Natalie Edmonson

Hi, I’m Natalie! I was born and raised in Holiness churches and grew up proud to be a “Holiness girl.” Around age 14, I began studying Holiness history and doctrine with a desire to better defend my unique beliefs. Ironically, the more I studied them, the more insecure I became. After years of prayerful consideration, I made the difficult decision to place my identity in Christ alone. My beliefs could no longer be determined by what Holiness people believed. They had to be based solely on Scripture. Berean Holiness began as a way for me and my brother to share our findings; my husband lends his design and editing skills. In the short time since we started, we’ve been amazed at the hundreds of people who have written to say, “Yes! This is exactly what God showed us as well.” We pray you also will find this site a trusted resource and supportive community. May the unity of Christ’s Body be strengthened, and may our love abound, as we study and seek authentic holiness together!

What Hyper-Fundamentalists and the Far Left Have in Common

What Hyper-Fundamentalists and the Far Left Have in Common

One thing I appreciate about hyper-fundamentalists/strict Christians, be they Conservative Holiness, Holiness Pentecostal, Oneness Apostolic, or another strict vein of Christendom (e.g. Independent Fundamental Baptist, Branhamites, etc.), is the high value they place on freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press… These are viewed as human rights and staunchly defended in most hyper-fundamentalist circles. As someone who also values freedom, I appreciate that.

At the same time, I can’t help but see a glaring inconsistency. When it comes to politics, these Christians are fully aware of government over-reach, authoritarianism, meddling in private affairs, stripping away autonomy, limiting choices, and manipulation via fear tactics, shame, threats, censorship, and limiting free speech, etc. are wrong and very harmful. But when it comes to governing their own churches, too many believe that the ends justify the means. Inevitably, readers who attend hyper-fundamentalist churches are already thinking, “I’ve never felt my freedom be restricted.” Stay with me, and we’ll discuss why this might be.

In this article, I want to help you recognize a few of the uncomfortable similarities between the radical left and hyper-fundamentalists. I should add the disclaimer that by “far left” I am not referring to my kind, level-headed friends who like democratic welfare programs or support high levels of business regulation. No, by “far left” I’m referring to the crowd like certain of my Portlander neighbors who burned our city for months on end when they didn’t immediately get their way, then protested that police are racist until our city became so critically short-staffed that we would need to hire 800 policemen1 just to have the national average (not surprisingly, homicide was up by 83%2 in 2020 and broke thirty-year-old records for most homicides in 2021).3

What does the radical left have in common with hyper-fundamentalists? The doctrines and dogma are different, but the way they are enforced with mob-based authoritarianism and encroach upon personal freedom are uncomfortably similar. Without further ado, let’s dive into the cancel culture, censorship, hate speech labeling, and fear tactics that pervade both camps.

 

Recognizing Authoritarian Behavior

“I feel so alone…”

“I can’t tell anyone what I believe…”

“I’m scared that I’ll lose my family…”

“I feel trapped…”

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve received so many messages like these that I’ve lost count. They come from teenage girls, grown men, college students, pastors, preacher’s wives… The more personal stories I hear, the more I’m convinced that many churches even less healthy than I originally feared. As you read this, there are people sitting on church pews who are afraid that if they voice their opinion about dress standards their church leadership will convince their spouse and kids to leave them. Maybe it’s a realistic fear, maybe it’s not. But even if it’s not, people really live under it. As a result, they suffer the consequence of being too afraid to communicate openly and honestly in their marriages, families, and friendships, and they feel pressured to pretend to be someone they’re not. They miss out on the benefits of authentic fellowship and deep relationships, and fear that people love their façade more rather than the real them. To say this causes loneliness and inner turmoil is an understatement. I’m not exaggerating when I say multiple people, especially youth, have told me they were fighting suicidal thoughts in direct response to how their strict churches pressured and mistreated them. Some had even attempted it, and I know of at least one young man who went through with it.

I don’t believe it’s beliefs such as “women’s pants are wrong” that cause this kind of trauma. More specifically, it’s the way beliefs like this are enforced. Allow me to explain with some examples.

 

Not-So-Holy Cancel Culture

For the last eight years that I attended hyper-fundamentalist churches, I did so while while believing that jewelry, makeup, women’s pants, sports, etc. were not sins. Did I partake in these things? Of course not, I didn’t dare. Doing so would put my friendships, social status, and ministry opportunities at risk. So instead, I kept my outfits exceptionally modest, even by their standards. Did I believe it was more virtuous for my jean skirts to be nearly ankle length? Not particularly, but I knew people would think more highly of me if I did. Climbing the ranks of favor was of higher priority than practicality or authenticity. For all those years, I hardly discussed my views with anyone. I can only think of two or three people I ever shared my actual beliefs with and those were very hush-hush, “Your secret is safe with me” kind of conversations.

There was an unspoken understanding that things like dress code were not up for debate, discussion, or disagreement of any sort. It wasn’t preached or written as, “Thou shalt not discuss the biblical legitimacy of church rules.” That would’ve been an obvious limitation of free speech. Instead, many strict churches operate with a cancel-culture system. ‘Share a differing perspective with the wrong person, and voila, your name is erased, your opportunities end, you vanish from the movement, and people treat you as if you never existed.

I lived with the fear of being cancelled for eight years. During that time, I rationalized caving to the pressure. After all, no one was pushing me to do something wrong, just to not discuss my views. Then something shook me and made me reconsider. A person that I thought deeply, genuinely cared about me cut off contact. Before they did, they let me know that they never really loved me, they “only loved who they thought I was.” Their words cut deep and compelled me to start being more honest with people; I wanted to know my friends and mentors loved the real me. That’s what spurred the call to one of my church leaders in which I shared my heart and was transparent about my beliefs on the lack of biblical basis for Holiness standards. Their candid response was that I was backsliding, spiritually struggling, needed to pray through, and should no longer be involved in ministry. It was hard to swallow, but God worked it for good and used it to bring me into churches where I am genuinely cared about and growing spiritually.

After overcoming my fear and sharing my views openly, I watched friend after friend distance themselves, cut off contact, unfriend me on social media, stop inviting (or even allowing) me to visit them, and I abruptly stopped receiving invitations to sing, play the piano, testify, teach, help with outreach, or go on missions trips with Holiness-affiliated churches. In other words, I was cancelled. What surprises me most is that almost no one was willing to tell me why they were cutting off contact, or if they were, they weren’t willing to talk to me about it or even hear the reasons behind my views. Healthy dialogue regarding our differences wasn’t an option for many my former friends. And I want to make something very clear, the cancel culture I experienced was highly pushed and motivated by higher-ups. From well-known missionaries who warned my friends not to talk to me, to the ministers who purposely and publicly spread false rumors about me lying to them about my finances (bank records easily debunk this), to the pastors, youth pastors, and parents telling everyone under the age of forty to avoid me as much as possible. It’s not just that my friends/acquaintances didn’t like me anymore, no, they were specifically instructed and pressured to cut off contact. As a disclaimer, I do have a handful of stricter friends who didn’t participate in this behavior—if you happen to be one of them, please know you are greatly appreciated.

Christians from nearly every Holiness movement speak out loudly against cancel culture. It frustrates them to no end when athletes, singers, politicians, and other people in prominent careers speak up for traditional values only to lose their jobs and platforms. It frustrates them when our society can’t sit down and have a reasonable, level-headed discussion about the consequences of men identifying as women or the notion that purposefully ending a child’s life is a woman’s right. Yet, how many Holiness leaders are interested in public dialogue with Christians who have a different perspective on dress code? Not any that I know of. When it comes to traditional values, cancel culture is touted as wrong and unfair and we need to bring back rational discussion. But when it comes to Holiness standards, cancelling is the way to go.

 

Not-Your-Standard Censorship

On Monday, January 11, 2021, my local bookstore, Powel’s Bookstore, was forced to shut down early by an angry mob.4 I watched the footage of them surrounding the store and harassing (physically and verbally) anyone who got in their way. They were yelling and chanting, “Stop selling Andy Ngo’s book!” As the protest escalated, customers had to be escorted out of a back exit in order to escape without being harmed. The mob threatened to force the store to remain closed until they got their way. Why the uproar? The massive bookstore was on track to carry Unmasked by Andy Ngo after it released in February. Unmasked is an in-depth work of investigative research by Andy Ngo that exposes the violent nature of Antifa. Not surprisingly, the protesters did not in any way debunk Ngo’s documented findings—they just didn’t like them. Powell’s bookstore caved and said they would not carry Ngo’s book in-store, since they did not want to support something that “could cause such deep pain to members of our community.” Thus, removing the book was not about whether or not the facts it contained were true, but how they made people feel. In a land where freedom of the press has historically been valued and protected, the radical left found a way to suppress it.

I grew up in the Bible Belt, but currently live in Portland, Oregon. I’ve learned a lot about the far left. Angry mobs loot, burn, and destroy whatever they want whenever they feel like it—CVS pharmacies, Amazon stores, Oregon trail monuments, a statue of an elk, the Democratic Party Building—nothing is spared.5 In fact, just days before this article’s publication, two of the pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) Cole served at were mercilessly attacked. One PRC had every glass pane (windows and door) bashed out and a curse word spray painted across it, the other PRC was set on fire and charred to a crisp inside with an explosive device.6

Where these neighbors of mine are concerned, sitting down for a healthy debate and discussion is a thing of the past. Why bother with facts and logic when you can stomp out your opposition with force and fear tactics? Even if you’ve never seen your local small businesses ablaze, you’ve probably seen the authoritarian tendencies of the radical left in other ways. Have you ever heard of censorship? Slander campaigns? Labeling opposing views as hate speech? Conservative Christians, including Holiness Christians, aren’t afraid to say that these are tactics employed to limit freedom of religion/freedom of speech and avoid open and honest dialogue. Unfortunately, when our church groups display a similar aversion to healthy debate, we rarely push back.

Censorship on social media essentially works like this: if you post something the platform disagrees with, they reserve the right to delete your content or place a banner over it that says, “Missing context” or “False information.” Even though I sometimes agree with these banners, I find the authoritarian slap highly frustrating (considering they’re recognized as platforms and not publishers). I don’t want a higher-up dictating truth to me, expecting me to believe something is true or false just because they say so. I want them to present compelling facts and logic and make a case that debunks opposition and proves their point, not just cover the content in black and state, “this is false.”

The strong belief that “truth stands on her own two feet” is what led my brother and I to invite and offer to publish rebuttals to our articles before this website was even launched. This is the 34th article we’ve published, and can you guess how many people have taken us up on our offer and written rebuttals? One. I can only think of one person, and many of his views were similar to ours. We’ve gotten a few comments that negate a point or two, but only a handful. Instead, we see posts like the one written by a UPC minister and shared to a group of 50,000+ Apostolic. His post read, “Warning – Do not read anything from Berean Holiness! …They try to trick you into letting down your views because you take time to read about them… DO NOT READ ANYTHING FROM THEM.”

A few days later, another Apostolic preacher issued a public warning about us. She called me out by my full name, and in the comments she wrote, “Deceivers and supplanters sent by Satan to deceive… They befriend people with the whole purpose to turn them from the faith by witchcraft and deception.” She then went on to comment similar things on multiple of my posts and DM my friends to warn them about me.

In Trinitarian circles, I heard a minister say behind the pulpit that he would never even open one of our articles because it would boost our ego. I have to laugh when I put up social media polls asking people if they’ve ever visited the website and our most vocal naysayers—the people telling everyone else not visit the site—vote “no.” Although these Christians aren’t able to slap “false information” labels on my posts or ban me from social media, they comment with ominous warnings and ad hominem attacks. They call surrounding churches and out of state churches to make sure I won’t be welcomed. They even call members of social media groups I’m in, just to try to get me kicked out. Without having the power to personally ban my writing, this is as close to censoring me as this crowd can get.

Censorship within strict churches doesn’t stop with Berean Holiness, unfortunately. I’ve addressed in previous articles how there were a plethora of conservative, Christian authors, and music artists who we simply were told to never listen to. Their ideas were never debunked, they were simply dubbed as “false information” and then banned. I remember hearing that anything written by a woman who wears pants, especially Bible studies, should never be considered. While listening to The Church Split podcast (Ep #127), I heard David Pallmann say that while he was attending IFB churches, he heard it preached that reading or listening to sources outside of the IFB was “doctrinal pornography” that violated their covenant with God.

 

Strictly “Hate Speech” Labels

Another tool of the radical left that is sometimes borrowed by Christians is labeling any and all opposing opinions as “hate speech.” An example of this on the left would be when Twitter deleted one of Focus on the Family’s tweets and blocked their account for weeks. Allegedly, the tweet was “hateful.” It simply read, “Dr. Levine is a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman.” Whether or not someone agrees that biological males are men and not women, the idea that simply stating this opinion is “hateful” and deserves to be punished is absurd. Many Christians, strict Christians included, view this as an encroachment upon freedom of speech (since Twitter is a platform—not a publisher).

When Christians use the hate speech tool, they usually don’t outright use the “hate speech” label. It’s veiled. After Nathan published a response to the book, “The Problem with Pants,” one person berated this action on the basis that it is wrong to address public writings because it is “very obvious who wrote the book.” I was called a “distasteful… dissimulator” and the sender expressed disgust that this “is the level that you have wished to stoop [to].” Another time, I discussed the meaning of the phrase “preach a little Holiness.” I had people tear me up in the comments; how dare I be so hateful towards so-and-so? Considering this was a very popular phrase in my circles, I had no idea that other circles associated it with a particular minister. These are only two examples of dozens. I’ve come to realize that any type of disagreement—respectful, professional, or otherwise—with teachings/writings of specific ministers will always be dubbed as “hate speech.” Unfortunately, the chances that the people doing the labeling will respond to the errors addressed in the teachings referenced or respond thoughtfully to concerns with the writings are slim to none. Making an accusation and slapping on a label is much more convenient.

