Up Next? Ordination! (Tentatively.)

“Ordination” is a funny, “churchy” sounding-word that might not mean a lot to many people.  But within proper context, it is filled with significance.  To get an idea of how important it is, consider the role of Ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.  Unlike most Protestant Churches (including the Church of the Nazarene), which recognize two sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), Catholics recognize seven sacraments.  Two of these additional five are Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders, and these two do not mix.  Ordination is so significant for Catholics that those who are ordained cannot get married.

Different organizations have different requirements for Ordination, but pretty much all representations of Christianity have Ordination of some sort.  In some cases, it requires little preparation and simply the local church’s or organization’s affirmation that the person is ordained.  In other organizations, it requires years of preparation, including a Master of Divinity Degree, or even a Doctorate of some type.  (And, of course, there are those mail order Certificates of Ordination that are essentially fake but legit in a nation with freedom of religion.)

My own denomination, The Church of the Nazarene (COTN), offers this Theology of Ordination in its Manual:

“While affirming the scriptural tenet of the universal priesthood and ministry of all believers, ordination reflects the biblical belief that God calls and gifts certain men and women for ministerial leadership in the church.  Ordination is the authenticating, authorizing act of the Church, which recognizes and confirms God’s call to ministerial leadership as stewards and proclaimers of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ.  Consequently, ordination bears witness to the Church universal and the world at large that this candidate evidences an exemplary life of holiness, possesses gifts and graces for public ministry, and has a thirst for knowledge, especially for the Word of God, and has the capacity to communicate sound doctrine.”

The COTN takes a moderate approach to Ordination.  We require experience and education prior to bestowing Orders, but we do not require the depth of education that some organizations require.  It is preferred that Ordinands complete a ministry degree from one of our colleges or universities, but there is a non-degree path to completing the education requirements.

The path to ordination looks something like this:

1) A man or woman will receive a “local license” from their local church.  This license does not grant any legal status of clergy, but it does indicate that the person’s local church recognizes his or her potential for ministry.  When a local license is granted, that person is also enrolled in his or her district’s education program, which can either be completed through a Nazarene college or university or through modules taken on district.

2) When a prospective pastor has held a local license for at least a year and completed Level 1 (of four) of the education program, he or she can apply to receive a district license.  This is done by a recommendation of the local church board to the District Ministerial Credentials Board.  The candidate interviews before the DMCB, which then makes a recommendation to the District Assembly.  The District Assembly votes to accept the report from the DMCB, and the person is granted a district license for one year.  This district license is what grants the legal status of “clergy” to the person.  Each year, district license holders are required to complete at least two courses in their education program and interview before the DMCB again.

3) When a district licensed pastor has completed his or her education program and has held a district license for at least three years serving in a full-time ministry capacity (or four years, I believe, in a part-time ministry capacity), he or she becomes eligible for Ordination.  Ordination is not a right bestowed once the requirements are completed, though.  It is a privilege granted to those deemed worthy.  The Ordination candidate interviews with the DMCB again, and that board makes the recommendation to the District Assembly.  Following an affirmative DA vote, the candidate then meets with the Presiding General Superintendent of the District Assembly, who gives the final approval for Ordination.  When that approval is given, a special service is held, and all the ordained elders present lay hands on the Ordinand as the Presiding GS gives the blessing and proclamation.

I have been on the path to Ordination for a long time.  I first perceived a call to ministry when I was as young as nine-years-old.  As I recently turned 39, that was 30 years ago!  When I was a teen, I considered some other possibilities, but when I was around 18, I perceived the call again.  I was given my first chance to serve as a youth pastor and receive a local license when I was 23 at Casper, WY First COTN.  I was in that role for a little over two years and then took a hiatus from “professional” ministry.  A couple of years later, though, I resumed my education, and on June 19, 2008, I received my first District License.  On November 2, 2009, I began a new ministry assignment, serving as the youth pastor at Bitterroot Valley COTN in Victor, MT, where I served through October 2017.  I now serve as the worship pastor at SonRise COTN in Cheyenne, WY.

