Saturday, January 31, 2015

That's Roman Catholic!

This evening I was reading John Wesley's Plain Account of the Methodists in Volume 9 of The Works of John Wesley.  He was writing about those who complained about the "bands" of people who gathered together, confessed their sins to each other, and prayed and encouraged each other in their spiritual growth.  -  THIS WAS A GREAT PARAGRAPH!  -  I have a feeling that several people who read this blog will be able to relate to this paragraph:

"An objection much more boldly and frequently urged, is that 'all these bands are mere popery'. I hope I need not pass a harder censure on those (most of them at least) who affirm this, than that they talk of they know not what, that they betray in themselves the most gross and shameful ignorance. Do not they yet know that the only popish confession is the confession made by a single person to a priest? (And this itself is in no wise condemned by our Church; nay, she recommends it in some cases.)  Whereas that we practice is the confession of several persons conjointly, not to a priest, but to each other. Consequently, it has no analogy at all to popish confession. But the truth is, this is a stale objection, which many people make against anything they do not like. It is all popery out of hand."

When I read that, I said to myself, "Ain't it the truth! Things never change!  'That's Roman Catholic!'"

Of course, John Wesley was accused, on the one hand, of being an enthusiast (i.e., a fanatic), and, on the other hand, he was accused of being a Roman Catholic Jesuit.  -  Neither accusation were correct, but it is nice to know that I'm in good company!

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Review of "John Wesley In America: Restoring Primitive Christianity" by Dr. Geordan Hammond

Hammond, Geordan. John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity. Oxford University Press. 2014. (237 pages)

From Dr. Geordan Hammond comes the first book-length study of John Wesley’s ministry in America. . . . and it is fantastic! 
Geordan Hammond, Ph.D. is Director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre, and Senior Lecturer in Church History and Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College, and his most recent publication is the kind of book that “Wesleyan/Anglican” type folks will thoroughly devour.  It is true that it is not simply a book on liturgy, sacraments or worship.  However, most Wesleyans who would describe themselves as being “on the Canterbury trail”   John Wesley’s concern for continuity with the early Church is precisely what Geordan Hammond focuses on in this book.
Dr. Geordan Hammond
are interested in those things, at least in part, because they point us back to the practices of the early Church.

Many of Wesley’s biographers tend to overlook Wesley’s time in Georgia, or they have simply treated it as a failure.  Many nineteenth-century Methodists were guilty of “de-Anglicanizing” Wesley.  For them, the mission to Georgia’s real importance is as a backdrop leading to Wesley’s evangelical conversion at Aldersgate.  -  Hammond easily demonstrates the flaws in this perspective.

Hammond presents an abundance of evidence from Wesley’s own writings, as well as those of his contemporaries, showing that Wesley used the mission in Georgia as a laboratory for implementing his understanding of the primitive Church.  He argues that the desire to restore the doctrine, discipline, and practice of the early Church was the primary reason that Wesley took on the Georgia mission, and without that understanding, historians and theologians will not be able to adequately evaluate Wesley’s mission in America.

Hammond shows that Wesley’s ecclesiology matched that of the Usager Nonjurors.  Thus, like other High Churchmen, Wesley stressed the centrality of the sacraments in worship.  Further, Wesley’s views of the early Church are seen in his devotional discipline, sacramental doctrine and practice, and his conduct in leading worship.  He sought to imitate the practices of the primitive church through his revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, precise sacramental observance, confession, penance, ascetical discipline, the utilization of deaconesses, religious societies, and his mission to the Indians.

Further, Hammond demonstrates that this concern for continuity with the primitive Church did not end in Georgia.  Rather, it continued throughout John Wesley’s life.  Indeed, there were areas of change in Wesley’s understanding and practice, but he maintained his belief in the primitive Church as a normative model for Christian faith and practice. 

While the central argument of the book is that the ideal of restoring primitive Christianity was at the forefront of Wesley’s thinking and is crucial to interpreting the Georgia mission, a number of secondary themes are also found.  Hammond seeks to analyze Wesley in context as an Anglican clergyman rather than interpreting his Georgia mission as a “preface to victory.”  When possible, Hammond demonstrates the connection between Wesley’s reading and practice of primitive Christianity.  Third, he provides a fresh perspective on Wesley’s interaction with the colonists, Moravians, Lutheran Pietists, and Miss Sophia (!) by interpreting those relationships within the context of Wesley’s desire to renew primitive Christianity. 

