Thursday, September 14, 2017

Nazarene Superintendency/Episcopacy Reconsidered, Part III: A Final Word

Way back in August of 2011, I wrote a two-part essay on this topic.  It chronicled my way through the debate of whether, in the Nazarene setting, our district superintendents ought to be considered bishops, or whether that term was reserved for general superintendents, alone, while district superintendents were essentially presiding elders.  (For those interested in the topic, I would encourage you to look up those posts using the side-bar.)

In the first of the two articles, I listed my (then) major objections to identifying district superintendents as bishops.  Those objections were:

1.) Wesley's Intent
2.) Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism, and
                                                    3.) The Authority to Ordain

In the first article, I presented the basis and foundation of the Nazarene superintendency/episcopacy.  In the second article, I addressed each of the three objections.  The conclusion at which I arrived by the end of that second article was that I should change my position.  I then agreed with some of my colleagues that, in the Nazarene system, the district superintendent should, indeed, be identified as a bishop (while the general superintendent would be akin to an archbishop).

Well, the debate has continued over these past six years.  In 2012, I posted a picture of one Nazarene district superintendent (outside the United States) in a purple clerical (i.e., in bishop's attire).  I can point to another d.s. (again, outside the U.S.) who has identified as "bishop" on his Facebook page.  There is at least one d.s. inside the U.S. who is often referred to as "bishop" by pastors on his district.

However, I have become privy to new information, as well; information that has made me re-reconsider my 2011 conclusion.

First, I spoke with a prominent district superintendent who, himself, is often called bishop.  I asked him about the title, and how he understood his role in relationship to the board of general superintendents.  Most recently, I had the opportunity to ask this same question to one of our general superintendents.  The answers that I received from both, were quite consistent.

The district superintendent indicated that during the orientation process for their new role, the board of general superintendents made it clear that the district superintendents operated under the authority of the general superintendents, as their assistants.  (Understand, these are my words, not his.  These are general recollections.  He may have used more precise language.)  -  That sounds very much like the understanding of the original Methodist terminology of "presiding elder."

Likewise, when I spoke with the general superintendent, he clearly affirmed that the role of the district superintendent was that of assistant to, or extension of the general superintendent.  The district superintendent, according to the understanding of the b.g.s., was certainly that of presiding elder, rather than bishop.

The other part that I found interesting (and exciting!) was that it seemed quite clear that the general superintendent with whom I spoke clearly understood that the general superintendents are bishops!  In fact, he agreed that it would be a lot more clear to everyone (in and outside of the Church of the Nazarene) if we used that terminology.

Even in my original articles, I concluded that Wesley intended Coke and Asbury to be general
superintendents, though he only used the term superintendent, without the designation of general.  I went on to talk about the expansion of the superintendency within American Methodism, but even in that article I talk about the role of the district superintendent in terms of assisting the general superintendent.  -  This is the very way in which the district and general superintendent talked about it.  -  In other words, district superintendents are assistants to the bishop (i.e., the general superintendent), but not a bishop, themselves.

When addressing the Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism in my original articles, I continued to acknowledge that identifying district superintendents as bishops in the Church of the Nazarene would certainly complicate relationships among American Methodist denominations.  While I listed a number of differences that already exist between the various Methodist bodies in the U.S., this change would certainly increase the number of those differences.  Further, it would make our system unique among American Methodists and further distance us from our Methodist heritage.

Finally, there was the issue of The Authority to Ordain.  It is clear that the authority to ordain is given to the office of the bishop.  In the Church of the Nazarene, the general superintendent has the authority to ordain, not the district superintendent.  I was frank in my article by saying that at that point I had difficulty in viewing Nazarene district superintendents as bishops.

