to be reviewed by The Christian Century (the first was Timothy Smith’s Revivalism and Social Reform). Interestingly, after Staples graduated from seminary, he pastored a home mission church that was unable to practice Communion for several months until someone was finally able to buy a Communion set for the church. After pastoring for several years, Staples taught theology at Southern Nazarene University (1963-76) before becoming professor of theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary, where he served for 22 years. His notable course on Wesley’s theology was considered a staple (pardon the pun) of seminarians for many years. As a theologian, Staples has maintained a lifelong interest in worship and the sacraments. When considering worship, he says, “The pastor has to be true to theological commitments and understandings and not just give people what they want. You need to satisfy what people need, even if those needs do not always correspond to their wants and likes.” Grace and Peace Magazineinterviewed Staples recently and asked him a few questions about the sacraments and worship.
G&P: WHAT MAKES A SACRAMENT A SACRAMENT?
STAPLES: I go back to the reformer Martin Luther: The Catholics had seven sacraments, and Luther reduced it to two. He toyed with a third one for a while, confirmation. However, for Luther, a sacrament should have a physical bit of matter, like the water, bread, and wine in baptism and Communion. And it should carry with it a word of promise, a word of the Lord that goes along with the sign, or object. We should add a third thing: a sacrament must have a scriptural basis, sometimes called “dominical institution,” that is, the Lord instituted it. When Jesus did not institute it, like baptism which was already being practiced by John the Baptist, Jesus put his stamp of approval on it. A sacrament must have these three elements: a material object, a word of promise, and dominical institution. In contrast, take marriage, which is a sacrament for Catholics. Marriage has the word, the promise the couple makes; it has a physical sign in the ring. However, it doesn’t have dominical institution—Jesus did not institute it, for the institution of marriage lies at the very beginning in God’s command to Adam and Eve. Of course, Jesus gave it his approval in his first miracle at Cana.
G&P: IS A SACRAMENT A SIGN OR A SYMBOL?
STAPLES: A sacrament is a sign, but it is more than a sign. For instance, a sign at an intersection might say “95th Street.” But a sacrament is more than just an identifying marker. A flag may be a better example: A flag is a symbol; you wouldn’t die for a traffic sign, but a lot of people have died for a flag. That doesn’t mean they died for that piece of cloth. They died for whatever that flag represented to them. Sacraments fall more in the realm of “symbols” in my thinking than they do “signs.”
G&P: THE LORD’S SUPPER, EUCHARIST, AND COMMUNION ARE DIFFERENT TERMS WE USE. ARE THESE INTERCHANGEABLE?
STAPLES: I have always thought of them as interchangeable because they refer basically to the same thing. “Eucharist,” for instance, simply comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving, which occurs in each of the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper as well as in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24. In each of these accounts it is said that Jesus took break and broke it and gave thanks. The name Eucharist, therefore, is a good New Testament word.
G&P: NAZARENES VIEW THE LORD’S SUPPER AS A SACRAMENT YET HAVE STRUGGLED WITH REGULAR PRACTICE. HOW OFTEN SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE COMMUNION?
STAPLES: We Nazarenes are the grandchildren of Wesley and Methodism, and for them, Communion was important. Originally, our Manual said the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated at least once a quarter, but a lot of people overlooked “at least” and just celebrated it only once a quarter. The 2009 Manual added a line that encouraged more frequent celebration. A lot of churches, including the one I attend, practice it once a month. The main argument I have heard against having it every Sunday is that if it is practiced all the time, it becomes common and ordinary. However, one can say the same thing about prayer, or hymn-singing, or tithing; that is really not much of an argument. A second argument is that we do not want to look like the Catholics. They have Communion every Sunday, and we do not want to do what they are doing. That is also not a very sound argument. Interestingly, the Manual stipulates that the first Sunday of General Assembly must begin with a Communion service, and it always has.
G&P: WAS COMMUNION PRACTICED AMONG THOSE WHO MADE UP THE HOLINESS MOVEMENT?
STAPLES: In its early days, the Holiness Movement practiced Communion quite frequently, especially among Methodists. They would have Communion at their annual conferences, at camp meetings, and other gatherings.
G&P: HOW HAVE NAZARENES TENDED TO LOOK AT BAPTISM?
STAPLES: Nazarenes recognize three modes of baptism: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion—technically, called aspersion, affusion, and immersion. Many people think only immersion is a valid baptism. I believe it is denominational archivist Stan Ingersol who said that one of the groups in Texas that merged with the early Church of the Nazarene recognized only pouring as their mode of baptism, which I find interesting. But it is more common for people today, because of Baptist influence, to think only immersion counts as baptism. Infant dedication is a fairly recent invention in the long history of the Church. It was created for those who did not agree with infant baptism but wanted to do something meaningful for their children. It does not have the historical or the biblical basis that baptism has. We do not know for sure whether infant baptism is in the New Testament. There are cases where whole families were baptized upon the conversion of the head of the household. These may have included young infants. But even if not, that would not constitute a case against infant baptism because the New Testament does not trace the history of the Church beyond that first generation. The book of Acts, for instance, does not tell us what happened when these new converts began to have children of their own. What did they do with them? As early as the second century, however, infant baptism was already widely practiced. Thus, I would favor that over dedication.
G&P: HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE PASTORS ON THE ISSUE OF REBAPTISM?
STAPLES: I would rebaptize very reluctantly and very sparsely— I would not do it very often. There are three norms for sacramental practice: the historical norm is that you do not do something contrary to 2,000 years of history. The theological norm is that you do not do something that conflicts with the theology of the Church. However, the third is the pastoral norm: There may be times when, in the interest of pastoral care, the historical and theological norms should be subordinated to the pastoral. I would not rebaptize very often; instead, I would work harder to show people that rebaptism is not needed because God has not moved away from the covenant made at the original baptism. God has not taken back what God has said. If we have fallen into sin, we are the ones who moved, not God. Thus, such a person should repent and come back to his or her own baptism. I think we miss an opportunity in understanding and affirming God’s covenant faithfulness when we disregard the original baptism.
