First Edition of The Remnant Magazine: A Holiness Theologian Responds
By Charles W. Christian
The Holiness Partnership, a network of pastors and other leaders in the Church of the Nazarene and other parts of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, has now produced its own magazine. It’s called The Remnant, and its very title should inform readers where this group believes they stand in regard to traditional Holiness theology. In their initial gathering, and in their growing internet presence, this group has consistently expressed the necessity of their group in order to protect the Church from creeping “liberalism” and “compromise.” They are convinced they are the true “remnant” of an otherwise “lost” Holiness Movement and Holiness tradition that runs the risk of being overrun by what they view as cultural threats from both outside and inside of the Church of the Nazarene and other Holiness groups.
So, they have put forward in their clearest terms yet where they stand and where they hope the Holiness Movement heads from here on. The “elephant in the room” threat for this group involves ongoing discussions around sexuality – particularly, the LGBTQ+ conversations that are ongoing in all of American Christianity in recent years. The Church of the Nazarene has revised its own statement on human sexuality in its Manual in recent years. The position of the Church of the Nazarene has been interpreted, even by a key pastoral letter from several years ago by the Board of General Superintendents, as basically asserting the following:
· Sex is a gift from God – a privilege to be experienced through a heterosexual, married, monogamous relationship;
· People may be born with homosexual proclivities or preferences, and these preferences are not in themselves sinful. Biblically-speaking, engaging in homosexual sexual activity is itself sinful, since it goes against the ideal of God’s use of the gift of sex.
· Any misuse of sex – either through fornication, adulterous activity, or homosexual sex – is to be considered unbiblical.
However, the Holiness Partnership and its allies – including many leaders at the Global Ministry Center of the Church of the Nazarene – blatantly disregard or disagree with the second statement. For them, even the proclivity or inclination is a sin, regardless of the action. Those who affirm the second are grouped into the category of the encroaching “liberalism” and “cultural compromise” that “threatens the future of the Church.”
Hence, the need for the creation of a “partnership” of like-minded people who must recapture and reclaim the traditions and positions that should define the Holiness Movement.
They are not the first group to do this, of course. In many ways, this group is the successor of the “Reformed Nazarenes” (aka, Concerned Nazarenes) who tried to cause havoc before and during a General Assembly over a decade ago. This group was seen as a marginal Fundamentalist group that was soon dismissed and later self-destructed when some of its own members (including many Nazarene evangelists!) abandoned them due to their disavowing a then “up and coming” Nazarene evangelist named Dan Bohi. Bohi and his team eventually emerged as a Neo-Charismatic element of the Church of the Nazarene. Many (though not all) in the current Holiness Partnership are somewhat friendly with the Bohi movement, yet the Partnership has carried over the Fundamentalist bent of the Reformed Nazarenes.
The Fundamentalism of the key leaders and many implied and tacit supporters of the Holiness Partnership is evident in the following ways (among others):
· An explicit or at least strongly implied “total inerrancy” approach to Scriptures that eschews the Wesleyan approach to plenary inspiration and the use of the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral;
· A strong American, politically far right approach to politics and culture (including the “culture wars”);
· A strong rejection of any implication that homosexual men and women can be fully Christian if they do not reject their inclinations (even if they are celibate);
· An anti-intellectualism characterized by a strong “us-them” position in regard to institutes of higher education, especially seminaries (including Nazarene Theological Seminary). This is ironic, because most of the key leadership and their favored guest speakers have been trained in Nazarene and non-Nazarene institutions of higher education.
These traits and others should sound familiar to most. They, along with a few other characteristics, are the same key traits of American Fundamentalism in general over the century and a half. Traditionally, this is not the approach of Wesleyanism, including Wesleyan Evangelicalism. Wesleyans – even conservative Wesleyans - have often distinguished themselves as “moderate” Evangelicals (if they use the term Evangelical at all). Furthermore, Wesleyans have often valued the “Middle Way” (via media) in regard to “non-essential” issues. Also, Wesleyans – especially Holiness Movement Wesleyans – historically can boast a “big tent” approach. Early Nazarenes, for instance, included former Confederates, as well as former Unionists. They included socialists as well as capitalists. They also included a strong ecumenical spirit that encouraged members to interact with other aspects of the Christian tradition. These traits are intentionally and noticeably absent from the current “Holiness Partnership.”
