Posts tagged ‘entire sanctification’

From the Archives: Quacking Like A Duck

The following post was originally published on July, 2010

You’ve probably heard the old saw, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a  duck, it must be a duck!” One might think that this applies to Christianity as  easily as anything else, but this isn’t so. There are many who might claim  the name of Christian and fill your ears with language that sure makes  it sound like they are living the Christian life. I wonder if this isn’t mere  quacking, though. There’s much more than simply proclaiming oneself a  Christian and learning some phrases and words. Consider the following:

But the most common of all the enthusiasts of this kind are those  who imagine themselves Christians, and are not. These abound, not  only in all parts of our land, but in most parts of the habitable  earth. That they are not Christians, is clear and undeniable, if we  believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy: Christians love God; these love the world: Christians are humble; these are proud: Christians are gentle; these are passionate; Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are at the utmost distance from it. Consequently, they are no more Christians, than they are archangels. Yet they imagine themselves so to be; and they can give several reasons for it: for they have been called so ever since they can remember; they were christened many years ago; they embrace the Christian opinions, vulgarly termed the Christian or catholic faith; they use the Christian modes of worship, as their fathers did before them; they live what is called a good Christian life, as the rest of their neighbours do. And who shall presume to think or say that these men are not Christians? — though without one grain of true faith in Christ, or of real, inward holiness; without ever having tasted the love of God, or been “made partakers of the Holy Ghost!” — John Wesley, Sermon 37, “On the Nature of Enthusiasm”

Wesley was pretty adamant regarding inner holiness instead of outward display. Why such emphasis on holiness? Pastor Dale Tedder over at Shepherding Souls points out that in the New Testament alone, the word “holy” is applied to over 20 different things:

  • Holy angels
  • Holy servant
  • Holy Father
  • Holy One
  • Holy ones
  • Holy man
  • Holy Spirit
  • Holy temple
  • Holy ground
  • Holy place
  • Holy kiss
  • Holy law
  • Holy brothers
  • Holy scriptures
  • Holy hands
  • Holy people
  • Holy priesthood
  • Holy fear
  • Holy nation
  • Holy women
  • Holy prophets
  • Holy faith, and
  • Holy city

As someone raised in a Jewish household, who came to faith at a Messianic Jewish congregation, the concept of being holy has been something I’ve easily understood during my Christian walk.

“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy,for I am holy.”Leviticus 11:45

In choosing the Jewish people as His own, the Lord called them to be holy as he was holy. How could the children of Israel, the Chosen People, teach the world of His glory  if they didn’t reflect an image of His holiness? The same holds true for the Church today. If we who call ourselves Christians do not live a life which is markedly different from those who do not know Jesus, what possible separation will the world see between us? My denomination — the Church of the Nazarene — has always been characterized by a devotion to holiness in living, a dedication to entire sanctification (Wesley’s concept of Christian perfection, which I’ve blogged on previously).

If Christians will not seek to turn away from the things which make us unholy, whether it is things we see or read or think about or say, are we the voice of Christ in this fallen world, or are we just quacking like ducks?

Advertisements

Leonard Sweet on Holiness

I’ve been slowly working my way through Leonard Sweet’s The Gospel According to Starbucks. To be honest, very slowly, because the book simply hasn’t done much for me. There has been the ocassional paragraph that reaches out to grab me, such as the following:

God made each one of us special, but consider how quickly we get separated from our specialness. The biblical language for making special is “holiness,” or “set apart.” For example, God declares to Jeremiah that even as he is know he has also been “set apart”–hiqdis. From the Hebrew root qds, this verb indicates the act of setting something apart for a unique specific reason or use. In religious usage this meant setting something aside as special to Yahweh–that is, holy or consecrated. Once this special designation was made, that which was set apart was only for Yahweh’s use. Thus, according to Jeremiah’s calling, he is for God’s use–and God alone. The biblical call to holiness is a relational mandate that requires the connecting of the body, spirit, and soul that God has specially made and made special.

Do you agree with Sweet’s take on holiness? Does this fit with John Wesley’s conception of holiness?

“nothing higher and nothing lower than this,–the pure love of God and man; the loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions.”

I think the two are not incompatible, especially as regards Sweet’s comment on holiness as a relational mandate. Wesley saw holiness not as a state of being, but as a relationship of loving God and others.

What do you think?

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Four

Why is it that I believe that a solution to the identity crisis of the Holiness movement lies within liturgy?

