The Nazarene Community

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Copyright. 1997. All Rights Reserved.


INTRODUCTION

This is not a manual of rules or orders save in those places where "the Lord’s commandment" or the inspired writer’s directives are clear and specific. The "manual of discipline" is prepared for those who wish to commit to the association of Christians called the Friends of the Nazarene or Nazarene Community of Christian Saints and who now identify themselves as such.

Jesus the Nazarene taught he had come to build his own Congregation (ecclesia) or Church: "On this Rock I will build my Church." (Mt 16.18); This church or congregation was to be composed of a multitude of "disciples" -- adherents or followers of the Nazarene -- from multi-racial and multi-national backgrounds. (Mt 28.19). In this same context Jesus describes these disciples. Those who make such a commitment have embarked on the Nazarene’s own orders: "If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake day after day and follow me continually." (Lk 9.23; Mt 16.24; Mk 8.34) In the Apocalypse the Celestial Christ’s own angel describes the Friends of the Nazarene present at the Arrival of the King: "They follow the Lamb no matter where he goes." (Re 14.4) Peter, who heard his Master’s words about discipleship, wrote: "You were called to a life of suffering because Christ suffered for us, leaving us a model to follow in his footsteps." (1 Pe 2.21 NR)

Such disciples or adherents of the Nazarene have already thought carefully on Jesus’ words at John 14.15 and 15.12: "If you love me, you will observe my commandments. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you." They have made a study of these "commandments" as well as the "doctrine" (or, teachings) of Jesus. (Jn 7.16 KJV; He 6.1, 2) The doctrines of Christ and many of his commandments are considered in the book THE NAZARENE PRINCIPLES. Before embarking on the path of "following the Lamb no matter where he goes" --- and initiating this by water immersion as a public confession that Jesus is Lord (Ro 10.9, 10) --- the Nazarene disciple realizes several aspects to the course now to be followed:

1. Nazarene disciples keep the commandments of the Lord.

(See the work THE NAZARENE COMMANDMENTS)

2. Nazarene disciples hold the same beliefs and convictions of their Lord.

(See the work THE NAZARENE PRINCIPLES)

3. Nazarene disciples realize the importance of making this Gospel known to others through personal witnessing. This is shown by, a) Jesus’ own example; b) the example of the early Christians; and, c) directives from the Lord to preach the Gospel News.

Did Jesus the Nazarene "organize" his own disciples to accomplish the purpose of his first appearing? It would be hard to argue he did not. He first conformed to John the Baptist’s own work. During this period of about six months the Nazarene gathered his own apostles. He taught them. He set an example of preaching and teaching. He gave them specific directions for their work at that time. He gave them directives which would guide them throughout their lives and the lives of those who would follow. He promised a Spiritual Helper who would help them in compiling what became the New Testament. Shortly after his ascension to heaven, he selected a particular individual who became his greatest missionary, Paul of Tarsus.

However, already, in Jerusalem the apostolic body of the Nazarene’s closest disciples began to get organized. They continued their preaching and teaching in public, in private homes, and in the Jewish Temple area. They immediately replaced the fallen Judas with Mathias as an apostolic overseer. They solved an immediate problem with food distribution by the formation of what later became "deacons" or "ministers of service." What can we learn in the first few chapters of Book the Acts of the Apostles about the lifestyle and Christian association of the Nazarene "saints"?

What will one find by reading these six chapters of Acts? Several matters come right off the page. Though women are mentioned, males have the leadership and teaching roles. There is a united effort to "fill Jerusalem with this teaching." There is a communistic association with everyone ceasing private ownership and a complete sharing among all. This factor raises two evident problems: a) prejudice concerning Jewish widows divided only by language; and, b) greed on the part one couple who lie about the extent of their gift. The former was quickly corrected and the later demonstrates this communal sharing was on a voluntary basis.

