Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Religious Education, PhD
O. Jane Thayer
Russell L. Staples
The Church of the Nazarene, following the pattern of the American holiness movement that gave it birth, adopted a modified version of Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection. During the early years of the denomination Christian perfection was promoted feverishly through revivalism and worship structured after the camp meeting model; however, over time the promotion and propagation of holiness began to wane. Currently, the belief in and pursuit of inward holiness among both clergy and laity are rapidly vanishing. For more than a decade scholars and denominational leaders have recognized that this loss of spiritual vitality has placed the Church of the Nazarene in a theological identity crisis. Although theories abound in an attempt to explain the loss of Nazarene identity and the resulting decay in spirituality, the problem is most likely multifaceted.
Some of the most significant contributors to the loss of spirituality and Nazarene identity are those deficiencies in liturgical practice resulting from the culmination of several factors including: the denomination's rejection of prayer book worship, the failure to develop a robust liturgical and sacramental theology, and the demise of revivalism. This historical progression has resulted in a vacuum in Nazarene liturgical practice, which has had immense ramifications for spirituality. Due to the nature of this problem the purpose of this study was to examine liturgical practice within the Church of the Nazarene and evaluate its relationship to spirituality.
The empirical research was preceded by an extensive historical literature review which examined the liturgical transformation that occurred between John Wesley's liturgical thought and practice to the worship practices in the Church of the Nazarene. To study current worship practices, two surveys were developed. The Pastoral Survey was used to determine the shape of the liturgy in the Church of the Nazarene by grouping each worshipping congregation into one of three categories based upon the level of prayer book influence in that congregation's liturgy. The Congregational Survey measured the relationship between liturgical practice and spirituality.
A sample of 144 English-speaking Nazarene churches was selected using stratified cluster sampling. Churches from each cluster were randomly selected with the intention of procuring 72 churches for the study. In reality only 65 pastors agreed to participate. Surveys, pencils, detailed instructions for administering the survey, and prepaid return postage were mailed to all participating churches. Useable surveys from pastors and 1,550 congregants in 53 churches were returned. In order to answer the research questions, data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, t tests, and analysis of variance.
Three types of Nazarene liturgy, based upon the level of prayer book influence that pastors incorporated into the worship structure, emerged from the study. Type I congregations exhibit insignificant prayer book influence, Type II congregations demonstrate minimal prayer book influence, and Type III congregations exhibit distinct characteristics of prayer book worship. The vast majority of Nazarene congregations are Type I; only a small percentage of worshipping congregations fall into the Type III category.
The majority of Nazarenes find written prayers and the reciting of creeds in public worship of minimal value to their spirituality; whereas the vast majority of subjects believe the congregational singing of the church is vital in their ability to experience intimacy with God. The study also revealed that while the vast majority of Nazarenes believe that they love God completely, only one-third of that number agreed that carnal pride was absent from their heart. Likewise, more than one-third of Nazarenes feel that their own personal relationship with God stands apart from any official teaching of the church, and a similar percentage believe that one can be Christian without regularly attending church. Nearly half of all subjects think that their personal devotional life is more important than corporate worship. Differences between the three liturgical types in the spirituality variable were minimal.
The insubstantial prayer book influence upon Nazarene worship appears to be the result of the spirit of anti-ritualism that plagues the church. It seems these sentiments have also led to an impoverished Nazarene sacramental practice. The desire for inward-focused experiential worship has placed overly subjective practices at the forefront of worship and marginalized the enduring practices of Christian antiquity that potentially serve therapeutically as means of grace for the healing of the sin-sick soul. This has led to an incongruity that is most notably evinced in both the desire for autonomy and the confusion over the issue of sin and its relationship to the experience of Christian perfection. Rather than countering the negative influences of culture and promoting a robust spirituality consistent with classical Wesleyanism, it appears that the liturgy of the vast majority of Nazarene congregations is fostering an aberrant form of spirituality.
Holiness movement, Perfection--Religious aspects--Christianity, Church of the Nazarene--Liturgy, Wesley, John, 1703-1791
Ellis, Dirk Ray, "The Relationship Between Liturgical Practice and Spirituality in the Church of the Nazarene with Special Reference to John Wesley's Doctrine of Christian Perfection" (2012). Dissertations. 45.
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