Unity or Heresy, Part 8 – Nazarene, CoG, CoC, UCC
Colossians 1:9 – And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding
So I ask for prayer as I continue this series. As a recent seminary graduate and someone who has preached only a handful of times, I can now understand how sermon series take a lot out of a pastor. This is a very long series and my desire to finish it is waning. So please keep me in prayer as I continue it. I just pray that God uses it to soften hearts to the most important part of any church, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that will change this world in which we live.
So let’s dig right in today with the first organization, the Nazarene Church.
2 Timothy 2:21 – Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
Right from the Nazarene Church’s website, their history is fairly simple, like many other American-based organizations.
The Church of the Nazarene traces its anniversary date to 1908. Its organization was a marriage that, like every marriage, linked existing families and created a new one. As an expression of the holiness movement and its emphasis on the sanctified life, our founders came together to form one people. Utilizing evangelism, compassionate ministries, and education, their church went forth to become a people of many cultures and tongues.
Two central themes illuminate the Nazarene story.
The first is “unity in holiness.”
The spiritual vision of early Nazarenes was derived from the doctrinal core of John Wesley’s preaching. These affirmations include justification by grace through faith, sanctification likewise by grace through faith, entire sanctification as an inheritance available to every Christian, and the witness of the Spirit to God’s work in human lives. The holiness movement arose in the 1830s to promote these doctrines, especially entire sanctification. By 1900, however, the movement had splintered. (http://nazarene.org/ministries/administration/visitorcenter/history/display.html)
The second theme of the Nazarene Church is that they will be based on a missional view. To that end they have planted churches in Canada, India, Japan, Africa, and many other nations.
So the Nazarene Church is based on two central themes of holiness and mission. the Holiness side of the church believes in “entire sanctification” while the missional side of the church takes the message to all the world.
So just what does the Nazarene Church believe?
Entire sanctification is a complete regeneration by the Holy Spirit that allows the believer to become more Christlike every day. This concept of entire sanctification has been open to translation in many of the Wesleyan-tradition churches, of which Nazarene is one. The other controversial belief that the church holds is that salvation is conditional on continued repentance. Those who do not repent, even after giving their life to Christ, can lose their salvation.
Those are two very tough stances. I also question the fact that they see the Bible as only inspired. I understand that the words inerrant and infallible are potentially debatable among scholars, but 2 Timothy says that ALL Scripture is breathed of God. If it is breathed of God, then, by definition, the Scripture has to be inerrant and infallible.
This last point is the one that I want to stick with. It is, as it has been with other denominations seen in this series, a core to the reason that heresy exists in the church today. When we, as Christians, stop taking the Bible as the final Word of God, then Satan gets a foothold. The church needs to believe what it is we are based from. If we take our own holy doctrine and muddy it with bad theology or misinterpretation, then then church becomes a dangerous place. Even some Nazarene leadership is writing books claiming that the Bible may not be completely true.
Certainly it cannot be claimed that the whole Bible contains the words of God. There are temple records, prayers of men, pronouncements of prophets, and even words from the devil; …An important distinction must be made between the word of God (lower case) and the Word of God (uppercase). The latter comes to expression in the former, making the former the vehicle
of God’s self-communication. It is critically important for there to be an objective point of reference. Without that it would be too easy to confuse the word of God with subjective feelings. But the words of Scripture provide a benchmark by which to constantly check the authenticity of our claims to hearing the Word of God. It is possible to accurately understand the words of Scripture without ever hearing the word of God. In that sense the two can never be equated.
(An Introduction to Wesleyan Theology, William Grethouse & H. Ray Dunning, p. 12-13)
While I believe heresy exists in the Nazarene Church and that they are beginning to slide deeper into heresy as the days go on, it is a denomination.
John 17:17 – Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Church of God
What started in 1886 as a gathering of 8 people in Tennessee turned into a large denomination that has over 7 million members and 36,000 congregations worldwide. What led these 8 people to split away from their Baptist upbringing was the concept of entire sanctification. This is a term we have seen over and over in the Holiness Movement here in the United States. Baptists do not believe in entire sanctification, and therefore, these 8 people from 3 families we’re persecuted by others of similar faith. As more and more people in the community started believing in entire sanctification, the Baptist churches would remove congregants from their churches. Those congregants would show up next week at a CoG church. Sometimes, the persecution was even violent with CoG members being shot at, having their homes burned, or their wells poisoned. While at this time they were not officially the CoG, the groundwork was being laid for the church to exist, and, by 1906, the CoG was an official denomination.