 

A Common Root: Authoritarianism

Cancel culture, abuse of censorship, and labeling opinions as “hate speech” share a common denominator, authoritarianism. Encyclopedia Britannica defines authoritarianism as the “principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action.” Oxford languages describes it as, “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.”

I should caveat that cancel culture and traditional authoritarianism take different forms. Traditional authoritarianism is organized leadership with a hierarchy. In contrast, cancel culture often takes on mob form (although it is often pushed by people in positions of high social status). The similarity I see is that both systems are dedicated to forcing compliance/agreement with a particular set of beliefs and have little to no regard for healthy debate, logic and arguments, research and study, and individual expression/freedom of speech. In both worlds, differing opinions are not tolerated. Little effort is made to change the person’s mind who has a differing opinion or prove them wrong, instead, effort is focused on forcing them into silence.

The similarities that abuse of censorship and labeling opinions as “hate speech” share with authoritarianism are easier to see. In both scenarios, it is typically a higher power—a political government, institution, social media platform, etc.—that decides to squelch a particular view and dole out a punishment to its author. Considering the similarities, I will refer to these actions, along with cancel culture, as “authoritarian behavior.”

As different as cancel culture, censorship, hate-speech labels, and authoritarianism may seem at first, together they create unhealthy, even toxic, church cultures. This could happen in any church, progressive or conservative, but I want to narrow in and look at how it plays out in strict churches in particular.

 

Why Do Strict Churches Tend Towards Authoritarian Behavior?

Out of all the various groups of churches, groups that tout the most strict and extra-biblical rules/traditions have a reputation for falling prey to authoritarian leaders and devolving into unhealthy environments. I have a lot of friends in conservative Christianity. I have never had a mainstream Baptist friend confide in me that they are scared to share their views lest their pastor turns their spouse against them. I have never had a mainstream Wesleyan friend tell me that they’re afraid to point out what seems to be an inconsistency in church doctrine lest they lose their all their friends, have their ministry positions be stripped from them, and experience shunning. I’m not saying this never happens in such groups, but pointing out that when it does it’s a rare exception. Unfortunately, I have heard these things—not once, but many, many times—from Christians in Mennonite, Independent Fundamental Baptist, Branhamite, United Apostolic, Holiness Pentecostal, and Conservative Holiness churches. Why? Why do strict rules and authoritarian behavior all too often go hand in hand?

One possible answer is that churches with extra-biblical rules tend to be high-control environments with concentrated authority and low accountability. By ‘concentrated authority’ I mean that many of these churches operate with one leader at the top vs. shared authority among a plurality of elders. By ‘low accountability’ I mean that few of these churches have denominational oversight, a board of elders, or another significant means of keeping churches accountable. Please understand, I’m not saying these structures are bad per se, just that they might be contributing factors to becoming vulnerable to authoritarianism.

As for why churches with strict rules tend to become high-control environments, it’s difficult enough to keep an entire congregation on the strait and narrow following basic, biblical rules—after all, congregations are made up of humans. Take that difficulty and compound it by trying to keep an entire congregation from ever wearing a class ring or purity ring, watching a TV show, wearing women’s pants while zip-lining, covering a zit with concealer for photos, getting a French-tip manicure, wearing shorts while working in summer heat, or growing a beard. Simply put, it’s nigh impossible.

One way to achieve this outcome would be to use reason, logic, and Scripture to convince people that giving up these things is part of biblical sanctification. If you’re starting with people who disagree, convincing them would require very long conversations, in-depth teaching, healthy debates, debunking counterarguments, and much more—if it’s even possible. Unfortunately, very few church leaders have time for such a process, so instead, a short-cut is taken—a high-control environment is cultivated. You’ll know it’s achieved when all a church leader has to do is say they feel convicted against using concealer for blemishes and that’s the end of that—all the women in the congregation fall in line, they won’t do it and they won’t question why. As new people come in and youth grow up, maintaining this level of unquestioned control is very difficult. It should come as no surprise that tactics similar to cancel culture, censorship, and mislabeling hate-speech are often resorted to.

 

High Power Distance and Collectivism

Another way to describe the culture of many strict churches is with the terms “high power distance” and “collectivistic.” High power distance is when we esteem leaders as far better and higher above those they lead. An extreme version of this would be a dictatorship or monarchy where one could lose his life for so much as not bowing to the leader as he passed by. America, on the other hand, tends to have low-power distance. Americans regularly go so far as to mock and belittle their leaders with no repercussions. We see leaders as people just like us. There is no hierarchy of worth and value. This goes hand in hand with our individualism. We see every individual as having equal worth and value. In general, we celebrate differences. “Be yourself” is basically a virtue.

Collectivistic cultures are polar opposite. David Livermore writes in Leading with Cultural Intelligence that, “From an early age, collectivists are taught never to be the sore thumb that stands out because the sore thumb gets chopped off. Bringing honor to one’s family and blending in with society is what is most highly valued.”7  This sentiment is relatable to those of us who have been part of group’s where everything is about make the group or church look good at the cost of suppressing individual differences. Imagine for example, that a church youth group is planning on going to a significant conference. If some girls in the group wear necklaces while others don’t, some guys gel their hair while others don’t, etc., what are the chances that the church will pressure the youth to all conform to the same strict standard while attending the conference? The reason given will be because they’re “representing the church.” In other words, individual differences are sacrificed to the greater value of conformity for the sake of bringing (perceived) honor to the group.

It’s also worth noting that collectivism and authoritarianism both support each other in a vicious cycle. When people are used to being “cut down to size” by powerful leaders for being different, they try to be less different. Additionally, people who value their individuality more tend to leave collectivist movements and societies, leaving behind those who are more content to be controlled by others. Authoritarianism makes a culture even more collectivistic over time and a more collective culture allows leaders to become even more authoritarian.

I believe that many strict churches resort to cultivating a church culture of high power distance and collectivism in order to perpetuate extra-biblical rules. Let me give you an example of the high power distance I have personally experienced among strict churches. Once upon a time, I was looking for ways to reach a larger audience with the Berean Holiness Instagram account. At the time, Instagram was greatly promoting short video clips, humorous ones did especially well. I racked my mind to think of a humorous short clip my audience could relate to. Then I thought of it. How relatable and humorous is the experience of taking a complete outsider to a church service where the minister becomes, shall we say, highly excited? (Or in other words, begins preaching in a very loud, very fast style, a.k.a. yelling.) I thought this would be a great subject to bring attention to since it introduces the discussion of how this style of preaching affects our ability to reach our communities. In case you’ve never brought an outsider to one of the services, many people become shocked, frightened, confused, and/or upset (especially if they’ve experienced domestic violence). In my short clip, I used a greenscreen effect to pretend my husband was sitting in church listening to this style of preaching for the first time. His reaction was humorous, and in response to him (as well as a funny misunderstanding of words), I laughed in the clip.

The reel went over well with the Berean Holiness account followers. Some even admitted they preached in this style, but still understood the humor and commented positively. Unfortunately, four days later, someone who dislikes our account began texting out links to ministers who do not even have Instagram, and have no concept of the lighthearted nature of reels (this has never happened before so I had no way of predicting it). One of these ministers decided to respond with a targeted attack towards me and my husband, calling us derogatory names such as “chick,” “chicken,” “mice,” “airheads,” “whippersnappers,” “fuzzy-faced disciples,” and more. It was filled with accusations about us lying, creating chaos, tearing down and smack talking, stooping to a “lower level of debauchery,” etc…. It was very long, but did not address the point of our reel at all, it just attacked us as people.

I give all this background information so that you’ll understand my disappointment at what happened next. Hundreds of ministers, missionaries, church kids I grew up with (and even taught Sunday School to), commented, reacted, and shared his targeted post with great applause. Their alleged reason? Because they can’t stand personal attacks. It was so ironic it would’ve been hilarious had it not been such a stinging reality. The reel was not meant as a personal attack in anyway, it was meant to reenact a relatable experience and start a relevant discussion. The post was a blatant personal attack that accused us of having malicious motives and showered a barrage of insults and accusations against our character. But to the people in this strict, high power distance culture, I was the one who made a personal attack and not the minister. Why? Because on the hierarchy of worth and value, his voice mattered and mine did not. One person even remarked that I was “lower down on the totem pole.” This is a perfect example of high power distance playing out in real life. I received several comments complete with threats that God may kill me in His wrath and judgment against the reel. Death by mauling bears was suggested more than once.

 

“My Freedom Has Never Been Limited”

Someone reading this is thinking, “I attend a strict church and I have never experienced authoritarian behavior or felt my freedom be limited.” To that I say, “Great!” Perhaps you attend a church where leaders welcome hard questions, encourage healthy debate, and teach so thoroughly that the entire congregation is convinced of the truth of every detail of their beliefs and has no reason to disagree.

However, there is one other possibility to consider… Is it possible you have never felt your freedom be limited and/or experienced authoritarian behavior because you have never publicly disagreed with your leaders on church standards? Back to the example of the radical left, when is the last time someone was ‘cancelled’ for saying that men, who identify as women, ought to have the right to play in women’s sports? It doesn’t happen. Authoritarian groups don’t censor and cancel members who completely agree with them. Imagine a puppy taking a walk with a child. If the puppy stays within three feet of the child, will it ever discover it’s on a leash and can’t go farther? It’s easy to look at people who tell stories of experiencing shaming, shunning, name-calling, fear tactics, etc. and say they’re just gossiping because they disagree with church standards. But what if disagreeing with church standards is precisely why they experienced the spiritual abuse?

 

The Consequences of Taking Away Freedom

It seems odd that I would need to explain to conservative Christians that there are dire consequences to limiting individual liberty via authoritarian behavior. Yet, here I am, listening to people tell me that when the government does these things it’s evil, but when the church does it, it is for everyone’s own good. I am reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock: Essays on Theology: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Even if your goals are noble, authoritarianism is a terrible way to achieve them. In fact, it may defeat them. Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s true that wearing jewelry is done out of pride. If a woman only refrains from jewelry because she is scared she will otherwise lose friends, has her heart become humbler? If she only won’t wear jewelry due to social pressure, does it show spiritual growth or give spiritual benefit? No. If it wasn’t her free choice, then she is no better off from it than prison inmates who can’t wear jewelry.

Another consequence of enforcing rules via authoritarianism is that it desensitizes thinking for oneself. No one knows why they believe what they believe. Or if they understand on a surface level, they struggle to go deeper or know how to respond to counterarguments. How do you learn to spot logical fallacies and factual errors when you’ve never been exposed to opposing beliefs? It’s hard to sharpen critical thinking skills in an echo chamber.

I’ve seen hundreds of people from strict, controlling churches be exposed to arguments that conflict with their church beliefs on Berean Holiness, and I shake my head at how some (some, not all) of them respond. They start commenting in all capital letters, call my friends and family members to complain, write long, rambling posts about how terrible Berean Holiness is, and/or they block my personal account. In other words, they melt into an emotional mess. Respectfully pointing out where they think my logic/facts are erred doesn’t seem to cross their minds. Why? Maybe because they’ve never seen it done. They’re so used to the authoritarian way of using any means necessary to shut people down and silence opponents, that a healthy, polite dialogue, and/or agreeing to disagree, aren’t even options. Needless to say, this mentality goes hand in hand with anti-intellectualism: the phenomenon of being proud of one’s ignorance.

As many consequences as authoritarianism has on the people who help inflict it, the consequences on the people who bear the brunt of it are much worse. Just like the crowd who inflicts the pressure, they struggle to know why they believe what they believe, but unlike that crowd, if they ever voice what they’re thinking (whether that entails doubt or a differing perspective) they are insulted, ostracized, shamed, bullied, yelled at, shunned, threatened, called out, and more as the authoritarians work to either force them to comply or force them out of fellowship.

Understandably, some see what happened to the members who voice differing views and choose to stay silent instead. This brings us full circle to how we opened this article, with stories of church members feeling so alone and so afraid to tell anyone what they believe. In the short time since writing the introduction to this article, multiple people have messaged and emailed Berean Holiness using the words “anxiety,” “fear,” “scared,” and “afraid” to describe how they feel at their current church. They are suffering from mental, emotional, and spiritual stress. This ought not be.

If there is one place on earth where we should feel secure knowing that no one will hate us or turn on us if we’re authentic and share what we’re thinking, it should be our faith community. Should people who deny Christ be counted as brothers/sisters in Christ? No. But worst-case scenario and someone doesn’t believe essential Christian doctrines, they still need love, grace, compassion, and a listening ear. More often than not though, the authoritarian churches that people feel trapped in aren’t even allowing open and honest discussion (forget disagreement) on things like women’s pants or Bible translations. Sharing honestly about struggling to understand/believe essential doctrines is unthinkable.

 

Let Freedom Ring!

Where do we go from here? As dismal as some particular churches might have become, don’t lose hope. Things can change. It starts with a simple choice to end the regime and restore freedom. Bring back freedom of the press; encourage church members to make the most of resources from outside of the group. Bring back freedom of speech; ask people what they’re thinking and engage in open and honest conversation. Bring back freedom of religion; challenge church members to work out their own salvation in the fear of God. End cancel culture. End censorship. End arbitrary, hate-speech labels. Scrap the man-made traditions and teach the Word of God deeply. Recognize the value of personal liberty, then act on it by encouraging members to prayerfully make their own decisions regarding how to apply biblical principles. Teach people how to study the Bible for themselves. Invite questions, welcome healthy debate, refute faulty arguments. Teach apologetics and critical thinking, grapple with hard questions. Gather together in weekly small groups and pour over the Bible. Share the love of Christ with each other, extend compassion and kindness, then bring that love to the community in practical ways. Put first things first and teach the essentials of the Christian faith—monotheism, the deity of Christ, Christ’s Resurrection, salvation by grace, and the gospel. Fulfil the great commission by uniting around Christ and then going out and making disciples. Let freedom ring!

