I have been reminded the past few weeks that I am a part of a Global Church.
Now, like me, this is probably something you’ve already known for awhile. The Body of Christ reaches every corner of the world: “In Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
My denomination in particular -- the Church of the Nazarene -- has roots in nearly 160 world areas. I myself work at our Global Ministry Center in the Global Mission department in the Global Nazarene Youth International office. As you walk around the building, you see this global influence throughout the architecture and artwork. On one wall, you can read the words of our mission statement -- “To Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations” -- in various languages including Arabic, Korean, Portuguese, French, and Dutch. Outside our main entrance, right alongside the flags for the state of Kansas and the USA, we fly a flag from one of the countries in which the Nazarene church has a presence. Last week, it was Chile. When I read about world news events (like the recent earthquake in Chile), I automatically think of my Nazarene brothers and sisters in that country. I don’t know them, but my heart goes out to them. I am connected to them because we are part of a global church.
In my position working for the global youth department, each week, I have the privilege of joining in conversations with youth leaders from all across the world. Just the other morning, I took part in a call with the regional youth leaders from our six world areas. Through the miracles of technology, I was able to hear their voices and see their faces from places as far away as Japan, Guatemala, and England. I have yet to meet them in person, but we are friends because we are part of a global church.
Last week was particularly busy for me at work. Our office hosted youth Bible quizzing leaders from India, South Africa, Brazil, and El Salvador. I loved watching their faces as they toured our building and recognized words in their own languages. I spent time in meetings where the words were being spoken in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. Despite language barriers or cultural differences, our common bond as Christians and Nazarenes brought us together.
It is for this reason that I am highly disturbed and upset by an “American Heritage Week” taking place on one of our Nazarene university campuses. According to student reports, the school’s regular chapel service was turned into a nationalistic American-pride fest. Instead of singing worship songs, the service began with the national anthem. Instead of hearing a message from God’s Word, they heard an American history and civics lesson. They were told that God blesses the USA above all other countries. In the meantime, they completely isolated the dozens of international students studying on campus and many others who do not necessarily call the USA “home” (including missionary kids and visiting international guests).
This USA-centric pride does not accurately represent our global denomination. And it has no place on a Nazarene university campus.
Yet ask many Nazarene churches to remove the American flag from their sanctuaries, and you will be met with anger, hostility, and bitterness. Merely suggesting that patriotic songs have no place in a Christian worship service could cost a pastor his job in many Nazarene congregations. To many American evangelicals, including some Nazarenes, “God and Country” are placed on the same level; the USA flag and the cross of Christ often go hand-in-hand.
As Roger Olson states,
“The gospel is supposed to transcend nationality, and so should worship and Christian fellowship.” (How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative, 63).
When we place our national pride above (or even on the same level as) our faith in Christ, we are no longer being a global church. When we insist that God has shown special favor to our country, we are no longer being a global church. When we mix patriotic songs and nationalistic symbols into our worship gatherings, we are no longer being a global church. Our worship should never be of “God and ….” It is always of God alone (Olson, 71).
So, over the last few weeks, as I have come to realize the significance of being a part of a worldwide denomination, this knowing that I am part of a global church has truly moved from head knowledge to a heart understanding. It is my hope that this same recognition and understanding would pervade the hearts of my fellow Nazarene pastors and all my brothers and sisters in Christ. May we truly live out our mission to be and make Christlike disciples in all of the nations, never elevating one country above others. May we come to see that our true citizenship lies within the Kingdom of God -- a Kingdom that crosses all cultural barriers and national boundaries.
“But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” (Philippians 3:20)