And so, as I reflect back on my objections in light of my conversations with a district and a general superintendent, I have to say that I have been persuaded that my original opinion was correct.  One thing that those conversations add to this whole debate is the fact that our general superintendents clearly believe that they are bishops and that our district superintendents are assistants to the general superintendents.  That is to say, whatever one may wish, or whatever one may claim, the situation is that the Nazarene general superintendents are our bishops, while Nazarene district superintendents are not bishops, but rather assistants to our bishops . . . or, to use historic terminology, "presiding elders."

Nazarene General Superintendents/Bishops

*** My friend and colleague, the Rev'd. Tom Miles, just added a new piece to this issue, which I had not previously considered.  He commented on Facebook: "Not only is authority to ordain an essential element of the office of bishop, but so is the authority for guardianship and interpretation of the faith. In the Church of the Nazarene, general superintendents alone have both those authorities."  -  Thanks, Tom, for that added insight! (Added, 9-15-17)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Women in Holy Orders

This week, the College of Bishops for the Anglican Church in North America met in order to make a long anticipated recommendation for the church concerning the role of women in Holy Orders.  When the church formed, it was decided that it would not divide over the issue of women in Holy Orders, but would allow the various dioceses to determine for themselves whether or not women would be ordained to the diaconate or to the presbytery within that diocese.  From the very beginning the church operated with some bishops (notable, but not exclusively, those from the Reformed Episcopal Church) denying that women should be ordained, and other bishops supportive of women being ordained as priests.

From the beginning, the ACNA determined to put forth a study of this matter.  Recently, the study concluded and presented its findings to the bishops, and the bishops met together this past week in order to address where the church stood on this matter at this time.  Now, if the ACNA were to change its position in any fashion, it would take more than the word of the bishops.  (Of course, all of the bishops could have decided to refrain from ordaining women, and that would have, for all practical purposes, changed the position, though not dogmatically so.)

Not surprisingly, the bishops decided to continue as they have since the beginning.  Bishops who do not believe that women should be ordained will not ordain women and not have them serve as priests within their diocese.  Those who believe that women should be ordained, will continue to ordain women to the priesthood.  Additionally, it was determined that women would be barred from serving as bishops in the ACNA. 

You can read the statement, here.

Frankly, as I've stated elsewhere, I'm not sure what else they could have done if their goal was to keep the ACNA together.  Nor am I sure that this decision will accomplish this in the long run.  I have been told that those who oppose women in Holy Orders out number those who are in favor of ordaining women as priests.  Thus, if they were to try to make this practice province wide, they would likely not have enough votes to do so, and if they were able to, many would leave (all of the REC and others).  On the other hand, if they were to entirely bar women from being ordained, a good section of the ACNA (and that section, I am told, that is growing) would leave.  So, as long as they can live together with this decision, they hope to stay together.

My hope in this is that those who favor women's orders will be able to live with such passion and conviction for the orthodox faith, that those who are opposed to it will eventually find their fears allayed.  My hope is also that those who favor women's orders will continue to grow at such a rate that they become the vast majority within the province.  (Of course, if this happens, I wouldn't be surprised if those who are opposed would eventually split.)

At best, this is a compromised position.  I am thankful that my own denomination is in a different place on this matter.  In contrast to the episcopal statement by the ACNA college of bishops, listen to the following introduction by an episcopal leader in the Church of the Nazarene.

Below is a picture of the Board of General Superintendents (i.e., Bishops) for the Church of the Nazarene, taken at this Summer's General Assembly.  While I would prefer that they be in purple (or at least clericals!), I am thankful for my global denomination's diversity reflected in our BGS.

(Now, I wouldn't be surprised if, among the comments I may receive, there would be some about how women may preach but cannot be priests since there is a difference between the role of the prophet and that of the priest.  Let me just request that, if you are so inclined to comment, please demonstrate this distinction by pointing to support from the New Testament's understanding of the Christian priesthood.  Thank you, in advance.)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Who Am I?

Yesterday was the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scripture lessons for the day included Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; and Matthew 16:21-28.  I preached from the Old Testament passage which tells the story of Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush.