 

Conclusion

Christians from strict churches, particularly American churches, know innately that freedom is valuable and worth fighting for. They are grateful to the heroic men and women who gave their lives in order to protect their liberties, and rightly so. They know enough about communist regimes to despise them—sudden and unfair job loss, book burnings, labeling religion as a political threat—it was all just a more advanced way to go about cancel culture, censorship, and arbitrary hate-speech labeling. They know these things are wrong. They know that every person should have the freedom to speak openly and honestly, ask hard questions, access educational resources, and live as they feel convicted (so long as they’re not harming others). No one should be bullied, threatened, or pressured into silence. No one should live in fear of people finding out what they believe.

The question is, when are these values going to be applied to church? As you read this, there are church members who are genuinely frightened at the thought of their church leadership finding out they don’t believe it’s wrong for women to use cosmetics. There are missionaries scared they’ll lose their support if they so much as attend the local children’s soccer game. There are teenagers worried they’ll be labeled “rebellious” if they disagree with the notion that it’s wrong for men to grow beards. There are young ministers who are afraid they’ll lose their position if they’re discovered studying the Bible with various translations. This ought not be! Let’s bring back Bible study, healthy debate, and respectful, two-sided dialogue. It’s time to stop bowing to authoritarianism and set people free from the prison in their minds. And if that’s you in that prison? Don’t wait for your unhealthy leadership to grant you permission to think for yourself. That’s your God-given, biblical right. Take it back.

For Freedom,

Natalie Edmonson

 

Find this interesting? Check out our article, “Is It Time to Move On? (Pt. 1) Making the Decision.” For a full list of our articles tap here.

We love reading your feedback! Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts and kind words below.

 

Resources:

1. Shane Dixon Kavanaugh and David Cansler, “Why Portland has fewer cops now than any point in past 30 years,” The Oregonian, November 7, 2021.

2. Amanda Arden, “FBI data: Portland homicides up 83% from 2019 to 2020,” Koin, September 27, 2021.

3. Sara Cline, “2021 was a record year for homicides in Portland,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, January 15, 2022. 

4. Robby Soave, “Antifa Demands Powell’s Stop Selling Andy Ngo’s Book, Forces Store To Close Early,” Reason: Free Minds and Free Markets, January 11, 2021. 

5. “Antifa nihilists vandalize buildings in Portland, Seattle,” i24 News, January 21, 2021.

6. Andrea Morris, “Christian Pregnancy Center in Oregon Damaged During ‘Suspicious’ Fire, Vows to ‘Love Those Who Hate Us,’” CBN News, June 12, 2022. 

7. David Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: AMACOM, 2015), 101.

Idolized Identity

Idolized Identity

What do the following have in common? Backsliders that won’t wear short sleeves, the idea that Holiness Christians are the “best people in the world,” an “us” vs. “them” mentality, hostile comments on Berean Holiness posts, a rewriting of Holiness history, and a girl who lost her sense of worth and value… They all point to one thing: a Holiness identity that has been idolized above identity in Christ.

This is a sensitive subject, so before I begin, let me briefly address two common critiques: “I’m Holiness and I have never experienced this,” and, “This happens in more denominations than just Holiness.” To the first criticism, I don’t invest hundreds of hours writing about unhealthy tendencies because I like problems. I do it because I want to see problems go away; I want to see churches and Christians thrive. So if you or your church don’t struggle with what I’m about to write about, that’s good news. To the second criticism, I completely agree—this problem exists in more places than just Holiness circles. Unfortunately, I’m very limited in how I can help in those circles (not enough experience in them, access to them, etc.). Thankfully, I can help Christians in Holiness churches, so until God opens more doors I will do my best to be faithful in the opportunity I have.

Now without further ado…

 

Who Am I?

I was alone that day. I packed box after box and rushed them out to my car. I was in a rush, because I not only needed to pack up my home, I also needed to clean it and still make it to my job on time. I loved my job at the bookstore. I loved explaining the differences in Bible translations, giving my opinion on the best Christian music, and selling everything from The Screwtape Letters to Reasonable Faith. But now that it was clear I could no longer attend, live, and serve at a Holiness church, I had to leave. My self-worth suffered as I grappled with the fact that I was no longer a “Holiness girl.” With nowhere to go, I put in my two week notice and crossed my fingers that I could find safe places to sleep until my last day on the schedule. (Thank God for hospitable strangers.)

When my last day at work finally came, I was relieved to get on the road. I drove and drove, still trying to process what had just happened. I had no home to go to, so I chose a state where not a single soul knew my name—Colorado. I’d never been there before. Once again, God provided strangers to host me until I found a place to rent and a church ministry where I could work. With over a thousand miles between me and nearly everyone and everything I knew and loved, I finally had space to think.

What would cause a girl to pack up everything she owned and move a thousand miles away? At the time I didn’t know, I was in a daze—I hardly knew who I was—but in hindsight, I see that that’s precisely why I left. It was because I didn’t know who I was. I had lost my identity, because my identity had been placed in my “holiness” instead of in Christ.

 

Did Everyone Else Compromise?

When I attended Holiness churches, it wasn’t just a church membership. It was more like becoming a spiritual VIP. Again and again we described ourselves as, “The best people in the world.” Even when I was included as one of those “world’s best people,” this perspective of ourselves made me uncomfortable. After all, the gospel teaches that we’re nothing apart from Christ. The more I read biographies of missionaries, martyrs, and persecuted Christians, the more troubled I became at how we looked down at all other branches of Christianity—not to mention the unsaved.

I remember confiding in one Holiness lady (not from my church) that I was planning to attend a non-Holiness church after I moved Out West; she was immediately concerned. She told me that the rest of Christianity used to believe in Holiness standards too, but they had all walked away from them. Holiness people were some of the only Christians who hadn’t “given up biblical holiness.” The message was clear; no matter what church I chose, if it wasn’t a Holiness church with Holiness standards, then it was a backslidden and compromised church. I had a hard time seeing her perspective, so I began to dig deeper into the roots of the Holiness Movement, dress standards in particular.

The deeper I looked into Church history, the more apparent it became that, no, Christianity has never been united on a dress-code. There were a few Christians in history that held views similar to Holiness standards. For example, in the 200s AD, Tertullian chided the women who wore makeup and jewelry, but in the same writings he also condemned colored clothing and hairstyles. Furthermore, Tertullian degraded women as  “the devil’s gateway” and said they ought to walk about “mourning and repentant” since it is the woman’s fault that Christ died. [1] Ironically, Tertullian was criticizing Christian women who were clearly not being taught these things by their church elders. So just a few generations after Christ, the Church was not united on outward appearance. (See: “The Holiness Standard in Church History.”) Tertullian’s rigid views only represented a minority, and he unfortunately went on to become involved in a heretical group. [2]

As I continued to read original documents from the Early Church, it became clear that Early Christians didn’t believe their separation from the world came from outward appearance. Consider this quote from The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, written in the 200s:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity… But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life… They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. [3]

It’s true that there were a few, small sects scattered through Church history which abstained from jewelry and/or makeup. However, this was often due to taking an oath of poverty or to better share the gospel in the slums, not because they thought it was morally wrong. Take the Waldensians for instance. [4]

So where does the idea come from that Holiness people are some of the few, uncompromised Christians left? In summary, the forerunner ideology of Holiness standards was “plain dress,” which became popular around the time of the reformation. Plain dress was extremely minimalistic. It was a healthy rebellion against the inordinate and lavish extravagance of the Catholic Church. It spread through many branches of the Anabaptists, including the Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, and the Brethren, as well as the Mormons, Adventists, and Moravians. John Wesley was influenced by these Christians and encouraged their plainness for Methodists. [5] The Holiness Movement arose out of Methodism around the 1840s, and was largely composed of leaders who had backgrounds in plain-dressing churches, thus plain-dressing tended to be practiced among them.

Interestingly enough, “holiness” to the early Holiness Movement was not referring to their dress. “Holiness” referred to their key, defining belief, the belief in the “blessing of holiness” or as we might call it today, instantaneous sanctification. The Holiness Movement, which had been interdenominational, began breaking into their own independent churches and groups beginning in the 1880s. These branches further divided and formed after the Azusa Street revival. By the early 1900s, a myriad of groups had branched off from Holiness roots, including: Pilgrim Holiness, Free Holiness, Congregational Holiness, The Church of God, the Assemblies of God, the Nazarene, Free Methodists, Evangelical Methodists, Independent Methodists, the Salvation Army, Church of Christ Holiness, and many, many more. As these foundling denominations formed, they were faced with the question, “Should we pass on our remnants of plain dress traditions, and if so, how?” During the Holiness revivals in the 1800s, plain dress had primarily been a matter of personal choice, but as Holiness denominations in the 1900s found out, it’s not a choice every Christian makes. Some churches attempted to create uniformity by turning plain dress into a set of rules and enforcing them. Any Christian who wouldn’t abide by the traditions would have their membership revoked and their salvation called into question. This caused such confusion and harm that, one by one, most rule-making churches prayerfully reconsidered what they had done, and removed their restrictions. Independent Holiness Pentecostal churches are among the minority which have not yet re-thought their earlier decision. In summary, no, Christianity didn’t backslide and leave Holiness churches as the only ones who wouldn’t compromise. Rather, a very small subset of Christianity started imposing a dress code 100 years ago that most of them came to regret and revoke.

As I continued to research, I was amazed to find out that Holiness churches have actually “let down the standard” themselves. The original plain dress standard was far more strict. It included a head veil for women, neutral colors only (often only dark colors), no patterns, no designs, no lace, no ruffles, and occasionally it even required stockings and forebode buttons and collars (more about this in, “Which Old-Time Holiness Should We Go Back To?“). This raises the question, “If it’s wrong to deviate from clothing-tradition now, why wasn’t it wrong for the Holiness Movement to deviate from the original plain dress tradition?”

 

“Us” Vs. “Them”

Sadly, most Holiness Christians do not know their own history. The idea still persists that Holiness Christians are, and I quote, “the best God’s got going,” the only ones who refuse to compromise, the only ones with holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). All too often, “holiness” is perceived and preached as rules regarding dress and entertainment (entertainment restrictions are also a trickle-down from Puritan, Pietist, and Anabaptist influences—except those groups even forbade picnics and plays). Rules vary from area to area, but they tend to stay along the following lines: no pants on women, no cutting women’s hair, no jewelry, no makeup, no sports, no movies, no facial hair, and a very strict sense of modesty (long sleeves, etc.). Many Christian sects follow these rules, including subsets of Baptists, old order Mennonites, certain Wesleyans, old school Church of God, and other Holiness movements, but the movement I grew up in rarely recognized these Christians. For whatever reason, we saw them as compromisers as well. They certainly weren’t part of “us.”

“Us” was a very important word. There was “us” and there was “them.” “Them” was everyone who wasn’t us. And, if you listened to some sermons, you’d think “they” were out to get “us.” That’s why we had to avoid “them.” There were Christian ministers we weren’t allowed to listen to, Christian books we were told not to read, Christian Bible Studies we weren’t supposed to go to, Christian churches we were warned against fellowshipping, and Christian friends we weren’t allowed to have. And I don’t mean that we were warned against a few fringe groups, I mean we were warned against mainline Christianity. Speaking for myself, I have been told before not to listen to any contemporary or modern Christian music, only Southern Gospel and hymns. I have also heard authorities say to never use a Bible study written by a woman who wears pants and to never read a book about Christianity written by a man who doesn’t speak in tongues (unless the book pre-dates the 1900s, for some reason those were fine).

Most impactful on me personally was how I was frowned upon for doing outreach and charity work with brothers and sisters who were not part of the “us” group. Were they hurting me spiritually? Far from it. In America, we studied apologetics together on Wednesdays, had girl’s Bible study on Sundays, and walked through the mall and city streets on Fridays sharing the gospel one-on-one. In Albania, we cared for young girls who were rescued from human trafficking, we fed and loved on the street kids who had no one else, we visited the elderly and the mentally sick, we reached out to teenagers through English classes, and we planted churches where the gospel hadn’t been for dozens, if not hundreds, of years. I was so excited for what God was doing in my life and through His people around the world, but every time I befriended non-Holiness Christians, I felt shame and suspicion from my own denominational subset—the “us” group. Shame because I was associating with “them.”

The pressure not to affiliate with other Christians put me in a quandary. I knew my non-Holiness friends were blood-bought, born-again, genuine believers. I knew they were pushing me towards Christ. I knew unity among believers was Christ’s desire and prayer. I was (and still am) passionate about ending human trafficking, abolishing abortion, reaching local communities, defending freedom of religion, and sharing Christ through apologetics. With all due respect, Holiness churches tend to work as Lone Rangers, and because of that they just aren’t making any significant headway in these areas; these causes demand that Christians work together. If I could’ve had it my way, I would’ve attended Holiness churches for who knows how long while continuing to work hand in hand with my brothers and sisters on the frontlines. However, I didn’t feel like I was being given that option. The message was, “Them or us. Choose.” So I chose, and naturally, I had to go with the Christians who were doing the heavy lifting in impacting our nation for Christ (besides, they weren’t the ones creating the dichotomy).

 

The Puzzle of Holiness Standards

When I initially set out for Colorado, I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who I would become. I felt at a loss. My self-esteem was suffering. My value felt like it was tanking. I had always identified and respected myself because I was a “Holiness girl.” Sure, I hadn’t believed Holiness rules were biblically required, but I followed them all my life because that’s who I was. I was “Holiness,” and Holiness people identify themselves by following the Holiness traditions. But now that was all behind me, a thousand miles away. So who was I now?

I took many long hikes and walks; I needed to think and pray and ponder. How should I live? How should I dress? The first pair of pants I wore got a full modesty check. I turned full-circle as two other Christian girls inspected my appropriateness and granted their approval. For just a few dollars, I bought a cross necklace and some basic, Walmart makeup. I watched a real Disney movie, Christopher Robin—the first movie I’d ever watched by myself. My stricter friends warned over and over that I was headed out down a slippery slope, sure to end up off the deep end at any moment. The ironic thing is, when it comes to outward appearance, I’m actually more conservative now than I was when I stopped attending Holiness churches. That first pair of pants I wore? I never wore them again; I came to prefer a loose-cut jean or flowy capris. I still wear skirts on a regular basis, I currently don’t have a daily makeup routine, I rarely wear jewelry besides my wedding ring. I’ve never worn a low-cut shirt, never cut my hair, never got a piercing, never got a tattoo, and my entertainment/movie criteria has remained abnormally strict. I say this for one reason, that I have nothing against the Holiness standards in and of themselves. I place great value on modesty, discretion, femininity, conservatism, and purity. There are many restraints I have on myself that aren’t biblically required, they just happen to be where I personally draw my lines. Besides this, I have continually stressed that if someone feels convicted to live more strictly than myself, then they definitely should! There’s nothing wrong with skirts, long hair, no makeup, no jewelry, no movies, or anything else the Holiness standards entail.

Despite this stance, the articles Nathan and I publish on Berean Holiness have received impressively angry and dramatic criticism, especially the ones that cross-examine the arguments for Holiness standards being biblical requirements. Are we trying to escape or disobey scripture? No. We want to know what scripture says, nothing less and nothing more. It is our love for the integrity of scripture which drives us to examine teachings in the light of the Word. This has been responded to by a backlash of people saying we “hate” and “attack” holiness standards. Take these quotes for example, “You seem to have an agenda to tear down our Holiness standards… I was devastated to read your posts… this is so dangerous, blood will be in someone’s hands in the end,” “Not only is [Berean Holiness] young people, but backslidden young people who are commenting and rebutting against Holiness, just to make themselves look better after backsliding and knowing they are wrong.” I find the highly emotional reactions to discussing the Holiness traditions very interesting. Interesting, because we can talk about charity work, apologetics, Church history, essential doctrines, or a plethora of other important topics with little to no engagement. But if we post something about Holiness dress-code? Social media explodes. It’s no coincidence that discussing the biblical basis of Holiness traditions causes more emotional reaction and backlash than any other topic we’ve touched.

 

Something’s Off

If the things the Holiness traditions say to do aren’t wrong, then why even talk about them? To put it in the words of one of our critics, “Why is your ministry focusing on the most trivial subjects?… Every soul that slips through your fingers their blood will be on your hands because you were so focused on traditions… you will stand in judgment because while both of you are focused on trivial things…” “Trivial” isn’t a bad label for things like pants and jewelry; whether we abstain from them or not, we should all recognize their insignificance. However, something that should be trivial, like whether or not a girl chooses to wear a purity ring, becomes very significant when it hinders and/or distracts from the gospel.

I’ve had a front row seat watching Holiness Christians for my entire life and, over the years, I’ve realized that rules against purity rings aren’t merely intended to keep congregants away from jewelry; something much bigger is afoot. After dozens of conversations, I’m convinced that I am not alone in my observations.

Have you ever paid much attention to those who grow up in strict churches and then leave and do poorly? If so, you’ll notice two camps in particular, among others, that are both sad and strange. One camp is the “deep end” group. One day they’re doing amazingly well, they’re preaching, singing, shouting, going to Bible School, and the next day, they’re committing blatantly immoral sins, living wild and loose, apathetic towards the existence of God. Another odd group who leaves strict churches are the people who completely leave Christianity—they don’t pray, read, go to church, or follow Christ’s basic commandments—but they still follow the Holiness standards they were taught. For example, they might sleep around, but they’re scared to cut their hair. They might never open their Bible, but they’d also never pierce their ears. One man I know of hadn’t attended any church in years, but he still hated wearing a uniform with short sleeves because it “wasn’t holiness.” This second category of backsliders is sometimes spoken highly of in the churches they left. I remember listening to an elderly lady testify about her daughter, “I just want to thank the Lord, my daughter is still lost, she needs to get back to God, but I am just so thankful He has kept her from putting on pants!” With all due respect, what good do Holiness traditions do us if we’re not even Christians?

It must be mentioned that some people continue to attend Holiness churches after they’ve left Christ. I’m saddened by the messages I get from Holiness young people telling me how their peers live in habitual immorality (lying, stealing, sexual sin, etc.) and yet still identify as “Holiness.” They are sometimes praised for how they got a conviction to, say, wear long sleeves, all the while still habitually sinning. This is in contradiction to what the Holiness movement teaches, but somehow these young adults are so confused that they are more concerned with following Holiness traditions than following the teachings of Christ. How could this happen?

These types of experiences have left me with so many questions. If people don’t care about serving God, why would they be afraid to break the dress-code they were raised with? On the other hand, how do you go from being a dedicated, strict-living Christian one day to living out an immoral, irresponsible lifestyle the next? As for my experiences with church-goers, where did the whole “them vs. us” mentality come from? What was stopping us from seeing other Christian denomination as our equals and working hand in hand with them to share Christ? Why did so many Holiness Christians respond to Berean Holiness with hostility? Why is questioning whether or not scripture teaches Holiness standards such an emotionally charged issue? Why did we reinterpret Holiness history so much, to make it all about standards when it wasn’t? And what about me? Why did attending church outside of the Holiness movement leave me so shaken that I wanted to run away to somewhere where not a soul knew me in order to recover?

 

The Holiness Identity

As I pondered the above questions, I came to believe that they most likely all share the same answer. I just needed to put my finger on it. One thing was for sure, the Holiness rules about dress and entertainment were more than just doctrines to us. So what were they? As I thought, a song we adapted came to mind:

I choose to be a Christian, I choose to be like Him,
Nobody’s making me do it, this is how I want to live.
You decide for you; I’ll decide for me.
Holiness is what I want to be!

Now that I’ve come to know believers from other denominations, the idea of this song being sung, say, “I choose to be a Christian, I choose to be like Him… [insert denomination, e.g. Baptist] is what I want to be” is so odd to those groups that it’s humorous. But for us in the Holiness movement, our name in those lyrics made perfect sense. Holiness wasn’t just the type of church we attended, Holiness is what we wanted to be. We used the phrase, “I am Holiness,” quite a bit. Not just when someone asked us what denomination we were a part of, put in our preaching, in our singing, in our testimonies. I am Holiness, I am. “Holiness” was how we identified ourselves. It was who we were.

What were we referring to when we said, “holiness?” It didn’t mean we wanted to just attend a Holiness church. I know that because there were people who attended our churches for years who we said, “weren’t holiness.” We couldn’t have been referring to the classic or biblical definition of holiness either, because we weren’t claiming the perfection of all virtues. We also weren’t referring to “holiness” in our movement’s historic sense of the “Holiness blessing” aka instantaneous sanctification. When we sang, “Holiness is what I want to be,” we were referring to holiness in the sense of following holiness traditions, especially the dress code. Following Holiness rules gave us the right to identify as “Holiness.” We took pride in that identity. It came with a sense of moral superiority. After all, Holiness people were “the best God’s got going,” “the best people in the world.” If any person truly sought the Lord, God would lead them into Holiness—He’d lead them straight to us. We really believed that. We really said that. It made sense to us because, without “Holiness… no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). And, yes, we quoted that to mean that no one could go to heaven without following our adapted traditions and, except in rare cases, going to our churches. The holiness standards combined with membership to a Holiness church is what we viewed as our “holiness,” and this holiness was perceived to make us holier than the rest of Christendom. We didn’t just have holiness, we were holiness. Holiness, church membership and adherence to traditions, became our very identity, who we were and how we saw ourselves. This holiness is what made us special, it’s what gave us value, purpose, and belonging.

Just like some New Testament Jews mistakenly saw circumcision and purity laws as the way to become part of God’s special, holy people, many Holiness people today see abstaining from women’s pants, makeup, jewelry, etc. as the way to become part of God’s special, holy people. Holiness traditions aren’t just doctrines, they are identity markers.

 

Putting the Pieces Together

How does grounding our identity in “holiness” answer the puzzling realities I mentioned earlier? First, if our identity is grounded in specific, nonessential doctrines, it finally makes sense why we can’t view other Christians as equals. Simply put, our identity in Christ does not supersede our denominational identity. Instead of the holiness of Christ bringing us together as one, our redefined version of Holiness (traditions and church membership) separates us into distinct, irreconcilable categories. When we find our identity in “holiness” rather than emphasizing the gospel, Christ, and core Christian doctrines, we lose our commonality with other Christ-followers. So, why would fellowshipping other Christians be seen as dangerous? Since other Christians don’t believe and stress our “holiness” teachings like we do, there’s a possibility that being around them might cause us to start thinking like them… we might stop prioritizing our traditions. To do so would be to lose who we are, to lose our special identity, and that’s risking too much. Staying away is a method of protecting the differences by which we define ourselves.

This explains the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Setting ourselves apart, not just from sin, but from the rest of the Body of Christ, drives home our belief that we are something special. We are holiness, they aren’t holiness. In order to keep us away from other Christians, it is preached and taught that non-holiness believers are determined to “steal our truth.” The only way to protect our beliefs is to avoid anyone who would question their biblical basis (in some circles, challenging questioners are compared to Satan in the Garden of Eden).

The Holiness identity also helps to explain the groups of backsliders I mentioned. The group that leaves Christianity but continues to keep Holiness standards values being Holiness more than being in Christ. For some reason, they’re not afraid to break clear, biblical commands, but if they broke a Holiness tradition then they wouldn’t be “Holiness” anymore. It’s as if they have more fear of not being “Holiness” than not being a Christian. This points to Holiness identity being prioritized over identity in Christ.

As for the backsliders that seem to lose their moral compass after leaving Holiness, this might be because they didn’t have a solid relationship with Christ to begin with. They did Christian things (like praying or staying sexually pure) because it was the Holiness thing to do. Once they had some reason to leave their Holiness identity, Christianity didn’t matter. Christianity was merely a subset of their Holiness identity and not the other way around.

As for why many Berean Holiness posts and articles are responded to with hostility rather than civil discussion, this might be is that the Holiness identity is crucial to how they understand themselves. To even consider that their understanding of being “holiness” isn’t the biblical definition feels like a betrayal of the very things that set them apart and make them special. Holiness traditions aren’t just doctrines, they’re deeply personal identity markers. This makes them highly sensitive and difficult topics.

And why did we reinterpret Holiness history so much to make it all about standards when it isn’t? Because there’s pressure to create the idea that Holiness people are the last ones standing, the true church that stayed faithful when everyone else fell away. This is how many Holiness people see themselves; it’s part of the Holiness identity. Of course, the Holiness Movement was originally about entire sanctification (which is ironically a doctrine we moved away from), so they only way to see oneself as the “last one standing” is to conveniently rewrite history and pretend our dress-code/rules have never changed.

The above consequences point to the fact that some of us have allowed “Holiness” (as defined by traditions and church attendance) to define who we are, to give us our value, and to set us apart. We are finding our ultimate identity in a movement instead of in Christ. To be clear, while there’s nothing wrong with being a part of church group and willing to say so, the problem comes when the Holiness identity is prioritized so much that we don’t know who we would be without it, so much that we derive our value and self-worth from it. And if we go so far as to prioritize our Holiness identity over, or as equal to, our identity in Christ, we have crossed the line into a form of idolatry.

 

Finding Identity in Christ

Why did I follow Holiness standards for eight years after I realized they weren’t in Scripture? It was because I saw myself as Natalie Mayo, the Holiness girl. I was the girl who followed every standard to a T. I was the girl who never broke a rule, never touched makeup, never wore a piece of jewelry, never trimmed her hair, never put on a pair of pants, never watched a movie on a television. That’s who I was. That’s what I was known for, that’s what I was praised for, and (have come to find out) that’s what I was loved for.

When I first told a Church leader that, after studying for myself I didn’t believe all Holiness standards were biblical standards, the reply was, “Then you’re not really Holiness.” “Wait, what?” I thought, “I’m not Holiness? But, I was raised in Holiness churches, I graduated from a Holiness Bible School, my family is full of Holiness ministers, I’m as involved in Holiness missions and outreach as I know how to be, and just look at how Holiness I look… but I’m not Holiness? Then, what am I? Who am I?”

In that critical moment, I had to decide where I was going to place my loyalty. I could recant what I said and keep my Holiness identity; all I had to do was just ignore where I believed the Holiness movement misquoted scripture, lie about my beliefs if anyone asked me, and I could keep all my connections, ministry opportunities, dating opportunities, credentials, perfect track records, plethora of friendships, and all my hopes and dreams—all of which intersected with the Holiness movement. Or, I could place my loyalty with Christianity, refuse to stay silent about scriptures I believed were being twisted, and risk losing my whole life and future as I knew it. The hardest part of all was the simple fact I could no longer say, “I am Holiness.” From that point forward, I would only be a Christ-follower. Could I be content to find my identity in Christ alone?

It wasn’t easy, but after miles of pacing, deep thought, and heartfelt prayer, the desire to be Christian-first won out. I had to face the fact that I had idolized the status I found in being a “Holiness girl.” I loved the praise it brought. I loved the sense of belonging. I loved feeling special. But the more my Christian identity clashed with my Holiness identity, the more I was forced to realize that I had idolized my Holiness identity in an unholy way. I had let fear of losing Holiness compliments keep my mouth closed when Scripture was being twisted. I let fear of losing Holiness community keep me from being honest about my beliefs. I let pride be my motivation for keeping a perfect record in a set of rules I didn’t even believe in. It took a lot of humility to say, “I was wrong” and to admit my own stubbornness, but thank God I did. Day by day, I’m still learning what it means to be a Christian and prioritize Christ before anything else. It’s not easy, but I’m so grateful I at least know what to focus on and prioritize now; keeping Holiness status is no longer a distraction. For me personally, putting my identity in Christ first meant losing my Holiness identity. There was no way I could serve Christ to my fullest potential in Holiness churches; I knew I had to be free to speak about what Scripture does/does not say regarding Holiness traditions. I had to give up my idolized identity. After making that hard decision, I can no longer say, “I’m a Holiness girl,” but I can still say, “I’m His girl.” At last, that’s all that matters.

If you are struggling with the same question I was, my wholehearted advice is to take a step of faith and place your full identity in Christ alone. If you continue going to a Holiness church or following Holiness traditions, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves. The sin (and all its consequences) will come when we idolize our Holiness identity as equal to or above our identity in Christ. If you’re not sure where your identity lies, ask yourself, “How would I feel if a Holiness authority told me I’m not really Holiness?” “How would I respond if I found out a Holiness teaching was at odds with Scripture?” If it would cause panic, denial, loss of self worth, or make you to question who you are, then you have most likely prioritized your Holiness identity to an unhealthy degree. It’s time to take a step back, pursue Christ, and place your identity in Him alone. Being in Christ and a partaker of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10) is the ultimate goal; being “Holiness” via traditions and church membership is only good so long as it is a tool to reach that goal and not a replacement.

 

Conclusion

“I’m Holiness from the top of my head to the soles of my feet!” I heard this saying many times growing up. Did we mean we were perfectly sinless? Did we mean we were the embodiment of God’s chief attribute? No. It was used to say that we were completely sold out to the Holiness traditions; it was our proclamation that we would never touch a necklace or nail polish or anything else that would “defile” us. This saying was immediately quoted when I told a friend that there was a Holiness tradition I hadn’t kept. They let me know I was no longer the real deal. I had given up one of the identity markers, and as consequence I must relinquish my title of “Holiness,” along with all the status, belonging, and specialness it came with. It was such a blow at first, I could’ve cried. Looking back, I shake my head: what I see now is mind games.

It’s like two small children pretending to be royalty. One child says to the other, “You’re a queen! You can’t make mud pies no more.” The second child obliges at first, but after thinking about it decides queens can make her own decisions. She comes back later and blurts out to the first playmate, “I made a mud pie.” The first child gasps and says, “You’re not a queen no more! Now you’re a slave and you can’t play with me ’cause I’m still a queen.” The second child feels stripped of her royalty. She takes the rejection personally, and internalizes the ideas that she is no longer special or valuable. She begins to wail in sadness. As onlooking adults, we have to comfort the child and tell her that it was all imaginary. Mud pies don’t defile you. Someone else dubbing you “queen” doesn’t define your worth.

After rolling our eyes at the drama of children’s games, we fall into similar traps ourselves. We let people dub us as “Holiness.” We believe them when they tell us that’s what makes us special and valuable. We believe them when they say that a metal band on our finger or a brown paint on our eyelashes would defile us. When we let them know their rules of the game weren’t kept, we let them strip us of the titles they gave us and then we cry inside as they tell us they “can’t play with us no more.” We feel worthless and lost and confused. If only we knew it was all imaginary. If only we knew it was all in our heads!

When we find our identity, value, and worth in Christ alone, we will recognize other Christians as equals—brothers and sisters in Christ; we will be able to reach the lost and impact our communities with other church groups—without being scared that we’ll lose our distinctions; we will be able to discuss Scripture honestly without worrying someone will steal our truth; we will be strong enough in Christ to remain godly even if we lose our Holiness identity; and, if our Holiness identity and our identity in Christ ever clash, we will be able to choose the latter without hesitation and without suffering loss of self-worth. Before we are anything else, let us be Christians, let us be found in God, known by God, valued by God, and loved by God. May we see ourselves through His eyes. May the identity we hold near to our hearts be the identity our Creator designed us for, to be His.

—Natalie Edmonson

 

Sources:

  1. Tertullian, “On the Apparel of Women
  2. David F. Wright, “Why Were the Montanists Condemned?
  3. The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus,” Chapter 5.
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia, “Waldensians
  5. John Wesley, “On Dress

 

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Is It Time to Move On? (Pt.2) Making The Transition

Woman alone outside

As we saw in the previous article, “Is It Time to Move On? Making the Decision,” deciding whether or not to change church affiliation is no easy task. In a typical situation, changing churches comes with adjustments to new friendships, new leadership, new music, and a new route to church. In a situation where someone is going from a Holiness church to a non-Holiness church, the change may also include everything from depression and an identity crisis, to being officially labeled  “backslidden rebel” or even being shunned by Holiness friends and family.

If you have honest disagreements with Holiness churches on what Scripture does/does not say, this puts you in an awkward and difficult situation. Should you hide your beliefs and continue on in the Holiness Movement as if you believe their doctrine? Should you share your beliefs only to be disqualified from ministry and potentially endure personalized attacks from the pulpit? Or is it time to start seeking a healthy, Bible-based church outside of your Holiness circles? The last option may be intimidating, but for some of us, it’s the best option. We were created to serve the Lord as a unified body of believers, requiring authentic relationships and deep friendships. Both are impossible if you’re trying to hide who you really are and what you really believe. You cannot be truly loved without being truly known.

If your Holiness church does not fit the biblical definition of a healthy church, and/or you not are being spiritually nourished at your Holiness church and are unable to thrive, no name on the door should make you feel obligated to stay. Sadly, Holiness churches can be so difficult to transition out of that it’s common to become overwhelmed with discouragement, fear, and loneliness. Some have given up and left the faith altogether. Thanks be to God, many others have gone on to serve the Lord with their whole hearts, and have blossomed in healthy, biblically-based churches! A few of their testimonies can be found here. You also can come out of this confusing season with an amazing testimony, and we want to everything we can to come along side and help you transition well. Below is a few words of advice and encouragement as you prepare to “step out of the boat.” If there is any way we can encourage, support, or help you personally, please feel free to contact us.

 

Seek Unity and Friendships with Those From Your Former Church

Whether or not we feel we need to change denominations or churches, it’s still incredibly important to advocate for unity in the Body of Christ. If you decide to leave your church groups, do your best to keep relationships strong with those who stay. Be very careful to help them understand that you are not rejecting them personally and you mean no disrespect towards their beliefs. Stay in touch, stay kind, stay considerate, stay friends! Emphasize the areas where you agree, and be very sparing about discussing issues they’re not comfortable with. Give grace and give the benefit of the doubt. Remember that they are your brother and sister in the Lord, and treat them with honor. This will glorify God, strengthen His Body, and protect you from bitterness. Remember, you need your brothers and sisters in Christ, Holiness or not. If you have any true, trustworthy friends from your past church, do your best to preserve those friendships. Their love and support will be very valuable as you navigate the difficult waters of finding and establishing yourself into a new congregation and a new pattern of serving Christ. Real friends are hard to come by, so if you have some, treasure them—don’t be so foolish as to throw them out just because you’re transitioning churches.

As much as seeking unity and friendship should be your default option, there are times when you’ll need to part ways with particular individuals—at least for a season. If anyone is abusing you in any way—emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, manipulation, severe shaming, serious psychological strain, etc.—it’s time for some distance. Nervous breakdowns are real, and going through a significant life change is hard enough as it is. You can’t afford for an inconsiderate, or even malicious person, to send you over the edge. Be as polite about creating distance as possible, and do your best to make sure there’s enough communication beforehand to avoid significant misunderstandings. Let the distancing be in proportion to the abuse. For example, if it’s the two hour lectures that have really bothered you, than don’t refuse to say “hi” when you see the person in Walmart, just kindly turn down the offers to spend two hours with them. If you have a close enough relationship (family member, long time friend, etc.) don’t be afraid to be open and honest about why you’re spending less time with them. For example, “I’m sorry I’m not visiting as much this summer, but the last time I spent the afternoon with you, you scolded me about my makeup in a way that made me feel very disrespected and unheard. Until we’re able to better communicate, I’m trying to avoid anymore negative interactions for the sake of our relationship.” If at all possible, look for opportunities down the road for genuine reconciliation (not back to an emotionally draining relationship, but creation of an authentic, healthy relationship). If you ever get to the point where you would not even accept a sincere apology from the person in question, check your heart, there may be bitterness.

Once you decide to transition churches or inform church leaders of your beliefs, don’t be surprised if you’re targeted with overly spiritualized warnings. Such warnings are supposedly “special revelations” about you that may come in the form of someone’s “interpretation” of a dream, a “message in tongues,” a “word of prophecy,” or a “gut feeling” about you. I’ve seen this happen again and again. The messages are often dark and foreboding, mystical and confusing. Whether they feature a bizarre analogy or an out-of-context Scripture, the underlying theme of these messages is “Beware!” They’re meant to scare you and upset your emotions—don’t let them. Ponder them, process them, pray about them, and hold them up to Scripture, but ultimately, forget them. Let the Word of God be your light; God is not the author of confusion. The person(s) giving these “messages” may have your best interest at heart and they may think their words are legitimately divine, but at the end of the day it’s often their own, worried subconscious speaking. Whether intended or not, foreboding, confusing messages are a manipulative scare tactic and they are most commonly used in cults. These are yet another sign of an unhealthy church and should only solidify your decision to leave.

If you don’t decide to leave your church group, please, still do your best to keep relationships with those who do leave. Realize that they’re in a difficult transition and they need your love and encouragement. If you feel like they’re not your concern, or even not your friend, just because they don’t go to your church, then you should ask yourself whether or not your identity is in your church or in Christ. If you are first and foremost a Christian they’re still part of the same Body you are, no matter where they receive their Sunday morning teaching. Don’t take them leaving your congregation as personal rejection. Give their beliefs as much respect as what you want them to give you. Again, stay in touch, stay kind, stay considerate and stay friends. Emphasize your similarities, extend compassion, treat them with honor. So long as they walk with Christ, treat them like the brother or sister that they are. If (God forbid) they ever leave Christ, treat them like Jesus Himself treated sinners, with genuine and unconditional love.

 

Know What You Believe

Too many people see church as a place to be told what they believe. If this was you, and you’re now leaving your church because you weren’t being taught accurately, then please realize you’re in a vulnerable position. There are a cacophony of competing worldviews, and they’d all love to win you over. If you were never taught how to think or why you believe what you believe, navigating all the conflicting perspectives and evaluating them in light of the Word is going to be hard work. Get ready for it.

If everything you believed about Christianity was based on the preaching of only a handful of authorities, and you’ve now lost confidence in those authorities, it will be very tempting to throw out everything they said just because they said it. It’s natural to wonder, “If they misled me on trivial things like women’s pants, is it possible they misled me about important things like whether Jesus was a real person?” It is possible, and that’s why you need to start studying for yourself. In the meantime, it’s a terrible idea to throw out essential Christian doctrines just because certain people who lost your confidence happen to believe those doctrines. They also probably look both ways before they cross the street—I don’t think you’d want to throw that practice out just because you don’t like some people who do it.

The only way to avoid getting swept up in false teaching is to be firmly grounded in what you believe. One helpful exercise would be to look up a Christian statement of faith and think your way through it. Also look up historic creeds such as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. What do you know you believe? What do you have your doubts about? From here, you can create a personal statement of faith. You can also make a “To-Study Further” list. For example, you may be sure God exists, so write that down on your Statement of Faith, you may be sure the Bible is His Word, but not sure why, so write that down on both the Statement and the study list. You may be going back and forth on whether or not God is one person or a three persons in one, so add that to the study list. Once you’ve compiled your study list, don’t let your doubts simmer in the background. Take your faith seriously and carve out time to find answers. You need to know what you believe, and you’re at-risk to false teaching and lies until you do.

 

Create Personal Safeguards

Just like it’s important to hammer out your own beliefs if you’re coming from a church that told you what to believe, it’s also important to hammer out your own safeguards if you’re coming from a church that drew your every boundary. For example, the circles that I grew up in had very strict expectations about how men and women should interact. One common rule was that an unmarried man and woman must never be alone in a room together. Occasionally, if one of us ladies really needed to grab something from the kitchen, sanctuary, Sunday School room, or wherever else there happen to be a man hanging out, we would eventually get impatient and just go grab our stuff. If we did so, then we felt guilty afterwards (at least I did), as if we sinned by breaking an expectation. And, of course, no matter how pure our intentions, the worst case scenario would always cross our minds when we stepped inside (just because of how big a deal had been made about it). It almost felt like there was an expectation for two people alone together to sin—as if we wouldn’t be able to help ourselves. To be fair, I can’t say with certainty how far others went with this pre-determined safeguard, I’m just recalling how it translated to me growing up.

Coming from that background, imagine how odd it felt to me when I began to date my now-husband. We started talking just five months after I stopped attending a Holiness church and moved out alone to Colorado. There wasn’t even a soul we could ask to be our chaperone—not unless I was going to fly in a sibling from Alabama. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have an extra list of rules to go by. I didn’t have anyone watching over my shoulder. I only had the Bible to read and God to see me. It was time to take responsibility, apply scripture practically, and set my own boundaries. And that’s exactly what Cole and I did. We both had our personal standards, and we sat down and compiled them into a document which we called our “Pure Pact.” Were we ever in a room without another adult? Yes, our personal safeguards varied on that point from how I grew up. But even though our boundaries were a bit different, they were still founded on Scripture and we still respected them. We made it through our relationship without any regrets—we never even kissed until our wedding.