I had a few bumps along the way.  When I moved to Montana, I was on track to complete my BA in Bible & Theology through Nazarene Bible College later that Spring.  However, my move was such a significant step that I had to back off.  Perhaps I backed off a bit too much, because I ended up taking a two-year hiatus from being a district license holder from 2013-2015.  In January 2015, though, I resumed my formal education, and I was invited to participate in the Commencement of Northwest Nazarene University’s College of Adult & Graduate Studies in May 2017 (and officially graduating with my BA in Christian Ministry in October of that same year).  Having completed my degree, I had finally completed the education requirements for ordination.

As previously mentioned, though, Ordination is not a right.  It is a privilege.  Three months ago, I interviewed before the Rocky Mountain District Ministry Credentials Board.  That board is recommending me to the District Assembly for Elders Orders.  The DA meets in three days, on Saturday, June 23rd.  Should they vote to accept me for Ordination, I will then meet with Dr. Gustavo Crocker, our Presiding General Superintendent this year.  He will then have the final say on if I will be ordained that evening.

This has been a long journey!  And though I am nearing the end of one path, really I am only approaching the beginning of another.  As the day approaches, I am filled with a lot of excitement . . . and some nervousness.  My friends and mentors who have gone on this journey before me have told me that I have nothing to be worried about.  They have assured me that I am ready.  But . . . am I?  Reviewing the Theology of Ordination, can I really live up to that?  Well, of course, the answer is that I can’t.  But as I surrender to the Holy Spirit, I believe that God will empower me to do all that God has for me to do.  I simply need to be faithful to God.

So . . . I will leave these reflections for now with a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien, found in The Fellowship of the Ring:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then?  I cannot say.

Racism Exposed

I have a confession to make: I am a racist.

This is a blog post that has been in my mind for about 13 months.  To make this confession public, though, is painful.  But what better day to call myself out than on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

To be clear, I don’t really think that I am a racist.  At least, not intentionally.  Thirteen months ago, though, I was forced to accept something about myself that I didn’t want to accept.  I have latent racism.  Before that, though, some context.

I was born in central Missouri (Columbia), and I moved with my family to central Wyoming (Lander) when I was seven years old.  I lived there until I was 21 (with the final year and a half spent also in west Idaho for college), and then I was in Denver for two years, back to Wyoming (Casper) for seven years, then a tiny town in west Montana (Victor) for eight years, and I have been back in Wyoming (Cheyenne) for almost half a year now.

All my life, I have been in areas that are probably 90%+ white people.  In Lander, the Native American population was significant, and my time in Idaho included spending time with a lot of Mexicans.  (There were times at my McDonald’s job there that I was the only native English-speaking person working in the store.)  But there is no doubt that in the vast majority of settings I find myself, I am surrounded by people with a similar skin tone as myself.

I have never thought of myself as being racist.  I had nothing wrong with the occasional African-American or Asian-American (or other non-white American) I encountered in any of the places I lived.  I’ve traveled the world some (Australia, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia), and I have never felt particularly uncomfortable in any of the non-white majority places that I have found myself outside the United States.  However, a trip to my homeland in March 2017 caused me to acknowledge my latent racism.

In early March 2017, I was headed to the Kansas City area to attend some ministry-related meetings.  Other than a quick drive across Missouri in 2011, I had not been back to the state of my birth since I was 9 years old (1988).  So, I decided to fly into St. Louis, drive across the state for my meetings, and spend some time visiting some of the places that were buried deep in my memory.  This is where my latent racism manifested itself.

To be clear, I had no ill thoughts or wished nothing negative on any of the non-white people that I encountered.  However, frequently on my Missouri adventure, most notably (but not exclusively) in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, I found myself in places that were 95% African-American.  I was often one of the few white people around.  I found myself internally obsessed with this.  I was extremely uncomfortable.  I wasn’t scared at all . . . other than I was fearful of doing or saying anything that might make me seem racist.  I went out of my way to be overly friendly towards the African-Americans I talked to.  I remember walking down an aisle in a store, about to cross to the other side to find what I was looking for, but then noticing an African-American walking towards me on the side that I was already on.  To not seem like I was trying to avoid this person, I purposefully remained on the same side until he passed.  I didn’t want anyone to think I was one of those bigoted white guys.

That is all I have to report.  As previously mentioned, I had no ill wishes or thoughts about anyone.  Just extreme internal discomfort like I had never experienced before.  To some of you, this may not sound like a big deal.  But to me, it exposed something about myself that I don’t like.  I do, indeed, have latent racism.  And if this is the case, what other latent bigotry am I guilty of?  Am I a misogynist?  Am I prejudiced against people in other social classes?  Do I truly love others as I love myself?  In my interactions with others, do I have the same attitude of Christ Jesus?

And if I have such latent prejudices, what does that tell me about society?  Am I an anomaly?  Or do other people have similar prejudices?  Is our entire system set up in favor of certain types of people against other types of people?  Sadly, I think this is the case.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think society has vastly improved from where it once was.  African-Americans can hold much more prominent social roles than they were able to hold in previous eras.  We even recently elected a black POTUS.  Who would have imagined this would have happened in the 1860s?  Or the 1960s?  We have indeed come a long way from where America once was.

But we still have a long way to go.  If such latent prejudice was exposed in me, I must believe that many other people have these latent prejudices, too.  I think the first step is acknowledging them.  We need to become aware and ashamed of the ways we think differently about or become uncomfortable around people different than ourselves.  We need to acknowledge and expose our prejudices, both as individuals and as societies, and then we can work on moving past them.

And what we should be striving for isn’t a “colorblind society” as some have called for.  Rather, we should strive to live in a world that celebrates diversity and recognizes the great worth and value that comes when people who are different than one another bring their differences to the table for the greater good of society.  We have so much to offer each other.  Let’s rejoice in our diversities and use them to enrich each other and society.

There is probably more that I can say about this, but I will leave it at that for this morning.

The Non-Violent Way Of Christ

On this Good Friday morning, as I reflect on who Jesus is and the sacrifice He made on the first Good Friday, I am reminded of the non-violent way of Christ.  Over the last several years, I have become increasingly convinced that the way of Christ, and thus the way Christians are called to live, is a way of non-violence.  I know some of you reading this are thinking, “It took him long enough to grasp this obvious reality.”  And others might be thinking, “Wait.  What?  Is he suggesting pacifism?  Can’t we defend ourselves?”  Well, the tension between these two perspectives is what I have been struggling with.

In my mind, it makes sense that though we shouldn’t be aggressive towards others, we should be willing to stand up to aggression with aggression if needed.  How else are evildoers to be stopped?  If someone comes at me with a gun, do I really think saying to that person, “Come on now, fellow.  Let’s put the gun down.  Violence isn’t any way to solve anything?” will make a significant difference?  In my mind, it makes sense for me to pull out a gun, or better yet, my black belt training (which I don’t have), in defense of myself and others and stop that person from doing harm.

The way of Christ is different.

I’ve struggled with how to convey this also because I do not want to seem as if I am dishonoring the service and sacrifice of the many fine men and women who serve in defensive roles, whether in the military, as police officers, and other such vocations.  I honor and value the personal sacrifices they have made.  They are far braver people than I will ever be, and I appreciate their desire to serve a higher cause in the capacity that they believe they are best equipped to serve it.

I also wrestle with this because I do not have an answer to the “But Hitler?” question.  In Hitler’s rise to power, many tried to take a passive role.  As a result, millions of people died.  How can this be a better way to go?  How can we refuse to stand up to aggressors?  Honestly, I do not know.

What I do know, though, is that the way of Christ is different.

Paul writes, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength . . . God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-29).

It doesn’t make sense to me.  It seems wisest for people to be willing to defend themselves.  But . . . the way of Christ is different.

Just prior to those verses, Paul wrote, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24).

The way of Christ is different.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the people shouting, “Hosanna!”  They expected their Messiah to overthrow their Roman overlords and reestablish the Kingdom of Israel.  Even after His resurrection, His disciples pushed Him for that to be the time that Israel would once again be lifted to prominence.

But the way of Christ is different.

Instead of rallying His people and throwing the Romans out of Jerusalem, Jesus surrendered Himself to the humility of the cross.  Nobody understood it.  Why would the Messiah allow Himself to be mocked, beaten, and slaughtered?  But . . . the way of Christ is different.

Of course, we now know that in the crucifixion, atonement was made for the sins of humanity.  There was a greater purpose for Christ’s sacrifice.  So, at this point, it would be easy to revert to human logic and say, “Well, for Christ it was the way to go.  He had a specific purpose.  But we don’t have to do that.”

But the way of Christ is different.

Throughout the Gospels . . . well, throughout the whole New Testament, we are called to follow Christ’s example.  Though certainly our personal sacrifices do not have the same atoning power that Christ’s did, it is still our calling.  It doesn’t make sense.  It is outside of human logic.  But the way of Christ is different.

Who would have thought that the death of one Man would result in the defeat of death itself?  Who would have thought that through Christ’s sacrifice a New Creation would emerge?  Who would have thought that non-violence would result in the eventual overthrow of all aggression and violence?  You see . . . the way of Christ is different.

I don’t have answers to all the “But Hitlers?” of life.  I don’t know the best way to handle ISIS, terrorists (whether Islamic or not), school shooters, home invaders, etc.  And I honestly can’t say that if threatened I wouldn’t defend myself, even with violence if needed.  But I remain convinced that the way of Christ is different.

Know that if you serve, or previously served, in a vocation that included the possible use of violence in defense of others, I do not dishonor your service.  In fact, I thank you for your willingness to give of yourself in defense of others.  If, through prayer, contemplation, and wise counsel, you believe that the role you serve (or served) in is/was your best life vocation choice, do not let me take the assurance away from you.

Likewise, if you are a well-trained gun handler, and you carry concealed for what you believe to be the defense of others, and you have confirmed the appropriateness of this through prayer, contemplation, and wise counsel, know that I am not trying to tell you that you are in the wrong.  Follow your conscience.  I have no desire to take away your guns or undermine the 2nd Amendment.  I have been around guns most my life, and they do not make me nervous.

But . . . through your prayer, contemplation, and wise counsel, I encourage you to reflect on the way of Christ.  And remember that though the way of Christ oftentimes does not make sense to human logic, it always results in greater things.  The Kingdom of God turns all things upside down.  It doesn’t make sense, but we really shouldn’t expect it to.

The way of Christ is different.

A Response to “Sin and the Historian”

I am in the final weeks (six, to be exact) of my very long undergraduate period.  One of my current classes is a U.S. History class.  It is one that I should have taken care of years ago . . . but . . . well, I didn’t.  So here we are now, wrapping things up!

In this class, one of the ongoing assignments is to read articles as a weekly devotional and write a response to the article.  Last week’s article was titled “Sin and the Historian“, written by John Fea.  (Click on the title of the article in the previous sentence to read it.)  I really enjoyed reading the article and found much value in it.  However, it was written from a different theological perspective than my own.  So in my response, I reframed what was being considered.  My response is what follows:

Fea concludes his article with this question: “What if we taught and wrote history as if human depravity mattered?” (par. 8).  As a Wesleyan theologian, I feel compelled to turn the question around on him: What if we taught and wrote history as if prevenient grace mattered?  Certainly, I was put on guard early on when he alludes to himself as a Calvinist: “This article is must reading for all Christian academics, whether you are a Calvinist or not” (par. 1).

There is, indeed, much that I agree with in his article.  I never support the whitewashing of history.  One of the things I love about Scripture is that all the great men and women of faith are still flawed.  Scripture never hides their sins.  I believe that this should be the case with history, as well.  We can respect what men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington contributed in the founding of the United States while at the same time lamenting the fact that they were slave owners.

Still, I would rather look at history through the lens of prevenient grace.  Doing so requires us to acknowledge the flaws of historical figures.  We do not dwell on the flaws, though.  Instead, we can look at those things and see how God is working grace through them.  Fea writes, “History certainly teaches us that we live in a broken world that will not be completely fixed on this side of eternity” (par. 4).  This is true.  All will not be set right until the Kingdom of God is fully consummated.  However, the Kingdom of God is a present reality, and as the Kingdom of God advances through the Holy Spirit working in God’s people, God is currently in the process of making all things new.  Let us rejoice in this good while at the same time not being afraid to acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of history.