The CoG has a very strong positions on multiple fronts. First, with the main points of Scripture, they agree that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and inspired. Believing this, they have taken up numerous positions on various hot button issues in the church today. For example, read the attached link that defines how the CoG views “Marriage.”
Pretty impressive. They have been meeting about this numerous times over the past 20+ years and if you surf their RESOLUTIONS, you will find that they always come up with the same Scriptural definition of marriage. They have these resolutions on almost every hot button issue out there.
But I do have some concerns. The CoG is Arminian in nature. That means that you can lose your faith. While Arminianism or Calvinism is not a measure of cultic status, it is one of Scriptural translation that needs further insight. This is an area of deep rift in the church today. And it is an area in which I believe wholeheartedly the other way. That will be a blog post for another day, however.
Another point that is simply interesting to me is that they feel that speaking in tongues is the first sign that you are baptized of the Holy Spirit.
With these points, the CoG is a strong denomination that I pray continue to grow.
Mathhew 16:18 – And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Church of Christ
The CoC is a very difficult “denomination” to define. Because of how it is set up, they do not prefer to call themselves a denomination as they believe in self-governing churches defining themselves. This can lead to problems. I found one CoC that follows Mormon standards and actually split away from the Mormon Church because they felt it wasn’t conservative enough, even though they still use the Book of Mormon and the Bible as their Word. Now that is not common for all churches labelled CoC, but it is the danger in having a denomination that is loosely guarded.
For the most part, the CoC is the continuation of the Campbellites that came out of the 2nd Great Awakening in America. They have a few quirky pieces to them. First, they, for the most part, do not allow instruments to be used in their services. The majority of the churches only allow the human voice to be the instrument. This is because instruments were not introduced to church services until about the 5th century AD.
Another point that is quirky is that baptism is required for salvation. Baptism, as most Protestant denominations view it, is the outward sign of an inner experience. For the CoC, the baptism is part of that inner experience. Without it, you cannot be saved.
One point that was brought up on several websites is that the CoC is exclusivist. In reading posts by CoC members and those who carry the banner of CoC, they claim that is false. They believe that the only standard for being a Christian is following Christ.
So what is there to say about heresy? This is a very difficult place to be. This is definitely a church that is not regulated like a church. Because of that, there are CoC churches that have fallen into cultic status and others which are very biblically sound.
Even the first century church had oversight. Paul traveled from church to church, sending letters and ambassadors to ensure the church was unified under a single banner. From what I have seen, there is little to no oversight of the CoC denomination. I even find myself hard pressed to call it more than a movement inside of Christianity, rather than a denomination. So, because of the varying views from church to church and lack of significant government, I find this as a movement inside Christianity.
John 17:1-5 – When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
United Church of Christ
The UCC claims it gets its history beginning in the first century church. In reality, the UCC became a denomination in 1957 when four different groups came together to form the organization. While the four denominations that came together each have longstanding histories, the UCC banner was raised officially in 1957. From their own website, here is a description of their coming together:
On Tuesday, June 25,1957, at Cleveland, Ohio, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, 23 years old, passionate in its impulse to unity, committed to “liberty of conscience inherent in the Gospel,” and the Congregational Christian Churches, 26 years old, a fellowship of biblical people under a mutual covenant for responsible freedom in Christ, joined together as the United Church of Christ. The new church embodied the essence of both parents, a complement of freedom with order, of the English and European Reformations with the American Awakenings, of separatism with 20th-century ecumenism, of presbyterian with congregational polities, of neoorthodox with liberal theologies. Two million members joined hands.
(http://www.ucc.org/about-us/short-course/shortcourse.pdf , p. 33)
The UCC is a very liberal church. Looking at their own website, they have an area of UCC Firsts. This includes the ordination of the first female pastor in 1853, the ordination of the first openly gay minister in 1972, and marriage equality in 2005. And they have a longstanding love for political personalities. As a matter of fact, prior to being elected President of the US, Barak Obama was a member of Trinity UCC in Chicago. Other notable UCC members in history include Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and many others.
