The Walls Are Moving
Our communion wafers are not organic.
I know some Nazarenes who don’t seem to care.
I’ve grown up hearing in the Church of the Nazarene how our beliefs about holiness make us distinctive, set apart. We have this strong doctrine which helps us know who we are, how God works, and from where we’ve come.
However, when it comes to putting that into practice, my contemporaries who crave authenticity, significance and connection, have found our distinctive doctrine to be shallow and convoluted. It doesn’t matter what you say if you can’t back it up with what you do. They crave a holiness orthopraxy that is as strong as our orthodoxy.
I must admit that I do too.
The walls are moving for us Nazarenes. The picture is no longer static. We have been made to open ourselves up to a different contextual story. We sit as the big picture moves by us. We experience joy and sadness, anxiety and comedy. At the end, we are still sitting in the same seat, but everything has changed.
Things used to happen one way. Now, the very same things done in the very same way have very different social connotations. Where we used to be addressing the social problems of our day, now we have lost track of where we are and what the problems really are.
On some level, we are aware of our need for change. Incrementally we have transitioned. After rightly losing our “no” to jewelry, movies, make-up, and dancing, we should wonder what should we say “no” to now. What should we say “yes” to? When we are not all plain-faced and rhythmless, how are we then to be set apart?
Our contextual walls are changing, but they are not the only ones. Church walls are moving too.
This makes some of us very nervous.
I used to hear testimonies within four drab, whitish, holy walls that sounded like this, “I want to praise God because I was saved and sanctified 40 years ago, and I haven’t sinned since then.”
Now, I tend to spend more time within dimly lit, exposed brick walls of old buildings. The testimonies I hear here are different. “I know I can’t do what all I want to do perfectly. It makes me feel guilty that I can’t do it, because I know it matters to God and to the world.”
Both are the Church of the Nazarene.
So what now? How do we wrestle with, smooth over, rectify and explain our differences? Where are we as a church if our practice is lost, if our words are different, and if our practical identity is lacking?
How is God calling us here and now to follow him so radically, to surrender to him so fully, that we live out our doctrine of holiness? How do we come to a place where our orthopraxy is once again as strong as our orthodoxy when it comes to holiness?
My husband and I co-pastor a church that we started five years ago.
Apparently we are hipsters, though I am pretty sure we were just trying to be Nazarenes when they started calling us that.
Wikipedia has a definition of hipster that includes associations like, “non-mainstream fashion sensibility,” “organic and artisanal foods,” and “Bohemians who reside in gentrifying neighborhoods.”1 These are fancy code words for: we shop at thrift stores, grow our own food and intentionally live in communities alongside the poor. It’s not glamorous, and sometimes it’s not pretty, but apparently it is trendy right now.
We have this deep-seated belief that carries us forward: we believe that God cares about every part of our lives.
As this foundation of belief works its way through me, I realize the irony of being dedicated, baptized and ordained in the Church of the Nazarene. The beautiful and distinctive doctrine of holiness became language I would eventually use to describe the holistic work of God I was experiencing in my community and life. Somewhat naively, I started to associate this as the normal outworking of entire sanctification, the Spirit moving me to action.
Imagine my surprise to find that this was not the normative way of talking about the practical application of entire sanctification. In fact, in the presence of experienced Nazarene pastors, you would think that I was an alien from another world talking about entire sanctification this way.
Pastors can get on board with serving the poor and eating with neighbors, but when you start talking about marches against Monsanto and using cloth diapers, they get a little disoriented.
We are not accustomed to the scope of God’s work in our lives impacting our diaper choices.
I am suggesting that it should.
Approximately 27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the United States and it is estimated that it takes between 250 and 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose in a landfill2.
The world is dying, and we are killing it. People are dying across the world because we don’t help them. Whole species are dying, and we didn’t even know they existed.
It seems trite to point out that God cares about what we do, say and think.
It seems whimsical to mention Jesus’ quote about the hairs on our heads being numbered.
Do we not already know as a settled fact that God wants to redeem every part of our lives?
God cares about everything; this is what we are talking about when we talk about holiness. In other words, everything we do matters to God. He cares about the choices we make because he cares about everything that our choices impact. The world’s sustainability… the people to come… our families… His soil… our bodies… our neighbors… the poor…
He has a vested interest in things turning out well. His kingdom is coming, and it is one of wholeness, goodness, health, beauty, peace, love and God. What we do here and now can bring His Kingdom a little closer or it can push it a little further away.
This is where I get hipster (Nazarene?) on you.
So that means everything matters:
How our food is grown matters.
If workers are paid a fair wage matters.
Saving endangered species matters.
It matters if we fill up landfills with billions of baby diapers.
How you spend your money matters.
What you do with your body matters.
It matters if you use a sword (aka gun) or a plowshare.
The example you set for others matters.
What bank you call your own matters.
How you treat your neighbors matters.
What you do with your time matters.
Freeing slaves and rehabilitating prisoners matters.
I dare you to name something that doesn’t matter to God.
Christians have lived for long enough thinking evil thoughts like, “That is not God’s work,” “This world is only temporary, we don’t need to save it,” and “What I do won’t make a difference.”
These are not things Jesus would have said.
If we, in the Church of the Nazarene, could finally start to believe that holiness is really about living a life of wholeness, then we would change the world with God. If our “distinctive doctrine” started to be translated as insistence that God cares about every part of our lives, then we would start to look very different from everyone else. We might shop in thrift stores to be able to afford to give clothes to those who need them. We might start to grow our own food as a way to connect to the soil and educate our neighbors about how they can free themselves from a corrupt system. We might create alternative societies where people have common possessions and pay off each other’s debts. A life of wholeness will allow us to conceive an idea, draw out some blueprints and find out where the walls are going to be built again for the right practice of our orthodoxy.
A life of holiness will allow us to do really weird things that no one can explain, but everyone wants to be a part of.
So, then I implore you Nazarenes: stand up for wholeness! We have a calling here to live a life, empowered by the Spirit of God to be a unique and refreshing voice to our world.
If, in the deconstruction of our old orthopraxy, we would be renewed in the light of what God is doing here and now and join with Him, we could literally change the world. If the 2,263,249 (and counting) Nazarenes in the world could agree that everything matters and work together to make a difference, the Kingdom might just start to roll in.
Our lines may not always be drawn in the same place, but if we allow God to choose where he wants to build the walls for his church, if we are humble enough to be led into all truth, miracles might happen. God might actually choose to use us once again to be a distinctive voice - calling the world to the most authentic, holistic and loving God there is.
This essay is part of the Renovating Holiness Project. Emily has been a pastor, along with her husband Caleb, in Nashville, Tennessee for the past five years. Her other occupation is in the non-profit sector where she works in marketing and fund development. Her daughter, Story DeAnn, was born in May of 2013. She defines herself as a wife, mother, witness, advocate and adventurer who loves good coffee, authentic conversations, creativity and community.