In 1995, a hurricane battered the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua. On Sunday morning following the hurricane, a congregation there, All Saints Church of the Nazarene, gathered for worship.
The congregation had to stand that morning. The pews were damaged, the roof was gone, and the wooden floor had buckled. Rosa Lee, the district superintendent and pastor at that time, stood before her congregation and said, "Brothers and sisters, our building is gone, but the church remains."
What good news. The church remains!
Jesus assures us, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18, ESV).
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!
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 Church of the Nazarene 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.
Those early Nazarenes were 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.
From the beginning, the Church of the Nazarene had four goals:
- To preach and teach the gospel to all people. In doing so, leaders have preached and taught a strong relationship between social work and evangelism.
- 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. 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. 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.
- 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. In 1909, Phineas Bresee, the first Nazarene general superintendent, 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."
- To purpose, in every service, that there would be an awareness of the powerful sense of God's presence. 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.
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 inspires amazing creativity.
God gives the church unlimited opportunities to use imagination and creativity to maximize its effectiveness in this century. Do we realize that the methods we now call "tradition" were one day new? God is on the side of creativity, newness, and innovation. In His creativity, God made us in His image. He releases His creativity in us. We pursue God in all the disciplines, adventures, and 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. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, often called for a soul-transforming newness: new life, new creation, new birth, new wineskins, new teaching, new covenant, new commandment, new world, new believers, a new man and woman, a new heaven and a new earth, and a new way into the Holy of Holies.
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.
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:
- Christ provides unchanging stability
- 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.
God's holiness moves a people to mission; it refocuses a people from problems to purpose.
Rosa Lee in Antigua was right: the church remains. For Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not be strong enough to destroy it."
- Has called us to be agents of change with purpose.
- Is not afraid of our times. He is not afraid of postmodern times.
- Was here long before we arrived.
- Invites to embrace the holy new, which will lead to spiritual transformation, to revolutions for Him, to the supernatural, to something that cannot be done without Him.
Nina Gunter is general superintendent emerita in the Church of the Nazarene.
General Superintendent Emerita Nina Gunter shared this as a devotional at the Church of the Nazarene's 2013 General Assembly in Indianapolis. This has been edited for space.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2013
Please note: This article was originally published in 2013. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.