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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Distinctive



You're going to have to give me a break on the word count here.  Article X is 499 words, on its own, without commentary...

And as another caveat, I have taken many bits and pieces of conversations with other theologians and sort of put them together here in an attempt to come up with something that is both true to our Nazarene heritage and easily understandable by the average person who is seeking wisdom regarding holiness.  I'm going to refrain from citing them, because I may have taken them out of context, and I do not, in any way, wish to create a problem for any of these friends of mine.  If they want to take credit for their own words, they may do so.  It's hard to know that, even jokingly, more than one source said something to the effect of, "Be careful, and don't discuss this with a credentials board or a General Superintendent".  Well, I'll take the fall if there is one to be taken.  People need to understand this.    

It's our "distinctive doctrine"... and we start and end so well.  Because of the importance of holiness and sanctification to the identity of the Church of the Nazarene, with whom I do identify, myself; I want to be very careful not to tear this article of faith apart.  More than that, I want to bring out some possible points for discussion, because there are many things that are stated here that are confusing to many people.  My desire, always, is to come to conclusions that make us more redemptive, more like the people that God intended us to be.  The Greek "telos" translated to "perfection", in fact, means precisely this.  And so, understanding holiness matters... a lot...  

X. Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification

10. We believe that sanctification is the work of God which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ. It is wrought by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit in initial sanctification, or regeneration (simultaneous with justification), entire sanctification, and the continued perfecting work of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification. In glorification we are fully conformed to the image of the Son.

We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect.

It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by grace through faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.

This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.”

10.1. We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace.

We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the divine impulse to grow in grace as a Christlike disciple. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christlikeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavor, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost.

Participating in the means of grace, especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church, believers grow in grace and in wholehearted love to God and neighbor.

(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Malachi 3:2-3; Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17; John 7:37-39; 14:15-23; 17:6-20; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 15:8-9; Romans 6:11-13, 19; 8:1-4, 8-14; 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Galatians 2:20; 5:16-25; Ephesians 3:14-21; 5:17-18, 25-27; Philippians 3:10-15; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Hebrews 4:9-11; 10:10-17; 12:1-2; 13:12; 1 John 1:7, 9)

(“Christian perfection,” “perfect love”: Deuteronomy 30:6; Matthew 5:43- 48; 22:37-40; Romans 12:9-21; 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 3:10-15; Hebrews 6:1; 1 John 4:17-18

“Heart purity”: Matthew 5:8; Acts 15:8-9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:3

“Baptism with the Holy Spirit”: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Malachi 3:2-3; Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 15:8-9

“Fullness of the blessing”: Romans 15:29 “Christian holiness”: Matthew 5:1-7:29; John 15:1-11; Romans 12:1-15:3; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:17-5:20; Philippians 1:9-11; 3:12-15; Colossians 2:20-3:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:7-8; 5:23; 2 Timothy 2:19-22; Hebrews 10:19-25; 12:14; 13:20-21; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Peter 1:1-11; 3:18; Jude 20-21)

I said it before...  we start well...

"We believe that sanctification
is the work of God
which transforms believers
into the likeness of Christ."
We end well...

"Participating in the means of grace,
especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church,
believers grow in grace
and in wholehearted love to God and neighbor."

Maybe we should stop there.  Maybe those two statements are enough.  But we don't stop there, so some explanation must be made for words like initial sanctification, regeneration, justification, entire sanctification, and glorification.  That's a lot of "-ations"...  We have created a lot of steps toward holiness.  Some of them are described as crisis moments, while others are a part of a process of living.  To those who don't know the lingo, it can be overwhelming.  "Wait...  I thought I did that... and that... and that..."  But what does God do?  And to whom does God offer this grace? 

In looking for a parallel in Scripture, perhaps the best we can do is to take the alternative phrase, "Baptism of the Holy Spirit".  At least we have a reference to such a thing, historically, at Pentecost (Acts 2), and then later in Acts 10 and Acts 19 as the Holy Spirit comes on believers who have received water baptism but have not yet received the Holy Spirit.  Whether we want to consider this a second work of grace, I don't know.  However, what is clearly apparent is that it is another work of grace.  Perhaps not ironically, that has been a bit of a theme here in relationship to the sacraments.  God is often working among us, and God's work in and through our lives definitely comes in the form of grace.  Perhaps holiness is even sacramental.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit should mark a beginning, as it does in Acts, as opposed to an ending.  It is not the point at which we "arrive".  It is the point at which the Holy Spirit arrives and then we act, explicitly, in love of God, ourselves, and others. This is not the pinnacle of our faith journeys.  Instead, it is the very beginning of our ministry.  We often have this upside-down view of holiness in which we give God control of our personal decisions, and then God is able to make us do the things we were always intended to do.  It's as if we embrace coercion at the expense of love, when what we should really be doing is embracing love and working together with God as opposed to working against God.  Free will is beautiful like that.  The Holy Spirit enables us and empowers us to join God in God's work in the world.  From this point, we are a sent people.  Holiness is dangerous (see the lives of the apostles for examples).  It is not about safety and isolation.  It is about transparency and exposure.  It is about sharing the gospel message, which is good news.  And, interestingly, this baptism of the Holy Spirit always seems to happen in community.  It's not about personal holiness.  There is no such thing as personal holiness.  Yes.  I just said it.  We can't "do" holiness alone.  I'm not sure why we even try.  Who would we be loving? 

