by Dr. Nina Gunter, General Superintendent Emeritus as delivered to the 2013 General Assembly, Church of the Nazarene
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In 1995, a hurricane battered the beautiful Caribbean island of Antiqua. On Sunday morning, following the hurricane, the congregation of the All Saints Church of the Nazarene in Antiqua, gathered for worship.
The congregation had to stand for worship. The pews were damaged, the roof was gone, the wooden floor had buckled. The district superintendent and pastor at that time, Mrs. Rosa Lee, stood before the congregation and said, “Brothers and sisters, our building is gone, but the church remains.”
What good news! The church remains!
Jesus assures us in Matthew 16:18 – “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” or, as the NIRV renders it – “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not be strong enough to destroy it.”
The church that Jesus is building is not dead, and neither is it dying.
The church is changing…to serve the present age, and to seek to serve every age to come.
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ will not go under for He is the foundation of the church. It belongs to Him. And, the Lord of the church is still in the church. The church is not in crisis; the church is in Christ.
So…we have GOOD NEWS FOR THE CHURCH!
I. CHRIST PROVIDES UNCHANGING STABILITY FOR THE CHURCH.
God wants the church to be dependent on Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In our world, our individualism and “let me do it my way” mentality keep calling us to self-sufficiency and independence.
Across the years, the COTN has been an effective and worthy witness to the saving and sanctifying grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we have depended on the presence, the purity, and the power of God.
• He is with us and in us.
• He is present to empower us for service and for faithfulness.
• He enables us to do great achievements for the Kingdom of God
beyond our ability to think or dream.
* He helps us live like Christ.
Those early Nazarenes were totally focused on the Message of Holiness and the Mission of God.
They were excited about the Message of Christian Holiness.
The Mission was the driving force that gave stability to their commitment.
In 1908, the natal date of the COTN, Dr. Phineas F. Bresee, the principle founder of the COTN, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, set out to lead a church forward with a mission.
We remember that past so we can wisely chart the future.
The COTN, from the beginning, had 4 goals that I invite you to refocus on:
1. To preach and teach the gospel to all people.
In doing so, leaders have preached and taught a strong relation between social work and evangelism.
General Supt. Bresee: “The gospel comes to a multitude without money and without price, and the poorest of the poor are entitled to a front seat at the COTN, the one condition being that they come early enough to get there.”
We were founded to be a church for all peoples.
2. Another goal – To provide a form of church government that was thoroughly democratic.
Leaders have advocated strong church boards with equal rights to all – poor, wealthy, men, women, and all nationalities.
The COTN is “a church of the people and for the people.” It stands “halfway between congregationalism and the episcopacy” in its governance.
Connectionalism was a key word in those early days. This is what the Methodists used to call “connection.” Our distinctiveness and strength – “connection” – is the unity of mind and spirit.
Our churches are not independent, not dependent, but interdependent. Each other in the local church is needed.
Each other on the district … the region…the worldwide denomination is needed. We can do more together than we can do individually. No church, district, region, or college is sovereign. We are each a part of the whole.
3. Another goal – To preach holiness.
The church’s creed made the Biblical doctrine of perfect love central.
The fullness of the Spirit was to be the distinguishing tenant.
Holiness of heart and life was the message, the passion, the fire, the calling of this new church.
Dr. Bresee in 1909 said: “We feel ourselves a part of that body of believers raised up to spread sanctified holiness over these lands, and thus we are part of that company who are the real successors of John Wesley and the early Methodists.”
Our pioneers were committed to the holiness message. They wrote songs about that message…and they sang them with commitment and gusto. The preachers preached that message with great fervency and incorporated holiness in every sermon. Parents taught it to their children. The laity testified about it in the church services.
May we in this our time live under the banner – “Holiness Unto the Lord.”
May we sing it – shout it – preach it – and live it. Holiness Forevermore.
4. Another goal – To purpose, in every service, that there would be an
awareness of the powerful sense of God’s presence.
Bresee declared that the most important aim in every service is “getting the glory down…The glory of the Lord must fill His house.”
This did not, and does not, mean worked up emotions, but “the glory” means the manifest presence of God. Then the church will reflect the image of Christ in the world through its actions.
