in ways that separate it from other denominations and religious bodies. Knowing our story helps us know where we fit and how to respond to competing stories.
Leclerc: A particular denomination’s identity comes out of a particular historical context, sometimes even a reactive context, which may decide to discontinue or reaffirm something that came before. The question of identity is not simple. In the Church of the Nazarene, a series of things happened that led to decisions that resulted in a denomination. While there were commonalities, there were also differences that had to be negotiated in the merger of different people from the West, East, and South. The issue then, as now, is how do we negotiate difference for the purpose of unity? We have 100 years of history that plays this out in different times and in different ways. Our identity is constantly being negotiated between a historical place, those things we find in common, and those things on which we differ. But the major theme of why we exist is what will carry us through to the next century.
Cassell: EUGENIO, AS A GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT, DO YOU SEE THESE DIFFERENCES WITHIN THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE?
Duarte:Absolutely. All six world regions have their own history. You will find Nazarene churches formed in areas where there was no other church. That congregation is not going to be the same as one planted in a city where people come from other denominations to form a Nazarene church. While the two may not look the same, the difference is positive: It makes us richer. What unites us is our message and our mission.
Cassell: HOW DO WE KEEP OUR IDENTITY FROM GETTING CONFUSED IN THE MIDST OF DIFFERENCE, AND HOW DO WE ALLOW FOR VARIED EXPRESSIONS AND STILL CALL OURSELVES NAZARENE?
Brian: We need to understand that part of our identity is about dealing with difference. We need to articulate a common story that allows for difference.
Leclerc: If you sift through the history of the different branches that formed the Church of the Nazarene, there were two commonalities. One was theological and experiential, and the other was practical. The founders wanted a church that proclaimed the optimism of grace and affirmed that entire sanctification makes a significant difference in individual and communal life. They all centered on the theological identity of Christian perfection, which came from within the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. That commitment unified them doctrinally. The second and more practical unifier is their affirmation to be a church of the poor, both at home and around the world. They wanted to be for the downcast and the oppressed and lift people out of their despair. From the beginning, Nazarenes identified these two principles as the unifying force of the movement. Now, we can continue to talk about our theological heritage, the other articles of faith, and any other reasons for being Nazarene, but the question we need to continually ask is about our faithfulness to these two things because they are the reason we exist as a unique denomination.
Cassell: ARE WE FAITHFUL TO THOSE TWO THINGS? KEN, AS A NAZARENE RESEARCHER, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Crow: Surveys from Nazarene Research Services say we care and are involved in compassionate ministries at home and abroad. In practice, religious groups tend to rise in social class, and the more we move away from our roots as a church of the poor, the harder it is to connect back. If we’re not attentive to our message, we will drift from it. We’ve got to continue to tell the story and continue to affirm who we are, what we believe, and why.
Benefiel: John Wesley identified a lack of vitality among some Methodists who began moving away from the movement as they rose in social class. Socioeconomic mobility is a powerful sociological force. As people prosper, they draw their identity from a wider net and get more signals from the world around them. As a result, their primary group has less influence on how they think and act.
Brian: A distinctive of our historical identity is not just being a church in service to the poor but a church of the poor. This is a more radical idea. At the same time, we have such diversity within our churches, from large and affluent to small and urban and rural, as well as bivocational clergy assignments (in which some pastors are struggling to pay bills and make time for church work) that this is a difficult challenge to overcome.
Leclerc: One of the things that rallied early Nazarenes is a deep criticism of the affluence of Methodists. After a hundred years of history and social lift, we have become—at least in the United States— what we so violently criticized in our beginnings, which is fascinating.
Cassell: AS A DENOMINATION, ARE WE WRESTLING WITH HOW TO NEGOTIATE THE ECONOMICS OF A GLOBAL CHURCH AND A USA/CANADA CHURCH AND THE INEQUALITIES THAT EXIST DOWN TO THE LOCAL LEVEL? IS THIS PART OF OUR IDENTITY DIFFICULTIES?
