Since I have "given up" Facebook during the Lenten season, I am hoping that I will invest a bit more time in my blog. - One of my frequent Facebook practices has been to pen quotes from Scripture or hymns that have impacted me during Morning or Evening Prayer, or, perhaps, a quote from a book that I happen to be reading. I have usually not included such brief quotes on my blog, but . . . having given up Facebook . . . I may begin including such during Lent.
Here is one from today's Psalm (unless otherwise specified, biblical quotes will be from the NRSV):
The folks at churchyear.net has a great idea! They are encouraging Christians to read the Church Fathers during the Lenten season. In fact, they have gone to the trouble of providing a reading guide for the Lenten season.
I would commend this plan to you as a valuable Lenten devotion!
The reading plan can be found, here. - Check it out!
Yes, it's true. I'm not just a "liturgy nerd." I'm also a "sci-fi nerd!" So, obviously, the title to this post is a take off of Yoda's "Begun, the clone war has." - Ya' gotta' love Yoda! (And then I had to add a pic of Mace Windu, because he uses a purple lightsaber, and it is Lent . . .)
In any case, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty day (not counting Sundays) season of Lent. Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.” The season is a preparation for celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.
Most churches that observe the season of lent will mark their worship space with somber colors such as purple (cf., Mace Windu's lightsaber!) or ash gray and rough-textured cloth as most appropriate symbols.
Ash Wednesday provides us with the opportunity to confront our own mortality and to confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the Ash Wednesday Service focuses on the themes of sin and death, but it does so within the context of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.
The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and the Imposition of Ashes can be a powerful and tangible way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.
During the season of Lent, many Christians engage in specific efforts at prayer and fasting and various forms of abstinence. Sometimes these special efforts are viewed as a kind of legalism imposed by certain denominations. (Some Roman Catholics view it this way, though that is not the intent of the Roman Catholic Church.) Others see this as a way of simply "proving they can do it." And there are those who see Lent as a time to jump-start their diets. (Though the loss of weight may be a favorable side effect, that is not the purpose of fasting!)
There are others, however, who recognize that fasting and the various forms of abstinence are truly spiritual disciplines with the intent of opening us up to God's presence and grace in preparation for the great celebration of Easter.
Coming from a branch of Methodism that has thoroughly embraced the Camp Meeting and Revivalism, I have always told our people that Lent is revival preparation! - When we would schedule a revival with an evangelist, we would do more than schedule the revival. We would set aside specific times for prayer and fasting, seeking God's face for the revival services, the evangelist, the lost in our community, the Church, and ourselves. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24) - That, very much, is what happens during Lent.
Additionally, in the congregations where I have served, I have made it a practice of distributing to everyone a "World Methodist Call to Prayer and Fasting and to Faith-Sharing" bookmark on the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday. This book mark, produced by World Methodist Evangelism, calls our people to participate in the "Wesley fast."
The WME website says this about the bookmarks:
The 2001 World Methodist Conference in England called upon Methodists around the world to "follow the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting, focusing on spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus through word, deed and sign" by participating in the same weekly fast which John Wesley observed most of his life. Because of this commitment, Methodists in 130 countries go without solid food after their evening meal each Thursday until mid-afternoon each Friday.
This time of fasting is focused in prayer for the vision of World Evangelism -- to see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation. Methodist churches and groups are encouraged to participate in the Wesleyan Pattern of Prayer and Fasting during Lent and/or during the period between Easter and Pentecost.
These ENGLISH PRAYER AND FASTING CARDS are available free of charge, in reasonable quantities, for congregations or groups wishing to participate in this worldwide commitment. The 2 3/4 x 8 1/2 inch laminated cards contain an explanation of the Prayer and Fasting Commitment plus special prayers for Thursday Evening, Friday Morning, Friday Noon, and Friday at the time of breaking the fast.
I would encourage all pastors in denominations that are members of the World Methodist Council to order these free bookmarks by going to the WME website, here. Further, anyone who may pastor in a Wesleyan/Methodist denomination that is not a member of the WMC is still encouraged to join in this fast, during the season of Lent (and beyond!).