Two thousand years later it may be difficult at first for a western reader, or any reader of the Book of Acts, to remember we see the Jewish capitol filled with one million visitors "from every nation on earth" -- all Jews, and mostly men. The current news is the burning subject of the rabbi from Nazareth, who as rumor has it, was raised from the dead. On hand were scores if not hundreds of witnesses to the miracles of this Nazarene healer. The city’s inhabitants and visitors must have been divided on this subject. But, the whole matter demonstrates the first bloom of Christianity was within a Jewish context. All the Christians were Jews themselves. They did their preaching and teaching with the Temple as their focus point where the hundreds of thousands were gathering daily.

There is something missing from this record: any description of church meetings. Some may argue the upper room on the Day of Pentecost was a congregational meeting with over a hundred present, including women. However, a careful reading of chapters one and two might just as well suggest this event involved only the Apostles. Which ever view is adopted this is a unique meeting which indicates no arrangement or system. Indeed, in the entire book of Acts no such description of a congregation meeting exists. We see the apostles, the disciples, and later Paul, working among and meeting with Jewish synagogue. (The word synagogue occurs 16 times in Acts.)

Generally the Jewish synagogue was for education and encouragement with a structure build around elders (Ac 13.15 = synagogue rulers) and the reading of the Scriptures. (Ac 15.21; 2 Co 3.15) When the disciple James mentions Christian meetings he uses the Greek word synagogue. (Ja 2.2) There is an example of Jesus reading and commenting on the Scriptures in the little synagogue of Nazareth. Later Paul is seen offering encouragement in a Jewish synagogue. (Ac 13.14-16)

[NOTES: SUNaGOGE: "Anyone ..who was capable of interpretation was asked to do so... Even if a minor. ... Temple Service was a model for the ritual of the Synagogue... with the same Benediction and chanting of the sacrificial Psalms. These 18 [ really 19 ] Benedictions are mentioned in the Mishna. .... Morning Service: Began with the reciting of the QADhIYSh... [ the similaritybetween this and The Lord's Prayer needs hardly to be pointed out. ... After this: The Legate recited in a loud voice the 1st sentence of the Shema; the rest being received quietly by him and the congregation. Then followed: The 18 Benedictions. ... Afternoon and Evening Prayer: Some of the Psalm and hymnal group were omitted, otherwise the service was very similar." (M ' Clintock's & Strong's CYCLOPEDIA)]

With this Jewish background, Paul gives the only outline for a Christian meeting in a letter to the congregation in the cosmopolitan port city of Corinth. This congregation of Nazarene disciples or saints was struggling with "schisms" and "heresies" to such an extent that Paul early writes, "The Christ exists divided." (1 Co 1.10-13) The purpose of this Pauline epistle is to solve this problem of disunity. Though he deals with several contributing factors, it is in chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen that he addresses those matters which were causing difficulties within the context of their congregational meetings.

If these three chapters could be summarized in just a few words it may be: a) unity despite a variety of gifts; b) love is the unifying bond; and, c) order in meetings. In chapter twelve Paul lists three functions of the Spirit: 1) spiritual gifts; 2) ministries, or services; 3) operations. Paul gives examples of this variety of "operations" in a list. The first deals with nine examples:

1) speech of wisdom

2) speech of knowledge

3) faith

4) healing

5) dynamic works

6) prophesy

7) spiritual discernment

8) tongues

9) interpretation of tongues

After an illustration of the variety among different body members, Paul creates another list of how The God has arranged matters in the Church, or the "one body." (Ep 4.4) His list is different than the former and seems to contain more leadership roles:

1) apostles (representatives sent from one congregation to another)

2) prophets (speakers before an audience)

3) teachers (instructors or writers)

4) dynamic works (miracles)

5) healings (curing)

6) helpful services (material assistance)

7) management (administration and leadership)

8) tongues (foreign languages)

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul provides a similar list of functions within the "one body" (Ep 4.4-16) ---

1) Apostles

2) Prophets

3) Evangelists

4) Shepherds

5) Teachers

Finally, in 1 Corintians chapter fourteen, Paul deals with what could be called congregational matters within the local church. He seems to emphasize that whatever occurs in the local meeting ought to be for the "upbuilding" of all. So, the purpose of the ecclesia is two-fold: education and encouragement. This was the same purpose of the synagogue. In this context the superior gift is "prophesy" which consoles and encourages. The word "prophet" or "prophesy" comes directly from the Greek and means "to speak in front of others." It is true it has a more limited meaning of foretelling a precise event, but the general meaning is that of speaking forth the purpose of The God. (Ac 11.27, 28; 13.1; 15.32)

