Remnants of What?
By Brandon Brown
The Holiness Partnership has released the first issue of the Magazine Remnant. As with their stated mission, the purpose of the magazine is to "promote Scriptural holiness." 1 As with many of the messages from the Holiness Partnership, there are typically holiness messages with a sprinkling of vague dogmatic claims about the absence of holiness from churches. Because the articles use church in a generic sense, it is difficult to determine if the authors are meaning the Church of the Nazarene specifically or the Church catholic. This is an important distinction when discussing the nature and doctrines of churches. It helps to define the entity one is discussing so I will differentiate throughout this post between the specific, Church of the Nazarene and the general, Church catholic. This is not simply semantics as it goes to the heart of what the Holiness Partnership claims about Christianity and the Church of the Nazarene in particular.
This first issue is book-ended by articles whose authors are the President and Vice President of the Holiness Partnership. 2 These two articles reveal much about the character and direction of the Holiness Partnership. "A Better Way Than the Middle Way" authored by the Rev. Jared K. Henry and "The Big Tent and Gatekeepers" by the Rev. Andy Lauer. The articles set up the possible reasoning for the title of the magazine Remnant. While the Holiness Partnership pushed back against claims of exclusivity and reactionary attitudes, it is hard to take those denials seriously when the title of the flagship publication uses a word which implies a small portion of faithful people in a world of those who are unfaithful. Remnant is the language of fundamentalists; and although those within the Holiness Partnership are not entirely fundamentalists, they do seem to want a more restrictive understanding of both holiness and of Christianity itself.
Rev. Henry opens his article "A Better Way Than the Middle Way" by stating that he is "leaving 'the middle way.'" He defines the middle way or Latin via media with its most basic and literal definition. In taking this road, the theological and historical understanding of the middle way is being ignored. This is a straw man argument Rev. Henry erects so that he can make claims that many are simply taking "two opinions and 'averaging' them together [to] reveal an option acceptable to both sides. Often the middle way will resolve issues by simply claiming both are correct, or at least that they both have credibility." 3 This is one way to understand the via media but most Wesleyan theologians use the term via media to mean a third way distinct from the two sides. Take the nature of Wesleyan theology as an example. There is a combination of both Western and Eastern Christian thought in matters of salvation, the understanding of sin, and the nature of humanity. The theology of Wesleyan-Holiness people is a theology of the via media and is often very different from the traditions in which it finds its source. Often the middle way is taking the way of Jesus when faced with choices which seem opposed to Jesus. A practical understanding of the via media is in the doctrine of entire sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene. It is to borrow a criticism from the article a both/and understanding of the timing of entire sanctification. "We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace." 4 This language is to show that while we understand that entire sanctification has a moment in time that we can show evidence of its work, we also see it as a continual and progressive growing in the grace of Christ. Another area in which we take a middle road shoudl be politics. The Christian should forge a path which eskews the ideologies and parties of partisan politics and often find herself in opposition to any "side's" choices. But even if we take the argument of this article as true, I have not found many teachers, pastors, or other leaders in the Church of the Nazarene who claim the via media as a balancing of two poles, thus this claim rings hollow.
The route Rev. Henry takes makes sense when viewed as the opening to Rev. Lauer's closing argument against the idea of a "big tent."5 I am tempted to address the specifics of Rev. Lauer's simplification of terms such as postmodern, emergent, and such but that road has been trod. While Rev. Lauer finds postmodernism a wasteland, it is because he focuses only on the faults in postmodernism while ignoring glaring faults in modernism. I will spare you the reader this rehashing of old arguments. The larger issue with Rev. Lauer's article is that it appears to be arguing from the general understanding of Christian orthodoxy rather than the specifics of the doctrines and theologies of the Church of the Nazarene or the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. In terms of big tents, Christianity is a huge tent and to claim otherwise is to ignore the historical understanding of Christianity. The Church of the Nazarene recognizes this in the Historical Statement of the Manual: Church of the Nazarene;
The Church of the Nazarene confesses itself to be a branch of Christ’s “one, holy, universal, and apostolic” church, embracing as its own the history of God’s people recorded in the Old and New Testaments and God’s people through the ages, in all expressions of Christ’s church. Our denomination receives the creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith. We identify with the historic church in preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, maintaining a ministry of apostolic faith and practice, and inculcating the disciplines of Christlike living and service. Our denomination heeds the Biblical call to holy living and entire devotion to God, which we proclaim through the theology of entire sanctification. 6
Regardless of our personal beliefs and desires, Christian orthodoxy is defined by the ecumenical creeds of the Church catholic which are based in the inspired scripture we call the Bible. Rev. Lauer is making a general claim about orthodoxy which cannot be sustained by our polity. A denomination defines its denomination's doctrines, polity, theology, and thus the tent so to speak of that denomination. The Church catholic contains many conflicting doctrines and dogmas else we would not have the many denominations of the Protestant church nor the ancient churches such as the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. This is the crux of my personal issue with the Holiness Partnership that they make claims about orthodoxy which are untrue and then attempt to become gatekeepers for the Church catholic and our particular expression of Christianity in the Church of the Nazarene. I have mentioned this concern to Rev. Henry as I believe he has valuable insight into our understanding of holiness and holy living, yet he continues to define orthodoxy within the narrow confines of an understanding which is fully within the small tent of the Church of the Nazarene but also closer to the center than the walls of that tent. Regardless of their understanding of broader Christian orthodoxy, their writings are also attempting to shrink the tent that is the Church of the Nazarene. One example is the misrepresentation of postmodern thought on science as certitude. 7 Rev. Lauer claims that a literal six-day understanding of creation is required for orthodoxy, yet that is not even the theological insistence of the Church of the Nazarene. Our theology of creation centers on the why and who rather than the how. Of course, it is orthodox and perfectly within the theology of the Church of the Nazarene to hold to a literal six days, but to exclude those who do not hold to that understanding is not within our theology nor polity. Yet in a reactionary movement, there is typically a desire to narrow and distill rather than embrace the breadth of theology. Rev. Lauer is not wrong in his claim that Christianity has gatekeepers, but those gatekeepers have definition and are clearly defined at different levels. For the Church catholic, the gatekeepers are the ancient creeds; for the Church of the Nazarene, it is our Agreed Statement of Belief and our Articles of Faith as defined within our Manual. When we choose to act as gatekeepers for an entire faith or even attempt to restrict our own expressions of that faith with lines and tents of a smaller size than defined, then we stray into areas of control, fundamentalism, and reactionary movements.
I welcome this latest endeavor by the Holiness Partnership as is delivers more concrete messages of their mission, purpose, and goals. The articles by Reverends Henry and Lauer show the direction and further expose their organization as reactionary. I pray we can recognize one another as co-laborers within the Kingdom of God, even as my hope fades for that reality.
1: Remnant,. Issue 1, January 2022, p3
2: The Holiness Partnership. https://www.theholinesspartnership.com/about-us
3 Remnant, p.4"
4: Manual: Church of the Nazarene, 2017-2020, p32
5: Remnant, p. 21
6: Manual, p.16
7: Remnant, p.23