In this work, Hammond also considers the primary documents written by Wesley and his contemporaries and evaluates those journals, diaries, letters, etc., with a particular view as to how other biographers have used or misused them.  Further, Hammond makes thorough use of sources seldom utilized by other Wesley biographers.

In order to accomplish his goals, Hammond divides the book into five chapters.  Chapter one investigates the influence of the concept of primitive Christianity on Wesley’s theology and practice prior to the Georgia mission.  Chapter 2 focuses on the theme of primitive Christianity on the voyage to Georgia.  Chapter 3 analyzes Wesley’s relationship with the Moravians and Lutheran Pietists through the lens of his devotion to his High Church Anglican understanding of primitive Christianity. 

It is in chapter four that Hammond focuses on the application of Wesley’s view of primitive Christianity in Georgia, proper.  Here we watch Wesley endeavor to imitate the practices of Christ and the early Church through his interest in prayer book revisions, sacramental observance, confession, penance, ascetical discipline, deaconesses, religious societies, and mission to the Indians.  Though Hammond shows that Wesley’s confidence in the early church councils and canons were diminished by the time he left Georgia, he nevertheless shows that his pursuance of the form and spirit of the primitive church remained.

In the final chapter we take a look at the opposition to Wesley’s ministry.  He was viewed by some as an enthusiast (or fanatic).  Others accused him of being Roman Catholic.  He was seen by many as being divisive.  Further, Hammond argues that the Sophia Williamson controversy is best understood within the context of opposition by male colonists to Wesley’s ministry to women, in general.

At the conclusion of the book, Hammond produces an evaluation of Wesley’s mission to Georgia that stands in sharp contrast to those who have claimed it to be a failure.  It is in this section that Hammond discusses continuity and discontinuity between Wesley’s views of primitive Christianity while in Georgia compared to his views later in life.  He clearly shows Wesley’s continuing interest in the Church Fathers and the primitive church as normative models for doctrine and practice, and that he was convinced that Methodism was the restoration of primitive Christianity.

One critical note:  Hammond seems to assume at a couple of points that those reading his book will come to it with a sufficient knowledge of English history, as well as an understanding of the identity of some of the “key players” in Wesley’s England.  He does get around to explaining who the Nonjurors are, for example, but one has to wait a bit for it.  This is not necessarily bad.  However, it may require a bit of patience for the uninformed.  Additionally, it may well spur on further investigation, which is always a good thing.

This book also raises some questions for Wesleyan/Anglican types, like me.  If Wesley was so convinced of the Usager points while in Georgia, and if he continued to be so committed to primitive Christianity (and I agree with both statements!), then what was it that caused him to so modify his views when it came time to produce “The Sunday Service”?  -  It is understandable that he would not include instructions about using a mixed chalice.  After all, he cuts out plenty of the instructional material from the BCP.  However, why did he not include clear oblation language or a clear epiclesis during the Eucharistic prayers? 

Those are some of the burning questions that I was left with after reading Hammond’s book.  -  I really wish that he would have answered those questions for me, but, alas, it seems that they were (frustratingly!) just beyond the scope of this work. 

As I indicated, this is a fantastic read!  It is a must for all students of John Wesley, and especially for those Wesleyan/Anglican types who read this blog.  (It is a bit pricey, but . . . ) I very highly recommend this book.  -  It is my hope that many 21st Century Wesleyan/Methodists will (re)discover Wesley’s commitment to continuity with the primitive Church and will adapt such a commitment for their lives and ministry.

For information on purchasing a copy of Dr. Hammond's book, please follow this link.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Infant Baptism IV: What Happens When Infants are Baptized?

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In my previous posts on this topic I have attempted to set the practice of Nazarenes baptizing infant children within historical context. I then gave some of the reasons why we Wesleyan/Methodist Christians do baptize our young children. - This final post in my series on Infant Baptism has already generated some discussion in the comments section, and I have already given enough away in that section so that readers already have a pretty good idea where I am headed in this post.

