The history of the Church of the Nazarene has not been without its challenges. Storms of economic dislocation, global war, and political instability have all been weathered by the church. Internal squabbles that moved beyond mere differences of opinion severely stretched the missional and theological fabric of the church. Providentially, the fabric of the church remained secure, preventing a sundering that could have marginalized the denomination to the sidelines of missional effectiveness.
Today, one century into our history, scorching winds are now sweeping across the global savannahs of intellectual, theological, political, and economic thought. The breezes from these forums, like gusts from gathering storm clouds, are being felt. The winds of godlessness are being churned by prominent atheists and agnostics, whose voices are being heard in the media and whose thoughts form the tableau of best-selling books. The airs of pluralism, with their insistence on the equality of all religious ideas, are hinting at the loss of Christendom's favored status in the West.
The church is faced with decisions to make in the face of what appears to be a gathering storm.
A group of Nazarenes, sensitive to the winds of change, have taken heart from the pulsing optimism of our Wesleyan message. They seek not to tame the winds nor to shutter the fortresses, but to respond to such challenges by courageously engaging our times. Like structures built before hurricane standards or earthquake specifications, some congregations may wither and die before the blasts of change. These Nazarenes, not content to simply lock the shutters or man the battle stations, are joyously dreaming new expressions of the Body of Christ that can thrive in the arid deserts of cultural change.
Many Nazarenes have watched others attempt to manipulate the odds of survival by jettisoning core beliefs or by repurposing theological statements with weasel words. Such words displayed a loss of confidence in those core beliefs in the face of religious changes. Most of these Nazarenes are not content to do that. They have accepted the challenge of change with a spirit of optimism for they are certain that the message of scriptural holiness is the only message that can redeem our times. Indeed, by doing this, they believe we more closely resemble our beloved founders than at any other time since the beginning of our history.
Some individuals have witnessed the bold lengths to which these innovative Nazarenes are prepared to go in order to be the people of God in a changing world. Because their actions seem so different from the status quo, fear of loss and a sense of disequilibrium have ensued. Others, for whatever reasons, have chosen the caricatures of exaggeration and the use of disingenuous rhetoric to assail both the character and the efforts of a new generation of visionary Nazarenes. This is a generation seeking to respond to the voice of God in a decidedly different generation and social milieu, with faithful expressions of grace, faith, and holiness. Because they are different does not mean they are aberrant.
Assuredly, you too are sensing the rising velocity of the winds of change.
Together, we can retreat into the sheltered security of our fixed, inviolable constructs of church, fastening the shutters in order to brave the coming storm. Or, we can don the full armor of God, braving the gales of change in order to witness the new manifestations of the Church that God is bringing forth in our changing times. Above all, we must know that those folks, dripping wet in the hurricane squalls of cultural change, are not thieves among us. They are our brothers, our sisters, and our children!
David J. Felter, editor in chief