Studying for the Ministry
by Fr. John Whiteford
I came to SNU with the convictions and zeal of a new convert, because I had reconverted, and the experience was so deep and powerful, that while I had many things I did not know, there were a few things that I no longer doubted. I no longer doubted the truth of the Christian Faith, the truth of Scripture, or who Christ was and is. But as I began my first semester, I had a sense that some of my professors were very anxious to pour cold water over their eager and zealous young students. In one class, a professor began his first lecture by talking about how the Jews had waited for centuries for the coming of Christ, but that when He came, they missed Him, because they had built up walls around their faith to protect it. And just like the Pharisees,
“you too have built up walls around your faith.”
He then proceeded to explain that he was going to tear down those walls, so that we could build our faith on a surer foundation. In the coming months, I came to see what he had in mind, and I can’t say that I was a very cooperative participant.
When one of these professors would make a statement that I found questionable, I would go and research the issue, and then when the subject would come back up, I would mention what I had found. For the most part, my professors at SNU were open to having their views challenged, and the back and forth of these discussions spurred me to dig deeper into many foundational questions of theology and Scripture – questions that would probably have gone unexamined if my instructors had been more conservative Nazarenes.
Many of my classmates struck me as very passive, and seemed to just accept what they were taught as a given, since the professors would be the ones to know best. However, I had a few classmates that were more inclined to question what we were taught, and we soon became friends. Two of these classmates were from Nazarene backgrounds, and two were from Charismatic backgrounds, and were attending a Vineyard Church (which was sort of a non-denominational denomination which had services that were very laid back, and music that was very much “Top-40” worship (rock band, “worship team”, etc).
It was the “Un-Church”.
People would kick up their feet, and pop open a coke. With rare exceptions, you would not see a suit and tie… but jeans, t-shirts, Bermuda shorts, and Hawaiian shirts. They were focused on spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, casting out demons, healing the sick, and prophecy. I found a lot of it very attractive, but I was never able to bring myself to join it. There were elements of their doctrine that I could not accept. For example they believed in eternal security (“once saved, always saved”), and Nazarenes decidedly did not. Also, my previous experience with Pentecostalism left me a little more skeptical of some of the excesses that I saw.
So while at school, my studies went on several tracks at once: there was the material I had to read for class; there was the material I read to counter the material I had to read for class; there was the material I read because I became interested in a particular topic; and then there was the material I read because I was looking for something deeper. The third and fourth tracks evolved over time. In the first year or so, I was especially focused on digging deeper into the Holiness Movement that the Nazarene Church was a part of. I read Charles Finney’s works, almost completely. I also read many other Holiness writers… John Wesley, of course; William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army (which is a denomination, not just a charity); Hannah Whitall Smith; Samuel Logan Brengle; Phineas F. Bresee; “Uncle” Bud Robinson; A.M. Hills; H. Orton Wiley; Watchman Nee; and many other lesser known writers. I also studied the history of Methodism, and the Holiness Movement extensively, as well as the connection between those movements and Pentecostalism. I had hoped that by digging into the roots of the Holiness tradition, I could discover what was now missing in it. I did find many admirable historical figures, and found their devotion to God and the seriousness with which they approached the spiritual life to be impressive. The descriptions of the old revivals sounded like maybe they had something that had been lost along the way.
The Pentecostal movement was originally an offshoot of the Holiness Movement… in fact the birthplace of Pentecostalism is generally considered to be the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, which was founded by a black Nazarene pastor who had started preaching that you had to speak in tongues to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and was soon thereafter locked out of his Church by his congregation. At that time the Nazarene Church was actually known as the “Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene”… but the term “Pentecostal” was previously used in reference to the “second blessing”, which was the work of “entire sanctification”, which was taught to be the result of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit… which was generally believed to happen at some point after justification, i.e., when someone comes to a “saving faith” in Christ.
I discovered that the Pentecostal movement had in fact hijacked a number of terms (such as “Full Gospel”) that had been common in the Holiness Movement, but because the mainstream Holiness Movement was so anxious to distance themselves from the “tongue talkers”, they quickly abandoned terminology that might associate them with this new movement, and in the process they also moved away from much of the revivalist spirit that had characterized them.
The Holiness Movement is actually where the term “Holy Roller” came from… because people used to roll in the aisle, jump pews, run around the Church, climb poles, shout, wave their hankies, etc. I worked for an old man whose father had been an old time Nazarene Evangelist, and he told me that when he was a kid, tour buses from Oklahoma City use to take people to Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, so that they could see these kinds of things for themselves. You wouldn’t know that from the Bethany First Church of the Nazarene of the time that I was going to school, or pretty much any other Nazarene Church. So I began to wonder if maybe the fervor of the Holiness Movement had been lost due to an overreaction to Pentecostalism, and so I began to see if I could find something that was somewhere in between what the Nazarene Church was that I had known, and the Pentecostal movement, which I knew had a wacky side to it, that I wanted to avoid.