A Big Tent
By Brandon Brown
The idea that a church is a big tent has been around for many years. The Church of the Nazarene has often considered herself a big tent church, and this has been the case from the early days. Why is this and what is a big tent? The Church of the Nazarene was a merging of differing Wesleyan and Holiness movements and churches so at the beginning there was a diversity of faith and even doctrines, but a shared experience of the large tents of revival where everyone was welcome to come and encounter the life changing Gospel of Jesus. The idea, which many churches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries held, was unity in essentials and diversity in non-essentials. Of course, one person's or group's essential is often another's non-essential, so conflict can break out.
The Christian Church, in general, is a large tent. There are the ancient Apostolic Churches such as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, the Protestant tapestry, the middle-way Anglicans, and various sects. At its simplest, the Church catholic is a tent which is defined by the great ecumenical creeds of the first five centuries of Christianity. These creeds distill the doctrines of God, incarnation, the cross, and many other points, and they are the largest tent of all. Then we have increasingly smaller tents within the massive tent that is the Church. These smaller tents have walls which are made of doctrines, theologies, and dogmas unique to one group or another. Each successively smaller tent has a unique expression of Christianity, including views of God, but we can find them all within the large tent.
When considering the Church of the Nazarene in particular, we have a defined boundary. This is our Articles of Faith and our Agreed Statement of Belief found within our Manual. There is a diversity even within these boundaries, but that diversity is in non-essentials. While some may want to close our walls in closer, or blow them away completely, our current walls are large enough to allow for diversity without being so large that we lose our identity or our unique holiness tradition. As a global denomination, we also encompass many cultures, languages, ethnicities, and even political ideologies. Our tent is big enough to hold our American Democrats and Republicans, and others, our European democracies and democratic socialist groups, and the varying governments and ideas throughout the world. We even have people in places where Christianity is illegal, yet the Spirit moves in all.
May we be unified in the essentials as defined and willing to embrace the diversity outside of those essentials so that we model the love of Christ. This is much easier to do when we embrace the two greatest commandments; to love God with our everything and to love all others as ourselves. (Matt. 22)