Let me begin by identifying what seems to be the most common thoughts by Nazarene theologians (in writing) concerning what happens in infant Baptism. I will attempt to do that by looking to the two most recent Systematic Theologies produced by Nazarene theologians.

In A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Beacon Hill P. '94), Kenneth Grider says, "Even as God entered into a covenant with the male infant who was circumcised on his eighth day of life, God enters into a covenant to give special helps to an infant who is baptized. - This leads to the suggestion that infant baptism affirms the doctrine of prevenient grace - so important as a doctrine for Arminian-Wesleyanism" (503).

Ray Dunning, in Grace Faith and Holiness (Beacon Hill P. '88), says, "This may be interpreted as saying that baptism is the ordinary (a term Wesley insisted on) means by which the child appropriates prevenient grace, which would nonetheless by efficacious apart from baptism even as adults may be born again without the administering of water" (548, second group of italics mine). - (I would mention that Ray Dunning was my Theology professor at Trevecca Nazarene University. I hold him in high esteem and credit him with being the first to introduce me to a more classical Wesleyan Theology . . . though, at this point I have to say, I think he missed it.)

And, finally, the ritual for "The Baptism of Infants or Young Children" in the Manual (the Nazarene Book of Discipline) states clearly, "While we do not hold that baptism imparts the regenerating grace of God . . . Christian baptism signifies for this young child God's gracious acceptance on the basis of His prevenient grace in Christ and points forward to his (her) personal appropriation of the benefits of the Atonement when he (she) reaches the age of moral accountability and exercises conscious saving faith in Jesus Christ" (p 236).

Thus, it becomes clear that most Nazarenes seem to identify the Baptism of infants as a means of proclaiming that prevenient grace is at work in the child.

There are a couple of problems with this position, from my perspective. First, (except in the case of Dunning, above) this position removes Infant Baptism from the category of sacrament. A sacrament for Wesleyan Christians is an outward sign of an inward grace and a means whereby we receive the same. In the position espoused above the Baptism of infants is no longer a means whereby grace is received, but rather merely a means of proclamation . . . that prevenient grace is already at work in the child. (Dunning manages to escape this trap by identifying Baptism as "the ordinary . . . means by which the child appropriates prevenient grace," even though he goes on to say that it would nevertheless be efficacious without Baptism.)

In addition to the problem of stripping Infant Baptism from its "sacramental status" is the issue of what "prevenient grace" refers to. - Certainly, it refers to God's grace that "goes before" we can do anything. And, in as much as that is true, Infant Baptism does proclaim the prevenient nature (at least) of grace. However, when speaking of prevenient grace, one usually refers to that grace that extends to all humanity due to the Atonement of Christ, which is at work in every sinner's heart, seeking to awaken, convict, convert, and sanctify, and granting us the gracious ability to respond to the call of the gospel (cf. An Introduction to Wesleyan Theology. Greathouse/Dunning. Beacon Hill P. '89. p 60 & 72). In the case of infants, what is essentially being said in baptism (according to the view espoused above) is that our children are "covered by the atonement" until they reach an age of moral accountability. - Keep in mind, this is true whether we baptize them or not. Infant Baptism is seen as simply proclaiming that particular aspect of God's grace.

The problem is that while the practice of Infant Baptism is consistent with Wesley, and the doctrine of prevenient grace is consistent with Wesley, the combining of those two doctrines in the way that Nazarenes have (above) is completely foreign to Wesley (and the ancient Church). In fact, such a view seems to have only recently originated within the Wesleyan-holiness tradition (though there may be evidence of it in some earlier Methodist writings).

So what was Wesley's view? - Frankly, Wesley believed that infants who were faithfully baptized were then and there regenerate and "born again." Wesley does not identify Baptism as being the same thing as the new birth. And he recognizes that a person may be "born of water," and yet not "born of the Spirit" (Staples 184). And, one may experience being "born of the Spirit" by faith prior to Baptism, as seen in Acts. However, of infants Wesley says, ". . . all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again . . ." (Wesley's Works 6:74).