When correct usage of liturgy is employed, the rules that liturgy employs provide a means of not just solidifying identity but of critiquing and examining the behaviors of the church. This has long been described by the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi or “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” This is ignored at some peril, and Steve Hoskins has argued that this is precisely what the Holiness movement has done. Rather than lex orandi, lex credendi, Hoskins has made the case that the Holiness movement has instead operated by lex orandi, lex oblivisci or “the rule of prayer, the rule ignored.” In other words, as the Holiness movement has ignored its roots within the liturgy of the Christian church, it has lost its sense of identity and subsequently its core beliefs.

Charles Hohenstein notes that the “notion of liturgy as an authoritative source for theology is a congenial one for many in the Wesleyan tradition who have attached such significance to the sermons and hymns of the Wesleys that these have served not only as grist for theological reflection, but as a doctrinal standard.” This reinforces the argument that a return to liturgy is a solution to the crisis that has resulted from the tension between a Holiness movement self-defined by a Wesleyan theological model versus self-definition by the alterations of theology that plague a Palmerian model. Liturgy allows individuals to be active participants in the recovery of memory of the developmental events of the Christian faith and of the principles of holiness.

Paul Bradshaw has written as to the relevance of such memory, in which remembrance does not seek the past for its own sake but because of some contemporary interest. Recollection on the part of the community therefore takes place in order to comprehend the present day. Bradshaw was writing specifically in regards to celebration of the Eucharist, yet the principle he is getting at is one that can be broadly applied. Liturgical participation is an act in which Holiness people will be able not only to re-member their lineage as part of the greater Christian church, but also re-member – to draw together as members of a distinct community within the Church. Hoskins cautions, “Such a remembering is dependent on a liturgy which is theologically and historically well-defined and defining, with rubrics and rules and acts which have proved to be appropriate expressions of the faith.”

This concept of appropriate expressions of faith is important to comprehend in terms of how liturgy can resolve the question of identity, particularly when the goal is a return to a pure Wesleyan identity. John Wesley’s teachings on holiness were formed within the crucible of the Anglican Church; as such, concepts of holiness were set in a particular context. This context included not just Scripture, but time-honored traditions of the Church calendar, life-cycle events that defined how one’s faith was to be lived, and the historic creeds and confessions of the Church. All these aspects of liturgy were considered fundamental and indispensable expressions of faith that formed an identity, which placed one clearly in the community of God’s people. For the Holiness movement to re-orient itself into such a context – albeit one that acknowledges that it is not the 18th century, and makes accommodation for the age in which the movement exists – will allow for the establishment of clearly defined theological boundaries while still permitting for spontaneous expressions of faith that are uniquely part of a Holiness heritage.

It should be obvious that what I am arguing for here is not simply that the Holiness movement return to liturgy as a cure for problems with identity, but that it return to liturgy as a means of recovering a specifically Wesleyan Holiness identity. This does not preclude acknowledgement of other influences on the identity of the movement – it would be utter foolishness to deny that Phoebe Palmer and her theology greatly shaped the movement – but allows for those influences to be evaluated through the lens of Wesleyan identity. Examination of these other influences in such a manner permits those within the movement to appraise the merits of such influences in regards to such a Wesleyan identity.

While there may be historical and theological objections to be raised to this choice, the fact remains that a Wesleyan identity intrinsically seeks self-definition (at least in part) through liturgy. The means of grace that Wesley so urged the early Methodists to partake of – such as searching Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and participation in the life of the Church – found their expression in liturgy, and as Henry Knight observes, “functioned to portray the identity of God and the resulting identity of the Christian.” Knight also cogently notes that while the liturgical tradition was key to John Wesley’s ideas of the growth of holiness in the individual, Wesley was particular in the parts of that tradition he emphasized, especially in regards to theology. One has only to give attention to the material in Wesley’s famous Christian Library and take note of the abridgement of some of the works to realize that Wesley was presenting only the parts of those works that dovetailed with his vision of holiness of heart and life.

In this as well, the choice to concentrate on a Wesleyan genesis can only assist the contemporary Holiness movement in moving towards resolving a crisis of identity via  liturgical renewal. Wesley drew upon a great diversity of sources both ancient and contemporary for his time in order to devise an expression of faith that would be true to the historical faith and life of the Church, and yet address the needs of his own day. The Holiness movement has the opportunity to do the same today. The movement must commit itself to seeking expressions of faith that draw upon the rich and profound treasures represented by the liturgical traditions of the Church universal.

