Friday, March 5, 2010

Slowly But Surely; "Official" Sacramental Progress For The Church Of The Nazarene

This week I received my copy of the new 2009-2013 Manual (the Nazarene Book of Discipline). The new Manual, with all that was enacted by last summer's General Assembly, became official for the denomination as of the first of this month.

I realize that I covered many of the resolutions during the time leading up to and shortly following the General Assembly. In fact, I wrote several resolutions. (They can be viewed, here.) However, with the new Manual now in the hands of pastors and laity, I wanted to highlight two changes about which I am quite excited.

The first highlight comes under "The core duties of a pastor," at 413.9. It now states:

"To administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper at least once a quarter. Pastors are encouraged to move toward a more frequent celebration of this means of grace. . . ." (Emphasis mine, indicating the new material.)

Now, for those who read my blog building up to the Assembly, you have seen this language before. It comes from, and is a result of, my resolution. You may also recall that much of the material in the resolution was amended out. (The full resolution may be viewed, here.)

I confess that I am disappointed that the full resolution was not adopted. However, I am quite happy that the new sentence has been added, and I would highlight two important aspects of the new sentence:

First, the General Assembly and the Manual now officially encourage pastors to a more frequent celebration of the sacrament. Most of the readers of this blog know that the Church of the Nazarene inherited the frontier practices of early Methodism. John Wesley ordained for American in order to provide the sacraments for American Methodists. He instructed elders to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day. However, the number of clergy and the distance between churches on each circuit necessitated each congregation receiving the sacrament on a quarterly basis. That unfortunate accident of history became the norm for most in the Methodist tradition, including the Church of the Nazarene. However, now, the Manual has encouraged pastors to move toward a more frequent celebration! - It is no place near a call to a celebration every Lord's Day, but it is a sure step forward. As such, it is reason to celebrate!

(As an interesting aside, through 1923, the Manual included the following concluding sentence in the Article on the Lord's Supper: "Of the obligation to partake of the privileges of this Sacrament as often as we may be providentially permitted, there can be no doubt." I don't have a full collection of Manuals, so I don't know exactly when or why the sentence was dropped, but it does not appear in the 1936 Manual.)

The second aspect that I would like to highlight is the use of the term means of grace in reference to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Now, that might seem obvious (and really it is!), however, it is interesting to note that that language has, thus far, (at least as far as I can recall) only been used in one other place in the Manual. That is found in our "The Covenant of Christian Character" (formerly known as "The General Rules"). At that point, reference was made to ". . . the means of grace, including the public worship of God . . . the ministry of the Word . . . the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-30) . . ." Now, it is significant that the General Rules listed the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace, in as much as the General Rules are not just a part of the Manual, but also a part of the Constitution, itself.

Above, I said that this identification should be obvious. We have, after all, consistently referred to Baptism and the Lord's Supper as, not just ordinances, but as sacraments. The term sacrament, in a Wesley context (and the Church of the Nazarene is a Wesleyan context) means something! Further, we have been identified as a "means of grace" tradition in various places, including the book, Articles of Faith, which Nazarene Publishing House put out to explain the Articles. The various systematic theologies produced in the denomination, including the officially sanctioned Grace, Faith and Holiness by H. Ray Dunning, also identify the sacraments as means of grace. And, of course, Rob Staples' Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments In Wesleyan Spirituality thoroughly identifies the Wesleyan understanding of the sacraments.

Nevertheless, it can be easily demonstrated that our Articles of Faith on the sacraments are the weakest (sacramentally speaking) of the three largest Wesleyan(Methodist) - holiness denominations (viz., the Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, and the Free Methodist Church; though the Church of God, Anderson is a larger holiness church, their theology of the sacraments is foreign to the Methodist understanding). Though the Lord's Supper is identified as a sacrament in the Article, if taken out of it's Wesleyan context, one might argue that it is memorialist. Of course, even so, as my Sacramental Theology professor once said of the Article, "Certainly I believe it. I believe at least that much!" (paraphrased from memory).

So, it becomes a reason to celebrate any time the Manual makes explicit that the sacraments are "means of grace."

That leads to the second highlight I wanted to cover. The new (extensively re-worked) Article on "Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification" includes these added words at its conclusion, "Participating in the means of grace, especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church, believers grow in grace and in wholehearted love to God and neighbor" (emphasis mine).

This is the first time an Article of Faith has identified the sacraments as "means of grace," and as a means of growing in grace and holiness. Again, as I have stated, this language would not be surprising to any informed Nazarene. There would be no reason, whatsoever, to even bat an eye at it. It goes without saying, that is what we believe. The problem is, it has gone without saying within the Articles of Faith, all of this time. Finally, in the Article on Sanctification (if not in the Articles on the sacraments!), we do say it!

This may be grounds for working on a resolution for next quadrennium to include more explicit language within the two Articles on the sacraments. However, one always has to be cautious about such things, because one never knows what kind of amendments to the resolutions might be offered and passed. We could end up far worse off!

There were, of course, disappointing things at the General Assembly, but in light of these positive moves, I am rejoicing for our slowly but surely "official" sacramental progress! - Thanks be to God!


D. Straw said...

This is great news. I have picked up from Indiana Wesleyan that there is a movement among many to link back to their Anglican roots. John and Charles would be very proud I think!

Todd Stepp said...

Perhaps "many" is a bit of an overstatement, but at least among some.

My guess is that the service that you attended at IWU was using Wesley's The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, rather than the 1662 Prayer Book. That, of course, is Wesley's adaptation of the 1662 BCP.

Glad to have been with you all, yesterday. Sorry I had to leave early.


Daniel McLain Hixon said...

When I was in seminary at SMU I knew one or two Nazarenes that were interested in reclaiming the Anglican roots of our Wesleyan tradition. Certainly there are plenty of us United Methodists interested in doing so; and plenty that are not so interested too.