Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Nazarene Example of Wesley's Catholic Spirit

The term Catholic Spirit, of course, refers to John Wesley's sermon with the same name. In this instance it speaks of the catholic or "universal" spirit that reaches out in Christlike love to all who own the name of Christ. It seeks unity in essentials* but liberty when it comes to "opinions." Methodists are called "to think and let think." In his sermon Wesley asks, "Though we can't think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?" Wesley was convinced that we may. He boldly declared, "'If thine heart is as my heart', if thou lovest God and all mankind, I ask no more: 'Give me thine hand.'"

It is sometimes pointed out that the Church of the Nazarene has been absent from much of the ecumenical dialogue that has abounded over the ages. This is something that I, personally, lament. - I am thankful that we are a denominational member of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Christian Holiness Partnership (which, at the moment, seems to have dissolved), and the World (and European) Methodist Council. (On a personal note, I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to represent the Church of the Nazarene as a denominational delegate to the Christian Holiness Partnership and the 2001 World Methodist Conference. Additionally, I am thankful for the role I was able to play that led to the Church of the Nazarene joining the WMC.) - Nevertheless, we have not been involved in the kind of dialogues carried out by the ecumenical movement.

I would suggest, however, that this fact is not an indication that we Nazarenes do not own Wesley's catholic spirit. I would suggest that, rather, it simply indicates that we have chosen (for good or bad) to express it differently.

We express such a spirit in the "Historical Statement" in our Manual (Book of Discipline), where we confess ourselves "to be a branch of the 'one, holy, universal, and apostolic' church . . ." There, we also state, "As its own people, [the Church of the Nazarene] embraces the people of God through the ages, those redeemed through Jesus Christ in whatever expression of the one church they may be found."

We express Wesley's catholic spirit in the "Preamble" to our "Church Constitution" in our Manual, as well. There we state that we set forth our constitution, etc. "In order that we may preserve our God-given heritage, the faith once delivered to the saints, especially the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification as a second work of grace, and also that we may cooperate effectually with other branches of the Church of Jesus Christ in advancing God's kingdom . . ." (italics mine). - This very thing, countless local congregations have faithfully done throughout our centennial.

This summer, during our district assembly, I witnessed another way in which we express this catholic spirit. It took place during the ordination service when the ordained elders were invited to the platform. As a church in the Methodist tradition, it has been our practice that our general superintendent (bishop) would lay hands on the ordinand and do the actual ordaining on behalf of the entire Church. However, as a part of that same tradition, those already ordained are invited to come and lay hands on the ordinand while the general superintendent is ordaining.

When it came time to invite all of the ordained ministers to come forward, our presiding general superintendent, the Rev'd. Dr. James Diehl, said (paraphrased), "All of the ordained ministers are invited to come, at this time . . ." There was a pause, and then he turned and said (again paraphrased), "And if you are a minister ordained in another denomination, and you would like, you are invited to come, as well. We do not believe we are the only ones!"

Oh, granted, some would be upset, because such an invitation precluded any formal theological/ecclesiological dialogue with whatever denominations may have been represented. Yet, while I would like to see us involved in those types of dialogues, I think Dr. Diehl expressed the heart of Wesley's catholic spirit. If you are a Christian (no litmus test given, here, but a broad evangelical understanding would have been assumed; i.e., the trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior), and you have been ordained (again, no checking into the rules of ordination or understanding of such ordination), you are invited to come and participate.

While such questions were not asked of those being invited to participate, Dr. Diehl's invitation does express something about our understanding of ordination. His statement expresses the fact that we Nazarenes (and all those in the Methodist tradition, I believe) are ordained as elders in Christ's Church, not simply our denomination. In fact, my ordination certificate declares that I am ". . . ordained an Elder in the Church of God according to the rules of the Church of the Nazarene."

Such an invitation to those of other denominations does not, however, suppose that our Board of Ministerial Credentials, would simply accept any and all ordination credentials from any and all denominations. That is another issue, but it does express an openness to and a willingness to join with our sisters and brothers in Christ as they stand in the integrity of their own particular tradition.

I have to confess, while I do lament our lack of official ecumenical involvement, I was proud that evening as our presiding general superintendent, the man who ordained me some twelve years prior, expressed Wesley's catholic spirit.

*It would, however, behoove those who quote Wesley in this day and age to go back and look at what he presupposed those essentials to be. There are those who are fond of quoting Wesley on this subject, who may, in fact, reject what he considered to be essentials. Such a sentiment sometimes ends up assuming that it does not matter what one believes about anything so long as one "loves" (in a sort of sentimental way). That, Wesley would reject.