General Assembly Resolution on Hell

I wrote a resolution regarding our Nazarene Article of Faith which deals with “hell”.  Christian views of what happens to people after they die, if they never knew Jesus, has become a topic of interest in our society among people considering Christianity as a possibility for their life. What was once a subject only Seminarians kicked around over coffee has become one of the questions people ask when trying to figure out if Christianity is a healthy or sick belief system. Below is the resolution I wrote and if you follow this link you can see the representative bible passages associated with each of the three historic doctrines of hell.  To see the Scriptures, scroll down past the resolution.


WHEREAS the Church of the Nazarene historically has intentionally and consistently avoided taking debatable positions concerning eschatology in our Articles of Faith; and,

WHEREAS there are abundant exegetical grounds for all three historic positions concerning interpretation of the duration of hell, that is: the interpretations of everlasting conscious torment, annihilation of the wicked, and limited duration leading to a reconciliation of all things; and,

WHEREAS none of the three interpretations are impenetratable to the strongest Scriptures brought to bear by the other two positions; and,

WHEREAS  we have included  in our Articles of Faith the single interpretation of the doctrine of hell which most calls into question the very nature of God and the goodness of the Christian faith  to people who are unenculturated to evangelical Christianity and whom we are seeking to draw to Christ; and,

WHEREAS this unnecessarily puts up a barrier to faith; and

WHEREAS  there is strong support in both the Early Church Fathers and the Reformers for interpretations of hell other than everlasting conscious torment, and that those exegetes were paying close attention to the original languages; and

WHEREAS all three interpretations, contrary to popular misunderstanding,  leave plenty of room for important Biblical doctrines such as final judgment, justice, condemnation and punishment; and,

WHEREAS the aforementioned doctrines are not synonymous with the word ‘hell’; and,

WHEREAS the Scriptures use a variety of  place-names to describe the location of the fate  of the wicked, including Sheol, Gehenna, Abaddon, Tartares and Hades and our Article demonstrates no recognition of this diversity;

THEREFORE with concern for doctrinal consistency in the area of eschatology and the desire to safeguard against raising unnecessary barriers to faith among the un-evangelized for whom Christ died, the Mid-Atlantic District requests the Board of General Superintendents to commission a study-group of Nazarene theologians, biblical scholars and practitioners to study whether the word ‘eternally’ should continue to be included in Article XVI no. 22,  and to report to the next General Assembly, or doctrinal committee thereof, their exegetical findings and conclusions.

Being Nazarene and Nazarene Theology

I love the Church of the Nazarene. When I was 10 years old we moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia and began looking for a church. We didn’t know anything about Nazarenes, but Atlanta First Church was a group of lively, loving, friendly people and they had  great children and youth programs. We stayed.

Nazarenes led me to repentance and faith in Jesus. Nazarenes discipled me. Nazarenes taught me about selling out completely to God and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in my life. Nazarenes affirmed my call to ministry. Nazarenes educated me in college and graduate school. Nazarenes provided me avenues of service, opportunities to be in ministry. Nazarenes ordained me.

I love the Church of the Nazarene. I owe her more than I can express. If you cut me, I bleed Nazarene. I love what Nazarenes are doing for the good of the peoples of the world. I love being with Nazarenes around the world. I love the place we inhabit on the theological spectrum and the wideness of our Wesleyan understanding of Christian theology and spirituality.  All true.

Also true is that I clearly understand myself to theologically inhabit a particular stream within the Church of the Nazarene. As I see it, there are predominantly two major streams of Christian tradition within the Church of the Nazarene. One stream is the American Holiness movement. It was a very mixed bag theologically. It affirmed some ideas I would not affirm. Maybe in some future post I will list some of them. It also sometimes had an anti-intellectual bent. The other stream was the Wesleyan Anglicanism inherited from John Wesley through the Methodist movement. I surely reside amidst this theological worldview. At times, there are differences of perspective between these two streams. Whenever these two streams diverge, I consistently find myself affirming the stances of the Wesleyan perspective rather than the Holiness Movement.

Wesley’s views were orthodox, familiar with the wide scope of Christian thought down through 18 centuries, well read and broad. He welcomed dialogue and friendship with other Christians even if they did not see eye to eye theologically. He still considered those he disagreed with to be genuine Christians. In fact, surprising considering the England of his day, Wesley affirmed his brotherhood with the Roman Catholics and urged them to work together with him for God’s Kingdom.  I love John Wesley’s spirit and his theology. He deserves the moniker “first rate” in many ways.

Also true is that being “in harmony with the doctrines… of the Church of the Nazarene” (Manual 39), has never meant, judging from the history of Nazarene General Assemblies, that an ordained elder was saying  he or she thought the Articles of Faith, as they currently stood, could never be improved upon. Thus, if I write about issues in our theology that I believe ought to change, including wordings in our Articles of Faith, I certainly do not mean I do not love the Church of the Nazarene or our theology. I love it all the more.