On The Nazarene Denominational Theological Box

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.


11 responses to “On The Nazarene Denominational Theological Box

  1. Doug

    What an interesting life you guys have had. Not so sure I can relate, but hey you probably couldnt relate much to mine either. lol. ;)
    As far as the prophecy goes, did you ever think that maybe the ones you are leading out are your family. First generation away from the box. That sounds pretty powerful and purposeful to me. Just think of the world of wonder and awe your boys will have. They will be able to experience the full breadth of the creation, they will be unhindered. All this because Karmen and you were bold and brave. Here’s a little prayer that was said to me by my mentor, the first time I left the forest.

    “We trust in G-ds process of life, more than we need will always be provided for, we are SAFE.”

    Welcome to the world of wonder.

  2. freestyleroadtrip

    I’m (Karmen) once again commenting under Doug’s name….just so you all know….

    Doug I know for a fact that there will be some who will say something to the effect— “well, I never heard or learned that you were to be ‘sinless’ while attending a Nazarene church. I never promoted that idea or ever heard others that did.” OR (hear’s another good one), “Well, NOW the Nazarene church is rethinking their view on sanctification and trying to come up with a new or different way of communicating it (which I GUESS is good? I guess that fact is supposed to make a large number of people who were highly confused by that teaching feel better and reconsider all their turmoil they’ve existed in over the past however many years. Thanks, but…too little, too late!).

    I may spew a bit here, but both of those lines of thinking makes me mad!!! I feel like there are people out there who DON”T GET IT!!! I know it’s not my job to make them ‘get it.” But when they hear our story they end up patronizing us with a bunch of Bible verses or marginalizing our very REAL experience by thinking AND expressing that we’re going through a mid life crisis! (Some may accuse me of bitterness or letting the anger ‘get a foot hold’. And I really don’t give a rat’s [cute little bottom]!!! I think God is big enough to handle anything I can throw at him.) I’m sick of all it!!!

    This topic is a huge trigger for me. Just to hear it talked about puts me back in a place of bondage. I gave into the temptation of responding and am only scratching the surface. I’m sure that my thoughts are disjointed and not all that well put together (Boy’s are sword fighting when they should be eating breakfast. And I should be attending to them so we can get to school on time.). So, I apologize for not being more complete….just had to get this out.

    John…love the idea of ‘maybe the ones you are leading out are you family.’ That DOES sound powerful and purposeful!

  3. wisdom stinks. everyone is looking for it, and when we find it, it disappears and reappears somewhere else. it’s a fickle thing. at best, doctrines and theologies point to this and at worst, they try to box it.

    as the saying goes “the hand that points to the moon is not the moon.” keep searching and making headway. the flexible approach you’re working to develop will only make things easier! RAWK!

    and thanks for sharing your story. i feel very similar from my break with the catholic church. i miss aspects of it and sometimes feel naked and vulnerable without the concrete certainity. yet i’m ultimately better off in my current path. i hope you feel the same way too.

  4. Luke. I would like to hear more of your break from Catholicism. I attended a Catholic high school for boys for 2.5 years and learned to have quite a bit of respect for it. Why did you leave? What are the problems like there compared to Protestantism? Very interesting. And, yes, I do feel much better in my current path. I am learning that the finding is in the searching, not in the finding. Arriving at an end is the point where you die. To live like that demands continual uncertainty and doubt and questioning.

    JohnT. I have never thought that my own family may be the one’s I am leading. I like it. That is awesome. Karmen and I really look forward to knowing you and Denise better.

  5. hey Doug, sorry i didn’t answer your question… the break from Catholicism can be found here: http://toothface.blogspot.com/2008/07/from-series-recovering-catholics-our.html

    it was a hard road.. Catholic, semi-Methodist, then to Buddhist after getting fed up with Christians, then finding the UCC and going to seminary. but the whole time, I always tried to walk with Christ. Jesus and I were always cool, his followers (including Paul) i had no patience for. that’s the elevator speech version.

    i like your quote: Arriving at an end is the point where you die.

    if a tradition kills your concept of God by boxing God in, it’s time to leave.

  6. Oh, man, Doug, I hope I am not the False Prophet…that sounds similar to something I said to you once, but I believe I said something more like helping former Nazarenes heal. Anyway, good thoughts! I like what you said about U23D. Hope all is well with you….we need to get together again before we (maybe)leave town.

  7. Darin. You are not the False Prophet. You have said something similar to me, but not quite the same. I had someone else in mind. Interestingly, since I posted this, someone has contacted me outside of my blog with an interestingly similar struggle. Thanks for checking me out again, and, yes, we do need to get together.

  8. Had someone tell me this week, that we should strive for perfection. Think they really meant to say, live a sinless life. But then what is sinless? Is it some set of rules that someone else makes up or do I interpet it the way I believe? The judgemental aspect of churches it the most irritating problem too. Come ask me for my interpetation before you cast the first stone. Or if I don’t agree with your interpetation, don’t pray for me to understand better. Nothing better than to hear, “You have a heart issue”, when you really don’t. I really like your comment on “pageants” on a later blog entry too. But aren’t “pageants” all for show?

  9. Scott. Great to see you contributing and speaking out here. Glad to have you on board. Anything you have to say is welcome here, no matter how wacked out. Unlike church, you won’t be judged by me or anyone else. You may be challenged, but not judged.

    Yeah, “perfection,” “sinless,” blah, blah, blah. I think the whole entire sanctification doctrine started out of good intentions but has gone awry. Christ said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself. These two commandments are pegs. Everything in God’s law and the prophets hangs on them.” (Matthew 22: 37-40. The Message). Nowhere in there do I see an emphasis placed on perfection or sinlessness. As part of having a relationship with God out of that flows a natural vigor to want to be good, moral, loving people, and we want to deepen in that philosophy as we journey along. But when perfection becomes the object rather than love, our relationship with God then becomes performance-based as we try to earn favor from him. And that kind of living very quickly becomes hell on earth. Then to have someone who seems to consider themselves within the inner circle of Christian perfection come at you with an arrogance to which they are completely blind (which causes one to question the perfection that they claim to be experiencing) and offer to pray for you to help you understand (because they obviously do hold the truth that you need) and follow that up with diagnosing your “heart issue,” it is enough to make you want to tell them to go to hell. I understand your anger and frustration, and that kind of two-facedness is what finally pushed me to get out of that fundamentalist junk theology and search on my own without those pious know-it-alls clouding up my head.

    And finally, your pageant comment….Yes pageants are completely for show. And I have no problem with putting on the biggest show in the world. Just be honest about what it is. IT IS A SHOW. Maybe one or two people are “lost souls” that are impacted by the performance. But an Easter pageant is not a tool for “outreach.” It is a show. Just be honest about it instead of justifying it with a bunch of Jesus-is-my-boyfriend talk.

  10. I don’t think Jesus came to cause Hell on Earth, he came for Peace. Peace comes from not looking over your shoulder or over acting to make sure everyone knows your a Christain. Living with the understanding that a consistent relationship with Jesus is what is needed. We can’t always be perfect, but we can always be genuine.

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