In that “Glory Barn” – the building that the early Los Angeles Nazarenes occupied was a simple white structure that was quickly nicknamed “The Glory Barn.” The walls glistened with the glory of God. The people regularly responded with “hallelujahs” and “amens.”
Bresee slowly clapped his hands while the people sang. The people clapped with enthusiasm.
Good News: Jesus did not die to birth a powerless church.
Instead, He has brought together for God a people who are designed to be strong, mighty, and victorious.
Christ’s church can meet Satan head on in battle and win so long as Jesus is in the midst. We serve the all-sufficient, powerful Christ – the Foundation and Lord of the church.
There is more good news for the church:
II. Not only does Christ provide unchanging stability, but HE INSPIRES AMAZING CREATIVITY.
God gives the church unlimited opportunity to use imagination and creativity to maximize its effectiveness in this century.
God is on the side of creativity and newness and innovation.
Do we realize that the methods we now call “tradition” were one day new?
The Wesleyan Holiness Consortium, which is represented by the denominations of the Wesleyan tradition, listed 10 descriptors of the Wesleyan Holiness Movement.
One of these descriptors is: “Curious or creative thinking based upon the awesomeness of God.” In His creativity, God made us in His image. He releases His creativity in us. We pursue God in all the disciplines…the adventures…all the great discoveries.
Creation showcases God’s creative work in nature.
Redemption demonstrates God’s creativity in forgiving sin and providing a new life.
Notice how Jesus used creativity to share the gospel with different persons in Scripture – the woman at the well
Jesus, in His earthly ministry, often called for a soul-transforming newness — NEW life, NEW creation, NEW birth, NEW wine skins, NEW teaching, NEW covenant, NEW commandment, NEW world, NEW believers, a NEW man/woman, a NEW heaven and a NEW earth, and a NEW way into the holy of holies.
(Ill. When Louise Chapman, missionary, NMI leader, wife of J. B. Chapman) and a great mentor in my life, was 100 years old. I was sitting with her in her little cottage at Casa Robles. She was planning her funeral service. She had asked me to lead her service and preach her funeral. As we came to the selection of Scripture, she said, go to Rev. 21. I want the portion read that God makes all things new. She said, God is always making things new. She got so excited talking about how God calls for newness).
We don’t have to be afraid of God’s NEW leadings. Our milestones don’t have to become tombstones. We don’t perpetuate an institution for its past, but for its future.
The church need not outlive her child-bearing years. This – the COTN – is one 105-year old body that can still give birth.
God has called us to be agents of change with purpose.
God is not afraid of our times. He is not afraid of postmodern times.
God was here long before we arrived.
The future is often coy, unpredictable, and threatening. God gives us wisdom and grace to tell His story – our stories – with amazing creativity.
God invites us to embrace the holy new which will lead to spiritual transformation, to revolutions for God, to the supernatural, to something that cannot be done without God.
Methods and strategies change with culture, time, and generations – but the message and mission of Christ stands strong, changeless, and eternal.
If we are not careful, we’ll get distracted from the message and the mission because we get hung up on the changing methods.
The vision for the future continues to unfold as we follow Christ. We seek:
• To most effectively disciple all ages
• To lead people into a connection with the body of Christ
• To help people connect with God in worship
• To engage the community around us at its point of need
• To be the faithful Spirit-filled stewards of all God has entrusted to us
Let’s apply creativity to everything we do in the church and always be sure the message is clear. The message that anyone who comes to Christ gets a fresh start…is created new…the old life is gone…the power of sin is broken…the restoration of God’s image in humanity is a reality.
Let us – the people of God – celebrate the good news of God’s church.
Let us live out the good news that:
1. Christ provides unchanging stability
2. Christ inspires amazing creativity.
We need to do more than read the headlines in the paper or hear the daily news in the world and shake our heads at the tragedies of our world.
We need to light the fires of victory…march into Satan’s domain and take back the lost souls and the suffering saints he has afflicted.
For God’s holiness moves a people to mission; it refocuses a people from problems to purpose.
Mrs. Rosa Lee in Antiqua was so right – our building structure might be gone…but the church remains. For Jesus said – “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not be strong enough to destroy it.”
“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21, NKJV)