These liturgical traditions must be allowed to establish the boundaries of identity that place the Holiness movement within the long line of Christian faith, while still allowing for a singular expression of the doctrines that make Holiness people a peculiar people within the greater community of God’s people. While not without its difficulties, this is a task made easier by what has been one of the great strengths of the Holiness movement: the unwillingness of most groups of holiness people to castigate other holiness people over differences in theology or doctrine. If we in the Holiness movement can continue to seek such a unity even as we explore liturgical renewal, then there is hope that our movement may become one marked by a well-defined identity rooted in the wealth of the Christian past and truly moving into the future towards the fulfillment of a Wesleyan goal of spreading holiness throughout the land.

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Three

It is reasonable at this point to question whether the conflict between Wesleyan and Palmerian definitions of entire sanctification is enough to be considered a point of crisis for the Holiness movement. After all, the movement has endured for a very long time in relative unity. Melvin Dieter certainly seems to have felt that the question of identity was reaching a crisis point as far back as 1985, in a paper titled, “The Development of Nineteenth Century Holiness Theology.” He believed that the movement must choose between the two identities or risk being assimilated into a more general context within the Church. While Dieter was in favor of the choice of a Palmerian identity, other voices within the movement would argue instead for allowing the Holiness movement to move to the selection of an exclusively Wesleyan character. This leads to other questions, such as should the Holiness movement prefer one aspect of its formative past over the other, and why should it examine the past as a solution to a current lack of growth both in numbers and social impact?

The answer to the former question is that it has been a lack of accuracy about the true distinctiveness of the movement that has caused the crisis that Dieter and others have been addressing for over 20 years. In terms of an identity that concerns itself with accuracy, there is no question that the Wesleyan model would present itself as superior. A Wesleyan model would by its nature incorporate logic and reason as part of its identity. John Wesley left capacious writings to indicate that the experience of holiness must be examined theologically to ensure that it did not conflict with Scripture. A Palmerian model, by contrast, would be concerned primarily with the experience of holiness itself. Phoebe Palmer’s writings indicate a primary commitment that is centered on leading the individual Christian to the experience. Some might accuse Palmer of being completely unconcerned with theology; this is not disdain, but simply a belief that the exactness of the theology behind sanctification is simply not as important as achievement of the experience.

The answer to the latter question, why the Holiness movement should turn to the past for a solution to present-day woes, is that embracing either model could well mean a return to the successes that were previously associated with that identity. Certainly within the context of the American Holiness movement, it is unarguable that Phoebe Palmer and her followers enjoyed the fruit of numerical growth and widespread social impact fully as much as John Wesley and Methodism did during the Revival in an English context. A decision for either model would seem to hold the hope of return to such successes and while the argument against Palmer’s lack of theological correctness is quite valid, it is fair to note that Wesleyan model does contain problems of theological exactitude as well.

Chief among these troubles is an inconsistency in Wesley’s own teachings, which Randy Maddox demonstrated to be products of three chronological periods of Wesley’s life. There is little disagreement with Wesley’s own positions during the earlier two periods, yet much disagreement in the third and latest period. Mainly at issue would be the subject of Biblical inerrancy, a position to which for much of his life Wesley did not subscribe; only in the third period, according to Maddox, does Wesley proclaim that the Bible contains no error.

Nevertheless, the Wesleyan model seems to offer a clearer path for the Holiness movement to avoid the ambiguity caused by two differing theological identities. Yet if both the Wesleyan and Palmerian identity present difficulties, what solution can be offered? One can argue that the answer to the dilemma lies in a return to liturgy. Why liturgy? Because it can be proposed that one of the causes of the recent predicament of the Holiness movement lies in insufficient attention being paid within the movement to the critical importance of spiritual formation and practices. The historical liturgies of the broader Christian church provide a means for denominations in the Holiness movement to maintain connection to their past lineage within the Church. This loss of a link to that lineage can have very damaging results; Keith Drury, in his infamous address The Holiness Movement Is Dead, identified one of these results as the adoption of “church-growth thinking without theological thinking.” When holiness denominations become severed from their pedigree, they risk ceasing to be a part of what Steven Hoskins has labeled, “the ancient procession of those who have trod the path of Christian faith that has followed the way of holiness.”

In Part Four, the final part of this series, I will explain why I believe that liturgy is a solution to the identity crisis within the holiness movement, which I believe was caused (at least the majority of it) by Phoebe Palmer’s theology of entire sanctification.

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Two

Theological differences become apparent swiftly when the teachings of Phoebe Palmer on entire sanctification are contrasted with John Wesley’s own. In stark contrast to Wesley’s vision of a lengthy, often difficult effort concluding with sanctification, Palmer expressed sanctification as a state of being that all believers could achieve in an instant. This was a viewpoint that Wesley had specifically warned against, as can be seen in the Minutes of the Methodist Conference (1771). Charles White has identified six primary areas in which Palmer departs from Wesleyan views of entire sanctification.

The first of these is that she equates entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Second, Palmer equated holiness with power. Palmer saw entire sanctification as a means by which the sanctified Christian was given power for a life of service in behalf of God and others.

Third, she focused on the instantaneousness of entire sanctification, having little or nothing to say about any progressive growth in grace either before or after sanctification. Palmer’s reasoning was that “whatever my former deficiencies may have been, God requires that I should now be holy … God requires present holiness.” Palmer’s logic was that this “shorter way” was not just possible but a reality, because God would not withhold something that he had required of the individual Christian. In her outlook, Palmer seems to have followed Charles G. Finney, whom Ivan Howard notes “held that entire sanctification could be received at any time, whenever one appropriated Christ by faith.”

The fourth way in which Palmer deviated from Wesley was that she taught sanctification as the beginning of the Christian life, not the goal of it as Wesley had done. Mark Mann notes that Palmer “came to view full holiness as the duty of all Christians, thereby substantially deflating the importance of justification and the new birth (against which Wesley himself had warned). Related to this, Palmer came to emphasize Christian perfection as a grace normally available early in one’s spiritual growth, even as early as a couple hours after one’s conversion.” Such a view of holiness inevitably would lead one to the conclusion that to doubt in entire sanctification would be amiss to sin, and Palmer certainly articulated such to her followers.

“What you need, in order to bring you into this state, is an offering up of yourself through this purifying medium. Now do you still ask, How soon may I expect to arrive at this state of perfection? Just so soon as you come believingly, and make the required sacrifice, it will be done unto you according to your faith….When the Savior said, “It is finished!” then this full salvation was wrought out for you. All that remains is for you to come complying with the conditions, and claim it…it is already yours. If you do not now receive it, the delay will not be on the part of God, but wholly with yourself. … And now my dear K, if you will resolve to let faith depend on the word of God, and not upon your uncertain feelings, your difficulties will all be at an end.”

The fifth difference which White identifies is Palmer’s promulgation of what became labeled as “altar theology,” a concept she drew from Exodus 29:37.

“The acceptance of the gift [of entire sanctification] does not depend on the worthiness of the offerer or the greatness of the gift, but upon the sanctity of the altar: Matt. 23:19, “For whether is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” It is by virtue of the altar upon which the offering is laid that the gift is sanctified: Exod. 29:37, “And it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever touches the altar shall be holy.” Christ is the Christian’s altar.”

This altar theology compacted entire sanctification into a process of three steps: an act of entire consecration in which one placed one’s all on the altar, faith in God’s promise of sanctification, and giving public testimony to sanctification. This last step Palmer viewed as a necessity due to the order of God not being fully met until confession was made with the mouth.

The sixth divergence from Wesley’s teachings that is noted by White is that Palmer posited that there was no further evidence needed for the assurance of entire sanctification than Scripture itself. She wrote, “God did not require … anything but what was thoroughly substantiated by the requirements of his written word.” Palmer eschewed any evidence of sanctification in the form of the witness of the Spirit (which Wesley had insisted was vital as an assurance of entire sanctification), writing, “What is the evidence of entire sanctification? … How might an offerer at the Jewish altar arrive at an evidence that his offering was sanctified? In the first place, God had explicitly made known just the sacrifice required, and the manner in which it should be presented. If the offerer had complied with these requirements, he, of course, knew he had done so.”

Although these differences in theology might seem trivial to some, Randy Maddox has demonstrated that John Wesley had spoken quite strongly against each one of the modifications that Phoebe Palmer would make to the doctrine of entire sanctification.  Hardly trivial, Palmer’s alterations in fact caused a theological dissonance in holiness teaching, one that has lasted to the present day and continues to cause serious problems for the Holiness movement. The crux of the problem is that the Holiness movement has since its inception been playing an internal tug-of-war over the matter of its own identity. Is it a Wesleyan identity, or a Palmerian identity? This tension of identity is likely to be one of the reasons for the loss of a laity truly educated in holiness; a problem that Keith Drury has argued has contributed to the death of the Holiness movement as a movement.

In Part Three, I will address the consequences of the identity crisis in the Holiness movement.

In Honor of John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience

Today marks the anniversary of the day when John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed,” as he attended a bible study on Aldersgate Street. Many Wesleyan denominations make this “Aldersgate Day” a bit of a memorial, in acknowledgement of the transformation Wesley’s Aldersgate experience accomplished in him, and the ministry that resulted. For some good reflections on this, visit here and here.

About Banners: A Guest Post by Herb Halstead

The following is a guest post written by Herb Halstead. Herb is a Nazarene church planter and senior pastor of Thrive Church in Jackson, TN. He is a prolific blogger, not only writing for his own blog but contributing to blogs specializing in topics such as technology and new pastor education. Please enjoy his post. I will be taking a short hiatus from new posts on A Heart That Burns, due to a move followed by minor surgery (for both of which prayers would be appreciated). I’ll be checking to moderate any comments, but new posts won’t resume for at least one week.

My bride and I, along with a small handful of people, planted a new church that launched in 2007. In the midst of a heavily Baptist town (a Baptist college is here), the Church of the Nazarene is pretty unknown here, even though there have been at least two different Nazarene churches in the town over the previous century. Both of those churches are now gone, the last closing in 2006.

I still have people ask me “what is a Nazarene?” even after being here for four years (in March 2011). It’s hard to give them a short version of an answer to that question. Usually I say, “we’re theologically similar to Methodists, but more conservative leaning like the Baptists.” Right or wrong that’s as close as I can get without getting into an hour-long conversation. They understand what I’m saying though. Often the response is, “OK, so you don’t believe in eternal security, but you also don’t believe that liberal lifestyles are acceptable?” I return with “pretty much.”

Sometimes they ask a second question, something like, “What are Nazarene services like?” That’s code for “are you a cult?” or “speak in tongues?” or “boring traditional?”

This is where I have some fun. I tell them that Nazarene churches believe in the essential things that all Christian churches believe, that we run the gamut on worship style (ours is modern), and that while we adhere to the scriptural admonishment to “not forbid the speaking in tongues” we also strictly insist on authenticity as the Apostle Paul demands, which has the effect of making tongues scarce in our tribe. Then I say, “but none of that matters, does it?” That is usually met with a tilted head and confused look in their eyes.

What matter most, above all, is our unity in Jesus Christ. What matters is our common beliefs in the one, true God, who sent His Son Jesus to rescue us from the perils of sin, and give us new life that we live with the graceful help of the Holy Spirit. What matters is that we can’t do it of our own volition or power, but through God’s grace. What matters is our responsibility as the body of Christ to make and teach disciples. What matters is the pursuit of those ends. That is what is crucially essential to all churches. For my tribe, that is accomplished in the bosom of holiness theology, where my life is lived as a beacon of His grace. There are people who do not know Him – that’s what matters. There are people who know Him but are stuck in stagnating waters – that is what matters. Yes, I have fun when the conversation gets this far.

If they’re still listening, I say this – the church that God is building is not concerned with arguing semantics or the finer points of denominational theologies – it is concerned with rescuing the created and restoring them to God’s loving arms. My particular corner of that church (my church home) wants to be on that wavelength. We accomplish this through a specific theological lens, and we won’t apologize for it. But, we also won’t hold our differences as dogma – a place reserved for those essentials previously described.

Thrive Church, a Church of the Nazarene, is a reflection of that intentional perspective. We started with 5 Nazarenes. While we are not a large church, all of our growth has been with non-Nazarenes. We have convinced Catholics, those of the Assemblies of God, various flavors of Baptists, Pentecostals, those of Four Square, Methodists, those of the Church of Christ, the Christian Church, and even adamant anti-denominationalists to join the work, together as one community. When we organized, all but two people accepted the Nazarene statement of beliefs and joined the tribe. How is this possible? Do we water down the message? No. The pulpit rings with Wesley’s tradition and entire sanctification (in different words) is heralded. So, How? By recognizing that it is not the theological tradition that truly binds us, but Jesus Christ’s blood. Under that banner – the banner of love – we pursue the work of the Kingdom, together.

Consider the following quote from John Wesley, recently used in a communique from the General Superintendents: “I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field.” While we enjoy a rich tradition – a specific part of the body – we are ALL of ONE body and ONE mission. I am grateful that we’ve been able to enjoy a diverse fellowship, and as one of our local leaders once said, “we are actually doing what churches say that want to be doing” – and that’s because we are building The Kingdom, not trying to create one of our own. We are united by THE mission.

%d bloggers like this: