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Inclusiveness in a Culture of Holiness

Steven W. Manskar has written a very fine post entitled “A Culture of Holiness.”

Here is part of what he says:

When congregations strive to be communities of open hearts, minds, and doors they see all people as equal. Since we believe that all people are equal in the eyes and heart of God the church should treat everyone as equals. Because Christ lived and died for all people, no Christian is more saved than another. If God does not favor persons (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Deuteronomy 10:17-18) then the church should receive and accept all persons as equal in God’s eyes. This is the thinking behind open hearts, minds, and doors. It is also the essential nature of the church as the “body of Christ” for the world that God loves. It is important for leaders in the church to understand that equality is not uniformity. I say this because in the laudable effort towards open hearts, minds and doors and equality, congregations treat everyone the same. Maturity in Christian faith is rarely acknowledged. When it is recognized it is often discounted. I think this is because over the past 100 years Methodists have mistakenly equated holiness, and the desire to grow in discipleship, with being “holier than thou.” No church wants members who think and behave as though they are better than everyone else. So, in the effort to discourage “holier than thou” thinking and behavior congregations end up discounting holiness altogether. Thus alienating members who want more out of church and their faith than a friendly, welcoming place that affirms them for who they are but has no real expectation that they will ever “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

This sounds very good to me. Inclusiveness per se is not holiness. Holiness is identified with spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity will foster a culture that supports inclusiveness — since the love of God also impels us toward the love of all people.

But, we all know plenty of examples where this has not happened. A culture of holiness can degenerate into judgementalism and spiritual one-ups-man-ship. It has many times.

This became a persistent problem in the holiness movement and in Pentecostalism, where emphasis was placed in spiritual experiences subsequent to Christian conversion. When holiness is held forth as a standard, people often begin to codify holiness into a list of dos & do-nots.

The culture of holiness is undermined by that tendency Christians have historically identified as
“pride”: the desire to prove our own worth and significance. The culture of holiness is undermined by egotism.

It seems to me, that a culture of holiness cannot be fostered without an awareness of the distortions and problems that may arise. We will start to see legalism, judgementalism and spiritual pride. These are all ugly and if left unchecked will undermine rather than foster a culture of inclusiveness.

Maybe it’s been so long since churches actually operated with a culture of holiness that we have forgotten what the problems are.

I agree with the spirit and content of what Steven says. But, there are dangers here, as well.

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