Such a view does not mean that the child does not need to "own the faith" for his/herself when they are old enough to do so. They, like all of us, must do so. Neither does it mean that they cannot fall from grace (as in a kind of "once baptized, always saved" idea). It is also important to note that Wesley rejects a mechanical ex oper operato doctrine. Rather we are called to bring our children to the sacrament of Baptism with faith in Christ.

I am of the opinion that John Wesley's view is more consistent with that of the Church Fathers, and I am in full agreement with him on this point.

Now, how does a Nazarene maintain such a position? If I were a United Methodist, the answer would be simple: Wesley's Standard Sermons are a part of their doctrinal standards, and Wesley, there, espouses this position. But we Nazarenes do not have that standard listed in our Manual. - Nevertheless, I would maintain that such a view is not contrary to our Articles of Faith (though it certainly is not espoused there). I recall a very helpful conversation with a former professor of mine concerning the sacraments. I ask him how he reconciled his own views with the Manual's so very weak (sacramentally speaking) statements on The Lord's Supper. He replied that he believed our Manual statement . . . he believed "at least that much." - My views on infant Baptism, I think, fall into the same category.

It is true, however, that our ritual for infant Baptism seems to outright deny Wesley's position as even a possibility. In order to make it compatible one would have to invoke a technicality that says Baptism does not impart regenerating grace; God imparts regenerating grace through Baptism. But it must be admitted that the intent of the ritual is to rule out such a view.

I take solace in knowing that we are not bound by the rituals in our Manual, and thus not by doctrinal positions placed there which are absent from our Articles of Faith. This is illustrated in a number of ways. First, with the exception of the ritual for membership, the Manual does not require the use of our rituals. Second, it was the Manual Editing Committee that commissioned Dr. Jesse Middendorf (now General Superintendent) to write The Church Rituals Handbook, which our publishing house produced. And finally, if our rituals are not used at our General Assembly by certain of our own General Superintendents, it surely means that we are not require to use them.

Therefore, while I may be awfully lonely, I believe myself to still fall within Nazarene boundaries when espousing Wesley's view of infant Baptism.

One final clarifying note on adult baptisms: such a view of infant Baptism does not imply that every adult who is baptized is thereby "born again." In the case of adults, the call is still to exercise faith in Christ, to repent and to be baptized. Also, while it may be maintained that Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation (i.e., a person may be "born again" prior to being baptized), nevertheless it must also be recognized that it is a command of our Lord, and the New Testament knows nothing of "unbaptized Christians."

Infant Baptism III: Why Wesleyans/Methodists Baptize Infants

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In this post I do not intend to list all of the reasons why those of us in the Methodist tradition baptize infants. What I intend to do is briefly rehearse four of the reasons John Wesley gave. I find each of these to be strong arguments, but combined, I think them irrefutable arguments for infant Baptism (though I'm sure that my Baptist brothers and sister would disagree).

Prior to looking at these arguments, I want to make it clear that the Church of England affirmed the practice of infant baptism in its Articles of Religion, as well as in its rituals. So, too, Wesley not only followed the practice (having, of course, experienced it for himself in infancy), but passed the practice on to American Methodism through his Articles of Religion and the rituals of The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. The Church of the Nazarene, from its beginning, likewise retained the practice in its Articles of Faith and rituals as found in the Manual (our Book of Discipline).

In his "Treatise on Baptism," Wesley sets forth his reasons for retaining the catholic (i.e., universal) Christian practice of baptizing infants of Christian parents. For a thorough understanding of Wesley's thoughts on the matter, I commend his "Treatise" as found in the Jackson Edition of Wesley's Works vol. 10:188f. (Unless I've overlooked it, the Bicentennial/Oxford edition of the Works has not yet published a volume containing this "Treatise.")

The first compelling argument focuses on the covenant of God and the God given sign of the covenant. - It is clear from the Old Testament that the mark of the covenant was circumcision. All of the requirements of the Abrahamic covenant would seem to imply that infant children would be incapable of entering such a covenant. And yet, it is quite clear from Deut. 29:10-12 that "little ones" entered into covenant with God. Further, the mark of the covenant, viz., circumcision, was performed when the infant was only eight days old. Thus, it is clear that infant children of faithful Jews entered into the covenant with God through circumcision.

