As so often happens, I’ve been running several new posts around in my head, but I wanted to throw this out because of a number of disparate posts and discussions I have gotten in around the interwebs. I understand this first post will not have a ton to say to our Mainline audience; but we have as many Evangelical readers I’m going to post it anyway, and in the next post we’ll open the conversation up to include the broader Christian community.
Having been raised in the AG, I happen to know a thing or two about the “holiness movement.” Of course we inherited it from Methodism, in a sadly degenerate form (poor Wesley, so many misunderstand him).
The wonderful thing about evangelical holiness is how gloriously simple it is, and how easily it fills one with a sense of deep piety. It can easily be summed up in a few hard and fast rules.
– Whatever you do for God’s sake don’t drink alcohol. Never mind that if you really press most conservative evangelicals they will grudgingly admit that drinking is not a “sin” (though of course within a fraction of a second they will practically scream: “BUT BEING DRUNK IS!!!@#$!”); none of that matters, it is bad
– Don’t smoke . . . anything . . . ever . . . Jesus doesn’t like smoke. Don’t chew either. Just nothing to do with that plant tobacco and its more insidious cousins.
– Don’t Swear Jesus isn’t really a fan of any bad word
– Don’t have sex before you’re married (man Christians like to talk about sex)
These are the big four, especially if you’re a teenager. These are the ones that will put you in the “your salvation is in doubt” category if you do them. There are, of course, minor rules that flow out of these.
– Don’t watch rated R and most PG-13 movies, unless Mel Gibson is in it or directed, produced or wrote it
– Don’t listen to “secular” music (you hear that Beethoven you sinful ass!)
Of course there were in living memory other marks of true Christian holiness, our parents remembered them, but conveniently forgot to tell us how they managed to not live by these rules anymore.
– Don’t go to movie theater’s at all.
– Don’t go bowling
– Don’t play with facecards
– Don’t dance – unless it’s in the Spirit (for charismatics only)
– Don’t spend any time with a non-Christian unless you are trying your darndest to convert them because they participate in the aforementioned unmarks of Christian holiness
We laugh, rightfully so, at these rules, or at least most of them. But should we? I suggest we should be appaled and disgusted by them. A couple of things to note:
1- They are all rules in the negative. There is not a single positive command here. The fruits of the Spirit and the characteristics of love as found (for example) in I Corinthians 13 are conspicuously missing
2- For all the talk of evangelicals about the Bible, these commands are strangely found nowhere straightforwardly in the Bible.
When I slowly made the transition out of conservative evangelicalism, I liked to talk about alcohol. In fact I still do. This frustrated a lot of my friends who agreed with me about alcohol. I like to pester on about it, how stupid it was that it was ever an issue. They would accuse me of making it as big a deal as conservatives, just from the other side. I still like to mention alcohol around conservatives. This is not because I still think about it; I mean I think about beer a lot, but not about its moral or spiritual ramifications or the opinions of conservatives on the topic. And I’m not doing the same thing only from another side. I think that the pre-occupation on these and similar rules within Evangelicalism is a sign of a deep problem and I want to tease some things out of this pre-occupation.
The lived Christian life in a community, and the emphasis’ thereof, create a sort of primary theology of Christian spirituality.
In simpler terms, while on the theoretical level, Conservative Evangelicals (from now on CE’s) may conform to standard evangelical orthodoxy, these and similar “rules of life” confirm unspoken theologies that are heretical mutations of true doctrine. A few of these are
– The replacement of baptism and faith as ONLY necessary marks of inclusion in the Christian community. When these and similar rules are enforced, implicitly or explicity as the true marks of Christian holiness and inclusion, the Gospel is trodden underfoot.
– The creation of a caste system of Christian worth based on the observance of shallow rules. So that while people might be a Christian if they do these things, they are not as good a Christian as X is or those who obey X’s rules. The subtle intrusion of a theology of “works righteousness” (for lack of a better term)
– The replacement of scriptural fidelity and Christian tradition’ing with strange and unscriptural rules. I just read something about this in Matthew today 😉
These result in a plethora of problems, too many of which to write about. But, if I’m right, and I think I am, regardless of the fact that these rules may not be “evil” in themselves, when they are emphasized – and don’t underestimate how emphasized they are – they result in a community of marginalization and estrangement, of pride and failure. Rather the opposite of what the narrative of Jesus opens up.
But, far from holiness not being important, in the next post I would like to explore just how very important it is. But I will argue that Christian holiness will look VERY different than it does in many communities (not that I am excluded from such critique, far from it)