Christ-Centered Discipleship

A few months ago, Dr. Rubén Fernández published in the Didache theological resource website an essay on discipleship within the context of the Mesoamerica Region.  I found it to be a bold, insightful rebuke of our current Church leadership and methodology (I include myself in that distinction).  Below I have provided an extract of this article that I hope you’ll find challenging.  The entire document is here.

We need a greater commitment to the life of holiness. As disciples of Christ we need to fight against the desires of the flesh that want to impose themselves on those of the Spirit. Desires that lead us to accommodate ourselves, to avoid situations or confrontations that may cause us harm, to believe that we have the right to ‘enjoy life’ by turning a blind eye to sin and the suffering that surrounds us.

We must practice a biblical and Christ-centered discipleship that mobilizes the Church to serve the world.

Today, for many Christians (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical), the cross is simply an element that is part of their dress code or a sort of protective amulet for their house or vehicle. Jesus died for our sins. That’s true. But it is also equally true that Jesus died because he confronted the corruption of power. The ministry of Jesus, was really transformative, countercultural and revolutionary and, therefore, highly dangerous.

Biblical and Christ-centered discipleship should shake the church out of its comfort zone and out of its ‘heavenly spirituality’ and lead the church to serve people by transforming their communities.

Young people are waiting for a militant, dissenting, reactive church. We are losing the new generations that reject a church interested in keeping things as they are.

How much do we teach people what it would be like to take up the cross today? To be radical will involve denouncing violence, defending those who are attacked unjustly, taking the side of the weakest, children, the elderly, the unprotected, etc.

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What is the price that a person pays for condemning these things? They will not have more money or win friends. More likely, they will probably be ‘in the sight’ of the Central American gangs, drug cartels or human trafficking in Mexico, corrupt police, purchased judges or unscrupulous politicians almost everywhere. If we put ourselves in the place of those brothers and sisters who have been victimized and others who live under threat to their families, it seems difficult to believe that our ‘prophetic voice’ could deal with those issues.

John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” How can we mobilize each Nazarene to carry their cross with dignity, so that they may respond to their personal call and become actively involved in the transformation of that place in the world where God has sent them to serve?

My observation in Mesoamerica is that the leadership of the evangelical church in general terms is of a conformist type. What we do well is preserve the status quo. We do not develop true discipleship on the road to the cross. We do not carry out real transformational leadership, like that of Jesus; we only put bandages on the wounds (and not that that’s wrong, but is it enough?). There are some of the countries in our region, such as in Central America, where the percentage of evangelicals is high and growing, but with a tiny impact on the change of society.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered in cold blood at mass in 1980, said in a homily a year before his death: “A sermon that does not point to sin is not a gospel sermon…When the Church hears the weeping of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that nourish and perpetuate the misery from which the cry comes.”

How do we Nazarenes see the involvement of our church members in political careers? What message are we communicating to our members about the value of investing life in professions related to service and public administration?

How can we change the paradigm that still exists in many churches that the only way to serve God is through the pastoral profession or intra-ecclesial leadership?

How can we change from being trainers of church leaders to being trainers of leaders for our present context and reality?

***Dr. Rubén Fernández is Rector of the Seminario Nazareno de las Américas (SENDAS) in San José, Costa Rica.

The Point of Pilot Point

By David A. Busic

It has often been said that the union of three different groups to form the Church of the Nazarene at Pilot Point, Texas, USA, was to promote the biblical doctrine of holiness as expressed in the teaching of John Wesley and the American Holiness Movement. While that is certainly true, what is less well-known is that at the very same time, nearly 30 other prominent groups in the U.S. held this same conviction. So why did these three groups merge to form our denomination, but not the many others?
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The three groups that merged at Pilot Point held several common ideas that were essential to their unity:

  • The strong affirmation for the ordination of women
  • A baptismal theology that included infant and believer’s baptism and was not bound by a specific mode for baptism
  • The willingness to allow for freedom of conscience regarding eschatology. The early Church of the Nazarene included post-millennialists, pre-millennialists, and a-millennialists
  • A view of divine healing that did not exclude modern medicine
  • A shared believers’ church ecclesiology

While many other holiness denominations held exclusive and narrow viewpoints on these issues, the Church of the Nazarene chose to unite holiness people around middle-way (via media) practices. We have never been at our best as a church when we live in the extremes.
 
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Pilot Point was that the Church of the Nazarene was able to do what few other evangelical churches could in the divisive years that followed the American Civil War — overcome issues of regional politics, prejudice, and the lingering hatred that follows horrific conflict.
 
Names like Bresee, Jernigan, and Reynolds came together from north, south, and east U.S. to embrace a transformational idea: Christian holiness can break down any walls of separation. It was a movement of God unprecedented in U.S. church history.
 
Nazarene Historian Stan Ingersol powerfully summarizes the miracle of Pilot Point:

The union of churches at Pilot Point was a shining example of the social reality of Christian holiness. At the heart of the Christian message is a word of reconciliation: first between sinners and Divine Love; and second, among the members of the human family who are estranged from one another. Pilot Point signifies the reality that holiness heals hearts and unites people otherwise driven apart by sin, politics, and conflict. (Stan Ingersol, “Born In Hope, Borne Onward In Love.” A paper delivered 26 June 2017 for the Fraternal Delegates Luncheon in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)

In such a time as this, in a world filled with great political strife and extreme polarities, can the Church of the Nazarene return to the spirit of our founders at Pilot Point? It was unlikely to happen then, but by the will and power of God, a union was formed. Our founders were not able to do everything, but they have given us hope that we can also deal with the issues that divide us today.
 
We serve the same God and have the same purpose. This is our holiness legacy. Let’s get back to the point of Pilot Point. 

*I am indebted to Nazarene Historian Stan Ingersol for these insights.