St. Paul identifies circumcision (the mark of the "old" covenant) and Baptism (the mark of the "new" covenant) in Col. 2:11-12. Baptism is now the sacrament of initiation into the covenant of God through Christ. Thus, there is in Scripture a continuity within the covenant before and after Christ, but through Christ, circumcision is replaced by Baptism. Wesley concludes "Infants are capable of entering into covenant with God. As they always were, so they still are, under the evangelical covenant. Therefore, they have a right to baptism, which is now the entering seal thereof" (10:195). - The continuity between the covenant mark of circumcision and Baptism is a strong argument for baptizing infant children of Christian parents.

The next argument I find compelling looks to Matthew 19:13-14 and Luke 18:15. There we see infant children being brought to Jesus. When the disciples tried to stop this from happening, Jesus rebuked His disciples. Jesus goes on to declare "it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." In fact, Jesus tells us "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." Thus, "infants are capable of coming to Christ [and ] of admission into the Church . . ." (10:195). - If Jesus makes the point that the kingdom belongs (uniquely) to these young children, and that we must enter the kingdom like them, then surely they should bear the kingdom mark in Baptism. Wesley concludes that infant children ought to be brought to Christ and admitted to the Church through the initiatory sacrament of Baptism.

The third and fourth compelling arguments focus on the tradition of the ancient Church. - Wesley argues that if the apostles baptized infants, then we must do the same. This proposal holds utmost strength, for me. - The problem is the New Testament does not give explicit proof that the apostles did baptize infants. However, Wesley is aware that the Jews baptized all infant children of proselytes. Since this was the practice, since Jesus and the apostles knew this practice, and since Jesus did not instruct the disciples otherwise (in addition to Jesus' clear teachings cited above), it seems very likely that the apostles would have baptized infant children of Christian converts. Further, the Scripture does record the instances of entire households being baptized. This is a term that would include any infants of that household. Finally, Wesley points to the words of St. Peter which, upon instructing the people to be baptized, declares "For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away . . ." (Acts 2:39 NRSV italics mine).

As an extension of the previous argument, Wesley's final compelling argument turns to the practice of the catholic (i.e., universal) Church. He argues that if the Baptism of infants was "the general practice of the Christian Church in all places and in all ages, then this must have been the practice of the Apostles, and, consequently, the mind of Christ" (10:197). Wesley goes on to list the Church Fathers as witnesses to the Church's practice of infant Baptism in all places and all times. Further he cites those Fathers who explicitly affirm that the practice was handed down by the holy apostles, themselves. And the Church has continued to baptize infant children of Christian parents to this day. (For more on this point, cf., my previous post.)

As I've stated, each of these arguments provide a strong rational for the practice of infant Baptism, but, when combined, they seem to me to be irrefutable. There are, undoubtedly, other arguments employed by Wesleyan/Methodist Christians for baptizing our children, but these four I find more than sufficient to settle the question.

In my next post in this series, I will turn to the question of what I believe is going on in the baptism of our infant children.

Infant Baptism II: Nazarene Practice in Historical Context

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

A couple of words before I proceed: First, I'm discovering that this blogging deal is not quite like writing a term paper! The venue seems to demand a bit more brevity, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of footnoting in the few blogs that I've checked out. That being said, a great place to read up on the shaping of Nazarene baptismal practice is in Stan Ingersol's article, "Christian Baptism and the Early Nazarenes: The Sources that Shaped a Pluralistic Baptismal Tradition," Wesleyan Theological Journal. vol. 25, Number 2, Fall 1990. - And now, on with the article . . .

In the "Historical Statement" of the Nazarene Manual (our Book of Discipline) it is stated that the Church of the Nazarene has ". . . taken care to retain and nurture identification with the historic church in its . . . administration of the sacraments . . ." So, we begin there, with the historic Church.

Infant baptism has been documented as being practiced and considered valid since as early as the 2nd century. Tertullian's writings at the turn of the second and third centuries are the earliest writings that we have that make explicit mention of infant baptism. Significantly, he argued against it. Equally significant, his argument was not based upon it being a "new invention," or that it was less than valid. Quit the opposite. Tertullian's arguments against infant baptism assumed that it was indeed real, valid, Christian baptism. His argument was based upon the concern that sins committed after baptism might not be forgiven. In fact, he not only argued against infant baptism, but against baptism prior to marriage (in case one might fall into sexual sin, before marriage). Tertullian's concern would logically call us all to put off baptism until near death. - Nevertheless, what we find as early as the end of the second century is clear documentation of the practice of Christian parents baptizing their infant children.