But wait.  There's more.  As if it isn't difficult enough to accept that holiness takes place within community, what about systemic holiness?  What do we do when the systems are broken?  And they are broken.  Let's just forget our tendency toward sin as an individual responsibility for a moment.  What if we stood against the systemic sin that is so prevalent and said, "enough!"  What if we took responsibility for things like racism, sexism, and oppressive structures in our institutions, governments, and even churches?  What if we allowed the Holy Spirit to break into those areas of our lives?  What if we really did become activists, because as I recently heard in a sermon by Jeanette and Gabriel Salguero, there is really no such thing as a Christian who is not an activist.  What do we think it really means to care for the least of these (more on this in an upcoming post, soon)?  Because this also matters.  A lot...

Just one more thought.  I'd really rather not point out the red flags in this article, but I am disturbed by the concept of frustrating grace, itself.  Can grace be frustrated?  I'm not so sure.  I think this idea is what has led many holiness people to live afraid of an "in again - out again" kind of salvific relationship.  At best, I think this leads to a harnessing of egregious sinful actions.  At worst, I think it leads to a life of fear that is paralyzing and makes it difficult to act in holiness and love toward others, because such interactions might cause us to stumble.  In such a discussion, I think two very important questions must be raised.  First, if this sanctifying grace can, indeed, be frustrated and lost, would that not propel the person who lost such grace back into a state of God's prevenient grace, which will continue to draw him or her back to God?  And second, which sins would be most frustrating to grace?  Because I tend to think that those sins of omission and complacency might be just as perilous as others, making hiding our heads in the sand of individual holiness a very precarious position to take. 

L.

5 comments:

  1. You've done a really good job here articulating the positive aspects of Article X as well as exploring how sanctification/holiness can and should be best understood. Your paragraph on systemic holiness is especially good.

    One point of push back I have is when you write the following:

    "And, interestingly, this baptism of the Holy Spirit always seems to happen in community. It's not about personal holiness. There is no such thing as personal holiness. Yes. I just said it. We can't "do" holiness alone. I'm not sure why we even try. Who would we be loving?"

    Your point is well taken - there must be communal holiness, or there is no holiness. This is true of course not only of holiness but of everything as it pertains to the Christian faith - we are first and always a communal faith. The God who is love and who is Godself a Trinitarian community calls us to a life of love of God, self, and others, necessarily in community.

    However, your statement "there is no such thing as personal holiness" seems to suggest clearly that *only* communal holiness matters, or even exists. In light of the abuses and misappropriations of past understandings of an *individual* holiness, it is understandable to push back strongly against the American-Holiness legalistic understanding and the Western-American radical individualistic understanding.

    I think, though, there is an important distinction to be made between "individualized" holiness (which cannot exist because we do not exist as individuals in a spiritual vacuum but are always in community with one another) and "personal" holiness (which can and should exist as we ourselves are inwardly transformed more and more into the image of Christ). There must be a dynamic tension between holiness within the person and holiness within the community - and since we are all at different places in our journeys, as persons and as communities, this can be one of the most difficult dynamic tensions to hold.

    I love what Tom Oord has written about a potentially reformulated Article X - he is spot on throughout, especially on his positive emphasis of rooting holiness theology in love, the needed balances between personal/communal holiness and crisis/process, and ongoing experience. I highly recommend all to read his work here:

    http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/thomas-jay-oord/suggestions-for-a-reformulated-article-x/

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    1. Thanks for providing this link. I think Tom does a really good job working through Article X in a way that touches on every detail, and I really appreciate that.

      The more I think about article X, though, the more I feel that we need to say either much less or much more spread out over several articles. This one is huge, and I think the language is difficult.

      In regard to your "push back" above, I will reference Tom's suggestions, again, and say that I certainly agree that there is some degree of individual piety involved in holiness. I just don't think we can reasonably expect to live out holiness outside of community, because if it is based in God's nature of love, we need others with whom to share this. I think the idea of individual piety often takes center stage in the definition of holiness, and while I do agree that it plays a part; I think it's time to correct the idea that it is the only part or even the most important one.

