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Tea and Pages: Where Did Holiness Go?

Tea and Pages is an occasional exploration of theological, social and Biblical topics from Marilyn A. Hudson.
In the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church was a section found in each of the disciplines through the life of this evolving denomination. "The Articles of Religion" presents the theological and Biblical basis for the beliefs of the church.  At this time the Discipline reflected the combined beliefs of three groups that merged in 1939 (The Methodist Episcopal South, The M.E. and the Methodist Protestant).   One is titled "Sanctification" and his prefaced by this statement: "The following Article from the Methodist Protestant Discipline is placed here by the  Uniting Conference. It was not one of the Articles of Religion voted by the three churches."

Sanctification was defined as "that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God, with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless." (Paragraph 86 on pg. 37).
In A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, written by John Wesley in the 1700's he addresses this concept of what he defined as "inward sanctification" (pg. 33, point #17). 
Over time theologians would argue as to the role, stage, and purpose of this process. In the 1800's and early 1900's there were denominations that emerged predicated on the process of sanctification being a crisis point subsequent to salvation (a second definite work of grace), others followed in Wesley's steps of seeing it as a benchmark experience but also as an ongoing process, and still others firmly held to salvation and sanctification being a single action of grace. Numerous nuances of theology swirled around these key points.
Some groups became too focused on expressions of holiness in observable and measurable ways. Dancing, elaborate dress, extravagant spending, lewdness, secret societies, fairs, frivolity, and other actions clearly seen in a life were frowned upon and, as denominations emerged from these groups, formulated into rules of conduct for membership.
Wesley focused rightly on the work of the Holy Spirit in shaping the inner person.  He knew from his own experience of being a unawakened Christian that one can go to church, read the scriptures, pray and give to the poor but remain polluted by fears and sin. 
That word, however, is a key issue. Sin. As the 20th century progressed the term fell from theological fashion to be replaced by psychological and sociological ideas that basically presented sin as a quaint superstition.  Sin was an aged term that should be replaced by better education, economic equity, self-actualization, and similar ideas.  So, the term flowed between two extreme views. One end of that spectrum was a belief that humanity needed no spiritual salvation because sin was a myth to the other extreme that humanity needed, not only spiritual salvation, but also confining rules to ensure they reflected their state through both belief and behaviors.
The Wesleyan view of sanctification was often termed "scriptural holiness" and that is a good way to discuss the subject. The scriptural stance argues that the human being can do nothing 'to be' holy or sanctified.  That is an action and result of the will and grace of God.  It is always a gift of God.
In the 1988 Discipline of the UMC in "Our Doctrinal Standards" this process is clarified as being "the work of God's grace through the Word and the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God's will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (page. 72, paragraph Article XI).
For Wesley, this process of becoming perfected in Christian love, thought and action did not remove human will but outlined the need for self-discipline, supportive mutual accountability, and a constant hunger for God in the Christ follower. All of his thoughts were reflections of scriptural principles.
Today, we see and bemoan the crumbling of social morality and personal integrity. The once strong walls upholding the concept of civilization are battered. We gasp at the cruel dimensions of human behavior but suggest its solutions can be found in education, economic status and better self-esteem. All that is needed are judicial applications of social programs and political action and the problems can be solved.
For Wesley, as expressed in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, the person who has committed themselves to Christ has shifted their thinking in response to the work of the Holy Spirit in them. They are not forced to be a certain way; they willingly wish to become clearer reflections of Christ in their world. "He cannot utter an unkind word of anyone; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot speak idle words; no corrupt conversation ever comes out of his mouth; as is all that is not good to the use of edifying, not fit to minister grace to the hearers. But "whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely...justly...of good report."
The effective thrust of this 18th century renewal movement was to energize generations in the need for 1) a passionate and personal spiritual relationship with God, 2) an active and intentional personification of that faith through good works, and 3) a clear sense of the purpose of the Church as a vehicle to share the Gospel and help others develop a passionate and personal spiritual relationship with God. 
Perhaps current declines noted in some denominations can be attributed to a loss of the role of sanctification - of scriptural holiness - in modern life. Maybe the question churches should be asked is not how to grow numbers but to look inside and ask, where did the hunger for holiness go?


Tea and Pages: Issues Over Substance

In Matthew 23:24 comes a startling statement from Jesus : "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel."  The shock comes from the fact that these individuals swallowing things whole while picking out the tiniest object they found objectionable were not pagans.  They were not those who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Deborah, or Huldah.  These were the righteous of the day.  These were the ones who enjoyed a position as being leaders in the faith, keepers of the law, the godliest of the godly - the Scribes and the Pharisees.
I am reminded of that verse whenever contemporary society jumps on a social issue hobby horse: abortion, marriage, homosexuality, war, poverty, racial injustice, wealth inequality, women's rights, or climate change.  They have issues - a lot of them!  The issues are all important and there are many ways of viewing their impact on society even among Christians.
It is at that nexus  of Christianity and social issues that the problems seem to emerge.  So much of conservative Christian America identifies itself with these social issues. A specific and preferred view of them creates many problems and is used, inappropriately I believe,  to define what it means to be Christian, conservative, and American.
As important as those topics might be they are the gnats that take our focus as true followers of Christ with the camels we swallow whole. 
The camels include these serious substantive personal and social problems.  Address these and there is a strong, positive witness to the grace and love of God.  "I was hungry and you fed me...." A real 'when the rubber meets the road', 'put your faith where your money is' acting out of the substance of the Gospel.
We swallow, without thought, these massive camels...
Unforgiveness. We refuse to forgive. We keep out hurts open and painful. We never forget.
Intolerance.  They are not like us, don't share our view, and we stop listening and that leads to lack of conversation and communication that ends in intolerance. How shall they hear, see, experience the Gospel when no one is talking?
Jealousy. Always looking at others to measure your own success instead of measuring yourself against the life of Christ. As people living "in Christ" we are new creations and our values as Christians should not be those of the world. Nor should we compare ourselves against other Christians. Look only to Christ.
Arrogance. The know it all syndrome. Self-sufficiency run amuck. The doorway that allows pride to trip us up.
Hatred. God is love and those who hate set themselves in opposition to God.
Greed.  The eternally hungry who refuse to eat the Living Bread of Christ and be filled.  They want more and more of power, money, good times, and anything that pleases them.
Lying.  Liars lie out of fear so the crux of this issue is a lack of the courage to face consequences, tell the truth, and make a decision.
Lust.  Lusts of the flesh, the soul and the spirit. Lusts of sex but also lusts of power, prominence, respect, self-value. Lusts of pain, drugs, food and drink. All lead to a dark and sin filled life.
Strife.  These are people who stir the pot, make trouble where there was none, distract people from keeping their eyes firmly fixed on the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ. Their close friends are all these other camels.
Put away the childish emphasis on the gnats - God can take care of all those issues through a change in human hearts and minds - and focus instead on those camels swallowed whole.
Choose Substance - character, spirit, behaviors of the Christ follower - over issues and see the difference.


Noel Brooks: A Life Shining and Burning, 1914-2006



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