I say all that to encourage you to take similar steps, and not only by setting safeguards in your dating. Personal boundaries are healthy and much needed in regards to your appearance, modesty, friendships, entertainment, finances, alcohol, word choices, time management, and just about every other area of life. Don’t count on yourself to always use discretion in the heat of the moment, if there’s a moral decision that you know may come up in the future, do yourself a favor and go ahead and decide what’s right. There may come a time when you reevaluate and adjust your boundaries, but you should always know what they are ahead of time and be extremely cautious about changing them in the moment.

 

Find a Healthy Church and Community

“No man is an island.” You need other believers. You need them for encouragement, support, edification, accountability, cooperate worship, discipleship, effective outreach, and so much more. Living the Christian life alone and expecting to thrive is like trying to manufacture cars without any coworkers. If you’ve come to believe that your congregation is not healthy, you may have a good reason to leave that church, but there’s no good reason to leave the Church. Be intentional about finding a strong Christian community that will be ready to receive, support, and encourage you as soon as you’re no longer attending your current church. This is especially important if you believe you may face rejection and loss of relationships. If at all possible, do your best to start building those friendships and connecting with other local churches before announcing that you’re leaving. It’s a lot easier to smile and say, “I’m going to start attending at The Bible Church in town, because I’d love to join their children’s outreach program and small group that focuses on biblical Greek” then to say, “I’m going to leave this church and I have no idea where I’m going, but anywhere is better than here.”

So, how should you choose a church? That’s another huge decision. A great place to start is with careful consideration of the biblical descriptions of a healthy church which were mentioned in the previous article. Questions to keep in mind would be, “Do they study the Word? Do they teach scripture accurately? Do they reach the lost at home and abroad? Do they care for those in need? Do they love other believers? Do I feel welcome here? Am I able to sincerely worship? Am I able to respect their leadership? Are we in agreement on essential doctrines and nonessential doctrines which are of special importance to me? Do I leave with greater love for and understanding of my Savior? Do I see myself being challenged and growing in Christ?” If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, you likely have found a healthy church. The Christians and teachings you surround yourself with will shape whom you become—for better or worse—so don’t be afraid to be picky. Make as educated a decision as possible, with as much research as possible, as much counsel as possible, as much thought and prayer as possible, and as much insight as possible. But at the end of the day, don’t stay in a toxic church, just because you can’t find a perfect church.

Transitioning from one church to another can be very difficult. That difficulty is compounded if you are also transitioning from one denomination to another, and it’s most especially hard if your identity and worldview are also going through a major shift. The best way to navigate this level of change (without losing your sanity) is to develop a strong support system. A support system is made up of people you can trust, who have your best interest at heart, and who will encourage you to do what’s right. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m in trouble because I don’t have many people like that…” Stop thinking that way. Those people are out there, you just need to go find them. When I came to the realization that I was in need of friends, I took the steps to find them. I started texting everyone in my contact list. I reached out to old friends I hadn’t heard from in months. I reached out to strangers who had gone through similar struggles and asked if I could visit them. I started googling small groups near me just to meet other Christians. I started having conversations with other Christians on social media who I found through similar interests or mutual friends. This was completely out of my comfort zone, but at the end of the day it worked and it was worth it. I didn’t build strong friendships with everyone I reached out to, but enough friendships resulted that I no longer felt alone. People were praying for me, checking up on me, listening to me, and showing they cared. It was exactly what I needed, and it’s what you need you too.

 

Take Care of Yourself

As we’ve already stated, change is hard. I know of people who, while transitioning from one type of church to another, have suffered from panic attacks, depression, migraines, and even nervous breakdowns to the degree of hospitalization. It’s very important that if you choose to change churches, and most especially if you’re facing rejection for this choice, that you make daily, conscious effort to care for yourself—mentally, physically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Stay aware of what you’re feeling. The worst thing you can do is bottle all your negative emotions inside of you—this is what leads to breakdowns. Journaling is a fantastic way to both process and record your faith journey (it’ll be so much fun to look back years later and see how God was leading/growing you during this season). Another suggestion is long nature walks. When I first moved away, I had so much processing to do that I took long walks almost every day—sometimes for hours. It really helped to supplement my walks with music, another stress reliever. Eating healthy, exercise, and 7–8 hours of sleep won’t just benefit you physically, this will also help you think more clearly and give you the strength to respond to highly emotional situations without losing your cool. Most importantly, always prioritize daily prayer and Bible reading! This is a season of so many critical decisions; the best way to make them is by focusing on Christ and letting Him lead. With access to the internet, you have literally thousands of deep, quality sermons right there at your finger tips. Start listening to them and let the teaching of God’s Word refresh your soul.

 

Never Leave Holiness

Many of you who are reading this are considering leaving a church from a Holiness Movement, be it Conservative, Oneness, Free, Congregational, or Independent. To put it bluntly, these aren’t easy churches to leave. There are a few exceptional churches and plenty of great Christians in them, but in general, they see anyone who leaves their movements as backslidden and rebellious. Just a few months prior to writing this, I visited one of my favorite Holiness churches and had to bite my tongue as someone who knew me stood up and said that even visiting a non-Holiness church for one service “isn’t worth your soul.”

No matter how many good reasons you have for attending elsewhere, brace yourself for being looked upon in a very negative light. It’ll be hard, but no matter what happens, refuse to see yourself through the eyes of others—that will only bring you down and cause you to make bad choices accordingly. Instead, see yourself through the eyes of Scripture, as an undeserving, yet priceless, blood-bought, Child of God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. People will say you’re backsliding, and weird as this is, they actually need you to backslide in order to reinforce their belief-system. Don’t be afraid to prove them wrong, and shake their world in the best of ways. You’ll be amazed at the people who come around and later apologize to you! I certainly was.

One of the most cutting remarks your going to receive will be, “I can’t believe you’re giving up holiness.” It’s as if you used to be holy, pure, and pristine, but by putting on a wedding ring or attending a non-holiness church, you’ve defiled yourself. It’s easy to just accept this as a fact. Don’t! The only reason you’re leaving that church is because you believe you will grow closer to Christ somewhere else. That’s not leaving holiness, that’s pursuing holiness!

If you’ve watched the definition of holiness be abused in a Holiness church, or if you’ve had other bad experiences associated with the word “holiness,” it will be easy to grow resentful towards the word itself. Refuse to let that happen. True holiness is absolutely beautiful. It is God’s chief attribute and the perfection of every other virtue. It is a treasure imputed to every believer at salvation, it is a gift that none of us can enter heaven without. It is something we must work towards daily as we strive to be more like Christ. Whatever you do, never leave it. Never leave holiness. And when you’re told that’s what you’ve done? Smile. Laugh inside. In your heart you know the truth, and so does the Holy One. Nothing else matters.

— Natalie Edmonson

 

If you’re trying to decide if a church is healthy and whether or not to leave, check out part one, “Is It Time to Move On? Making the Decision.” If you’d like hear from Christians who have transitioned well, see their testimonies here. If there’s anyway we can encourage or support you, please contact us.

 

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Is It Time to Move On? (Pt.1) Making the Decision

woman alone in church1

“People who grew up Methodist or Baptist might not know better, but if someone knew the truth of Holiness and then walked away from it… you better be careful of them. You can leave Holiness anytime, but you’ll have to fight your way back.”

If you grew up in a church hearing quotes like these, attending a different Sunday service each week isn’t as simple as putting a new address into your GPS. It might be a years-long process of studying, praying, thinking, reevaluating, and receiving counsel. Worse case scenario, it may include migraines, depression, panic attacks, nightmares, loss of friendships, nervous breakdowns, and even loss of identity. The more frightened you are of the social and psychological consequences of transitioning churches, the more likely it is that you’re in an unhealthy or even cultish church, and the more you need to prayerfully consider transitioning. Remember, a healthy church will never fight you or shun you if you politely let them know that you’ve decided to attend another fellowship in the Body of Christ.

In this article, we will take a deeper look into the decision-making process, weigh out valid reasons for changing churches, and consider the fruit of a biblically healthy church. In our follow-up article, we will give our best advice for how to gracefully transition fellowship if this is how God leads you.

 

Weighing Out the Reasons

Changing churches, and especially changing denominations, is a life-altering decision. It will likely affect what you believe, how you live, who your friends are, whom you marry, how you raise your children, what you do for God, how deeply you study the Word, how you view the world, and most importantly—it will affect your personal relationship with Christ (for better or worse). It’s important to note that leaving a church isn’t the only spiritually risky option, staying might be a risk as well; it should be evaluated accordingly. The decision on whether or not to transition churches, specifically whether or not to transition out of attending Holiness churches, is not one to be taken lightly.

The first thing anyone should do when making an important life choice is to carefully think through the reasons behind it. Upset emotions aren’t a legitimate reason to leave any church, but just like pain, emotions may be telling us something is wrong. It then becomes our job to figure out what that something is. One idea is to sit down with a piece of scrap paper and jot out every reason you can think of for leaving. Then, take a second piece of paper and write out every reason you have for staying. Writing your reasons out will allow you to take a step back, breathe, and weigh out your reasons more objectively.

While making your decision on whether or not to leave your church or denomination, it’s importance to keep the end-goal in mind. What is your purpose? What are you aiming for? Who are you trying to become? The process of transition can become confusing and chaotic pretty quickly; having a biblically-based goal to hang on to can help you focus and stay on track. Spiritually speaking, the people who leave a church with goals like, “I want to be free to do whatever I want,” or, “I want to live out my own truth,” don’t last long. You need to know where you’re going; you need a vision to grow towards. One example of a biblically-based goal would be, “I desire to glorify God by studying His Word, teaching His Word, becoming actively engaged in spreading the gospel, being discipled, and making disciples.”

 

Unhealthy Reasons to Leave a Church

Just like there are valid reasons to leave a church, there are also not-so-valid reasons. Churches are meant to be a place where we can cultivate deep fellowship and loving personal relationships. Believers are meant to develop trust in one another, hold each other accountable, and work together to serve and share the gospel with their communities. These endeavors take time, and they are hindered if Christians are constantly “church hopping.” Loyal and committed members are necessary for a church to thrive. Because of the value of staying with the same group of believers, the validity of our reasons for leaving should be carefully considered.

Questions to ask ourselves would be, “Would I be more likely to grow spiritually at another church?”, “Are the motives for leaving rooted in spite or anger?”, “Am I considering leaving because there’s something wrong with this church in particular or because I’m tired of church as a whole?”, “Am I bitter or resentful towards anyone in this church?”, “Is this church better positioned to care for me spiritually than a new church would be?”, “Am I leaving over something this church is responsible for, or is this a reaction triggered by some other area in my life?”, “Would ‘toughing it out’ here potentially lead to spiritual harm in myself or loved ones?”, and even, “Am I leaving over a temporary issue in my church that would have been resolved had I waited?”

Never leave a church out of spitefulness, resentment, or bitterness. If you’re struggling with these sins, you may need to change churches in order to heal, but let the main goal be spiritual growth and nourishment—not an opportunity to reject or get back at those who have hurt you. Before you leave any church, check your heart and ask yourself if there’s anyone attending there who you’d be adverse to helping if they needed a favor, or whom you cringe at the thought of shaking hands/hugging. Christ called us to love everyone as we love ourselves—saint, sinner, and hypocrites. Be the bigger person and make sure there’s no one you’re harboring a grudge against. To do so only hurts you, and in and of itself, it’s a bad reason to leave a church.

Never leave a church just because you don’t like what they teach if you believe that what they teach is true. For example, if your church teaches against leaving your spouse to marry someone else, and you know that teaching is backed by scripture, it would be wrong to start attending a church where this is not emphasized just because you want out of your marriage. The Bible has a lot of teachings about sexuality, purity, family, the value of life, etc. that are unpopular in our culture. Perhaps you feel the need to go to a church where these issues are taught and handled in a better way, but you should never leave just because they are being taught. To do so it is a step back from God’s Word and a dangerous path to start down.

 

Healthy Reasons to Leave a Church

Practical Reasons

The first category of healthy reasons for leaving a church are practical reasons. Practical reasons include things like moving out of town, getting married, a need for a nursery, a need for handicap accessible facilities, and the like. Whether or not you have a good, practical reason will vary based on your situation and circumstance, and knowing whether or not your reason is good is usually pretty straightforward. The reasons that are harder to discern as healthy or unhealthy, are the spiritual reasons. These are what we’d like to focus on helping you think through.

Spiritual Reasons

All Christians should attend a biblically-based, healthy church where they have the opportunity to mature in Christ and serve Him with other believers. A healthy church does not mean a perfect church. Perfect churches don’t exist. Healthy churches are churches that are actively endeavoring to obey God’s Word. I say “actively endeavoring” because I don’t want to give the impression that a church should have “arrived” before it’s good enough to attend.

Let me illustrate. God’s Word clearly says that Christians should be known by their love for one another (John 13:35). Church “A” has a reputation in town for being one of the most loving churches around, even though there are a handful of unkind members. Church “B” nearly split a few years back; they stayed together but they’re still trying to sort through the tension and find peaceful ways to facilitate conflict resolution. Church “C” constantly has infighting and no one seems to mind. The pastor just says that “people will be people,” and the elders are often in the middle of it themselves. In this hypothetical situation, neither “A” or “B” have perfectly achieved God’s command but both of them are working towards it. They can both be called “healthy.” On the other hand, Church “C” is apathetic and ignoring a major biblical command; they can be labeled as “unhealthy.”