First Edition of the Remnant
This background brings us to the first edition of the authorized publication of the Remnant. The first edition is designed by a former GMC Communications Team employee, whose design skills are evident and already puts one in mind of the official denominational publication, Holiness Today.
The content of the magazine, led by founder Jared K. Henry, seems to serve as a line-by-line clarion call to the Holiness Partnership’s “reason for being.” Below, I will outline each article and give what I feel to be a Wesleyan response that is not bound by American Fundamentalist right-wing enculturation. Of course, this implies that I do believe (and will seek to defend this belief) that this movement, its founders and most of its supporters, and the magazine itself, are indeed a product of such loyalties.
Furthermore, this partnership is yet another attempt at dragging the Church of the Nazarene and the Holiness Movement further away from its Wesleyan roots. Sadly, the current political and theological climate of the Board of General Superintendents, a growing majority of newly elected and appointed District Superintendents, and virtually all the departmental and regional leaders employed by the Global Ministry Center of the Church of the Nazarene are increasingly sympathetic to this movement and the partnership that has sprung from it. The current climate of the Church of the Nazarene is one of placating a Far Right contingency for short-term gain (politically, financially, and even through attendance/participation) at the sacrifice of long-term and theologically sound growth.
In short, leaders are selling off our Wesleyan birthright for the “mess of pottage” of American Far Right Fundamentalism, including Neo-Charismatic Fundamentalism.
The First Issue of the Magazine
A thorough overview of each article of the Remnant has already been attempted, and so I will concentrate on a larger overview. This overview will highlight areas where the magazine is in harmony with the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition of the Church, as well as where it blatantly disregards the very movement it seeks to “protect” and “defend.”
Misunderstanding of the “Middle Way”
The lead article, by the founder/president Jared K. Henry, is entitled, “A Better Way than the Middle Way.” Even the illustration attached to the article hints at a grave misunderstanding of the Anglican/Wesleyan concept of the “middle way” (via media), showing a person standing on the center line of a highway. The implication is meant to imply the idea of “sitting on the fence” or not taking a principled stand, which of course would leave one dangerously in the middle of the highway. Sadly, Henry fosters this incorrect view of the traditional Wesleyan middle way.
Henry properly notes that there have been times when the concept of the middle way to justify not making a principled decision. However, Henry incorrectly dismisses the middle way as inherently leading to such compromises of essential beliefs. This is NOT the Middle Way of Anglican/Wesleyan/Holiness tradition!
The actual concept of the Middle Way is twofold. First, historically it served as a concept that sought to connect with the best of both Catholic and Protestant traditions. This is the foundation of the Anglican Church, where John Wesley was ordained. It is also a foundation of the Wesleyan movements that sprang from the 18th Century revivals. It seeks to connect the Church with its ancient roots, while also filtering out (in Protestant fashion) those things which impede a grace-oriented view of the Church and of salvation. A second function of the Middle Way is to continually keep the Church from drifting into unnecessary extremism: It helps us keep the “main thing the main thing,” so to speak. It seeks to find common ground where possible, while still maintaining the essential, biblical/creedal elements of the faith. Ironically, Henry blames the Middle Way for drift and compromise! This is the opposite of the historical function of the Anglican/Wesleyan Middle Way. Henry states, for example: “The middle way can relegate biblical truth to the same level as any other opinion or preference. They are all averaged out in the sea of ideas in a search for something acceptable, whether it is correct or not.” This is just patently not the case in regard to the actual concept of the “Middle Way.” Either Henry has simply done lazy research, is being intentionally misleading, or is (ironically) doing with the Middle Way what he himself fears others are doing! Either way, it is just another fear-mongering tactic to try and steer readers and listeners away from authentic Wesleyan engagement and into fear-based politics of control.
More Than Music
Bill Castillo presents what begins as a piece on the “worship wars” that have indeed plagued much of American Christianity. Castillo rightly reminds us of the need for songs that are Scripturally-based and theologically sound. He rightly notes that performance has taken precedence over content. He cites that “complex music destroys the power of music,” quoting directly from Wesley. However, he does fail to note what Wesley (both John and Charles) considered acceptable music was vastly more complex than what passes for “complex music” today. Check out, “And Can it Be?” for instance. But the overall point Castillo makes is well taken. He also reminds us that the character of those “up front” and the overly emotional expressions should be viewed with caution. It leaves one to wonder about the Neo-Charismatic supporters of the Holiness Partnership and how they might respond to this article. Also, the article should proceed with caution in regard to downplaying the role of the emotion. We as Christians are not callous and unemotional by nature. David danced before the Lord in emotional and spiritual joy. The early Christians and the later revivals had their share of emotions. So, we can’t separate music from emotion. However, he is right in being cautious about allowing emotions alone to guide us.
More Than a Recipe, Though
In “The Perfect Recipe,” Dan Gilmore gives a brief overview of the importance of the authority of Scripture. He cautions about allowing “opinion” to intrude on Holy Scripture. Of course, to a point, he is correct. However, he resorts to some proof-texting and neglects (unlike John Wesley!) the importance of the way theology is developed in the historic context of the Church of Jesus Christ. In other words, we are not biblically-sound just because we quote the Bible. Biblically-sound theology comes in cooperation with the Traditions handed down from the people of God who are led by the Spirit of God. To ignore this is to risk (as the HP tends to do) idolizing the Bible instead of taking seriously the Bible’s process of inspiration through God’s people, handing down the theology of the Church.
Where’s the Compassion?
Carolina Guzman gives the only “ethics” article in the Remnant. It’s a piece of “Illegal Immigration and Pastoring.” She and her family came to the U.S. as immigrants through the often tedious process. She pastors a church whose membership is largely undocumented. On the one hand, she seeks to balance the rigors of the often tedious and at times unjust immigration process with the call to – as best we can – follow the laws of the land. Guzman is cautious in regard to breaking U.S. laws, but in the end, she does call for compassion. She urges trust in God’s Providence in each situation. This seems to be an overly-individualistic solution to what she recognizes as a global problem. She rightly states that the U.S. is not the savior of the world; rather, Jesus is. However, she seems inconsistent as to what to actually do about the real and often unjust immigration problem of the U.S. She seems to imply that the U.S. is somehow luring immigrants with “open borders,” but this is incorrect. The U.S. does not have open borders. In the end, she seems to blur any lines about a concrete solution, but it will make the targeted audience of the HP happy enough, since it doesn’t really challenge White Conservative Christians (the target audience) to do anything uncomfortable.
Pre-Christians and the Bible
Scott Rainey, the SDMI Director for the Church of the Nazarene, adds his voice to the Remnant. Rainey has been a day-one supporter of this movement and has expressed his disagreement with the view that homosexuals are not “in sin” simply because they have a disposition. He urges the use of the Bible in helping pre-Christians not be as intimidated by the Bible, so that the Holy Spirit can have room to use Scriptures and other aspects of the evangelistic/discipleship arm of the Church to bring pre-Christians into relationship with Christ. He states (and I am not sure where this data is from) that “the church generally has failed to encourage use of Scripture in our contemporary evangelism methodology.” He says we must recapture the use of Scripture in evangelism. Of course, from there – once one is converted – Rainey emphasizes the use of the Bible daily. This is indeed crucial, and Wesley would agree. Rainey mentions the importance of the Church at the beginning of his article, but becomes a bit more individualistic at the end. Simply understanding the Bible and reading it is only part of Christian discipleship, however. The importance of the community, of obedient actions (including helping those in need), and ongoing obedience is also part of the journey. The Bible is not a “magic wand.” It is God’s revelation about walking in the ways of Jesus. In fairness, Rainey knows and emphasizes this in other works, and his own discipleship illustration makes clear that he holds this to be true.
No More “Big Tent”
A brief contribution by Micah J. Sturm carries forth a strong “reason for being” of the Holiness Partnership: “Unity cannot be sacrificed for the sake of inclusion, popularity, or status.” In the article, he portrays church as students gathering with open “textbooks” while the teacher “prepares them for life’s final exam.” This cold and bland portrayal of Christianity and of discipleship is common among Fundamentalists, who often leave out the joy and overflowing grace that Jesus brings. Jesus doesn’t look for ways to keep people out; Jesus finds creative ways to connect and bring people to Him. The message here: Do it our way, or it’s the highway for you! This misses the missional point of the entire Church of Jesus Christ, but it does make the excluders feel superior….