Within thirty years of Tertullian's writings, Hyppolytus in the West, and Origen in the East both identified infant baptism as the norm for Christian parents. Further, they both considered the practice to be of apostolic origin. (cf., The Water that Divides. Bridge & Phypers. Mentor P. 1998.) Of course, there is further evidence of infant baptism in the early Church. There is the testimony given by Polycarp, whose life overlapped that of the apostles, themselves. And then with the explicit writings of the early Fathers identifying infant baptism being of apostolic origin, there are the implicit writings in Scripture, itself; the "household" baptisms recorded in Scripture, along with Jesus' words to let the little children come to Him, for to such belong the Kingdom of God.

From these beginnings, the catholic (universal), orthodox Church has continually affirmed infant baptism. In fact, even today, with the popularity of rituals of infant dedication in evangelical circles (a practice that only dates to the 16th century), the vast majority of Christian parents around the planet have their children baptized. (e.g., Roman Catholics, Orthodox, those in the Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Reformed traditions nearly universally baptize infants or at least provide for their baptism. Only those whose roots are found in the Anabaptist-Restorationist traditions or the Pentecostal-Charismatic traditions tend to reject infant baptism.) - Those Nazarenes that baptize young children stand firmly in the broad catholic tradition.

The Church of the Nazarene is connected to the early Church through Anglicanism. It is connected to Anglicanism by way of John Wesley through Methodism and the Holiness Movement of the 19th century. While it is uncertain the exact position of the southern branch that merged to form the Church of the Nazarene, it is clear that infant baptism was, at the very least, allowed in the other two merging branches. It also seems likely that it was at least allowed in the southern branch, as well, since it too emerged from a Methodist context, and since the practiced mode of baptism in that branch was pouring.

What is certain is that, like the other churches in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, from the very beginning, the united denomination included infant baptism in its Articles of Faith on Baptism. That is not to imply that everyone in the united denomination agreed with infant baptism or practiced it (some came from Quaker or Anabaptist backgrounds), but it did mean that they were willing to be a part of a denomination that included it in its Articles of Faith. From the very beginning until this day, the Manual has included a ritual for baptizing infant children. In our earliest days, founding general superintendents (Wesley's term for bishops) Phineas Bresee and Hiram Reynolds, along with early general superintendents Roy Williams, J.B. Chapman, and John Goodwin, were sought after to baptize infants at district assemblies. Such was the prevalence of the practice.

But, alas, the tide has changed somewhat in the Church of the Nazarene. The denomination has been impacted by those who embraced the biblical doctrine and experience of entire sanctification as taught by Wesley, but who came out of an Anabaptist background. More recently Nazarenes have been hugely impacted by the dominance of the Southern Baptists in evangelical circles. Those impacts were reflected in the Manual in 1936 when a ritual for "The Dedication or Consecration of Children" appeared along side the one for infant baptism ". . . for use in those cases where the parents . . . do not care to have children baptized but simply dedicated . . ." - To this day, the Manual includes both ritual options (though the preface of the latter has been removed.) Further, with the "baptisification" of the denomination, infant dedication has become the dominate preference. In fact, it is so dominant that many Nazarenes have never seen a baby baptized and have no idea that we do baptize babies.

Still, there is something of a resurgence (perhaps still small in size) in the area of sacraments in the Church of the Nazarene. This is owed largely to the wonderful work of Rob L. Staples' book, Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality (Beacon Hill 1991). - While I do not look for the Dedication of Infants to ever go away (it will remain a valid option within the denomination), it is my hope that the practice of our spiritual forefather, John Wesley, and that of the historic Church; that practice which I believe to be of apostolic origin, will continue to (re)gain momentum within the Church of the Nazarene so that our children might gain the benefits of the grace of God poured out through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Infant Baptism: The Beginning of a Topic

*** A recent Facebook discussion among pastors on my (Nazarene) district, has prompted me to re-post a four part series on Infant Baptism.  This series was originally posted in 2008.***

In my previous post on The Great Triduum, I mentioned that during our main service of Easter Worship at Grace Church of the Nazarene, I had the great privilege of baptizing. The person that I baptized was a nine-month old little boy. His parents, having previously been baptized, also took the opportunity to renew their own baptismal vows.

