The Holiness of the Church

F-1.0302b address the Holiness of the Church.

Holiness is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Through the love of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God takes away the sin of the world. The holiness of the Church comes from Christ who sets it apart to bear witness to his love, and not from the purity of its doctrine or the righteousness of its actions.

Regardless of anything else we can, may, or do say about “holiness,” this the most important concept is this: The Church has no holiness apart from Christ. We are holy only because Christ is holy. The Body is holy because the head is holy. We have no holiness in and of ourselves. It is because of the love of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that our sins are taken away. End of discussion.

And what does it mean for us to “be holy”? It is not the connotations that we usually drum up about being “better than thou.” Rather, when Christians talk of “holiness” they are speaking of being set apart, specifically, being “set apart to bear witness to [Christ's] love.” To be holy is to be different. To be holy means we get caught up in the ways that Christ directs us, not the ways of the world (false dichotomy accepted). When Jesus is instructing his disciples in Mark 10:35-35 about servant leadership and says “But it is not so among you,” he is talking about their holiness.

Our holiness does not come from our ability to believe or act correctly. To be sure, we should still give care to our beliefs and actions, but all too often we are concerned to build a “firewall fo orthodoxy” as if that is the reason God has set us apart. If we have been set apart to bear witness to love, then our doctrines and actions should flow from that calling. However, we typically based our understanding of the Church’s calling on whatever doctrines seem to reflect the actions we have already taken.

Because in Christ the Church is holy, the Church, its members, and those in its ordered ministries strive to lead lives worthy of the Gospel we proclaim. In gratitude for Christ’s work of redemption, we rely upon the work of God’s Spirit through Scripture and the means of grace (W-5.5001) to form every believer and every community for this holy living. We confess the persistence of sin in our corporate and individual lives. At the same time, we also confess that we are forgiven by Christ and called again and yet again to strive for the purity, righteousness, and truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ and prom- ised to all people in God’s new creation.

To be set apart is to be formed, but formed how? We know for what – we are formed to bear witness to Christ’s love. Yet, how is this accomplished? This paragraph references “The Directory  for Worship” (DFW) and the “means of grace” listed there. These means are:

  1. participation in public worship
  2. acts of service, witness, and compassion
  3. rest and re-creation
These, the DFW says, should be what gives shape to the life of the believer. We should come together with other disciples, proclaim that it is Christ’s love who sets us free from our bondage, service and minister to those yearning to be set free from bondage, and then (this is my favorite) practice being free by taking sabbath. This truth is so convicting to me.
We do not demonstrate the freedom of Christ’s love by mouthing off about our “more true” beliefs or actions. We demonstrate the freedom of Christ’s love by not getting caught up in all the crap that the rest of the world gets caught up in.
We have not changed since the days of the People being led out of Egypt. They were so used to being slaves that God had to mandate a new way of being and behaving that allowed them to practice their freedom. We still have the problem of being held captive to all sorts of issues that do not encourage us to (as Philippians says) “treat others as better than ourselves.”
The “pursuit” is not what God is about. “Rest” is what God is about. We we rest, we acknowledge that there is nothing requiring our striving. As the Psalmist says, “Why do you get up early and stay up late? Why do you eat the bread of anxious toil?” (Psalm 127)
To be holy is to be set apart and bear witness to the fact that Christ’s love does not require anxious toil. Christ requires that we rest and ensure the rest of others.

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