Twice Paul asks the rhetorical question: "What is to be done, then?" (14.15, 26) In this first instance Paul down-plays the gift of tongues, which is, according to him, meant for unbelievers who speak another language. (Ac 2.8) So, here, Paul states the speaker in a foreign tongue should be quiet if there is no interpreter.

In the answer to the second question (14.26) Paul gives a form or outline for a Christian meeting. He lists:

1) hymn

2) teaching

3) revelation

4) tongue

5) interpreter

Paul does not mention prayer though that can be assumed from 14.13, 14, 17. Nor does he mention a collection. Nor does he mention the segregation of men and women though this was the norm in the synagogue as it is among some Jewish sects to this day, including the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

In the meeting list above one important matter should be discussed. In the thirteen chapter Paul stated that "tongues" would cease. Therefore, # 4 and # 5 above would not occur in congregations after a certain period in the history of Christianity. The Third Century church historian recorded these gifts had passed away by the Second Century and condemns those satanically-possessed prophets who continue it.

If we accept this view the Christian meeting may be characterized by three elements: prayer, hymns, and teaching. In one form or another this is essentially the standard program in most churches in modern days. Both the Jewish and Christian "synagogues" or "gatherings" featured primarily reading and commentary. It may feature a "talk" or "word of encouragement" as seen in Acts 13.15. Males from the age of 12 could participate in this weekly reading and commentary on the Sabbath.

Paul concludes his answer to the question "What should be done?" with a most controversial "custom" he credits as "the Lord’s commandment" --- women are to remain silent in the congregation meeting just as they were in the Jewish synagogue. (14.33-35; compare 11.3, 7-10) Elsewhere Paul strictly states: "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man." (1 Tm 2.11-15) Though many object to this there is not a case in the Christian Scriptures of a woman speaking in a church meeting; nor, a case of a woman exercising authority in a leadership role.

Here is a good time to mention meeting places. There is no case in the Christian Bible of either building or purchasing a meeting place. Christians met in homes and there are congregations describing as being in a house. Clearly, the groups were very small. (Ro 16.5; Co 4.15; Ph 2)

With this background we now raise some questions. How does a body of diverse people work and live together in harmony despite differences in cultural background, social history, and varying degrees of Christian growth? We begin with a lone disciple.

ALONE BUT STRONG.

Like Jesus the Nazarene, let us suppose one begins alone or remains alone after embarking on the course of discipleship. In the history of God’s dealings with His People there have been several examples of individuals who had to serve and worship alone or within a family framework. These include Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Job, Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah. (He 11.38) Situations may develop which cause one to be alone in his Christian discipleship: persecution and prison, or a woman with an unbelieving husband who moves to an isolated area. How is one to remain strong though alone?

There are five areas where a Nazarene Saint could develop a regular and systematic program of worship.

1. First, the feature of worship in prayer. It takes many forms. The saint who is alone may wish to regularly and systematically pray at particular times as did Daniel. Jewish Temple worship featured morning and evening prayer. Meals are a clear opportunity for prayer. Prayer may include petitions in behalf of others, including government officials. A word study on "pray(er)" using a concordance or computer will give plenty of material for thought on this most important subject.

2. Secondly, study and meditation become even more important when one is isolated and alone. This requires reading and thinking deeply on the Biblical material, followed by some practical application of it to oneself. Certainly, at the top of the list for reading are the words of the Nazarene. (He 1.1) Never was there a Christian who exhausted the Bible as a treasury of spiritual thoughts. After the words of the Nazarene there are the letters of Paul, Peter, John, James and Jude.

A combination of verse by verse reading and subject consideration is a good balance to an overall mastery of the Bible. An important goal is read the entire Bible several times. Some have regularly read it annually over a period of sixty years. Subject studies using concordance or computer may cover words like: king(dom), judg(ment), death, resurrection, love, peace, or joy.