The church’s focus on unity in the essentials and diversity in the non-essentials means that they practice charity when there is disagreement. Individuals are free to live based on their interpretation of God’s will for their life. The major distinguishing point that UCC has is that they believe God is still speaking to us today and giving us new insights and interpretations into the Bible. In 2011, they voted to drop “God the Father” from their version of the Trinity. Their new language is “A local church is comprised of persons who, believing in the triune God, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance from the Holy Spirit.” The denomination said in a press release that “God the Father” was too restrictive. They feel that “the language for God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit…is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity.” Since then, many UCC pastors have started referring to “God the Father and Mother.”
A UCC organization, the Biblical Witness Fellowship, has come out with their own press release, “We are deeply concerned about the alarming rate at which the UCC is encouraging the ordination of those who choose ‘alternative’ lifestyles (i.e., homosexuality, bisexuality and sexual activity outside of marriage), embrace moral relativism, seek authority in human experience, or are ambivalent about such basic beliefs as the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Resurrection and other doctrines of the church which are the foundation of our faith. Continued ordination of ministers who cannot accept even the simplest truths of the Christian faith will only contribute to the further collapse of our church to the prevailing mythologies of the culture.”
Ok, the more that I study this church, the more I could write.
BUT I WANT TO ASK YOU…
A church that produces an ad such as this,
Are they TRULY seeking to unify the church or are they grasping at straws to maintain their dwindling congregations. A church that was at 2.1 million in 1950s is at 1.2 million today, and continuing to shrink daily.
I have one simple question for the UCC church. This statement is right from their website under the heading Stillspeaking. “Today, under one collective identity, we can enthusiastically lift up that the UCC is a welcoming, justice-minded Christian community.”
My question is this….
WHAT is your definition of justice?
Biblical justice looks very different than what you are preaching today, UCC churches. The definition of “justice” is the administering of punishment or rewards. Ignoring God’s wrath ignores a significant part of Scripture.
It seems the UCC has it backwards. We should want to change our lives to live up to God’s standard because we love Him. We should not expect Him to change to our lifestyles. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. How prideful is it of us to expect Him to change for us. HE CREATED US! We should give HIM everything, including a changed life.
Based on my study of the UCC, they are a cult. Do not get mixed up with them.
1 Corinthians 4:6 – I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.
Next week I will look at Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist.
Quick question/correction about the Church of Christ and its “quirky” belief about baptismal regeneration:
How is a belief that the vast majority of Christians throughout history believed “quirky”? Most Christians today believe it too, so a denominational vote is deceptive. Christians who don’t believe it (and near-Christians who don’t believe it and have not been baptized) are in the minority. Is your position (that Baptism is an “outward sign of an inner experience”), then, not the “quirky position?
It does your readers no good to present a minority position as a majority, to present heresy as orthodoxy.
There’s a lot wrong with the CofC, but they are right on this subject; they have retained much of the historical understanding. I encourage you to study the subject and perhaps present their best arguments and argue against those arguments instead of involving yourself in a drive-by shooting.
I can understand your viewpoint that baptismal regeneration is right. I would like to look at the Bible for my source versus history. So taking the Scriptures that can be used to prove baptismal regeneration, I’d like to take them one by one. First is Mark 16:16. This verse, being used as proof for BR is a negative inference fallacy. If you read the Scripture, it says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who don’t believe will not. The second part of the Scripture says nothing about being baptized. It would be fallacious to infer that baptism is required based on that Scripture. Next, in John 3:5, when Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born of water and of the spirit, Christian baptism was not in effect yet. This Scripture has traditionally been used to mean natural birth for being born of water and spiritual birth for being born of the Spirit. As for Acts 2:38, we need to look at a little Greek word, “eis.” I could go into a very long dissertation about NT Greek here, but suffice it to say, this little word is translated as “in view of” rather than “in order to.” With Acts 22:16, there are multiple points I could make, but I want to drive one point home. When Annias prayed for Paul to receive his sight, Paul also received the Holy Spirit. This happened before he was baptized. Fifth, Galatians 3:27 is only proof of BR if taken out of context. Read Gal 3:26 before it. Also, Galatians is a rebuke on the church for them turning from the true Gospel to a false one. Finally 1 Peter 3:21 is a passage that many see as a “proof text.” Peter clarifies it for us by adding the piece about removing dirt from the flesh. He is clearly connecting baptism and salvation, but he is plainly saying that baptism simply washes away the dirt. It is not the baptism part that saves, but the appeal to God for a clean conscience. First we are saved by God, then we are baptized to express that publicly. I realize these are very short descriptions of the six verses in the Bible that could be used for BR, but I believe the point is made that Scripture, in all of its translation and context, needs to be taken into account, not just history.