The Lord moved among us and blessed the reading and proclamation of the Word.  The audio of the sermon, Who Am I?, can be found here.  -  I pray that God might use it to encourage and challenge you!

(The Scripture lessons for next Sunday are: Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 148 & 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Collect for Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday's Collect is a great prayer!

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always
more ready to hear than we are to pray, and
art wont to give more than either we desire or
deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of thy
mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our
conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask, but through the
merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son, our
Lord.  Amen.
(From the Book of Common Prayer, John Wesley's The Sunday Service)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Conformed to the Likness of the God of Love

Above all, remembering that God is love, the Christian is conformed to the same likeness.  He is full of love to his neighbor: of universal love, not confined to one sect or party, not restrained to those who agree with him in opinions, or in outward modes of worship . . . but his love resembles that of Him whose mercy is over all His works.

(From John Wesley's A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity, as quoted in Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns.)

Advice from Charles Wesley When Seeing Sin in Others

Lord, save me from a worse extreme,
When sin in others I condemn.
Assist me first to lay aside
The spiteful bitterness of pride;
Reflecting on myself, to see
A soul not half so vile as me;
And then my neighbor to reprove
In meekness, humbleness, and love.
(#111 in Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns)
I would point out both the call for humbleness and the call to reprove in love.  That is to say, this is not the same thing as a harsh, judgmental rebuke.  Neither is it the same thing as accepting sin in our sisters and brothers because we recognize and accept it in ourselves.  This cuts down the straw man that is so often erected by those who want to embrace sin as being okay, and it destroys the judgmental position of pride by those who exhibit little humbleness, love or Christlikeness.

May we be those who heed Charles' advice.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Some Thoughts on Refugees/Immigrants and the Spread of the Gospel

Today, during Morning Prayer, I read from Acts 8.  What struck me about this chapter were verses 1 & 4-14.  This passage picks up immediately after the stoning of St. Stephen, and we are told that a severe persecution broke out upon the Church in Jerusalem so that all, except the apostles, were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.

Now, certainly, persecution is not a good thing.  And, just like my recent sermon about Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt, I would not say that God caused this persecution.  However, I would say that God certainly can transform and use all things (even evil things) for God's glory.  And so, with this persecution the Christians are "scattered" into areas where they otherwise (likely) would not have ventured.  And what was it that they did in those areas?  -  They spread the Gospel!  And people accepted Christ!

This passage reminds me of the take that some of our missionaries have had on the issue of the refugee crisis and massive immigration across our world.  While many Americans (and even, or especially, many American Evangelical Christians!) have reacted in a way that would hold these refugees at bay, our missionaries have had a very different reaction.  They have pointed out that for decades Evangelical Christians (at least Nazarenes, I know) have prayed and prayed for what we call the 10/40 window.  This is an area that includes countries where it is very difficult and usually illegal for missionaries to enter in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For decades Christians have prayed for access; for open doors in order for the Gospel to pierce this darkness.  -  AND NOW GOD HAS OPENED THE DOORS . . . by sending them to us!!!

And yet, we have failed to rejoice.  We have failed to thank God.  We have failed to see the vision of the Kingdom of God.  Instead, we have responded out of fear.  We have responded from a nationalistic perspective rather than a Kingdom perspective.

Now, of course, the balance is that it is understandable that, in this age of terrorism, people desire to seek the security of our nation.  But, as Christians, we cannot allow fear to dictate our response to refugees or immigrants, in general.  We must be reminded that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), and that we must not love our lives more than the Gospel.  We are called to take up our cross (Matthew 16: 24-26), and we know that doing so is not "safe."  We are, therefore, called to see these people for whom Christ died with Kingdom eyes; with the eyes of Jesus.  And so, we are called to seek every opportunity to share Jesus with them, and may they, like those in Judea and Samaria, come to know Christ and the grace of God!