Certain Christian writings let one learn what more experienced Saints have thought on various texts. There is a two thousand year historical tradition of such writings or commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures. None of these are inspired and therefore the principle of 1 John 4.1 need be kept in mind. One group of interested persons were much praised for their nobility in comparing the Scriptures against what Paul was teaching. (Act 17.2, 3, 11)

We point to several publications of the Friends of the Nazarene which can aid in study and meditations. THE NAZARENE PRINCIPLES is a basic primer on the fundamental principles of the teachings of Jesus Christ. (He 6.1) THE NAZARENE APOCALYPSE is a verse by verse consideration of the Book of Revelation. THE NAZARENE COMMANDMENTS is a compilation with brief commentary on the "commandments" of Jesus. (Jn 14.15; 15.14) THE NAZARENE MOUNTAIN TEACHINGS is a little commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. MESSIANIC CONFESSIONS is the spiritual odyssey of a mature Christian.

The Friends of the Nazarene produce a regular newsletter which contain Christian defenses against certain errors, various spiritual subjects, and matters of Christian growth.

The lonely Saint may wish to gather a library which can expand knowledge and keep enthusiasm high. These may include several translations, an interlinear version, or a parallel Bible. New students will find works keyed to the numerical code of the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance a helpful aid in learning Biblical languages and the meaning of words. A good companion to this is The Englishman’s Greek Lexicon. Other single volume lexicons or dictionaries are Vine’s and Thayer’s. For a larger, complete commentary there are few which excel the Dictionary of New Testament Theology.

3. Third, walking in the footsteps of the Master can only transform the Christian character after the Nazarene’s pattern. (Ro 12.1, 2;1 Pe 2.21) The Father knows what kind of person you are and shows favor on those who strive to become more and more like His Son. (1 Co 11.1;1 Jn 3.2, 3) By reading and applying such volumes as NAZARENE MOUNTAIN TEACHINGS and THE NAZARENE COMMANDMENTS the lone Christian will discover daily growth in spiritual maturity. (Ep 4.13) Family, neighbors, and others will observe this and see that here is a truly Christian person.

4. Fourth, the lone Saint can still practice charity and hospitality as evidence of developing growth in the Christian character. No matter how pure one thinks his religion or form of worship to be, it is useless if it lacks charity. (Ja 1.27) The teachings of the Nazarene placed strong emphasis on hospitality, charity, and service to others. Consider this part of your worship and when you go out into the world take the Living Christ within you. Of course, your own family ought to see a change and improvement in your manner among those dearest to you.

5. Finally, someone with faith cannot help but speak about what he believes. (2 Co 4.12, 13) This will lead to sharing the Gospel News with others. However, such enthusiasm should not turn people away by being adversarial or judgmental. Answers need to be given with respect and gentleness. (1 Pe 3.15) A certain graciousness ought to characterize these answers about your faith. (Co 4.6) However, how does one go about developing interest in the truth of the Gospel News?

FINDING INTEREST.

When one has found something exciting usually those closest are told: family, friends, school mates, or work mates. In commercial terms this is called "networking." This is the method the Nazarene used. Consider John 1.37, 40 and see how two persons heard Jesus speak -- Andrew and Peter. Verse 41 says that Andrew first "found" his brother. Then Jesus found Philip. (Verse 42) Philip "found" Nathaniel. Soon there were "twelve" and then "seventy." These became "hundreds" (1 Co 15.6) and these became "thousands." (Ac 2.41) Today there are two billion persons who claim to be Christians. This all began with just one and then two and three.

So, it is only natural one begins with those within the immediate circle. In many parts of the world this will mean a Nazarene Saint is among Christians who attend various churches. Most Christians do not regularly attend church but may still feel the need for spiritual encouragement. Many would take up an interest in the Bible with just a little help. You can find ways to begin conversations or direct conversations onto edifying Bible subjects. Imagine Paul in the market place, without Bible or Christian literature, as he casually and informally found a way to interest others in the Gospel truths. (Ac 17.17) The only limitation to spreading the Gospel is the imagination itself. Chapter seventeen of Acts is an excellent example of Paul’s methods.

