The daily news is filled with pundits who speak in polarities and strong rhetoric. These figures help influence the divide in politics, in worldviews, and even between Christians. They want us to believe that their views are correct and the opposing views are wrong.
Political pundits have succeeded in creating a culture of polarity and division that divides nations, states, and local communities. They model that human dialogue is not valid as they seem not to respect and value those with opinions different from their own. Some take this to the extreme with violent results.
In some ways, this political phenomenon is influencing the Christian community in general and the Church of the Nazarene in particular. We find ourselves divided on important issues of morality, doctrine, and Christian practice. Polarization takes place in local, district, and global conversations about moral issues. Divisions emerge in local congregations as Christians discuss how to engage the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We find well-meaning people with differing views.
All of these issues are important. But for the church to unite, it cannot allow the political atmosphere of polarities to divide it.
We need to practice charity in the midst of disagreement.
If we do not, non-essential aspects of our faith will hinder our ability to live and proclaim the good news of the gospel.
While the particular issues may be unique to our world today, disagreement about non-essentials has a long history. Reciting a line from earlier in Christian history, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene, Phineas F. Bresee echoed John Wesley's advice, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." He recognized the importance of uniting on matters of Christian doctrine and belief essential to salvation.
The essentials of Christian faith include embracing orthodox Christian understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ—His life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Through Christ, our sins are forgiven and we can live new lives. These beliefs unify Christians around the world, and they should unify Christ followers in the Church of the Nazarene. These fundamental beliefs are present in the Church of the Nazarene's 16 Articles of Faith, which become the beliefs by which we align our faith and practice.
Although the Church of the Nazarene has 16 Articles of Faith to unify it, these articles leave open space for differences of opinion. For example, article 15 says, "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again, that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus, but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord" (Manual, p. 37).
While the article describes our denomination's belief in Jesus' second coming, it does not prescribe how that return will occur. Members of our denomination hold a variety of views on the second coming.
When Bresee encountered differences in belief and practice, E. A. Garvin quotes him saying, "Pertaining to things not essential to salvation, we have liberty. To attempt to emphasize that which is not essential to salvation, and thus divide forces, would be a crime. Unwillingness for others to enjoy the liberty that we enjoy in reference to doctrines not vital to salvation is bigotry, from which the spirit of holiness withdraws itself" (Prince of Israel, by E. A. Garvin, 1916, 452).
Disagreements over non-essentials can affect our ability to reflect holiness of heart and life.
Our Wesleyan theology reminds us of the importance of practicing the "middle way" (via media). The via media attempts to affirm particular truths we share, despite disagreeing about other matters. The middle way reminds us that we can move beyond the polarities to practice charity and love in the midst of disagreement.
I am the first in my family to join the Church of the Nazarene. I chose the church because of its strong doctrinal beliefs. I am convinced that the essential doctrines of our church unite Nazarenes and join us with other Christians around the world.
We must uphold these important truths, which are centered in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. If we continue to allow the non-essentials of our faith to divide us, we will lose sight of our mission and purpose. We will fail to call and help others grow in holiness of heart and life.
I hope that we move beyond the non-essential polarities that divide us and embrace the essentials that unite us. When we disagree—and, yes, we will disagree—I pray that we will do so with love and compassion toward one another.
Mark A. Maddix is dean of Theology and Christian Ministries at Northwest Nazarene
Holiness Today, November/December 2011
Please note: This article was originally published in 2011. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.