Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting Used to the Changes

As I have mentioned, I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene. So, becoming Lutheran has taken some time getting used to. Maybe that's why I was drawn to such an atypically Lutheran church? The Church of the Nazarene is not liturgical at all. The service is ordered, but it's more like--opening prayer, a couple of hymns, a prayer chorus, offering, special music, the sermon, an altar call, closing prayer, go home.

I'm pretty low church. That might be weird for a Lutheran to say. I'm also not sacramental. I like observing the Lord's Supper each week, not because I sense a particular presence in the elements (though I like to talk about "real presence" when I am with my mom--just to make her squirm!). It's because I think it's a great sign of Christian community for everyone to come forward and share a meal. (I've probably been influenced by my anabaptist doctoral advisor)

I'm not so sure about infant baptism, but not for the usual reasons against it. I want to give my child the chance to decide what religion they want to be a part of. I will raise him or her in the Christian faith, and I hope they find that story compelling. Yet, to baptize them into the faith seems a bit...forceful, imperialistic, etc. Then again, baptism for Lutherans is a sign that God has chosen you--not that you have chosen God. Still, even with my universalist tendencies, I have reservations in saying "God chose you whether you like it or not." Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of it.

Recently, I have been confronted by another thing within the ELCA: the idea of bound conscience. The way I understand this is that the church can make a policy, but that individuals and congregations do not have to go against what they believe in order to follow it. Those who wish to follow it can, and those who are opposed to it can remain in their belief and practices as they are.

This idea of freedom is not something Nazarenes know about. Basically, the men at the top decide what is best and people follow it. You don't have a choice. If you disagree with it, too bad so sad. My own feelings about this freedom are conflicted. On one hand, this freedom allows (mostly) men from deciding for everyone else in a forceful way. On the other hand, how can the practices of churches be transformed when they are able to remain stuck in their ways?

As I mentioned, my doctoral advisor is anabaptist. Baptist polity is congregational polity--each congregation decides their path, beliefs, practices, etc. My advisor calls this "the glorious freedom of the children of God." Put like that it's hard to deny that it's a good thing. She explains to me that in alternative polities, things can be great when leadership at the top pass down good, live-giving policies. However, when things aren't so good at the top, you have problems.

I see this; I understand this. Yet, in the recent decision by the ELCA to allow for the ordination of gays and lesbians in monogamous, life-long relationships, people are not pushed to change and be challenged. A lot of people are celebrating; a lot of people are protesting. But really, what does this change in policy do, more than provide a safety net against censure to those churches that want to call a gay or lesbian minister and an affirming nod to those gay and lesbians who feel called into ministry and support Lutheran doctrine and theology? Freedom is good; bound conscience is good. But this radical, left-leaning, all-or-nothing girl wants something more extreme. My passion is my gift and my downfall.

Perhaps I am putting too much stock in the transformative potential of policy. True transformation comes from the Holy Spirit. I believe that. I just hope we are all sensitive to the transformative nudges the Spirit brings.


  1. You are right in feeling that Nazarenedom is not particularly amenable to liturgical styles of worship--for the most part. LOL. There are some liturgical Nazarene churches out there. In fact, Jesse Middendorf, GS of the Church of the Nazarene, has written a book on liturgy and rites called "The Church Rituals Handbook" (it is now in its second edition). And I've friends with whom I graduated from seminary who are pastoring liturgical Nazarene churches. The last Nazarene church I was a member of was liturgical.

    Having been around Methodist circles for almost a decade now, it occurs to me that the attempts to have liturgical worship in the Church of the Nazarene are similar to reactions that occurred when the Methodist church attempted to encourage liturgical services-- many local methodist absolutely RAILED against it (and still do). LOL. It was quite controversial to some.

    The funny thing about it in Nazarenedom is that the closer to an ecumenical style of worship they get (which is what liturgy is), the more they want to scream 'heresy'. LOL. The more catholic (little C) the service, the more nervous Nazarenes tend to get.

    I know this is not the point of your post, but I wanted you to be aware of this strain of Nazarendom and to speak accurately on it.

    And it is strained. LOL.

  2. I do know there are some liturgical Nazarenes. I was speaking of my experience, which was not liturgical. Sorry for speaking too narrowly.