What will you say? Most Christians know the Lord’s Prayer. This is the format used by the book THE NAZARENE PRINCIPLES. It is easy to remember a Bible text or two on each Principle, particularly God’s Name and His Kingdom. One may just say, "I am trying to encourage a Bible discussion group in my neighborhood. Would you be interested?" Show people what the Name of God is -- Yahweh, or Jehovah. (Ps 83.18) This has a powerful affect. Show them how the Kingdom of God will solve mankind’s problems. (Dn 2.44) Show them how the Bible can solve family or personal problems. But, what happens if some show interest in a regular Bible discussion?

The Nazarene did much of his own witnessing or teaching within the atmosphere of a meal and thus emphasizing the importance of hospitality. It is much easier to share what one has learned around the warmth of a table. Remember not to be "pushy" but lead conversations so that the person of interest raises the idea of a mutual discussion. These can first deal with questions the person has or exciting things you have recently learned.

STARTING A BIBLE DISCUSSION GROUP.

When interest evolves into a Bible discussion with another person, a family, or a group of men or women, a true love for the Bible can be developed. This may take different forms. It could be just a reading of various chapters of the Bible with a discussion as to their meaning. Often a subject-driven program is effective. Many have used THE NAZARENE PRINCIPLES as a guideline or Bible study aid. Make copies of this book and let the interested person read the introductory part. Begin the discussion with the First Principle. Paragraphs can be read one at a time and then questions raised for discussion.

One of the early problems will be the feeling of inadequacy to conduct such a discussion with others. If you are very familiar with the teaching of Jesus or the book THE NAZARENE PRINCIPLES you will gain confidence. You will know where certain questions are answered in the book or the Bible. It is not necessary to be dogmatic for we all learn progressively at different paces. Nor can anyone be pressured or forced to believe something. Faith must come individually as a gift from God. Prayers will greatly enhance and bless such a gathering for Scriptural meditations.

Slowly you will make new spiritual friends with common Christian interests. You are no longer alone. Indeed, others may wish to join the group. If it was originally started by a woman and now a qualified man is available, humility and submissiveness will move the Christian lady to defer and show her obedience to "the Lord’s commandment." (1 Co 14.33-35) There is nothing wrong where a group of women wish to meet for prayers and discussion. (Ac 16.13)

A HOUSE CHURCH.

When the group is sufficient in size and there is a spiritually qualified man to lead the group a "house" church may be formed. This need not discontinue the weekly Bible discussion which may viewed as different from the actual ecclesia. Indeed, private Bible discussions should be ongoing with new persons in different stages of Christian growth. There may be a youth group under the lead of an older teenager. There may be a group of only men who gather to discuss their own particular needs.

A House Church is one which has ten persons and a spiritually mature baptized male who all wish to meet once a week for a formal gathering or meeting. Because a man, or men, agree to meet on a regular basis to conduct an orderly meeting, these persons must remember the instructions of their Lord: he that will be the greatest will be the one who serves others humbly. This service or ministry should be performed after the manner of our Lord: selflessly and virtuously. Such men should remember: though they may teach, there is only One Teacher; and, though they may lead, there is only One Leader.

Now that an association of Christians has been formed certain problems and circumstances will occur naturally. Be on guard against those characteristics condemned by our one Leader. This will always allow the one taking the lead or presiding over the house church to act in a manner which demonstrates he is at the beck and call of the group as a whole.

Some will find it wise to have a quarterly meeting to discuss general church matters. The Christian Bible gives few details on such order and arrangement. Some see a clear democratic process in several texts. (Ac 14.23; 15.22; 2 Co 2.6) Given the democratic spirit in much of the world it seems advisable to let the group of baptized men and women to decide which men will take the lead among them. (He 13.7, 17) Both women and men should engage in this with humble hearts knowing the Father of our Lord discerns the hearts of all.