Indeed, may we "see the Methodist movement alive, vibrant, growing and yearning to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope and salvation." And may we see lives marvelously transformed by the great grace of God! In the name of and for the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Well, tonight was the night of the big debate: Bill Nye "the Science Guy" vs. Ken Ham of The Creation Museum! Like a lot of people, I would imagine, we watched the live stream. Some might think that this debate would be of special interest for our family, seeing that I am a pastor and my wife is a licensed Science teacher. - Well, it is, but unlike the "divided household" in our neighborhood with the split U.K./U. of L. flag in their yard, we are not flying a divided flag in the Stepp household.
I think that it has often been assumed that the (general) debate is a debate between Science and the Bible, or Science and Religion. The assumption is that only atheists believe in evolution and that Christians must only believe in a young earth and a six literal 24-hour, solar days for creation. Science, in this view is "God-less," and Religion is . . . irrational. And, there is the assumption that all Christians must agree with Ken Ham and The Creation Museum; they must have all been rooting for him, tonight.
However, the truth is Mr. Ham's position is held by a minority of evangelical Christians who usually self-identify as "fundamentalists." (And I would suggest that those who agree with his understanding of Scripture and Science, who do not self-identify as such, nevertheless take on such fundamentalist understandings of Scripture at this point. That is not, in and of itself a negative term, but rather a term of clear categorization.)
My own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, certainly makes room for those who share Mr. Ham's understanding of Scripture, though, as a denomination, it is not the Nazarene position. - Our Article of Faith on Scripture makes clear that "We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, . . . given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation . . ." That is to say, unlike Mr. Ham, our understanding of the nature of Scripture's inerrancy is a soteriological understanding (i.e., having to do with salvation, broadly understood). Again, there are those among us whose understanding goes beyond this, but such an understanding diverges from the traditional way that Wesleyan Christians view Scripture.
Likewise, the denomination allows for those who hold Mr. Ham's understanding of how God created, but it does not require such an understanding, and as I will demonstrate, such an understanding does not seem to be the dominant view among Nazarene (and other Wesleyan) scholars.
Our Manual statement on creation says, "The Church of the Nazarene believes in the biblical account of creation ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . ." - Genesis 1:1). We oppose any godless interpretation of the origin of the universe and of humankind (Hebrews 11:3)." - The key words concerning what we oppose is "godless interpretation." That means, of course, that we believe that God created. We state, in our Manual, that we own the classical, ecumenical creeds as expressions of our own faith. Thus, every Sunday, where I lead worship, we confess our faith in God the Father Almighty, maker (i.e., Creator) of heaven and earth, using either the Apostles' or the Nicene Creed. On this point, we are explicitly in agreement with Ken Ham, over against Bill Nye.
Further, our view of creation does leave open the possibility of Mr. Ham's view. However, it also leaves open the possibility for our people to embrace some form of theistic evolution; that God, to some degree, used the means of evolution to bring about the creation.
What is interesting, when one looks at Nazarene scholars throughout the history of the denomination, most seem to view the Genesis' creation account(s) soteriologically and theologically, rather than as a scientific account, and most seem to be at least open to some form of theistic evolution. - In fact, Dr. Dan Boone, current president of Trevecca Nazarene University, in his book, A Charitable Discourse, identifies five different positions that could be held by (Nazarene/Wesleyan) Christians:
1. Genesis 1-3 is a myth containing eternal truth that God created the world and that humans are sinful.
2. Genesis 1-3 is a mythological version of a historical reality in which humanity turned away from God.
3. Homo sapiens evolved as suggested by Darwin, and at a specific point in human history, God chose Neolithic Adam and Eve to know him, revealed himself to them, and established covenant with them. They became the first humans aware of God and were made capable of living in relationship with God. They sinned and their sin affected all humanity.
4. Old-earth creationism suggests that some evolution has occurred, but that God created life and the major species, especially Adam and Eve.
5. Young-earth creation (Ken Ham's position) suggests that the earth was created ten thousand years ago (I think Mr. Ham says six thousand) in six days and that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day out of dust (p. 104-5).
However, says Boone, of all of these, the last one "requires a total denial not only of biology and cosmology but also of physics, chemistry, and the entire family of scientific inquiry. . . it is a denial of science as we know it" (p. 105). - Now, for those who watched the debate, you can judge for yourself whether Ken Ham's position denies all of this or not.