Benefiel: Sure, and it’s not just us, but a trend within American denominations over the last few hundred years. There is a connection between the two things Diane mentioned: proclaiming holiness throughout the land and concern for the poor. Wesley ties these together and says ministry to the poor is a means of grace that is tied to our sanctification. For Wesley and Bresee, their primary motivation was not to help poor people move up the socioeconomic ladder—a sort of social do-good-ism—but to welcome the poor into a community because this is the nature of the kingdom of God. Even the poor cared for the poor because this was a means of grace. This all flowed from an understanding that the very nature of the kingdom is to care for the lost, the poor, and the broken.
Brian: This is particularly challenging today because many churches are not in areas that can welcome the poor, nor do they have the resources to help.
Benefiel: How we define the poor is important. The economic dimension of ministry among the poor is important, but “the poor” is a larger category, which includes the disenfranchised and the broken. It’s people who are in nursing homes, in prison, and who are caught in addictions. It’s not as though you have to go looking for poor people, especially in this society where people are broken and families are fractured. The church is meant to move out and take up residence where people are in need—physical and spiritual need— because this is at the very heart God’s incarnation in Christ Jesus. That’s the good news of the gospel.
Duarte: I recently visited Brazil where a Nazarene church is planted in the midst of the worst poverty imaginable. The church is missional and outward-focused and is starting new churches in areas where others have failed. The amazing part of this story is the church is made up of poor people—people who didn’t have means, people who were drug addicts and were marginalized. One of the best cardiologists in that country is from that church. As a poor child, he came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, do you believe I can be a doctor?” The pastor responded, “Yes, you can be a doctor.” There was no way this could happen financially, but the church wanted him to be a doctor. They supported him because the church knew where it came from and believed God could do the same for others.
Cassell: HAVE WE LOST SIGHT OF THAT PART OF OUR IDENTITY?
Leclerc: We are a hundred years removed from those early memories, and we need to retell those stories because they give us an ethos. A book my college students read is Donald Dayton’s Discovering Our Evangelical Heritage. The book looks at what it meant to be a holiness person in the 19th century when holiness people were for gender and racial equality and against slavery. I continue to be amazed at these students who, just by reading these stories, get inspired and ask, “What issues would they address now, and what should we be doing?” It’s important for new people coming into our churches to be introduced to that collective memory for it expresses our rich theological heritage.
Benefiel: There’s a lot of literature these days about the postdenominational era, which reflects a suspicion of denominations and a move toward generic evangelicalism. Many ask why there are so many denominations, especially young people, who wonder if this reflects division rather than unity. This is a good critique, but it misses a few points. First, it misses the particularity of the narrative—that a group emerges out of a particular time, space, and culture, which shapes its unique story and sets it on a unique trajectory. This history of a people wrestling (with Scripture and theology) over what it means to be Christian in the world becomes part of the narrative thread. Without such traditions to draw from, you’re an orphan with no story to rely on. This leaves you at the mercy of whatever other stories are out there, some of which may not be grounded in the gospel and are more pseudo-Christian or culturally Christian. Without that history and narrative, you are adrift.
Leclerc: Generic evangelicalism resulted when we sought to preach the gospel as generally as we could to as many people as we could, and we lost denominational distinctives. We are suffering the consequences of this now. One response is to retell the narrative and bring in new stories. Another strategy is to take our belief system and say, “We need to get back to our identity by making sure that we believe this, this, and this.” As a theologian, I understand the need to emphasize doctrinal statements, but that is not going to solve the problem because our identity arises from a particular narrative.
Cassell: IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DENOMINATIONAL STORY AND LOCAL CHURCH IDENTITY?
