It's been no secret my feelings on General Assembly before we even got there. The possibility of President Bush making an appearance really concerned me. I wish I hadn't posted so strongly on Naznet.com about it. Now many think I'm a Democrat or something. I've never voted for a Democrat in my life (though I've only voted a few times). Truth is, I'm caring less and less about U.S. politics.
In the weeks leading up to Indy, I was really pretty worried about my place in the Church of the Nazarene.
Then we got to Indianapolis for General Assembly. I was so encouraged by most of the messages of the different General Superintendents. Dr. Bond's was a testimonial-sermon worthy of retrospect by each person who wonders about sanctification. Dr. Porter's message was no surprise, but still refreshing: a call to break the mold of "Nazarene ministry" and to just minister as God leads, leaving the comfort of "what we've always known." The Quadrennial Address had some great aspects. I was encouraged.
And then voting began. I could give you a ballot-by-ballot run down of my thoughts, but I'll succinctly and simply say that neither of the two elected were on my "Top Five" (no, I didn't really compose a Top Five, but I might in a minute). I am encouraged that Dr. Gunter was elected. As one of my mentors said, "It'll break the glass."
But I came home pretty discouraged. I was discouraged that voting (both for GS and for Manual changes) did not go very well. Further, I was also discouraged because not many felt as I did. I disagreed with the last ballot, but an overwhelming 670 (77%?) voted that way. It didn't necessarily mean that they were right and I was wrong or the other way around, but that I didn't fit in. In part, I no longer see as my church does. For a fifth-generation Nazarene preacher, that's pretty discouraging.
I no longer post on Naznet. I imagine that I will from time-to-time, but nothing more than "I saw a raccoon last night" or "My experience with getting rid of spam is..." and other trivial matters. In fact, I think I started this blog as a different avenue of writing my thoughts.
But, I did in fact read much reaction on Naznet as well as at CRI. Only one person (that I saw) really spoke out against the elections. But a post at CRI really encouraged me. You have to know a lot of the history (it is very important that Dr. Dennis Bratcher wrote the post). But to me, it was very encouraging. I fear posting the text as to lose readers, but this is more for my saving than anything else, so here it is:
There is a wonderful line from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:
Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us.
In some ways, this may be our situation now. We can wish all we want that things had gone differently. But they did not. Now we are left with how we will respond to the world and to the church that does not fit our expectations. I suppose we could react with doom and gloom. But how would that serve the Kingdom or fulfill our calling to serve others in the name of God? Or we could, like Frodo, wish and pray that God would somehow make it all go away. But how would that help us live in a sinful world with the grace and love of God as a witness, a light against any form of darkness? Or we could react with an angry activism or a militancy that determines to try and force our views on the Church, assuming that we know better how things should be than anyone else. But then, how would we be any different than those who oppose us? How is one set of ideologically driven agendas any different than another?
There is a fascinating passage from Proverbs that I have always taken as a God-given caution against my own zeal.
30:21 Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: 30:22 a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when glutted with food; 30:23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maid when she succeeds her mistress.
It is far too easy for us as we are fighting against injustice, prejudice, arrogance, and ignorance in the name of God to become so convinced that we are right and that our cause is just that we become the very thing that we despise in the process of fighting against it. If turning the other cheek means anything, if the sages’ counsel in Proverbs 26:20-21 is true (without wood a fire goes out . . . as charcoal fuels burning coals and wood fuels fire, so a quarrelsome person fuels a dispute), and if indeed we are called by God to respond to our “enemies”’ injustice with love and compassion (Prov 25:21-22 quoted by Jesus), then surely there is “a more excellent way” than anger, dejection, or hopelessness.
I am usually the voice of reform and change, calling us and the church to challenge the injustice and bigotry perpetrated in the name of God. I probably will not change that anytime soon. There is simply too much of it in the church and done in the name of God. But at this moment I have an unexpected sense of peace and calm, one of those times where there is simply a quiet assurance that God is at work.
That does not mean that I am happy with everything that has happened, or that things will go exactly like those who broker power think
they will. But then, I do not need to be happy to realize that the church is bigger than one man, or one set of agendas, or even 2/3 of the
General Assembly. As Marsha mentioned so well somewhere I understand quite clearly that God is not wringing his hands over our General Assembly. I do not know exactly what that means. Perhaps God has just given up on us ever accomplishing his calling and his purposes for this church or for us to be his people. It would not be the first time God has called a people to a great task only to grieve that they so obstinately refused to accept that calling. Or it may be that God is able to work, and has indeed purposed to work, with fragile earthen vessels “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor 4:7).
In any case, my response at this time is simply to let God work. I do not need to talk much about what could have or ought to have been, nor do I think we should become obsessed with the negative scenarios that we can all too easily conjure given some of the facts. We should not hide from those facts and pretend they are not what they are. But, as the old saying goes, character will come out. Maybe that is as much theology as folk wisdom. So I want to be sure that my own response reflects what I understand to be the nature of the Kingdom and the Gospel rather than letting it be determined by those that I think have misunderstood both.
As Adalai Stevenson observed, “It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.” Maybe the best thing we, all of us, can do at this point is to stop fighting for principles and start living them. I am totally convinced that this lies somewhere close to the heart of the Gospel. Indeed, it is the heart of holiness. If so, authentic holiness may be the kind of power that can and will change the world in ways that power alone never can, precisely because love in its purest and most godly form “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).
Finally, this prayer:
Eph 3:13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart . . . 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height
and depth, 3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
I don't know why I thought that the Church of the Nazarene would be perfect. I think I can expect that, right? We should. But to think that we are perfect is ignorant. As Dan Haseltine wrote: "If ignorance is bliss, won't You save me from myself?"
In regards to the rest of the voting, Hans Deventer put it well from the very floor of the General Assembly:
Although we are dealing here with a simple motion, it is actually an important principle that is at stake. It is the principle of trust. So far, this assembly has mainly voted down resolutions that called for more room, while adopting those that called for stricter rules or tighter control. May I remind you of the words of Dr. Bond of last Sunday? "We are control freaks", he said. Well, let me tell you, we will never be able to control our church, because first of all, it is God's church, and second, increasing legislation never created godliness and revival, only death and legalism. On Monday, Dr. Porter challanged us to go out with courage. But all we do here is acting out of fear. Brothers and sisters, we cannot be the people God wants us to be when we hide behind ever higher walls of rules and regulations. We need to give room to one another to live out the gospel in all our different cultures and contexts. We actually have to trust one another to be the church God wants us to be, and thus allow the Holy Spirit to revive us! So I speak in favor of this resolution and against the action of the committee.
God will still work. That we know - he always has even despite the failed efforts of humanity. I just hope that he continues to work through the Church of the Nazarene.