On Thursday a well-known Nazarene theologian and personal friend of mine passed away. Dr. William Greathouse was a pastor, professor, college president (Trevecca Nazarene University), seminary president (Nazarene Theological Seminary), General Superintendent for the Nazarene church, and writer. His 92-year life had an incredible impact on the Church of the Nazarene.
I had the privilege being in the same Sunday School class as him for about a year. Though technically his son and daughter-in-law were our teachers, Dr. Greathouse put his two cents in pretty often. A few of his comments have stuck with me: He once said that the church had become too user-friendly, so much so that the church was beginning to look just like the world. Another time we were talking about Romans 8:28 (“And all things work together for the good of those who love Him.”). Dr. Greathouse wisely said, “Most people misinterpret ‘the good’ to be their idea of good, or what they want to happen to them. God’s idea of what’s good for us may not be our idea of what’s good for us.”
Strangely enough, both of those comments were just fuel on the fire that eventually let me to the Orthodox Church. I had become frustrated with feeling like church was a “show” that included a forced emotionalism. My faith and really, theology, if you will, was being shaped and challenged, mostly from dealing with the unexpected death of my brother. We had so many people tell us that it was “God’s will” for my brother to die, for one reason or another. (“He would have ended up in jail.” “He would have been a drug addict.” Yep, we heard those things.) I felt like all the Christians I knew had to explain God down to a T. (Including those referred to in Dr. Greathouse’s comment about humans trying to name their own will as God’s.) Yet a voice inside me asked, “If we can completely explain God and everything about Him, doesn’t he cease to be God?”
Eventually these struggles and questions led me to Orthodoxy. Even saying that, though, fills me with unrest. There’s still a lingering guilt about leaving the church of my childhood, the church that my parents served, the church that gave me faith and hope and inspiration and imagination. I didn’t walk away from one individual church; I walked away from a huge international family, and from the heritage my own family gave me. There was a deep sadness that grew in me when I read about Dr. Greathouse’s death, as if I’d let him down.
The truth is, the face of the Nazarene Church has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Most churches are becoming more user-friendly rather than less. Walking into a church now means walking into a coffee-house-style foyer with big screens and big lattes. Missionaries are not being sent out. International churches are now required to give more money to the general church, which many of those churches can’t afford to do. Though the denomination has a strong history, its future seems uncertain.
At any rate, I don’t regret becoming Orthodox, but I truly am still becoming Orthodox. A friend of mine who’s been Orthodox for many years recently told me it took her almost 15 years to really “get it.” The beauty of Orthodoxy is that you can always go deeper, learn more, experience a new level of understanding. Sometimes I wonder if I am still standing at the edge of the pool, testing the waters with my toes. At most, I am in the shallows, enjoying the cool water, but yet to know the sensation of swimming into the depths.
In the end, both churches have formed me and helped shape my theology. I turn to a saint, the son of my own patron saint, St. Nonna, to memorialize a great Nazarene man and to acknowledge the mystery of God:
“O man of God and faithful servant and steward of the mysteries of God and man of desires of the Spirit: for thus Scripture speaks of men advanced and lofty, superior to visible things. I will call you also to God . .”
“To conceive God is difficult, to define Him, impossible.”