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    2. I agree with the "either much less or much more spread out" thinking on what to actually do with Article X itself. The thing is, there are all *kinds* of issues and points of theology that do not get addressed in the Articles of Faith, which are (I guess) a summary of the key theological views. I think there are some things that maybe should be incorporated as Articles that aren't - and other things that are that probably shouldn't be. In the end, I think we'd do well to keep our "basic tenets of faith" just that: Basic. Simple. Understandable. So that's the direction I would lean.

      Yes, holiness *must* be communal. That's an interesting thought on "which is the most important one" - I hadn't been thinking of that at all. Of course I don't think we can put a "percentage" on it, but I would simply say that whatever we may think holiness is, it should be seen clearly both in our communities *and* in each of us. I can't get away from the idea that each of us is to be transformed into the image of Christ, and that such transformation makes us holy as Christ is holy - but this applies fully to communities and to persons.

      And you are right that far too often our tribe in particular has defaulted to a brand of American-Holiness personal piety that is simply woefully inadequate to articulate the robust theology of holiness that we need. Thank you for highlighting this so well!

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  2. “I said it before... we start well...

    "We believe that sanctification
    is the work of God
    which transforms believers
    into the likeness of Christ."
    We end well...

    "Participating in the means of grace,
    especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church,
    believers grow in grace
    and in wholehearted love to God and neighbor."

    Maybe we should stop there. Maybe those two statements are enough.”
    AMEN!

    “Free will is beautiful like that. The Holy Spirit enables us and empowers us to join God in God's work in the world. From this point, we are a sent people. “ Beautiful words!


    “Holiness is dangerous!”
    Are these words scary to anyone else? I know for myself I choose not to dwell on them and trust God to guide me!

    “And, interestingly, this baptism of the Holy Spirit always seems to happen in community. It's not about personal holiness. There is no such thing as personal holiness. Yes. I just said it. We can't "do" holiness alone. I'm not sure why we even try. Who would we be loving?”
    These are interesting thoughts. I’ve never thought about holiness happening in community settings. I do believe that seeking holiness is a personal decision that we make in all of our decisions. But I also believe for the Christian church to function well and love our neighbors well it takes a tribe/village/clan.

    “What if we took responsibility for things like racism, sexism, and oppressive structures in our institutions, governments, and even churches? What if we allowed the Holy Spirit to break into those areas of our lives? What if we really did become activists, because as I recently heard in a sermon by Jeanette and Gabriel Salguero, there is really no such thing as a Christian who is not an activist. What do we think it really means to care for the least of these (more on this in an upcoming post, soon)?”
    I’ve never thought of being sanctified and being an activist as being discussed together. In your upcoming post you should define the word ‘activist’ and how they make positive changes within communities! Give some examples too! Because when I think of ‘activists’ I think of many who are radically trying to make a positive difference but they are not loving or kind. They stomp on those with opposing views. It will be interesting to read your blog on caring for the least of these and what it looks like for a tribe that proclaims holiness. Are all sanctified persons called to be activist for every situation? I venture to say there isn’t a way we can all invest our time and energy in all areas to care for the least of these. But we need to seek to care for those that we have the resources to do so or seek others to help.
    The Nazarene denomination believes in traditional marriage between a husband and wife. How do we be activists and support this while being respectful to those with opposing views? (Even within our Naz denomination we have many with opposing views on this situation.) How do we make sure that the gay person/couple feels welcome in our church communities? My brother once asked, “If my partner and I came to your church would we be welcomed?” My response, “I sure hope so but I suspect that we have enough people that are so repulsed to gay people that they would probably not be very friendly.” This thought makes me sad! My brother is not a Christian and has no interest of entering a Christian community because of radical activists that have been unloving.
    It seems that the Nazarene domination does many good things as a whole but do we do enough in our local communities to care for the least of these?  

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    Replies
    1. ""Holiness is dangerous!' Are these words scary to anyone else? I know for myself I choose not to dwell on them and trust God to guide me!"

      I smiled at this, because I think that as you trust God to guide you, you are showing that even if these words are scary you will not allow them to hinder God's work in and through you. Yes. Sometimes it's scary. But God is always with us.

      In regard to holiness in community, see my thoughts above to Phil. I do agree that we can have some degree of personal piety, but I think holiness is so much bigger than that...

      I really love how you're thinking about the least of these, and I definitely want to dive into that more fully in a post... or maybe even a series of posts, because it is very close to my heart. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on "activists". I will definitely do some defining, and perhaps I will use multiple terms, because I can definitely see how the word "activist" could be seen in either a positive or negative light.

      There are so many important issues (perhaps that's why this subject needs so many posts). I hope that your brother and his partner would be welcomed with open arms into your local church community or any other, but I do think you're right that there would be individual people who would create an environment that is less than welcoming. I wonder what we can do to help others to understand that those unwelcoming people do not speak for all of us.

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