Determining God’s will in the specific (“Should I go to this specific church or that one?”) can get confusing. Instead of playing Bible roulette or putting out a fleece, finding God’s will can be more easily understood when we start with God’s general will as taught by the Scripture. We can know for sure that it is God’s will for you to be transformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), and it is God’s will that this happens in the context of the local church (Ephesians 4:11–16). When a church is no longer fulfilling the purpose God gave for it in His Word, nor striving to do so, that’s a clear indicator you have a healthy reason to leave. The otherwise mysterious question, “What is God’s will?” becomes clear—God’s will is for you to attend a church that is actively heeding His instructions (with few exceptions).

To better understand what God’s purpose is for a church, a local body of believers, let’s look at the scriptures. The following section is by no means a comprehensive list of everything a healthy church should be, but it looks at several clear, New Testament commands that serve as great starting points.

 

What Will a Healthy Church Look Like?

 

A healthy church will:

Prioritize the Accurate Teaching, Preaching and Studying of Scripture

  • We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. – Acts 6:4
  • Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. – Acts 8:4
  • And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, – Acts 17:2
  • And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. – Acts 18:11
  • Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. – Acts 15:35
  • As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. – 2 Peter 3:16–17
  • And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:15–17

 

Actively Work to Reach the Lost

  • Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. – Matthew 28:18–20
  • And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. – Mark 16:15
  • But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. – Acts 1:8
  • And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans. – Acts 8:25

 

Emphasize the Gospel/Essential doctrines of the Christian Faith

  • And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. – Acts 5:42
  • Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! – 1 Corinthians 9:16
  • By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. – Corinthians 15:1–11

 

Be Known for Love

  • A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34–35
  • And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:30–31
  • Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? – Matthew 5:43–46
  • Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. – 1 Peter 1:22–23
  • And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: – 1 Thessalonians 3:12

 

Serve the Needy

  • Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. – James 1:27
  • And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. – Acts 6:1–3
  • Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. – Matthew 25:34–40
  • Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. – Titus 2:14
  • Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16
  • Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. – 1 Timothy 5:9–10

 

Pursue Unity in the Body of Christ

  • Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. – John 17: 20–23
  • And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. – Acts 2:46–47
  • Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? – 1 Corinthians 1:10–13
  • Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. – Philippians 2:2

 

Hold Ministers/Members Accountable for Obeying and Teaching the Word

  • And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. – Acts 17:10–11
  • Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. – Matthew 18: 15–17
  • My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. – James 3:1
  • And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. – Acts 5:27–29

 

Work to Create a Strong Community

The following are biblical expectations and commands for a Christian community:

  • “Love one another (John 13:34; 15:12,17; Rom. 13:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11,23; 4:7,11; 2 John 1:5)
  • Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10a)
  • Have mutual concern for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
  • Carry the burdens of one another (Gal. 6:2)
  • Honor one another (Rom. 12:10b)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11)
  • Bear patiently with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13a)
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32a)
  • Confess sins to one another (James 5:16)
  • Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32b; Col. 3:13b)
  • Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Accept/receive one another (Rom. 15:7)
  • Warmly greet one another (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14)
  • Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
  • Treat one another as more important than one’s self (Phil. 2:3)
  • Instruct and exhort one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16a; Heb. 3:13)
  • Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16b)
  • Spur on one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
  • Wait for one another in worship (1 Cor. 11:33)
  • Live in harmony and unity with one another (Rom. 12:16; 15:5)
  • Show humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
  • Pursue what is good for one another (1 Thess. 5:15)
  • Build up one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11)
  • Follow Jesus’ example of “washing the feet” of one another (John 13:14)
  • Believers are also exhorted not to pass judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13), not to “bite and devour” one another in interpersonal conflict (Gal. 5:15), not to provoke one another (Gal. 5:26a), not to be jealous of one another (Gal. 5:26b), not to lie to one another (Col. 3:9), not to repay evil to one another (1 Thess. 5:15), not to speak against one another (James 4:11), and not to grumble against one another (James 5:9).”

This section on community was taken from: Paul Petitt, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, (Kregel Publications, 2018), 92. 

 

In summary: a healthy, local church is a faith community that is united in their desire to serve and glorify God through their love for one another, their study and accurate teaching of His Word, their obedience to His commands, their unity with the rest of the Body of Christ, and their efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.

 

Considerations and Suggestions

 

Beware of Unrealistic Expectations

It’s all too easy to become cynical and judgmental of our churches and forget to examine ourselves just as much as others. Churches are made up of people after all, and none of us are perfect, so let’s be careful not to place unrealistic expectations upon other believers. As imperfect as we all may be, we still need each other. Let’s err on the side of grace and compassion, and always try to give others the benefit of the doubt when we can.

Before deciding to leave a church over lack of a healthy trait, it is always a good idea to see if there’s any way in which we can help. For example, if the church has little to no outreach, we should consider our own abilities, talk to the leaders, and see if there’s any way we can help the church begin an outreach program. Sometimes the leaders will have had this on their hearts to do, but be stretched too thin to lead such an endeavor themselves. Once we volunteer, we may be given an opportunity or we may be turned down. I’ve found that leaders in small churches often do care about outreach, and it’s the congregation that is apathetic. If the leaders take you up on your offer and you are given an opportunity to help, do so (if possible), but don’t feel trapped with all the weight on your shoulders if other members are reluctant to participate. Churches that haven’t historically valued outreach will all too often have 1–3 members finally start something only to have the rest of the church take credit for having an outreach when they do little or nothing to help.

 

Communicate Honestly with Church Leadership

We should stay as open and honest with our leaders as possible. Talk to them. Give them grace and give them the benefit of the doubt. Bring them your concerns and questions with a sincere, humble attitude and see if they will listen. Remember, leaders have to hear a lot of criticism and get a lot of flak, so you don’t want to come across as just another complainer. It’s okay to be straightforward about why you don’t think the church or belief-system is healthy, but it would be wise to sandwich the harder topic between two reasons you sincerely do appreciate your church and/or it’s leadership. If a face-to-face conversation isn’t something you believe would go over well, consider writing a thoughtful letter or email.

Tension is often caused in churches when members don’t see eye to eye with all the nonessentials being preached. Some pastors are fine with this, other pastors punish it. Clear communication is necessary if you want to know how much diversity your church is willing to tolerate. More often than not, purely theological differences on nonessentials are acceptable. For example, few churches will penalize a member for holding to a different eschatology, having a different interpretation of the Song of Solomon, or believing differently on sanctification (whether it’s single experience or process). Differences in behavior or outward appearance are responded to much differently, particularly in churches that pride themselves in keeping a particular “look.” For example, if you have a different belief on a nonessential doctrine such as jewelry, cosmetics, or women’s pants, there are many churches (in the Holiness Movements) who will exclude you from ministry, consider you backslidden, and even recommend that you attend elsewhere.

Many churches will disqualify you for ministry for merely believing differently about these traditions, even if you continue to “look the part.” This creates a very sticky situation. We can all choose whether or not we’re willing to live out someone else’s convictions in order to gain opportunities, but we cannot and must not allow someone else to pressure us into claiming the Bible says something that we know it does not say. In order to avoid conflict or dismissal, many Holiness Christians, leaders included, have opted to continue living out the Holiness dress code and just keep their personal beliefs quiet. This results in more consequences than this article has room to discuss. How can we teach the Word honestly and accurately if we’re afraid to let anyone know what we believe it says? How can we encourage teenagers to genuinely “get it for themselves” if can’t admit that God didn’t reveal the Holiness dress code to us either? How can we truly develop authentic, deep relationships in our church if we’re walking eggshells trying to hide our beliefs?  How can we hold minister’s accountable for teaching the Word accurately if the Scripture twisted for a sermon involves a Holiness standard? How can we answer the questions of new converts or people we witness to if we know what our church teaches isn’t biblically accurate and might only confuse them? How do we fellowship Christians from other denominations when our own congregation views them as backslidden and compromised?

The questions go on and on, but the one I want to highlight the most is this: If we think our authorities would dismiss us from ministry if they knew what we believed, how can we withhold our beliefs from them without deceit? In other words, how is it honest to allow a minister you serve under to think you believe something you don’t believe, when you the belief in question is very important to them? If you’re serving in a ministry position which might be contingent on your personal convictions, I would argue that full disclosure is the ethical choice. If you’re a member of the church but don’t have an active ministry role, full disclosure may not be obligatory but it is still recommended, at least in the long run. If we make ourselves out to be someone we’re not, we can’t expect our leaders to be able to genuinely shepherd, disciple, and care for us in all the ways we need. You can’t be truly loved unless you’re truly known.

Discussing our beliefs with our church leaders is a courageous choice. It must be done in the most respectful, and kindest way possible. Again, this will ideally happen in person, but if there’s a risk it will be especially emotional, writing is recommended. Be willing to listen to their beliefs, ask sincere questions, ask for sources for further study, stay on topic, and don’t be afraid to say something doesn’t make sense. Make sure you’re listened to as well, and ask them to consider your resources too. If your leaders believe you’ve been led astray by our website, Berean Holiness, feel free to politely invite them to write a rebuttal to the article they believe has a faulty argument or twisted Scripture. We will gladly attach their rebuttal to the original article so our readers can hear their perspective too.

Outcomes of these conversations will vary, but at the end of the day you’ll know you did your best to respect your authority and hear them out. This should help avoid confusion, hurt, and misunderstandings down the road. Please understand, respect is shown by kindly listening to our authorities and obeying stated rules of the church/ministry so long as we are part of a membership or ministry commitment. Respect is not shown by believing everything our leaders say. If your leader can’t tolerate your beliefs, it’s not time to compromise, it’s time to find a leader that you can submit to in good conscience.

 

Seek Counsel; Walk Carefully

Switching churches, denominations, and/or belief-systems is a difficult decision. Don’t be afraid to take your time and cover your decision with prayer, Bible study, and lots of counsel. Find a group of trustworthy friends that you can confide in. Confidants that are close to you will have more insight. Confidants that are more distant will be more objective. Peers are great for spring-boarding thoughts off of, elders are great for seeking the wisdom that comes with life-experience. Keep a balance of bias among the Christians that you confide in. The Christians from the church/belief-system you’re considering joining will be biased towards you leaving, while the Christians from the church/belief-system you’re considering leaving will be biased towards you staying. If possible, also try to find 3rd party Christians who don’t have anything to gain or lose either way—they should be the least biased.

Another thing to be kept in mind when deciding whether or not to leave a church is the importance of building strong faith communities. Our world needs to see Christians that stick together, Christians who love each other through thick and thin. We bring God glory through apologizing, forgiving, and reconciling.

If strong, unified churches are so important, then when is there ever a legitimate reason to leave a church? Yes. Strong churches aren’t important for the sake of strong churches. Strong churches are important for the sake of the Body of Christ. You are part of the Body of Christ, and you need to be cared for. If you are not being spiritually nourished in your church or movement, than it is not fulfilling it’s God-given purpose in your life. If you are not being supported, strengthened, encouraged or edified by the Body of Christ, than you are becoming spiritually unhealthy. Your leadership will stand accountable for you to some degree, but only you will be ultimately responsible. You and your family may make it to heaven spiritually malnourished, but why risk it? Either way, you won’t be reach your full potential in Christ and you won’t be able to serve the Body of Christ in the ways for which you were designed. Don’t allow an unhealthy church to handicap you and keep you from fulfilling your purpose. If you want to blossom, reconsider where you’re planted.

— Natalie Edmonson

 

If you’re interested in practical advice for how to transition out of an unhealthy church in a healthy way, check out the follow-up article, “Is It Time to Move On? Making the Transition.” If you’d like hear from Christians who have transitioned well, see their testimonies here. If there’s anyway we can encourage or support you, please contact us.

 

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What Holiness Brings to the Table

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“Why do you always pick on Holiness Pentecostals, Natalie?!” This is a question I’ve been asked multiple times, and the short answer is because I am passionate to see Holiness Pentecostals reach their full potential in Christ. They are some of the most sincere, passionate, and devoted Christians I know. If their energy and dedication were combined with the discipleship, outreach, and thorough study of scripture that I have seen in other movements, there’s honestly no telling what God would do through them.

 

The Value of Christian Fellowship

Every genuine Christian movement is a part of the body of Christ, and as such, every movement has something to bring to the table, something to contribute to the greater good of the greater Church. From serving missionaries in Albania, to working as church staff in Colorado, to visiting churches all across Europe, I’ve definitely been in and around other movements. I’ve been extremely grateful and excited to see what God is doing in the rest of the Church world! I’ve sat under incredibly thorough, expositional, and exegetical preaching; I’ve been introduced to a plethora of theologically deep books, podcasts, articles, and other resources; I’ve been a part of young adult groups that have supported, encouraged, and challenged me in my walk with Christ; I’ve attended Bible studies that have grown my mind and soul simultaneously; I’ve witnessed local churches of many denominations working together with amazing unity to reach their community; I’ve seen discipleship and evangelism that turned tiny, church pioneer works into thriving communities of thousands of believers.

There is no doubt in my mind that God is on the move and that His Church is not defeated. However, the more time I’ve spent fellowshipping Christianity at large, the more I realize positive trends I’ve taken for granted in the past. I’ve come to cultivate great appreciation for the distinctive strengths of Holiness Pentecostals. While these strengths are not lost in the larger Church world, they definitely need to be reinforced and shared, and I believe that Holiness Pentecostals have the potential to do this.

 

Strengths of Holiness Pentecostals

Here are just a few strengths in Holiness Pentecostalism that would greatly bless other Christian movements:

1. Fervent Desire to Please God and Live in His Will

In studying the early Holiness movement and early Pentecostalism, I am amazed at the amount of common pleasures that these Christians were willing to give up out of zeal to please Christ. They forfeited everything from picnics, to ruffles, to colored clothing—just in case God didn’t approve of these things (even if they weren’t sure). I see this same “over and above” zeal in many modern Holiness Pentecostals as well. They also are adamant about the need to live in “the will of God.” There is an expectation that everyone is seeking God’s favor in their life choices and desiring to do whatever God would want them to do. Kept in check, this kind of peer pressure is healthy and beautiful.