Crow: My family switched denominations when I was young. We went to a Nazarene church because we had relatives in the congregation, but also because we had a pastor who, without belittling any other denomination, focused on the Nazarene story and how the larger story was expressed in that particular congregation. We understood the way Nazarenes did things and why, and that we were people that came out of the Wesleyan revival and how that developed in our particular town. Sometimes special speakers helped this process, and visiting missionaries helped us identify with the mission of the church worldwide. In my family’s case, a pastor filled an important role in explaining to new people who we are and what we’re about, which tied us to the denomination. All to say, we need to understand that we typically understand the denominational story through the eyes of the local church and vice-versa. Each helps us understand the other—you can’t separate these two things.
Cassell: KEN, YOU BUILT RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTIONS WITH NAZARENES THROUGH THIS PASTOR AND THE CONGREGATION AND LEARNED THE DENOMINATION’S HISTORY. WE CALL THAT “RELIGIOUS CAPITAL”— THAT IS THE VALUE THAT COMES FROM BEING PART OF A GROUP. WHAT CAN WE DO TO BUILD “NAZARENE CAPITAL” AND GIVE PEOPLE A DEEPER CONNECTION TO OUR STORY AND TO THEIR LOCAL CONGREGATIONS?
Crow: We need two things: Nazarene capital (or religious capital) and social capital. Research says the connection for new people tends to be through the pastor. We aren’t good at linking people to a larger group in the congregation. If a new person or family is only linked to the pastor, their social capital is lost when the pastor leaves. So, we have to develop broader relationships. That needs to be an intentional strategy, whether by small groups or something else. Nazarene capital comes from telling the story and giving people a place to serve in that story.
Cassell: IS NAZARENE CAPITAL ENOUGH?
Brian: Part of that capital relates to our actions and our practices, the things we do and why we do them. While younger people are increasingly skeptical of denominations, our best response is to explain why our particular denomination exists. It’s not because we don’t like other people, but because there’s something we want to emphasize in the broader Christian story.
Crow: And in some ways, not so much in telling, but in demonstrating.
Brian: Yes, living it out, but not just the pastor, but empowering the congregation to be the body of Christ.
Benefiel: Denominationally, there are four focal points that can help us build Nazarene capital. The first is ministerial education, because you have to have people who can tell the story and invite people into it. The second is publications, because these (from Sunday school literature to denominational magazines) communicate our story. Third, is the old Methodist idea of conferencing— this is the “connection” that results from coming together and being a part of something larger than you. This happens at gatherings like district assemblies, general assemblies, and conference events. Fourth is inviting people, especially youth, into mission experiences. We need to invite people to participate not only in worship but in practices and ministry opportunities that engage the community.
Cassell: EUGENIO, IN YOUR TRAVELS, DO YOU SEE YOUTH CONNECTING TO A DENOMINATIONAL STORY?
Duarte: In their own ways, they are connecting, but we need to make sure our local churches and denominational structures are flexible enough to allow them opportunities. We have to make space for our young people—space to allow them to connect in ways that reflect who they are.
Benefiel: Christian Smith, in his book, Souls in Transition, says teens and those in their 20s in the United States are not as churched as previous cohorts. Robert Putnam, a Harvard sociologist, in his book, American Grace, has done extensive research in this area. He says that people in their 20s are not identifying with the church, so that the largest and fastest-growing category is “no religious preference.” He says this is because they do not identify with what the church tends to represent in our society. His research suggests that the move to generic evangelicalism, beginning in the 1980s, shifted the ground from a primary witness around the gospel of Jesus Christ to a cultural conservatism, especially with respect to particular political issues young adults tend to reject en masse.
Cassell: IS THE CULTURAL IDENTITY YOUNG PEOPLE ARE REJECTING A CARICATURE? IS THERE AN OPPORTUNITY THE CHURCH CAN SEIZE?
Brian: In 2010, Kenda Creasy Dean published an important book using a Wesley sermon title, Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Drawing on sociological data, it says young people have faith, but see a disconnect between the story and how it’s lived out.
Leclerc: In my work, I see two areas where young people find the church falling short. The first is irrelevance— the church has little relevance to their personal lives, goals, and where they want to be. Second, is the issue of isolationism—they are relationally connected but see a church that largely retreats from secular culture. I find potential in our Nazarene narrative. Wesley and early Nazarenes did not try to keep themselves sanctified by rejecting the world. They were among the broken and worked in the very crevasses of society. The holiness message of love demands full engagement with the world. The Wesleyan message meshes well with the felt needs of postmoderns.