When does a man become an elder, or overseer? There is no age given in the Christian Bible. The more important factor -- for elders and deacons -- is that he be mature and meet to a reasonable degree those requirements listed by Paul. (1 Tm 3.1-13; Ti 1.5-9) If an elder (or, overseer) sin seriously he ought to be reproved before the whole group. (1 Tm 5.17, 19, 20) All elders -- whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, or teachers -- ought to provide for their own needs unless disabled and unable to do so. (2 Th 3.6-15) This does not mean certain deserving apostles, prophets, or teachers (including local elders) may be assisted in their work with modest material assistance. (Ga 6.6;1 Tm 5.18, 19; 1 Co 9.6-18)

After the Jewish synagogue and Christian meetings, the service may remain simple: hymns to open and close, prayers to open and close. A Bible reading by a baptized male for five minutes. (Let the "reader" choose his own verses.) A Scriptural reading with a commentary of fifteen minutes by any baptized male. (Let the "commentator" choose his own verses and commentary.) A "talk" or sermon of thirty minutes by a mature and qualified baptized male may be given on a Scriptural subject of doctrine or exhortation. (Let the "teacher" or "prophet" choose his own subject.) A visiting speaker may be invited to address the group from time to time.

No one needs to state this house is to be treated with respect as a sanctuary at this time and all including children will treat it as such. The saying is true that "cleanliness is next to godliness." Remember the "Lord’s commandment" -- "God is orderly and everyone should be orderly and well-behaved." (1 Co 14.33, 40)

When does the house church meet? The only rule is there is no rule. Apparently early Christians did meet Friday evening or on Saturday. Does it seem fair to state the time of the meeting ought to be for the good of the majority? Some may wish to meet Sunday morning or Sunday evening or at another convenient time.

Each Saint may determine for themselves how they may go about inviting others to these house churches to share in the Bible education and mutual encouragement. Invite friends, relatives, and others you meet to visit the group. Some may wish to visit nearby houses and inform the neighborhood what is taken place. A notice maybe published in the local newspaper. There are many methods to spread the News and each Saint is free to respond to his Lord and Master in his own way.

A LARGE CITY CONGREGATION.

When the group gets larger the congregation may determine to either divide with some going to another home; or, obtain by leasing a location which may accommodate the growing church. Often free facilities are available at local schools. (Ac 19.9) The local Saints may determine to permit their church to grow as one, whereas others may prefer smaller groups.

A large city congregation will likely have several elders and serving "ministers" (or, deacons and deaconesses). All serve as ministers or slaves to the congregation as a whole. Certain women may be appointed by the vote of elders to care for important material needs among the Saints. The female Saints may look after the poor among them as well as any disciples in need or sick. Our own Lord had a "money-box" among his apostles and Paul was instructed, "Keep the poor in mind." (Jn 12.6; 13.29; 1 Co 16.1, 2; Ga 2.10)

All house churches or congregations of disciples who identify themselves as Friends of the Nazarene do not need to be told to respect other independent but associated groups, whether large or small. Jealousy and ambition must be guarded against as if it were the virtue and virginity of your daughters. A slanderous voice must be unknown among you and when one is found, after a rebuke once or twice, dismissed from your group until that time the tongue can be brought under control. All must extol you for your love, charity and hospitality to all.

ANNUAL MEMORIAL CONVENTION.

Some smaller house churches or city congregations may wish to meet as one united body for the annual celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If some enjoy the privacy of the smaller meeting they need not be censored no more than they who wish the grand encouragement of a large convention. A meeting place may be rented to accommodate the group’s size.

PERIODIC ASSEMBLIES.

If some house churches or city congregations wish to meet in larger groups for mutual support this can be determined by the majority of the Saints in any given area. Let the elders of each group of Saints determined and prepare a fitting program for the upbuilding of all. Such larger "assemblies" may be used to spread the News in a particular city by inviting interested persons -- whether on public streets or in private homes -- to such a convention.

On to Part 2 of 3

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The Friends of the Nazarene Copyright 1997. All Rights Reserved.

c/o Shawn Mark Miller
177 Riverside Ave
Newport Beach, California 92663 USA
email:

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