Holiness Summit Article

Colorado Springs, CO - It was a pivotal moment for John Rister-the fog of confusion lifted and he finally experienced the meaning behind the words.


A Christian and a Nazarene for 14 years, starting the day he knelt at a church altar in Michigan and submitted his drug and alcohol addiction to God, Rister struggled to understand "the second work of grace" known among Nazarenes as entire sanctification.


"I'd been questioning it for a long period of time. 'What is it?'" he says. "To truly explain it, you need to experience it. I hadn't experienced it."


A millwright for Ford Motor Company for almost two decades, Rister accepted God's call to pastoral ministry several years ago. His family moved to Colorado Springs where he enrolled at Nazarene Bible College (NBC).


As he studied and mastered the Church of the Nazarene's beliefs, he continually tripped on the message of holiness.


That changed at Holiness Summit-West at NBC, Sept. 7-9.


The interdenominational, grassroots-organized event squeezed nine speakers into a three-day celebration of holiness. Each speaker preached on holiness to the hundreds of attendees who had traveled across the U.S. and each of the six world regions administered by the Church of the Nazarene.


The Holy Spirit spoke to Rister during a sermon that urged "giving it all over to God."


"I felt like I had all these little compartments in my life, and I wasn't allowing God into these compartments," Rister says. "I laid them at the altar, and when I laid them at the altar, there was this overwhelming feeling, like this weight had been lifted from me. I started bawling my eyes out. When I got up, I knew I had experienced something I had never experienced before."


The experience empowered him for ministry.


"Now I can talk to people - 'Yes, this is real.' Instead of just giving them the meaning, I can give them the true meaning and the experience of it firsthand."



From East to West

Rister is one of many who experienced the Holy Spirit's transforming work at Holiness Summit-West, which drew a peak attendance of roughly 500, including about 40 pastors from Colorado.


On the west summit's final night, six waves of people moved unprompted to the altars, which were so crowded that attendees knelt four rows deep on the floor and spilled across the front seats. Some wept; others shouted when they experienced victory.


Holiness Summit-East, at Ohio Christian University (OCU) in Circleville, Ohio, was characterized by the same spirit of humble obedience. This first of the two original summits was co-hosted April 27-29 by OCU President Mark Smith in partnership with Dr. Tom Hermiz, general superintendent of Churches of Christ in Christian Union (CCCU). Attendance peaked at more than 600.


Both summits delivered clear, focused holiness sermons, rather than discussion or debate, says Dr. Laurel Matson, vice president for church relations and student development at NBC.


"There's a need for renewed emphasis on the experience of entire sanctification," says Matson, who played a supportive role in Holiness Summit-West.


As if to prove his point, additional students testified to experiencing entire sanctification during several NBC chapels following the event.


The summits underscore a deceptively simple truth: A message undelivered is powerless to transform.


"When I preach on sanctification, people are sanctified. When I don't, they aren't," says Rev. Gene Grate, senior pastor of Colorado Springs First Church of the Nazarene.


Alongside NBC President Dr. Harold Graves, Grate helped organize and emcee Holiness Summit-West. Before the summit, Grate delivered a five-week series on sanctification in his church, and more than a dozen people professed the experience, including a handful of teenagers.


"I don't want to lose this in our church. I think summits like this can bring our church to its distinctive doctrine and help us fall in love with it all over again."



Empowered messengers

Don Smith knows that for a fact.


A youth pastor for 14 years, Smith had recently taken the senior pastorate at Southgate Church of the Nazarene in Colorado Springs when he attended Holiness Summit-West. During the event, he says, God spoke to him three times.


One moment of clarity came during a sermon describing "perfection" to mean that believers are obediently fulfilling God's purpose for us-not that we never make a mistake. Although Smith was already sanctified, "that helped me understand something I hadn't ever heard before. It was kind of a relief."


Following the summit, Smith preached on holiness at his church.


"The Spirit filled our church that morning like I'd never felt before." While preaching, Smith says it seemed "I was outside myself."


One congregant professed entire sanctification at the altar. Others were moved to tears.


The summit has changed how Smith approaches his church's outreach efforts.


Previously, he emphasized having a servant attitude and the importance of ministering to the community's social needs. Now he will emphasize empowering sanctification as necessary for an authentic servant attitude and effective ministry to the community's social needs.


Churches of Christ in Christian Union (CCCU) pastors who attended the east summit also "were set on fire to continue preaching holiness and trying to make it come alive in their congregations," says Mike Holbrook, district superintendent of the CCCU's south central district.



More to come

Both events modeled simple formats so other districts and pastors could easily organize summits in their districts and churches, Grate said.


Attendees aren't wasting any time. Additional summits are being organized in Oklahoma City; Jackson, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; Circleville, Ohio and at Olivet Nazarene University. Summits are also being considered in Dallas and Kansas City.


"It is my prayer that the holiness summits will continue, grow, expand, and go from city to city or campus to campus," General Superintendent James H. Diehl, who preached at the west summit, wrote in an e-mail. "They dare not become a program directed from some church headquarters, but instead they are a response from the 'grass roots' for holiness preaching, singing, and seeking."


-- Gina Pottenger