Cassell: I SEE THIS IN MY WORK WITH COLLEGE STUDENTS AND YOUNG PEOPLE. WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP THEM?
Brian: We need to create opportunities for them to serve and live out their faith. Nazarene identity is something that has roots and pillars, but it’s fluid as well, and it changes. It allows for diversity, and they are part of that diversity. Being a global church is one of our greatest (for lack of a better word) “selling points.” In my experience, new people are impressed by this and want to be a part.
Benefiel: The tension of “in but not of the world” is something we need to take seriously. If we only emphasize “in” the world, we become like the world. If we only emphasize “not of the world,” we become irrelevant and isolated. Both are necessary. Holiness is not just being separate; it is also participating in God’s incarnational love that thrusts us back into the heart of the world.
Crow: The separation of children and youth by age groups and the isolation of our young people from older demonstrators of the faith have inhibited our ability to pass on identity. Christian Smith’s research suggests that young people who make a successful transition to adulthood have adults who have invested in them, especially parents. Such involvement helps young people form opinions and beliefs and be people of faith. This kind of investment develops religious capital and contributes to the church’s mission.
Leclerc: More than my generation, young people don’t fear difference because they’re in high schools with peers from different cultures and different religious experiences. Their ability to handle difference is an incredible skill, which will benefit the church, now and in the future.
Cassell: WHAT ARE PLACES WHERE YOUNG PEOPLE CAN FIND A FIT WITH CHRISTIAN AND DENOMINATIONAL IDENTITY?
Leclerc: Pentecost is significant in our narrative and an incredible metaphor for us. In the 19th-century Holiness Movement, the Pentecost story was significant in affirming the equality of all people—every person has equal worth and potential in the kingdom of God. Our Nazarene identity says God created every person for a unique purpose, so we need to affirm the dignity and worth of all people as children of God. That’s something that resonates with young people.
Cassell: WE’VE DISCUSSED THE DENOMINATION’S CONNECTION TO THE POOR. NOW, HOW DO WE CONSIDER ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION AS A THEOLOGICAL ISSUE CENTRAL TO NAZARENE IDENTITY?
Leclerc: We have two different roots that inform this question: one is Wesley’s articulation of sanctification in England in the 1700s, and the other is the 19th-century American context, which had many similarities with Wesley, but some differences. In the latter 20th century, these differences polarized debate. The way forward is to embrace both aspects of that heritage, but also to recognize that the language expressing the religious experience of sanctification is really metaphorical, and different kinds of metaphors appeal to different kinds of personal experiences. Regarding youth, we need to find new metaphors that communicate spiritual reality that resonate in this cultural context. I’m concerned that our youth are not catching the spiritual reality enough to even begin to articulate metaphors. Entire sanctification is central to our identity, but how we work out the particulars of how that’s communicated is a different issue. Problems arise when we say our way is the only way to express spiritual reality.
Cassell: RON, YOU HAVE WORKED EXTENSIVELY WITH A PROJECT THAT FOCUSES ON THE LANGUAGES OF HOLINESS. TELL US ABOUT IT.
Benefiel: The Languages of Holiness Project has looked at the two sources mentioned (classical Wesleyanism and the American Holiness Movement), as well as others, and has concluded that holiness finds expression in various languages. Each is influenced by the heritage, culture, context, customs, and practices of the holiness community from where it emerged. The four expressions are: 1) the language of purity, which focuses on consecration; 2) the language of power, which centers on the filling of the Holy Spirit; 3) the language of love, which focuses on Christian perfection—being perfected in God’s love and God’s love for people; and 4) the language of the kingdom community, which gives witness to the kingdom and participating in God’s holy character. People tend to gravitate to one of these, but some languages, like purity and power, may overlap. There are common themes with the four expressions that help unite us. Each of these contributes to a fuller understanding of sanctification.