It was a wonderful and joyous time. The church was packed with people (not a few of whom were family members of the child being baptized)! Of course, there was the cuteness factor! The little boy slept through most of the ritual . . . until the water was poured on his head! Then he awoke with three little sneezes. The congregation laughed and awed.

But beyond the cuteness factor, there was great meaning in that part of worship; meaning for the parents and their extended family; meaning for the congregation, and, indeed, the entire Body of Christ; and meaning for that little nine-month old child. - There was meaning, not only because the people involved filled the event with their own perceived meaning, but there was meaning, because God was there and at work through that Holy Sacrament.

In talking about baptizing that nine-month old, it strikes me that not everyone out there knows why we baptize babies. In fact, it strikes me that there are countless members of my own denomination that don't even know that we do baptize babies (I used to be one of them, prior to college!), because the ritual of Infant Dedication has often replaced the sacrament of Baptism for infants in many Nazarene settings. (A fact which I, personally, lament.) Therefore, I hope to write a series of posts during the upcoming days concerning infant baptism. - I hope to briefly put the practice of Nazarenes baptizing babies in historical context. I will explain why I, and other Wesleyan/Methodist Christians, practice infant Baptism. And I will touch on what I believe is going on in the sacrament of infant Baptism.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

James Varick, Founding Bishop of the AME Zion Church

(The following is one of the hagiographies I contributed to For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations, Second Edition.  Edited by Heather Josselyn-Cranson.)
James Varick, founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, was born in Orange County, near Newburgh, New York in 1750.[1] His mother had been a slave of the Varicks before being freed. Richard Varick, James’ father, was baptized in the Dutch church of Hackensack, New Jersey, where he was born in 1720. Later, he and his family moved to the City of New York.[2]  

James received an elementary education in New York City. At sixteen, he joined the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church.[3] It was the first Methodist Church to be erected in the City of New York. By 1796 the John Street Church contained a large number of members of African descent. However, they experienced caste prejudice keeping them from participating in the sacrament until after all of the white members had been served. In addition, they were denied various other church privileges. Thus, the organization of an African Methodist Church seemed to be needed.[4]  

In 1796 James Varick led the organization of the very first African Methodist Episcopal Church. The first African Methodist Episcopal Church building was erected in 1800. It was named Zion. Later, out of respect for her, the connection took the name, Zion, as well. Thereby, the denomination became known as the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.[5]  

In 1821, in the Zion Church, the first annual conference of the AMEZ Church was held. The meeting was presided over by the Reverend William Phoebus of the Methodist Episcopal Church. On June 17, during the conference James Varick, along with Abraham Thompson and Leven Smith, were ordained by white Methodist elders. Varick became Supervisor (later called bishop) of the denomination on July 30, 1822.[6]

In addition to his role in the AMEZ Church, Varick ran a school in his home, later moving it to the church. He became the first chaplain of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, and he was a vice-president of the African Bible Society. Varick was also involved in petitioning the state for the right of Blacks to vote. Bishop James Varick died at his home on July 22, 1827.[7]
[1] McMickle, Marvin Andrew. “From slavery to bishop, James Varick.” An Encyclopedia of African American Christian Heritage. Judson Press, 2002. The African American Registry. 26 May 2006. < bishop_James_Varick.>.
[2] Wheeler, Benjamin F., The Varick Family. Mobile, AL., 1907, pp. 43-5.
[3]“July 30, 1822: James Varick Became the First Bishop of the Zion Methodists.” Staff or associates of Christian History Institute. 1999-2006. Christian History Institute. 5 June 2006. <>.
[4] Speaks, Bishop Ruben L., “African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.” World Methodist Council Handbook of Information. 1997-2001. p. 29 Lake Junaluska, NC: The World Methodist Council.
[5] Mead, Frank S. Revised by Samuel S. Hill. “African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Handbook f Denominations In the United States. 10th Ed. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995.
[6] McMickle.