Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relational Holiness

I am slowly working on an idea that makes so much sense in my mind, but is somewhat complex to express into words. Hopefully I will, in time, develop this thought further. The necessity to express this thought became very clear to me when reading a recent article in “Christianity Today.” The article “Hipster Christianity” told of a rising trend in the American Christian culture. While the whole of the article was not completely negative, it still turned my stomach. In an effort to be relevant, I am guessing, many young Christians are rejecting the attitudes of their elders for a more “edgy” demonstration of Christian life.

As for me, one of the most chilling aspects of the hipster movement revealed in this article was the fact that hipster Christians use foul language as a means of expression, even while in the pulpit or in meaningful talks upon the faith in order to relate to the people. I have never been one to concern myself when a fellow brother or sister uses certain words that are deemed negative by society. In fact, I have been guilty of such action myself. However, the true problem of this sort of habit became painfully clear when I realized that not only are some brothers and sisters allowing themselves to become a little too relaxed around each other, but they are openly using such language as a perverted evangelical tool, allowing the world to see that the hipster does not feel he or she is above others. In other words, they cuss so as not to seem “holier than thou.”

As I began to become physically ill at the actions of some of my fellow believers, I began to notice the plank in my own eye. (Do not allow my use of this description of my own fault as a plank have you assume that I see the adoption of worldly language by the hipster culture as a speck…It too is a plank, if not a whole tree house.) We must not allow people to think that relationship with Christ is anything less than an actual changing, a perfecting, from worldly negativity to Christ-centeredness. Thus, even the occasional relaxing of the tongue around those who know my true heart is living far below my calling and privilege.

To live a set-apart, holy life does not necessitate a “holier than thou” attitude. In fact, if holiness is the character demonstrated by Christ, humbleness is surely a large part. Would we ever say Christ was pretentious simply because He did not have a slanderous tongue?

One might say, “Well, you are not Christ, and to pretend to be is pretentious.” But is that not our call? Surely, if we were not asked to follow Christ, we would be pretentious, but we are begged to follow. We are dared to follow. And how might we follow Christ’s directive to be demonstrators of God’s holiness if we cannot truly, by God’s might, be holy (Matt 5: 16; also see Ezek 36:23). God is to be shown holy by the actions of His people. Becoming popular was never the point of the Christian movement. Using the world’s negative language is to ignore and profane the holy name of God. And while the hipster might imagine that his loose tongue makes the unbeliever more comfortable when being evangelized, in effect, they are only belittling the calling of God before the nonbeliever. There is no confidence in the Christian faith for the unbeliever if he or she cannot see any recognizable differnce in the faithful.

But why are my peers, the younger Christian generations, adopting this perverted style of evangelism. In my estimation, I think the problem is largely owed to a loss in the Biblical mandate to be holy. And so a secondary question has to be asked: why have we lost our stress on the doctrine of holiness. In short, I think it is out of disgust that many have turned their noses. Sometime ago, many advocates of Christian holiness lost sight of its relational qualities and made it into a legalistic lifestyle, and the larger holiness movement has suffered ever since.

Since the Reformation, Western Christianity has had little trouble accepting God’s imputation of righteousness to believers. Imputation of righteousness simply means that God, in a forensic sense, declares His followers righteous because they belong to and are covered by Christ. However, the Christian culture has had more than a little trouble accepting God’s impartation of righteousness to believers. Impartation of righteousness simply means that God not only declares us righteous after conversion, but actually begins to transform the believer into a righteous being, not only in word but in deed.

As I said in my opening, I have a lot I want to say on the matter, but I need more time in order to flesh it all out. Therefore, I do not want to belabor my point by offering partially thought out ideas. Instead, I will come to a more abrupt end by revealing what I see as the primary issue. Holiness has largely been ignored because of the perversions others have used to distort its truth. Legalism has made many in the Christian culture become reactionary against the holiness movement, instead of engaging in the movement while using correctives to keep it on the course. While some in the movement have remained engaged despite the narrow views of others, many more have ignored the movement altogether.

The real misunderstanding comes in peoples’ concepts as to how holiness is imparted to the believer. Many have assumed that holiness is an autonomous character gifted by God but exercised by the believer. We do in fact exercise this gift, but not in a completely autonomous fashion. It is not as if God gives us a holy character so that we might be holy apart from Him. This was never the intention for humanity. We were always meant to be holy as we relate to God, but this does not mean, as so many assume, that we are only to be called holy because we belong to a holy God.

We actually are made holy, and we are actually capable of living in action a holy life by the impartation of God’s grace. But this holy character is still incumbent upon God’s presence. In other words, we are capable of being made holy, for it is our focus on and relation to Christ that makes this possible. Instead of impartation of righteousness being a gift of an autonomous, perfect character, it is a reorientation of the being away from selfishness to Christ. As Christians are drawn away from the desires of the flesh by God’s transforming grace, they begin to focus on Christ and to follow His will. Therefore, holiness is relational, for to remove Christ from the center would be to remove that which guides us into holy living.

To live as if we cannot be holy, but are merely to claim Christ’s holiness as our own without allowing it to change our orientation is to fall short of our calling. The hipster movement has missed out on the fullness of the gospel. There needs to be a revival, a reformation of the emerging Christian culture.

“Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct…” I Peter 15