Brian: This is another area in which our diversity can work for us and bring a fuller picture of God’s love and grace. Our understanding of sanctification is dynamic, not static, so we have to constantly pursue, rethink, and learn as we look at theological foundations and constructs, which give our understanding of sanctification something to stand on.
Cassell: IS OUR STRUGGLE TALKING ABOUT HOLINESS OR LIVING IT OUT?
Crow: While our theologians are doing better in helping us describe it, we have always struggled over language. If I don’t describe it like you describe it, you may suspect that I didn’t really experience it, but the crucial issue is this: did we experience it? Is God able and willing to do more than just forgive my sins? Can God deliver me from being dominated by sin? I was fortunate to have people that could not only explain it but demonstrate it. When I looked at their lives, I saw something that rang true for me.
Leclerc: In the early 1970s, we got caught up in legalistic understandings of holiness and missed the freedom that the experience brings. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop addressed this in A Theology of Love, published in 1972. She noticed all kinds of statements saying what holiness should be, but pointed out that we had a “credibility gap” in living it out. Pastors raised with this legalistic understanding didn’t want to pass it on but lacked new learning in how to proclaim and live out the experience. While this experience is at the core of who we are, unless young people experience and become passionate about communicating Holiness, we are just one generation from extinction.
Cassell: HOW CAN WE HELP PASTORS NEGOTIATE THROUGH DIFFERENT VIEWS OF HOLINESS?
Benfiel: One way to communicate our story and theology is through hymnody. Worship music has changed in the last few decades to emphasize praise choruses, but much of our earlier music was by people who were part of our tradition, like Haldor Lillenas and Charles Wesley. Such music spoke of Christian experience, commitment, consecration, and testimony—it told our story. Many new songs do not call people to consecration or to a life of holiness in the same way that our hymnody did. This can be a valuable resource to utilize.
Leclerc: Besides hymns, we need education. We need literature that explains our heritage, which won’t be in a local Christian bookstore. Nazarene Publishing House has materials that connect to our heritage and appeal to younger generations. Some of their recent books are excellent in helping pastors express our identity and theology.
Brian: In telling our story and pursuing holiness, we need to focus on holiness rooted in the scandalous love of God as expressed in the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus. This gives us the diversity needed to understand that the Spirit works differently in different lives and in different generations.
Cassell: WOULDN’T IT BE WONDERFUL TO BE SO CAUGHT UP WITH CHRIST WE HAD TO COME UP WITH NEW LANGUAGE— NEW METAPHORS—TO DESCRIBE HOLINESS AND THE EXPERIENCE OF SANCTIFICATION?
Leclerc: I have to interject a humorous story. I was teaching a sophomore-level theology class for non- Religion majors. I had two days to explain sanctification, trying to use various metaphors. One student, struggling to understand, was suddenly struck with a metaphor and exclaimed, “I get it! It’s like in poker where you go all in!” To use a poker metaphor for entire sanctification would have some Nazarenes rolling over in their graves, but he was searching for language he could relate to and understand.
Benefiel: We also need examples of transformation. In middle class environments, few lives are so hopeless they have no hope but God. This is why we need to reach out into the margins, where resurrection stories are. Transformation is not only a witness of personal testimony, but the power of God to the whole church. That’s what makes us optimistic about grace—it is the power of God. Even entire sanctification is a miracle of grace.
Cassell: WE NEED TO REMEMBER WHO WE WERE BEFORE WE CAME TO KNOW CHRIST.
Benefiel: That’s right. This isn’t nostalgia; this is our calling and our reason for being. Why did God raise up the Church of the Nazarene? It’s this proclamation of holiness, this pursuit of holiness of heart and life, and ministry to and among the poor, and how those come together. Stories of resurrection and transformation happen when we are actively engaged, especially with those who know their only hope is God.
Brian: These radical stories can help rejuvenate and revive us, but we also need to see everyday examples of consecration, holiness, and deliverance. These should also be part of our story.
