A friend of mine gave a prophecy about me a couple of years back. He actually called it a prophecy at the time, and I hadn’t ever been prophesied about before or since. It is my sole prophecy experience. From time to time I have remembered it. Something sparks a memory or a situation at hand brings it to mind. I find it more in my mind over the last few months and weeks and wonder if that indicates anything. Mostly I have felt my friend was likely a false prophet :) but I have not forgotten. This post is a stab in the dark about that prophecy.
My friend told me that he foresaw me as someone who would someday help Nazarenes break free from the walls and chains of the theological box. Well, that is in essence what he was saying. I don’t recall the exact words. But this is the idea. Prophets are more idea people than they are detail people sometimes :). That is what this post is about, reaching out to people who may be feeling the ways I have felt. Let me be clear that this is not a thrashing of Nazarendom. I am grateful for the foundation that it has given. But there are problems inherent to any theology when it gets taught and treated as dogma. It is that box from which I have escaped, and from which I would like to help others break free if they need freeing. I do not also mean to imply that everyone needs freeing from that box. We are all different, and there are probably many who function just fine within those walls, feel safe and peaceful within them, and find that it works very well for them. This post is not for those people, and I am sometimes envious of the peace that they feel. Unfortunately, my journey to peace (which I am still on) has been much more convoluted than that. So if you are comfortable with your theology you may want to stop reading here. I do not want to confuse you. But if you are a Nazarene who is struggling or if you find your self within some other denominational theological box and are struggling, maybe I will say something that you find helpful.
Just so you know a bit about me I will explain how deep my Nazarene roots run. As soon as I was home from the hospital as an infant I was in church the next Sunday. My dad is a retired Nazarene minister so Nazarene is all I knew for 38 years of my life. My grandpa, dad’s dad, was a Nazarene minister who led the denomination as one of its General Superintendents for over 25 years. I attended and graduated from a Nazarene university where I met and married my Nazarene wife who grew up in as solid of a Nazarene layman’s home as it is possible to be. My sister is married to a Nazarene minister, and most of my extended family is either in the Nazarene ministry in some form or is employed by a Nazarene organization. At this point, I am the sole outlier. Currently, I and my wife do not attend a Nazarene church. We actually attend a very small church that is not tied to any denomination and which is more about traditional orthodox Christianity than about the more recent evangelical ideas. Oddly enough it is full of a bunch of denominational misfits much like myself which makes me wonder if God kind of led us there. It has been a place of healing for us and continues to be.
So this doesn’t get too long, I will try and just briefly summarize what became a problem for me. If the response is favorable in the comments, I will post subsequently in more detail and could even deal with specific issues that anybody puts forth. I think the problem for me can be best described as a disconnect between the culture of the church and the denominational statements of belief of the church. They didn’t match up very well by my observation. I think most people would say that the belief that identifies the Nazarene denomination is that of holiness, more specifically, entire sanctification. I don’t know how many times I have heard it said in Nazarene circles that the message of holiness needs to be preached. I have heard it as the reason to plant a church across town and to send missionaries to Africa. And I think many in my generation for sure, probably in others too, understand that the end result of this entire sanctification is a sinless life, especially the ability to live sinlessly (I don’t think that is even a word, but you do know what I mean I am certain).
Since college, this has been a gradually increasingly problematic theology for me, largely because of the disconnect I have seen existing between the message preached and the life being lived out by those who preached it. Not that these are not good people. The large majority of them were and are good people with nothing but good intentions. But in the church that was telling me to live sinlessly I witnessed lying, stealing, cheating, gossip, marital infidelity, self-righteousness, pride, envy, gluttony, elitism, racism, sexism, pornography, judgment, etc. You name it, and it is there. Many of these things would then get rationalized away as mistakes. Not sin. Just mistakes. Well call them whatever you want to call them. Give them a different name. They are what they are. And whatever they are called, they fail to meet the burden of “sinless.”
After years of wrestling with this disconnect, I began to see it as something different. The doctrine, as it is lived out in the church culture, is dishonest. None of us is able to be sinless yet we go around preaching to each other that we are sinless. We pat ourselves on the back for being sinless. We tell others that they can be sinless too. In a way, this stunts our ability to mature in relationship with God. We are dishonest with ourselves. We are not sinless. We can’t be sinless. If we think we are, really believe we are, we are living a lie. And living in a lie hinders our ability to go deeper with anybody including God. So then I began to wonder what else we in the Nazarene church may be lying to ourselves about. I was at a crisis in my thinking and theology that I could no longer ignore.
So I broke away. My wife and I broke away. Near this time we were actually told, when we began to voice some questions that were specific to some situations in the Nazarene church we then attended that were pertinent to the disconnect of which I speak, that we just needed to let our leaders lead. We were in essence, shut down. No room for challenges to theology. No room for challenges to doctrine. No room for different thinking. No room for even asking genuine questions. We were shut down. That wasn’t going to work for us. We had towed that line for too long. So we left that box. We went out into the unknown wilderness to find the answers we needed, ask the questions we needed, and get out of that box. And man am I glad we did.
I think I will wrap up this introduction for now. There is a lot in here. There is a lot that this just barely uncovers. And I fully recognize that there may be some trauma that is felt by others who have found themselves in similar situations. If any of this sounds familiar to you, even if you are not Nazarene, please reach out here and share your heart. I want it to be a safe place for that. This is my attempt to tease out whether or not my friend’s prophecy is true, at least at this point. Maybe it’s not. But for some reason, I feel in my core that it is. And I feel that this may be a purpose for me in life, to reach out to and somehow help people who need to heal in this way. If you are one of those, hang in there. I know how you feel.