G&P: YOUR BOOK ON THE SACRAMENTS CAME OUT 22 YEARS AGO. LOOKING BACK, ARE THERE AREAS OF THE BOOK YOU WISH YOU HAD GIVEN MORE ATTENTION?
STAPLES: The one thing I did not give attention to that I should have is what to do about little children taking Communion. Theologically, everyone who is baptized should be invited to the table, but that works better when everybody has been baptized as infants. Since we have a lot of young people who were not baptized as infants, it creates a problem. I did not touch on it in the book because I did not know what to do with it. Today, I would say that I lean toward an open Communion rather than a closed Communion. I think people who have not been baptized should be welcome at the Table. For adults who have not been baptized, if they are really sincere, they ought to seek baptism as soon as possible. The parents who allow their children to take Communion should make sure the children are brought to baptism soon as well.
G&P: JOHN WESLEY WAS TIED TO THE LITURGICAL WORSHIP OF THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH, AND YET HE WAS ACCUSED OF BEING AN ENTHUSIAST. WHY THE CHARGE, AND HOW DID HE DEAL WITH THAT?
STAPLES: Wesley never got over the fact that he was an Anglican; he was an Anglican all his life. He never intended for Methodism to become a new denomination. It was only after Wesley died that Methodism separated from the Church of England. At the same time, he was the Wesley of the warmed heart, who experienced a “heart strangely warmed” at Aldersgate.
In the 18th century, the word “enthusiasm” did not mean what it means today. The best name for it was “fanaticism” or “excessive emotionalism.” That is what an “enthusiast” was. Wesley was accused, I think, unfairly. Spiritual things were happening in his services, and people saw it as enthusiasm when something more spiritually significant was going on. I think it was Robert Southey, the English writer and poet, who voiced another accusation: “Those early Methodists in their class meetings, all they do is sit around looking at their own navels.” He thought there was too much subjectivism. One man, Bishop Butler, said about the idea that the Holy Spirit can speak to one individually, “That’s a very horrid thing, Mr. Wesley, a very horrid thing.” So, Wesley was accused of stepping outside the bounds of the established church, but he always claimed, “I’m a high churchman, and the son of a high churchman,” and held those two in balance. To me, that says that in a highly structured and highly organized church or worship service, the Holy Spirit can and must be free to break in and stir things up. However, you do not just abandon the order and structure and say, “Okay, let’s just have the Holy Spirit here.” The Holy Spirit can work through order.
G&P: WE HAVE SHIED AWAY FROM USING THE WORD “LITURGY” AS A WORSHIP TERM, BUT ALL CHURCHES HAVE A LITURGY, REGARDLESS OF TRADITION, DO THEY NOT?
STAPLES: The word “liturgy” (derived from the Greek word leitourgia) literally means “the people’s work,” and connotes what we do in worship, whether that is a song, a prayer and preaching, or something more formal and ritualistic. In a sense, we cannot have worship without liturgy. Everything we do as an aid to worship—even an altar call—is a part of liturgy, the people’s work. The more liturgy you have, the more involved the people are. A lot of people think very mistakenly that the more liturgical a church is, the less participation there is. We evangelicals tend to think we are the ones really participating in worship. However, in our worship services, it is usually the people up front who are doing the participating, and we are just listening. Liturgy, on the other hand, brings everybody into the picture.
Let me hasten to say, liturgy can be cold and dead and lifeless unless the Spirit uses it. All the same, the Spirit can work in orderly worship. Paul said, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. . . . But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:33, 40, NIV). The Spirit can break in where there is order and structure probably better than when there is confusion. Liturgy can be dead and cold and lifeless unless the Spirit moves through it, but I think the Spirit is more apt to move through order than through disorder.
G&P: NAZARENES PRACTICE WORSHIP IN A VARIETY OF WAYS FROM THE CAMP MEETING STYLE TO STYLES THAT ARE TRADITIONAL, BLENDED, OR CONTEMPORARY. SOME NAZARENES ALSO HAVE A DESIRE FOR WORSHIP THAT HAS LITURGICAL ELEMENTS. ARE WE MISSING OPPORTUNITIES TO REACH PEOPLE BECAUSE WE ARE NOT CONSIDERING WORSHIP ELEMENTS OR FORMS THAT REFLECT THE DEPTH OF OUR CHRISTIAN TRADITION?
STAPLES: A fairly sizable segment of Nazarenes—not a majority, but a sizable segment—long to be a part of something that goes back a lot further than Pilot Point (where the denomination originated). They want to feel that we are connected to 2,000 years of the Christian faith, that we are connected to something far bigger than our own denomination. It would help if Nazarene leaders would get the point across that Nazarenes are not the whole of the Church; we are not even a microcosm of the whole. Instead, we are a small part of something much bigger. We can learn from other denominations. The Pentecostals can show us that the Spirit can break out at any time and stir things up. Lutherans have done a great job of teaching justification by faith, and Presbyterians do a great job of exalting the sovereignty of God. What is our message as Nazarenes? We are about holiness of heart and life, getting across the fact that Christians are called to live holy lives. That is our contribution to the rest of the Church. If we Nazarenes could see ourselves as one part of the whole, who have a contribution to make to the rest of the Church, and who realize that others have a contribution to make also, that would be helpful. William Greathouse, who was a worship mentor to me by example and precept, was one leader who understood this, and I think we need to get back to this notion.