Finally, Andy Lauer writes about “Big Tents and Gatekeepers.” Lauer spends much of his time lamenting the “Emerging Church” and “postmodernity” as the blame for decline in the Church in American and in Europe. Lauer also writes, “A denominational ‘big tent’ cannot function in a healthy way when it admits competing doctrines and approaches to Scripture.” Ironically, it is the Fundamentalism and Reformed leanings (in regard to salvation and the Bible, for instance) that are a part of the “competing doctrines” that the Church of the Nazarene in particular has “let in” through groups like the Holiness Partnership. Also, the Emerging Church movement is actually a multi-faceted set of “movements,” many of which became extremely Calvinist/Reformed, while others eventually blended into a variety of denominational settings, including the Church of the Nazarene. The irony here is that the “sub-movement” Lauer is part of is following the same supposed path he and those associated with his movement accuse the Emergent Church of taking: belittling doctrines associated with Wesleyanism, dismissing the via media, and attacking the concept of the “big tent,” which even some current GSs in the Church of the Nazarene are preaching about all over the country!
Also, Lauer’s understanding of postmodernity is severely lacking. Like many in popular Fundamentalist thought, anything that questions their set ways are immediately dismissed as destructive. Postmodernity, which questions many modernistic conceptions that have infected the Church since the late-18th Century, is therefore attacked. Ironically, Lauer says nothing at all about the intense reliance upon Modernity that he and others like him use to interpret Scripture and theology. To him, postmodernity is the same as “liberalism,” when actually Jesus and His ways of questioning the status quo sounded a lot like Lauer’s and his buddies’ caricature of postmodernity. Finally, Lauer asks if some could be leaving the Church due to the “erosion of the historical doctrines and teachings of the Church by the postmodern movement?” Ironically, statistics show that postmodern and “deconstructive” approaches are the RESULT of the lack of consistency from so-called “conservative” Christians, especially dogged Fundamentalists, who blend far-right Americanism with their selective brand of Christianity. In other words, he and his approaches are more to blame than so-called “postmodernity.” The lack of openness to dialogue and the censoring of questions by the gatekeepers of Fundamentalism are causing the mass exodus, because these people breed a kind of hierarchical inauthenticity that lacks compassion and loving discernment.
To top things off, the magazine concludes with an advertisement for its next “Gathering.” This one, at least, purports to be a more open meeting than the first one, with a promise of registration coming soon. Featured prominently among the two guest speakers is a current General Superintendent, Dr. David Graves. I have emailed Dr. Graves and have asked if his presence represents an endorsement of this so-called Holiness Partnership and its goals, doctrinal statements, and approach. Graves has not responded to my inquiry, but perhaps those still left in the Church of the Nazarene should be asking this question to him and to his colleagues.
The Holiness Partnership has more boldly than ever shown their true colors. They are afraid of the encroachment of expanded conversations about LGBTQ+ inclusion. They are adamant about maintaining the American Religious Right’s views on immigration, “social justice,” and political emphases. They are convinced that “inerrancy” is the best default for Wesleyan-Holiness people, despite the fact that Wesleyan-Holiness people have traditionally seen inerrancy as a waste of time, since the Bible’s authority in all matters of faith and practice is more important to the Church than whether or not we can lift a particular passage as a proof text. The Holiness Partnership is also fully committed to Modern Rationalism. This is the true religion of this group. God is a taskmaster, the Bible is simply an “instruction book,” and putting the Bible in someone’s hands is enough in a pinch to make a Christian. This is unbiblical, but it does fit soundly into a Rationalist understanding of reality, which ultimately produces a kind of Deistic Atheism. This just means that God can hand things down, but once He does, we just serve as gatekeepers and help God decide who is “in” and who is “out.”
The real “god” of the HP is not Jesus Christ and His ways, but rather, the cultural understandings of Far Right Americans in regard to select passages of the Bible, regardless of how Jesus really seems to act and feel. It certainly does not reflect the ideals of Wesleyanism, which include finding ways to expand the conversation in regard to non-essentials, and to consistently re-evaluate what we call “essentials.” Wesley chose to let the Bible and the Church Fathers, including the Creeds, guide him and guide early Methodists in regard to “essentials.” The HP wants American Rightwing political sensibilities and Modernistic Rationalism. I’ll stick with the Bible and with Wesley.