Benefiel: When we communicate about our identity, our name, “Church of the Nazarene,” is important. J. P. Widney, denominational co-founder, arrived at this name after a night of prayer. It came to him that the new denomination’s name needed to reflect Jesus of Nazareth. To be a Nazarene was to be despised, to be esteemed of low birth, and to come from the wrong side of the tracks. As the Bible says, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” The name reminds us we are called to take up residence and identify with those from the wrong side of the tracks.
Leclerc: Not only are we called to love the least of these, but we’re also called to love each other. In discussing Nazarene identity across our church, we’ve lost the ability to love each other in our dialog. Do we love each other with the pure love of God that we proclaim is a part of the holiness message?
Brian: Pastors would be more willing to identify with and speak on holiness if we could acknowledge that our understandings and experience vary.
Duarte: Every single story of revival shows people willing to pay a price for renewal. If we are revived, the struggle over language and how to go about this will not be a problem. My prayer is for God to revive the Church of the Nazarene.
Cassell: THIS FITS WITH OUR DISCUSSION OF IDENTITY, ESPECIALLY AS WE CONSIDER WHAT IS LOST AND NEEDS TO BE REGAINED. IF WE PAY THE PRICE TO PURSUE A RENEWED VISION FOR THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE, WHAT WILL THAT LOOK LIKE?
Duarte: The Church of the Nazarene has not abandoned its need for renewal and revival, but it is not always clear who should take initiative and how this should be done within our various structures: Should things be done top-down or bottom-up? We need to find ways to bring the right people to the table and dialog about what needs to be done, which requires listening and working together.
Cassell: RUSTY, DOES THAT MAKE SENSE IN A LOCAL CONTEXT? DO PASTORS NEED TO TALK MORE WITH DIFFERENT GROUPS IN THE LOCAL CHURCH?
MARTI: Yes, across the board this is a very good answer. Within a local congregation, it is a positive step to have conversations with a variety of voices at the table. It is also important to consider how the radical optimism of grace may positively affect notions of identity in the broader context of cities, zones, districts, and regions. As our identity grows and changes, we need to rely on the creative power of the Spirit.
Leclerc: Every voice matters. It’s not just about power-structures. At our inception as a denomination, there was this sense that it’s a people’s church. Age, gender, ethnicity and other kinds of diversity matter. We need to do all we can to listen to every part of the church.
Benefiel: With respect to identity, pastors may want to consider John Wesley. In Wesley’s small groups, people held each other accountable for acts of mercy and acts of piety. These acts of devotion were the means of grace that led people to maturity in Christ Jesus and perfected them in holiness. Accountability was central to the effectiveness of the Methodist revival and is something we need to look at again.
Cassell: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GLOBAL CHALLENGES TO NAZARENE IDENTITY?
Duarte: We cannot build a Holiness denomination without Holiness literature. In Africa, the Church of the Nazarene serves in over 80 different languages. Four years ago, we had literature in only 40 of those languages, so we are training pastors using literature that is strange to them. Most of the holiness literature we have comes from the United States. If that pool keeps growing, we hope that will help grow the church everywhere.
Crow: As a denomination, a commitment to missions—taking the gospel and the good news about deliverance from the denomination of sin around the world—has motivated us all along the way. Being a global church may make us think we’ve arrived, but missions is still important and ought to motivate how we organize ourselves.
Brian: We’ve progressed from a church with a large missionary operation to a global missional church. As a global church, we need to encourage global conversations. Nazarenes in the United States and Canada need to hear from our brothers and sisters in Africa and Latin America and other parts of the world. We need their voices and their relationships as we consider Nazarene identity.
Benefiel: Philip Jenkins’ book, The Next Christendom, projected that the growth of Christianity in places like Africa, Latin America, and Asia would have a major impact on the theology and the ethos of the faith. This is especially true of the Church of the Nazarene. Seventy percent of all Nazarenes now live outside the United States and Canada, and their annual growth rate is at six or seven percent. This will have a major impact on the way we think about theology, mission, organization, and structure in the years ahead. A whole new church is coming, which is exciting.
