The Church of the Nazarene is a global family. This has never been more evident than at our last General Assembly when delegates from around the world engaged in passionate discussion regarding the issues of our day. Just like every family, not everyone will have the same opinion. The ways in which we deal with conflict and disagreement will reveal much about who we are as God’s people. It is in these times that we have the opportunity to reflect the holiness of Christ.
The young pastor, Timothy, was faced with conflict within his church family in Ephesus. We read about the situation in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and it becomes quite evident that Christlikeness would not have described this family of God.
Evidently, the men were arguing with one another. The family wasn’t taking time to pray together, and instead, they were spending valuable energy arguing over details that became a distraction to the life of the church.
Just as the nuclear family needs to create space to intentionally spend time in prayer and with God, so must the global church family. Prayer must be a priority, for it is in the space of prayer that the family gets to know the heart and mind of Christ. Here we are shaped into the image of God, and the more the family begins to resemble our heavenly Father, the less we will argue over the things of the world.
The women were refusing to give up their worldly practices. The church was growing and developing in a place of powerful secular influence. In Ephesus, we find the temple of Artemis or Diana. This was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and people came to worship, sight-see, and purchase souvenirs. One can imagine the influence this had on the women of Ephesus, who wanted to appear sophisticated for those who visited this cosmopolitan crossroads of the world. Braided hair, gold, pearls, and expensive clothes may have represented ways in which women prepared themselves to worship Diana. Now, they had confessed to revere God, and they didn’t need to look like the women who worshiped idols made with human hands. This was about Kingdom life and reality as a member of a new family.
To be a follower of Jesus Christ, we simply cannot have all the things of the world. Every local culture is screaming at the members of the Body of Christ and trying to tell us how we are to behave. Powerful influences are at work, but members of the church wrestle over what it means to be a part of God’s family. The Christian life results in restraint from the things of this world that would divert us from becoming like Christ. Self-denial is not a popular topic, but many a family member has denied themselves and sacrificed for the sake of all. I know my parents chose to live without certain pleasures —for the sake of their children. A global family will have to wrestle with what it means to live in the world with a vast array of social contexts and yet, seek the good of all.
The people were being influenced by popular theology. In a city and region where female goddess worship had become extremely popular, the church seemed to be adapting to the local religion. Some of the women of the church had bought into a heretical idea that Eve came first, and then Adam. This concept would certainly have made it popular to come to a church in a city where they revered the goddess, Diana. These uneducated individuals in the church were purporting to know the truth, and their heresy was becoming dangerous. Finally some rules had to be set down to deal with the crisis. Those who were not educated in religion/theology were not to be the ones teaching it! In this case, it happened to be the women. The men (if they were Jewish) would have studied the Scriptures growing up. This was a very positive admonition. Men — don’t keep this knowledge to yourselves, but take the time to teach your wives at home. The women were to be given the opportunity to get to know the Word so that they would no longer be enticed by false ideas. This was a problem of discipleship within the family. Those with the knowledge should have been teaching those who did not have the same opportunities.
A global family will constantly be barraged by popular theologies. In every part of the world there are those churches that are growing faster and attracting more members and money. We will be tempted to adopt snippets of their theology and practices, and little by little, we will no longer be the family that we have known.
The need for discipleship within the family is great. Just as parents must take the time to feed their small children and nourish them until they can feed themselves, so the church family must intentionally nurture disciples. If we don’t take the time, we will have those in our pulpits teaching the popular theology of the day. Family makes raising the children or discipling the new believers a priority.
Those who may have felt chided needed to be encouraged. The women in Timothy’s church could have felt hurt by the comments and instructions given. There doesn’t appear to be any intent to repress the women, but to help them grow spiritually. Therefore, the passage ends with a word of hope that is often misunderstood but comes to us from the incarnation of Christ. When Jesus was born in human flesh, He provided for the transformation of all that had been corrupted. From the moment of the fall, all creation has been groaning under the pain of that corruption. Quite specifically, women bore a heavy burden for Eve’s participation in the fall. The relationship between men and women was changed, as was her burden of pain in childbearing. When Jesus came in the incarnation, He touched human flesh, bringing healing and life, and revealing the hope of transformation. The very first place that Jesus touches humanity is in the womb of a woman. This is good news for those who need to be encouraged. At the place of our greatest suffering, Jesus comes to bring new life and transformation. The women who were struggling to grow in their faith were blessed with the good news that Jesus touched the womb of the woman and began to heal the corruption of sin.
We must tread gently when dealing with relationships within the community of faith. We are to build one another up, even when nudging in the right direction. My father used to say “always err on the side of compassion.” We, as a global family, must never lose our loving spirit and remind ourselves that we are all recipients of undeserved grace.
The holiness of Christ reflected in a global and diverse church family is a beautiful thing. There will be conflict along the way, but if we remain committed to one another, the ways in which we deal with our conflicts may just mean that the global family we call the Church of the Nazarene can be a glimpse of the hope of heaven, revealed on earth.
By Dr. Carla Sunberg
was elected 43rd general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene at the 29th General Assembly in Indianapolis, Indiana, in June 2017.
At the time of her election, Dr. Sunberg was president of Nazarene Theological Seminary, where she had been serving since January 2014.