My brief foray into the Nazarene Church and Reflection on the Changes at Riverside Christian Church

Someone wrote me an email about my time as a Nazarene, whether that was influencing me, and mentioned that some of the people who had left the Antwerp Church of Christ, before it became Riverside Christian Church, accused me of teaching things that are "way out there."  This was my reply.

I left the Nazarene Church because I was not Nazarene in the least bit.  Never was.  We never became members there.  I wanted to leave a month in, but Lindsay wanted to stick it out. I just tried to minister to the best of my ability through the opportunities given to me while we were there.  I realized through observing the inner workings of the Nazarene denomination that I could not minster there without compromising my conviction that we should not adamantly condemn things that the Scriptures appear to allow. 

I left in a peaceful way, not making any stink, and still remain friends with Scott Marsee and Tom Travis (it was sadly funny to hear the stories from the people that hated me and left the Antwerp Church of Christ on how I caused trouble and left the Nazarene church and the youth ministry I ministered at in Michigan).  Honestly, it was over the Nazarene teachings on drinking, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.  I would not say that people who speak in tongues should be excluded from the church or ministry positions because the Bible does not say that (see this thread on Naznet for a discussion of the Nazarene view on tongues as a prayer language and their response to it).  There are biblical rules to speaking in tongues as a prayer language and those should be adhered to.  I could not say that drinking was wrong because Jesus was a drinker and Paul recommended drinking (from the Doctrinal and Ethical Positions of the Church of the Nazarene 34.5. "we call our people to total abstinence from all intoxicants.").  I understand that there is discussion within the Nazarene church to change this, but the stance of the church at the present time is not one that I can agree with.  And I do not believe people are saved with a prayer and raising their hand because salvation is found by grace through faith when we surrender our whole heart to the Lord.  This will result in us dying to ourselves, becoming Jesus' disciples, and doing His will.  Not that the Nazarenes don't believe that, but the practice of raising one's hand drove me bonkers, probably more bonkers than it warranted.  These were just a few examples of teachings, albeit well-intentioned, that seemed to spring from some source other than Scripture, which drove me nuts week in and week out.  I am required to teach what I understand the Bible to teach, whether that goes against a teaching of the church or, as in the case at the Antwerp Church of Christ, the traditions of men.         

I'm not anti-denominational though.  Just non-denominational.  Bob Russell, the retired pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, gave a great sermon at the men's meeting at Lake James on this just the other month.  At some point in the 1950s, some in the Church of Christ (especially those in this area) started focusing on the things that divide rather than just going after the mission of Christ in the world around us.  We started thinking we were right because of our doctrines rather than loving like Jesus and making disciples.  If there are copies of that sermon floating around, it would be a great one to listen to.  I'm willing to work with denominations where we have common ground, to build relationships, and to learn from them as I hope they learn from me through our relationships.    

And my teachings are "way out there" to some, but I think they are in line with the Bible and the Churches of Christ/Christian Churches throughout the rest of the country.  It was not my desire to do what I did at this church and hurt people's feelings and "take" their church from them.  I was just following Christ; I honestly believe He wanted to transform the church and bring it back to life.  The changes just started steamrolling as the leadership changed one thing after another knowing that we needed to change if we wanted to exist in ten years.  The changes took place much faster than I had planned, but I do believe God was in control.  I can see now that if we took my slower plan with a focus on educating the changes through, we would have had just as many headaches and lost as many people.  These losses would have occurred without the resultant growth we have seen.  Slow changing would have probably killed the church; fast changing nearly did.  I remember sending emails and making phone calls to my Church of Christ professors and friends in the ministry asking if I should be pursuing the changes we were making and teaching the things I was teaching because the struggle we were facing was something I had never experienced.  I was beginning to question whether I belonged in the Church of Christ, although I did not know where I would wind up if I did not.  But they encouraged me and told me to keep going after what God had called me to.  I know now that I rest firmly in the Restoration Movement and that there are like-minded churches in this area, but I did not have the relationships with them at that time.

I hope that the core of my teaching is what Jesus had at the core of his teaching, "Loving God and loving our neighbors."  It is our mission to be a community of people in real, authentic relationships with one another, to be passionate about Jesus and His work, and to love people in practical ways.  By doing that, we hope that God will transform people and add to our community.  This vision is a combination of the thoughts in Acts 2:42 and Matthew 22:37-40.  If people don't get that from what I teach, then I have not done a good job.  If my teachings aren't "way out there" to a dead church who should have the life of Christ exuding from them, then I am not doing my job. 

Just this last week, I taught a sermon that would have infuriated some of those who left on the Lord's Supper in which I touched on how it is not commanded to be done weekly (although they try to use bad Bible study methods on Acts 20:7 to make it say that), but that we choose to do it weekly because we want Jesus' death on the cross and the forgiveness and unity we have as a result of that to be central to our gathering.  The only sin associated with taking the Lord's Supper in Scripture is the sin of taking it in an unworthy manner, not discerning Christ's body, the church, when taking it.  The Lord's Supper is not something we should divide over, think it makes us better than others because of the frequency or way we do it, nor is it something that we take on Sunday and forget; it should be something that spurs us on toward living the life of love that Jesus wants us to live throughout the rest of the week.

Our church's beliefs and convictions can be found at our church's website.