Please read my comment so you can respond to what I actually wrote. My point was not about proper self-interpretation of the Scriptures, my point was about your ridiculing it as quirky.
But, your model (self-interpretation) is not biblical — sola Scriptura is not biblical, the Bible was never intended for you to put it under your feet so you can be the arbiter of its meaning (seriously, would you argue with an autobiographer about the meaning of her own book?). Your idea of “truth” or a “true gospel” (your words) is dependent on you, on your interpretation, on your camp that “sees” different “things” in the Bible. Any group can use the “Bible alone” to argue for any case, and that is exactly why there are thousands of Protestant camps that all think they are right. The proper approach is to utilize both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which is in fact biblical, and which is in fact the model that Jesus intended and that the apostles utilized. (Even the Bible verse that you initially used in your post is prefaced by this fact just a few verses earlier: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” -2 Thess 2:15) When properly approached, and when not divorced from the living Tradition, Christians are able to recognize BR. The CofC, of course, has severed itself from the living Tradition, have, by luck, retained a belief in BR, and should be encouraged to keep it.
As able as I am to refute your self-intrpretation of the Bible in this area (Baptism), I hope you’ve come to understand my point and forgive me for not chasing after your red herring: BR is not “quirky”, should not be ridiculed, is more reasonable, is not dependent on self-interpretation of another Faith’s holy book, but is an ancient and [of course, a possible] proper understanding of initiation into Christ’s Church. But if you insist on arguing that your interpretation is more valid, then start at the beginning, and establish some sort of timeline when your position was first argued.
You see, heresy always follows orthodoxy. So if you can establish an argument from history that supports your interpretation (and is by a group that you yourself would be happy to claim communion with), and if that argument precedes the established historically-revealed understanding of BR, then you might have a leg to stand on. Unfortunately for you (and the truly “quirky” minority of Christian peoples of all generations), the record shows that the nascent Church believed in BR. In other words, heresy follows orthodoxy.
Patrick, I appreciate your feedback and you are partially right, I have chosen my words improperly. I apologize for that. That said, tradition should not and can not trump Scripture. Knowing that I will not convince you of this, nor will you convince me of your views, I challenge us both to simply pray for each other to see what God’s true desire is for each of our lives. Thank you for the feedback.
Thanks. For clarity, I am not suggesting that Tradition trumps Scripture. What I’m suggesting is:
The “word of God” is not only Scripture (sola Scripture, which is not taught within the Bible), but rather, Scripture & Tradition. So, if one’s interpretation of Scripture contradicts the other half of revelation (Tradition), then one’s interpretation is incorrect (God does not contradict Himself) — both are of God, both are authoritative.
And to a degree, you agree with me! Because where I believe the Catholic Church is the Tradition established by Christ, you believe your own self-interpretation to be the Tradition that Jesus intended to guard the Deposit of Faith. In other words, where you believe I (or the Catholic Church) trumps Scripture, I (and the CC) would suggest you are trumping Scripture; because from a historical perspective, those who deny BR are not minding the Scriptures as history/Tradition/successors of the apostles who we believe have the “Spirit of truth” and will be “guided into all truth” understand them (cf. Jn 14:16-18, 26; 16:13). Furthermore, notice the verse I provided earlier. It does not place Scripture (“letter”) above Tradition (“oral/by mouth”), and it does not place Tradition (“oral/by mouth”) above Scripture (“letter”); it suggests that both are equally authoritative, which is what the Catholic Church believes, and therefore, she recorded it within this verse, kept it, placed it within the canon of Scripture, and venerates it every day.
Thank for acknowledging your use of “quirky” — we all tend to use imprecise words. That was all I was getting at. I will let you be 🙂
There is so much heresy within the visible church today that it seems unrealistic to think that there can be positive biblical change, and has you have aptly pointed out, it all revolves around what the church believes about the Bible and whether or not the church embraces the Bible as the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God preserved for us today. God bless you:)
Thanks Eliza. I really appreciate the kind words and I covet your prayer. And I agree, it comes to whether the church is understanding that God is speaking through the Bible.