Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why I Am a Nazarene: Reason Number 4, We Believe in Free Will, and Can Even Believe in An Open God

Again, I am admitting in these posts that I am an Open theist. To many that is no surprise. I first read The Openness of God about seven years ago and have explored the possibilities and probabilities since. Now, not all Nazarenes are Open theists, but many of us are. Open theism is very agreeable with our Arminian heritage. Because as Nazarenes we believe in free will, we can have a very open view of God.

As we were created in God's image, and God is free to do that which he cannot do without ceasing to be God, we too were given the ability to choose right and wrong. We are free and morally responsible beings (article 7), just as God is free. God is not bound by anything. As an Open theist, I would say that God is not bound by anything, even the future.

Because of this free will that we have, the future is partly open. God has chosen to partner with his created, otherwise, why would he go to all the trouble to redeem us. God, in his sovereignty, chose to allow us to have free will, thus limitting his own knowledge of the future. God knows what he will do, and knows what we will probably do, but allows us to choose that future, and allows himself to change his mind as well as to how he will do what he will do.

We see this extreme freedom throughout scripture. There are numerous instances where God changes his mind (Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, etc.), changes the way he does certain things, etc. How many times did he decide to destroy Israel and then changed his mind? This is one way in which we see that the future is not determined out right.

Logically, as an Open theist, I do not even say that God knows what I will do. He knows me better, certainly, than anyone else, but doesn't know for sure what I will choose to wear in the morning. If he were to know, that perhaps I am going to wear a button up, then I cannot be free to choose a rugby. Because who am I to go against God's knowledge, and therefore determination of the future? If God knows the future exhaustively, then it must be determined. Whereas if God knows what he will do and has limited himself to the knowledge of what we all might do, then we have true freedom.

In Most Moved Mover, Clark Pinnock writes, "God is the God of hope and we share in his hopefulness. The end is in view, though the precise route to it is open and subject to circumstances" (Pinnock 53). God knows what he's doing, and who are we to question his freedom and right to allow his creatures to affect him?

I am a Nazarene, because within its doctrine I am free to understand God as he has revealed himself to me (scripture, reason, tradition, and experience). We have freedom because we are created in his image and because we are created in his image, the future is partly open.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Why I Am a Nazarene: Reason Number 3, We Baptize Infants

Peadobaptism is a touchy subject with some Christians. Nazarenes handle it with finesse. We decided a long time ago as Wesleyans and Holiness peoples came together that we weren't going to risk splintering the church along certain lines. Therefore, we both baptize infants and we dedicate. I am a Nazarene because we value children, even infants, enough to allow them the grace of baptism.

Baptism is not merely a symbol, if we believed that, we would not be Wesleyan. Baptism, because it is a sacrament, is a means of grace. It is a sacred event by which God bestows his grace to both the catechumen and the congregation. The Church of the Nazarene recognizes that God's grace is even given to infants.

But why do we insist that it's okay to baptize infants, they don't even understand it? Many, even Nazarenes, insist that the catechumen understand baptism before receiving it. It is as though God's grace must be understood by the receiver before God can give it (and who in their right mind would put this limitation on a free God?). Who is to say any adult understands baptism? Most don't know what a sacrament is, yet God gives his grace freely through the sacred event of baptism. Requiring a person have faith before they are baptised is to miss the point of baptism as a means of grace. Baptism calls us to faith. Requiring the faith to which baptism calls us before we are baptised would be to set up a new works-righteousness, and really nobody wants that.

When we understand that baptism calls us to the faith that God gives us, we begin to see that to deny infants the waters of baptism would be to deny God from giving his grace and faith even to an infant. I am a Nazarene because we love children/infants enough to understand that God graces them as much as, if not more than, he graces us.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Why I Am a Nazarene: Reason Number 2, We Aren't Fundamentalists, but We'll Sit in the Pew Next to One

Now that I've thoroughly bashed things Funda-Reformed, I would like to give balance to yesterday's reason. I love the church of the Nazarene and I am a Nazarene precisely because an Open theist such as me can sit in the pew next to a Fundamentalist. Not only can we sit in the pew next to one another, but we can share/receive Holy Eucharist together, praise be to God Almighty.

It is extraordinary that the Christ of Our Lord chose disciples of such varying background. Christ called together the tax collector and the zealot, and we know that for the most part they lived, worked, ministered, and worshiped well together. Imagine the love and grace it must have taken for Jesus to bring together such opposing personalities. Yet he is at work in us today. Lion and lamb next to each other in the same pew, worshiping in faith community with one another.

Despite my impassioned plea against the verbal/epistemological inerrancy of fundamentalism, I will make room in the seat next to me any day. This is what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Why I Am a Nazarene: Reason Number 1, We Are Wesleyan, Not Fundamentalists

I love my church. Locally, for the most part and certainly in my situation, it cares deeply for its pastors. Generally, for the most part it cares for its people, even when it seems to give in to the kingdom of the world sort of politics and polity, but I'll overlook those things for now.

The first reason that I am a Nazarene has everything to do with our understanding of scripture. When my wife recently applied for a position in an unnamed organization whose name contains the word "Christian" she was to sign a "Statement of Faith" documenting that she agreed with and adhered to a list of statements regarding some aspect of the Christian faith. Topping the chart at number one was a statement concerning scripture. It reads "I believe the Bible to be the verbally inspired and only infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God." The first statement of faith is about Scripture, not God and not only is it about Scripture, but of one that is verbally inspired, only infallible, authoritative, and inerrant Word.

I love the Church of the Nazarene because we don't put scripture ahead of God and because God is an issue of love and salvation, not merely (only) of truth (it is this truth that comes from love and salvation), and because nowhere in our 4th Article of Faith (that's right, 4th, after the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of the Divine Christ who is the God-man Jesus, and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) do we confuse the Holy Scripture as written word of God with the Christ of Our Lord as the (big W, capitalized, proper) Word of God. (You may now take a breath.) The point is more eloquently written by Rob Staples in his Outward Sign and Inward Grace. He writes, "Fundamentalism tends to need proof texts for its positions, because its view of biblical authority rests on particular concept of verbal inerrancy. Inerrancy as taught in Fundamentalist theology may be called 'epistemological inerrancy.' That is, it believes the basic question in theology to be: What is truth? . . . . For Wesleyanism, the basic theological questions is: What must I do to be saved?" (Staples 173).

As Wesleyan folk, we Nazarenes don't bring the idea of Truth to scripture, we allow scripture to determine Truth. "I am the way, the truth, and the light, no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). For the Wesleyan, as Staples writes, "Truth is determined and defined by what salvation is, not the other way around" (Staples 174). Truth is subject to God. Truth is for God to decide. For the fundamentalist, truth is eternally existent/existence and only then may scripture be determined as truth and therefore only then may God be determined as truth. It seems that if we allow Truth the precedent over God, then we allow God to be nailed down again.

What is true must be good and is communicated by beauty. Truth is held in balance by Good and Beauty. I love the Church of the Nazarene because we do not commit idolatry in our understanding of Holy Scripture.