Duarte: Most of our resources, especially financial, still come from the United States. One area I am concerned about is theological education and the theological formation of the church for the global Church of the Nazarene.
Cassell: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE RESOURCES THAT HELP WITH UNDERSTANDING NAZARENE IDENTITY?
Leclerc: There’s Our Watchword & Song: The Centennial History of the Church of the Nazarene, which was published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City in 2009. It covers a wide variety of topics and themes in positive ways.
Brian: Timothy Smith’s 1962 book, Called Unto Holiness: The Story of the Nazarenes: The Formative Years, is still a classic work by a first-rate historian. More recent is Stan Ingersol’s Nazarene Roots: Pastors, Prophets, Revivalists, & Reformers, published in 2009. Ingersol’s book focuses on the key men and women who formed the denomination and is especially good for pastors and laity. Janine Metcalf did a documentary on women in ministry, Ablaze with Love, that provides stories and parts of the tradition we don’t hear about as much and is available at Nazarene Publishing House. Holiness Today (holinesstoday.org) and Grace & Peace Magazine (graceandpeacemagazine. org) are helpful resources on our identity for laity and pastors; so is NCN News (NCNNews.com). District superintendents are also a helpful resource for stories on the Nazarene faith tradition. It is common for districts to have education and training days that teach on our identity.
Benefiel: I’m encouraged by the way our regional schools (universities, colleges, and seminary) have taken on clergy resourcing. The accessibility of online theological education and video conferencing is greater than it’s ever been. There are modular courses, which are provided by Global Clergy Development (usacanadanazarene.org). Ministerial education is perhaps the central place to focus our resources to help with understanding and telling the story in the next generation. The Nazarene Archives, led by Stan Ingersol, in the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas, is a very helpful resource for pastors, students, and scholars in understanding our faith tradition.
Crow: It is expensive to produce holiness and denominational literature. Financially, we may feel we need to cut back instead of advance, but doing so affects our ability to tell the Nazarene story. In addition, we need to understand that telling the story is not just the responsibility of a few but all of us. We need to take responsibility, get involved, and find ways to make this work.
Cassell: BESIDES THESE RESOURCES, WE CAN DO MORE TO LOOK AT NAZARENE IDENTITY IN GATHERINGS THAT ALREADY EXIST, LIKE DISTRICT AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY, AND OTHER EVENTS LIKE MISSION 2015 OR NAZARENE YOUTH CONGRESS, OR OTHER OPPORTUNITIES FOR DIALOGUE.
Brian: It is often difficult for bivocational pastors to make it to denominational events because of cost or scheduling. It is crucial they have connection to our fellowship and know what goes on in such gatherings. We need to find ways to include them.
Leclerc: As I shared earlier, the theology of Pentecost has underscored the importance of the equality of all people. From the beginning of the Church of the Nazarene, women took an important role in the church’s development and female clergy were ordained from the church’s inception. Cultural forces, primarily from outside, have pushed those numbers down. Recently, in a desire to be proactive, the general superintendents invited a few prominent women clergy to talk about these issues and created action points from those discussions. One of those is that every minister who goes through the course of study has to take a class on the theological, biblical, historical foundations of women in ministry. Educating ministers on these issues is important in maintaining the Pentecostal theology of the equality of all persons. If the general superintendents had not been open to that kind of dialogue and had not understood the need to be proactive, these doors for women would not be opened.
Cassell: THANK YOU, PANEL MEMBERS, FOR SHARING YOUR VALUABLE INPUT ON THIS IMPORTANT TOPIC. WE’VE LEARNED THAT IDENTITY DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN BUT MUST INTENTIONALLY BE PURSUED, AND THAT WE NEED TO BE OPEN TO LISTEN AND LEARN FROM EACH OTHER AS WE GRAPPLE WITH WHAT IT MEANS TO BE PART OF THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE.