Does Holiness Matter?

John Meunier has written two excellent posts on the question of holiness in the Wesleyan tradition. Both are well worth the read: here and here.

His basic question in both seems to boil down to: What do we mean by the word ‘holiness’ today? And does holiness really matter to us anymore in the Wesleyan tradition, particularly as United Methodists?

In the second post, he cites a number of quotes from the Wesley Study Bible that in many ways answer his first question. In the Wesleyan tradition, ‘holiness’ means an inward and outward holiness of heart and life. In our hearts there is the internal change of attitude and spirit. In our actions there is the outer change of what we say and do, the ethics and morality of the inner heart change.

The more important question, perhaps, is: Does holiness still matter to us as United Methodists? John raises the vexing problem of UM pastors who don’t really take holiness seriously. He mentions this only in passing in his post, but I think he has hit on a core problem for us as United Methodists.

I remember one year at Annual Conference that, when they asked the question about whether the candidates for ordination were expecting to be made perfect in love in this life, everyone seemed to chuckle and smirk as if this was a joke question.

The only thing that evoked more laughter was the question about being so in debt as to embarrass oneself. Clearly, no one thought those were serious questions. Sin and debt were unavoidable for ordinands. So why bother to take it seriously?

The problem is, if we don’t take our own holiness seriously as pastors, how can we take seriously the growth in holiness of our laity? And if we don’t take their holiness seriously, how can we be surprised when the church looks no different from the rest of the world?

Perhaps this might explain why there is so little power in the modern church in America. We don’t expect real change in people’s lives. We just want them to be generally ‘nice’. Neither Jesus nor Wesley taught such a thing. (And what the former taught concerns me far more than the latter.)

Jesus clearly expected there to be real change in our lives. The Mosaic covenant on Mt Sinai assumes it. If God is in our lives, there should be a manifest difference. We should be more holy, loving, and kind. Every day we should be more and more like Jesus.

If we claim to be Christian and there isn’t such a transformation, something is seriously wrong. Either we’re not doing something right as Christians, or we’re just fooling ourselves.

So does holiness still matter to us as United Methodists? Do we really expect a moral and ethical transformation in character, inside and out? Or are we content to be just generally nice and good people who are really no different than anyone else?


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