The first thing, however, that we discover among Nazarene scholars is that none of our major theologians have held Ken Ham's position. Now, if a fellow Nazarene wants to challenge this, I am open to their proving me wrong. For my part, I have simply looked at the three theologians who have produced systematic theologies, two of which have held a position of being "official" systematic theologies to some degree for the denomination, along with two biblical theology books, among others.
The first official systematic theology for the denomination was produced by H. Orton Wiley, a younger contemporary of Nazarene founder, Phineas Bresee. Unlike Ken Ham, Wiley described the Genesis creation account(s) as "The Hymn of Creation," or "The Poem of the Dawn" (Christian Theology 1:449-54). He says that "The Genesis account of creation is primarily a religious document. It cannot be considered a scientific statement" (1:454-5). In fact, Wiley states that, unlike Ken Ham, "The best Hebrew exegesis has never regarded the days of Genesis as solar days, but as day-periods of indefinite duration . . .," and he sites Augustine among other Church Fathers who held this same understanding (1:455). "Origin, Irenaeus, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen taught the same doctrine during the patristic period, as did also many of the learned Jewish doctors outside the Christian Church" (1:455-6).
W.T. Purkiser in God Man, & Salvation: A Biblical Theology, which was a standard work for Nazarenes, agrees with Wiley. Concerning our understanding of Scripture, he says "The theme of salvation . . . is the central theme of the Bible" (9). And he affirms that "While the account of creation in the Bible is not mythological, neither is it intended to be cosmological or scientific" (56). Further, Purkiser insists that "Debate between 'science' and 'the Bible' often loses sight of the fact that the interest in Scripture is theological, not cosmological. The doctrine of creation is not an effort to explain the universe. Its purpose is to lay the basis for the history of salvation that follows" (60).
In Grace, Faith & Holiness (the next systematic theology, following Wiley's, to be commissioned by the Board of General Superintendents), Ray Dunning affirms Wiley and Purkiser's views. He says, "Being of the nature of poetry, it cannot be treated as a technical scientific treatise, although we must emphasize, as Wiley does, that it is historical in nature" (236).
Kenneth Grider, who also wrote a systematic theology for the church (viz., A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology), though not an officially commissioned one, rejects the young earth theory as "a naively literal interpretation of Genesis" (173). He affirms that "On a number of bases, Wesleyan-holiness evangelicals hold the confidence that Scripture is inerrant on doctrine and practice but that it might contain error on matters relating to mathematics, science, geography, or such like" (75). However, unlike most of the others surveyed, here, Grider seems to prefer an old-earth creation position (cf., #4, above).
Again, in Michael Lodahl's The Story of God: Wesleyan Theology & Biblical Narrative, he states, Genesis' creation account ". . . is not science, and to read it as such is to do violence to its intentions; it is, rather, poetic theology, a 'hymn of creation' (H. Orton Wiley) that points us to God as our Creator. It is concerned with who creates, and why - not particularly with when or how" (64).
So, with this ever so brief survey, where does that leave Nazarene and other Wesleyan Christians? It leaves us firmly affirming God the Creator. It also leaves us with quite a bit of elbow room concerning the "how" question of creation. One cannot say that a particular scientific explanation is "Wesleyan." To do so is to move beyond theology into the arena of Science. Thus, the elbow room within the denomination. However, it does leave us with a view of Scripture that is different from that of Ken Ham's; a view of Scripture that has led most of our major scholars from the beginning of the denomination until the present to a very different conclusion than Ken Ham. It is a view of Scripture that sees no incompatibility with the prevailing Scientific theory.
One can certainly agree with Ken Ham concerning the how of creation, . . . and one could end up being correct about the how of creation, after all! But to require others to agree with Ham involves insisting on an interpretation of Genesis that is different from the way Wesleyan Christians have traditionally viewed Scripture (viz., soteriologically and theologically).
So, what about me? When I preach, how do I treat Genesis 1-3? Do I promote a young-earth creationist position similar to Ken Ham? Or do I promote a theistic evolutionary position similar to Bill Nye with God inserted into it? - No. No, on both counts.
Oh, those questions are good questions, worthy of study, but, as a traditional Wesleyan I do not think that such questions are what Genesis 1-3 are about. Rather, it is about God creating us, not by accident, but on purpose, in God's very own image. It is about our fall from grace through our first parents' rebellion, and consequently it is about our separation from God. But it is also about God's plan to rescue, redeem and restore us to God's image, once again. This, God does through Christ Jesus who entered into human history, lived among us, and died on the cross on our behalf to take away our sin, whom God raised from the dead in order to give to us newness of life. Of course, there is more to say, but in a nutshell, that's the point of Genesis 1-3, isn't it? That's what I preach. And frankly, beyond that, I don't care a whole lot about what one may believe concerning "how" God created. That's the scientific question, and while I may be interested in it, I'm not a scientist. Instead, I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and our relationship to God is of utmost importance to me and (as I understand it) to the Bible.
The Board of Trustees at Nazarene Theological Seminary meeting in Kansas City on Friday, January 3, elected Dr. Carla Sunberg (‘04) on the first ballot as the next president. Dr. Sunberg has accepted the election. Dr. Sunberg’s election came as the culmination of significant discussion by the Board about a re-invention of the Seminary to create a new and sustainable ministry model and a much sharper focus on preparing pastors for the future of the Church.
Dr. Sunberg has served as co-superintendent with her husband, Chuck, of the East Ohio District. Chuck Sunberg will continue to serve the East Ohio District while Carla Sunberg will assume leadership of NTS immediately. The Sunbergs have served the East Ohio District since 2011. Prior to this they pastored Gracepoint Church of the Nazarene in Fort Wayne, Indiana following 13 years as pioneer missionaries in the former Soviet Union.
The Mission of Nazarene Theological Seminary, a graduate school of theology in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, is to prepare women and men to be faithful and effective ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to offer itself as a theological resource in service to the Church of the Nazarene, its sponsoring denomination, and the wider Christian Church.
Dr. Sunberg earned a BSN in Nursing (Magna Cum Laude) from MidAmerica Nazarene University in 1983. In 2004 she earned a MA (Magna Cum Laude) in Theological Studies from Nazarene Theological Seminary. And in 2012 she earned her PhD in Historical Theology from the University of Manchester. He dissertation was titled, "The Cappadocian Mothers: Deification Exemplified in the Writings of Basil, Gregory and Gregory."
(Nazarene Theological Seminary is where I earned my M.Div.)
Congratulations to Dr. Sunberg & NTS! You will be in my prayers!
are a people who mark time.We annually
celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.Oh, not just wedding anniversaries, though we certainly do that, but all
kinds of anniversaries.-As Christians, we live our lives according to
a particular calendar.It is a rhythm
that orders our lives around the life of Jesus our Lord.And so, as Christians, our “new year” began about a month ago with the First Sunday of Advent.As prepare to post this article, we are in the midst of the Christmas Season; the 9th Day of Christmas, to be exact. And yet, while we are not “of
the world,” we are certainly “in the world,” and, as such, we also celebrated
the beginning of a New Year, yesterday, January 1st.New Year’s Eve/Day has its own customs, as
well.For many it includes staying up
past (or at least until) midnight, kissing that special someone, and . . .
making New Year’s resolutions.This last
part allows us to look back on the year we are concluding, and look ahead; to
think about where we would like to see changes in our lives. Oh, New Year’s resolutions get
a lot of flak.I mean, people are always
talking about making the resolution on day one, and then breaking them by the
next month (or week . . . or, even day!).Yet, that doesn’t have to be the case.It is possible to set goals, and to work to reach those goals.-New
Year’s provides a great opportunity to do that. However, there are other ways
to mark the coming of a New Year.One
way that John Wesley and many of the early Methodist Societies marked the
beginning of a new year was by joining together in renewing their covenant with
God.This wasn’t the only time that they
did this (one finds numerous instances throughout his Journal), but it was an
opportune time. They would renew this covenant
by way of the Covenant Service, the roots of which were found in a 1663
publication by the Puritan, Richard Alleine.In 1753, Wesley published a copy of Alleine’s work in his A Christian Library.And, on August 11, 1755, it is likely that
the first “Covenant Service” for Methodists took place using a chapter from
Alleine’s work. In 1780, Wesley published the
service in pamphlet form for distribution and use.Today, The
United Methodist Book of Worship provides a much edited version of the
service, updating the language and adapting it to fit within the Basic
Four-fold Pattern of worship, but still retaining that part of Wesley’s service
that included the Invitation and Covenant Prayer. In 2012, New Year’s Day
fell on a Sunday.That year, while my local congregation
did not use either Wesley’s Covenant Service, or the one provided in The Book of Worship, we did include in
worship the very brief “A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition,” found on
page 607 of The United Methodist Hymnal.This year does not provide us with the same
opportunity. Given our context, few in our
congregation would be willing to venture out for a Watch Night Service.January 1st fell on a Wednesday
rather than a Sunday, this time around.Plus, I am on vacation and didn't want to impose this on our
guest preacher!-Nevertheless, I believe that it is
appropriate and good for us to begin a new year by focusing our attention on
the Lord and on our relationship with the Lord.Like John Wesley, I believe that an excellent means of doing this is for
us to “renew our covenant with the Lord.”
Therefore, I wanted to provide a portion of the Covenant Service so that we might, each one, renew our
covenant with the Lord in a way that is still connected with each other.For, as each of us prays these prayers, and
renew our own covenant, we do so knowing that we are joining with our fellow
Methodists through the ages.
Beloved in Christ,
let us again claim
this covenant which
God has made with his people,
and take upon us
the yoke of Christ.
This means that we
That he appoint us
our place and work,
And that he himself
be our reward.
Christ has many
services to be done:
some are easy,
others are difficult;
some bring honour,
others bring reproach;
some are suitable
to our natural inclinations and material interests,
others are contrary
in some we may
please Christ and please ourselves;
in others we cannot
please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet the power to do
all these things is given to us in Christ,
who strengthens us.
Therefore let us
make this covenant of God our own.
Let us give
ourselves to him,
Trusting in his
promises and relying on his grace.
Lord God, holy
since you have
called us through Christ
to share in this
we take upon
ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience
and, for love of
engage ourselves to
seek and do your perfect will.
I came across this article by Dr. Gregory Crofford, the other day. (Dr. Crofford's blog, "Theology in Overalls" is listed in the blogs section of my sidebar.)
Greg is more specifically addressing the Church of the Nazarene (my denomination and the
denomination through which I am in holy orders). However, I think that he adds a good corrective to many in the broader Wesleyan, and indeed, the broader Christian Church. He argues for the Wesleyan "middle-way." It is a way that does not rant a rave like the folks from Westborro Baptist Church, nor does it throw out or "re-interpret" Scripture. It is a way that "speaks the truth," and does so "in love."
I have already shared his article on Facebook, but I thought I should share it, here, as well. I commend this article as one that expresses where I believe the Church of the Nazarene needs to be. - The article is followed by several comments worth reading, along with Greg's responses. (Though I'm not sure what happened to my brief comment!) - Among them, I would agree with Greg's response that the denomination needs a thorough reworking of the Manual paragraph that deals with sexuality as a whole. Short of that reworking, I agree with Greg's article's take on the use of "wrath of God language" (while misunderstood by some commenters, he is not saying that such sin is not subject to the wrath of God, but rather he is talking about how it is used in the Manual in an inconsistent way). Alternatively, I would agree with the comment that one could leave the language but add something like "as with all sin." - (You will likely need to read the article and the comments to understand all of that!)
In the comments section, Dr. Crofford also commended Robert A. J. Gagnon's work on this issue. I had just picked up Gagnon's book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, last week. I have not yet read it, but it was good to hear someone else recommend it as being a very good scholarly approach (though he did indicate that the author can sound a bit arrogant at times). The book has also garnered praise from a host of well known biblical scholars.
In addition to commending Dr. Crofford's article to the Church of the Nazarene, I would commend it to others in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. I would especially commend it to members of the Wesleyan-Anglican Society as being where I see the Society, as those who seek to be "wholly orthodox."
The article entitled "Nazarenes, let's talk about homosexuality" can be read, here.