2. Skepticism Towards Unfamiliar Doctrinal Stances

As a writer and publisher of doctrinal ideas which are not familiar to Holiness Pentecostals, I’m in a good position to know how they respond to what they perceive to be new. They definitely have a great hesitance to accept any doctrine not taught to them since salvation. The decision to openly express a belief which differs from their peers often takes five to ten years of consideration. I truly respect and appreciate this skepticism. In the grand scheme of things, God preserves His Church; thus, it’s always safest to stay with the doctrines and traditions passed down to us through classical Christianity. We should never be hasty when accepting unfamiliar theology.

3. Great Care To Shelter Their Children

I’ve interacted with multiple Christians, especially abroad, who have the idea that children do best when they are immersed in secular culture. They want their children to “understand” the culture and they neglect to see how secular culture is molding their children’s worldviews. I greatly appreciate the fact that many Holiness Christians reject this idea. Instead, they tend to homeschool, limit or ban television, discourage video gaming, choose friends carefully, and filter the magazines, books, and other influences which come into their children’s lives. This is an important step in protecting the hearts and minds of the next generation.

4. Emphasis on Personal Relationship with Christ

From the beginnings of holiness teachings there was an emphasis on personally loving and knowing God, and from the beginnings of Pentecostalism there was an emphasis on personally having an experience with God. The roots of this personal Christianity can be clearly traced and seen in the writings of John Wesley (a forerunner of the Holiness movement):

“I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”[1]

This is a beautiful teaching grounded in scripture, and I’m so thankful to see that many Holiness Pentecostals still stress the need for personally loving and knowing Christ today.

5. Emphasis on Prayer

Along with personal relationship with Christ, Holiness Pentecostals also stress the importance of daily prayer. They have a firm faith that God hears and answers us, which is encouraged in testimony service, song service, and sermons. Songs such as, “Power of Prayer,” “Prayer Bells of Heaven,” and “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” are all favorites. Testimony service is a time when the congregation is asked what God has done for them, and they regularly respond by telling of specifically answered prayers. The Holiness movement also has a rich heritage of men and women who lived in the rural 1800s, the desperate 1930s, and the harsh economic conditions of the world wars. The miraculous ways God came through for these early Holiness families are still being passed down today, further boosting their confidence in prayer.

6. Belief in Miracles

In a world where several Christian denominations (though not a majority) have begun to teach complete cessationism, it’s refreshing to find that Holiness Pentecostals are still adamant in their belief in miracles and divine healing. Ask anyone who’s been in the movement for five years or more and you may get to hear about a miracle they saw themselves! During my junior year of Bible School, we had so many incredible answers to prayer, that I began typing up and collecting the accounts. Churches are far more likely to have miraculous answers to prayer when they accept that God still works in miraculous ways, so it’s great to find this belief alive and well.

7. Understanding the Need of a Spirit-filled Life

While listening to Dr. William Lane-Craig’s doctrinal series on the Holy Spirit[2], I was surprised to come across his section on why it is so important for Christians to seek to be full of the Spirit and to hear his regret that so few are. Dr. Lane-Craig is firm in his belief that we receive the Spirit upon believing in Christ, so his comments helped me realize that many non-Holiness Christians also understand the importance of living Spirit-filled lives. I’ve come to greatly appreciate how openly we discussed and taught on the Spirit in my Pentecostal background. The Pentecostals I grew up with knew that there were many charismatics and other movements who abused teachings on the Spirit, but it never hindered them. The false teachings only made them more adamant in their desire to teach pneumatology correctly. That’s an admirable response.

The above strengths of Holiness Pentecostal believers could definitely be a blessing and a have a positive impact on fellow believers from other traditions and denominations. As the Body of Christ, we must understand that we need each other. We will never agree on everything, but we will always benefit from supporting one another, sharing resources, and working together to impact our culture and reach our communities.

 

Benefits of Fellowshipping The Church at Large

Similarly, the strengths of other believers could also be a great blessing to Holiness Pentecostals. We’ve gleaned from many non-Holiness Pentecostals in the past: Polycarp, Justin Martyr, John Wycliffe, Desiderius Erasmus, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Count Zinzendorf, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, Fanny Crosby, and C. S. Lewis, among many, many others. While we recognize and appreciate the influence of Christians who have gone before us, we are much less likely to glean from the great Christian leaders, thinkers, and ministers of our day. Why? Because they do not share all of our distinctive beliefs, non-essential though they may be.

I have personally listened to ministers preach hard against David Platt’s books and sermons, only because he doesn’t share their doctrine of the Spirit. Matthew Henry and Cyrus Scofield also didn’t share their doctrine of the Spirit, but we use their commentary and reference Bible. I’ve also heard that we shouldn’t use any of Beth Moore’s women’s Bible studies because she wears pants. However, I’ve seen Gladys Alward praised as a godly missionary. I agree that she was, but would like to point out that she also wore pants. There seems to be an inconsistency between how we respect Christians leaders from the past versus how we respect those in the present.

I believe the reluctance to accept current Christians as fellow, mature believers is even more detrimental than denying Christians of the past. This is because we are not only losing their resources, their thoughts, and their books, but we are losing their flesh-and-blood fellowship. We are losing their smiling faces across our dinner tables, we are losing their hands in community service projects, we are losing their mentorship… when we need to know how to begin Bible studies, offer biblical counseling, fight to end human trafficking, rehabilitate drug- and alcohol-addicts, defend the Faith on college campuses, train our youth in systematic theology, host successful kids’ outreaches, or the plethora of our other noble goals that, let’s admit, would benefit from someone else’s experience, advise, and guidance.

The thought that, “we’re better off isolated; we don’t need anyone else,” has an undertone of pride and a consequence of selfishness. If Christ clearly taught that His Body would better function and glorify Him when we work together, then we’re forfeiting His glory, we’re forfeiting souls, and we’re forfeiting the well-being of fellow believers when we stoop to the attitude of, “I’m better off without you.”

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
— John 17:20–23

 

The Difference Between Essential and Non-Essential Doctrines

A crucial first step of working with believers from other movements is to understand the difference between an essential and a non-essential doctrine. Essential doctrines are those that define Christianity and directly impact one’s salvation, for example: monotheism, deity of Christ, salvation by grace, resurrection of Christ and the gospel. In contrast, non-essential doctrines are doctrines which do not affect salvation and believers are at liberty to disagree on, for example: Calvinism/Armenianism, water baptism, church government, and pneumatology.

Unfortunately, we have a human tendency to stress the doctrines that make us unique so much that we forget they are not essentials of the faith. This results in needless church splits, disfellowship, and other harmful division. The first step in reversing this pattern is to stop and rethink the unique doctrines which are most prone to being divided over. Are they essentials or non-essentials? Should we break fellowship over them or not? This is where Berean Holiness steps in. We publish content geared towards cross-examining the arguments for Pentecostal Holiness distinctives and presenting mainstream perspectives. This helps Holiness Pentecostals parse their essential doctrines from their non-essentials.

If anyone allows themself to think that they have the only legitimate interpretation of certain scriptures, then everyone who disagrees is ignoring biblical teaching and classifies as an immature believer—if they’re even recognized as a believer. For example, if we think that the only way to interpret Deuteronomy 22:5 is to believe that women’s pants are an abomination, then 95%+ of Christian women are viewed as living in moral sin and most likely not Christians at all. In contrast, if we recognize that there are other plausible ways of interpreting and applying this verse, then we can view our interpretation as a non-essential doctrine which we are at liberty to disagree on. This realization would free us to fellowship and bless the Church at large (without compromising our personal convictions).

 

First Steps of Fellowship

Where do we start practically? How can we take our first steps to move from isolation into fellowship? There are so many ways to connect and partner with other local churches and believers that I’m unable to address them in this article. However, I can think of a good place to start, and that would be by reaching out to the believers who were once part of the Holiness movement. Far too many Holiness Christians have come to honestly disagree with a non-essential doctrine, only to be disfellowshipped and mistaken as backsliders or rebels. Being thought of as a backslider by your church friends is a heavy weight to carry, and it’s only more painful when it’s a result of aligning your beliefs with your understanding of the Bible.

The Christians in this situation are at risk for succumbing to bitterness and discouragement. They are in further danger of becoming isolated, since very few of them had built relationships with non-Holiness Christians while in the movement. Upon being disfellowshipped, many find themselves totally alone with no support or encouragement in their walk with Christ. It wouldn’t take much for Holiness Pentecostals to break this cycle. It starts with a mere phone call, maybe an apology, but above all else, true love. Taking these Christians out for coffee, sitting down and asking them questions, listening to them, hearing them out, and genuinely caring about why they believe the way they do, just might be a game changer. There’s no need for blessing and strengthening other members of the Body of Christ to seem like some overwhelming impossibility. It could just be a cup of coffee and a smile.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many… God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
— 1 Corinthians 12:12–14, 24–27

 

Conclusion

Why do I do I spend so much of my time researching, reading, writing, editing, and publishing for Holiness Pentecostals? Why have I invested months of my free time working to engage an audience who often opposes my work? The answer is simple: because I care. I care deeply about seeing the Body of Christ reach her full strength and potential, but the only way for that to happen is for every member of the Body to stay healthy and connected. Every Christian tradition has something to offer the others, and Holiness Pentecostals are no exception. Their fervor to please God, caution in accepting unfamiliar doctrines, carefulness in guarding their children, emphasis on prayer and personal relationship with Christ, belief in miracles, and desire for Spirit-filled lives could be a great example and influence on their fellow believers. They would equally benefit from other believers’ strengths in evangelism, discipleship, and Bible study, but more importantly their communities would be better reached and God would be more greatly glorified. The only way for this to happen is for us each to know the difference between our essential and non-essential doctrines, to be able to recognize what teachings we are biblically required to part ways over, and which ones we are at liberty to disagree on and continue in fellowship. It sounds like an incredible leap, but in reality, it’s only a series of steps. Who knows? The first step might just be a cup of coffee.

— Natalie Mayo

 

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Resources:

  1. Character of a Methodist by John Wesley
  2. Defenders Class: Doctrine of the Holy Spirit by Dr. William Lane-Craig

 

Are Questions Dangerous?

Serpent 2

“It really concerns me when young people ask so many questions about outward standards… Questions are used as a tactic of Satan to cause us to doubt God’s Word. That’s what the serpent used to cause Adam and Eve to fall, “Hath God said…?”

“Satan didn’t tempt them to murder or steal, just to question God’s Word! Satan already has answers to his own questions, he’s not searching for truth. He uses them to confuse, manipulate, and lie. You better watch out for anyone asking questions about what God said!”

Did we really just claim that it’s dangerous to ask what God said? It certainly seems so. I’ve heard this line of reasoning over and over again and I cringe every time. The quips “Hath God said?” and #SlipperySlopeofQuestions work great as social media sound bites, but not as rational arguments.

Thankfully, not all Christians affiliated with the strict churches take this extreme, anti-question view. There are many who will answer doctrinal questions honestly, discuss differing views intellectually, and disagree over distinctive beliefs graciously (which is exactly what Berean Holiness exists to promote). However, a significant portion of affiliated Christians still do highly discourage question-asking; this is the group whose concerns we will address.

 

Examining Genesis 3: What Went Wrong?

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? — Genesis 3:1 

Only quoting, “Hath God said…?” is misleading because it doesn’t contain the full question that Satan asked. The question was, “Hath God said, ‘Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” Well, did God say they couldn’t eat from any tree? No, he didn’t. God had said;

Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die — Genesis 2:16–17

Quoting the whole question is very important to understanding what’s going on. When Satan asked, “Did God really say you can’t eat from any tree?” He wasn’t asking Eve to loosen the rules. Instead, he was ADDING to what God said. The serpent began his slope of manipulation by making the rules stricter than God. Check out how Eve responds:

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. — Genesis 3:2–3 

Did God say that Adam and Eve were forbidden from touching the fruit? No. God said they could not eat the fruit; there was no command against touching it. Eve definitely opened herself up for Satan’s manipulation, but it wasn’t because she asked what God said. In sharp contrast, it was because Eve didn’t ask,“What did God say?” Instead, she sloppily handled the Word of God and ADDED to what God said (making His rules stricter).

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. — Genesis 3:4–5

This is where Satan makes his move and attempts to make Eve doubt. It was not by asking a question, it was by straight-up lying and causing Eve to doubt the truth of what God said. There is a vast difference between doubting the truth of what God said and doubting our human understanding of what God said. Eve absolutely should have doubted her retelling of what God said; both she and the serpent had been careless about accurately remembering His words. Making God’s rules stricter than He did only served to make Eve more vulnerable to doubting His truth.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. — Genesis 3:6–7

Eve and the serpent’s conversation was a total disaster with tragic consequences. However, these consequences were NOT a result of asking, “What hath God said?” No, they were a result of not asking what God said, not caring what He said. They both ADDED to His Word, Satan doubted the truth of His Word, and Eve fell for it. What would’ve prevented this tragedy? One question. If Eve had asked, “What hath God said?” If she had recalled His Word and stuck to it, if she had never added and never doubted, the serpent would have been defeated on the spot.

 

Are Questions Guilty By Association?

How does the fact that Satan asked a question prove or support the idea that questions are dangerous? It doesn’t. The logic goes something like this:

  1. Satan asked a question when he was being dangerous, (Example, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Genesis 3:1)
  2. You asked a question, (Example, “Does the Bible actually call jewelry a moral sin?”)
  3. Therefore, you are being dangerous

This is a classic example of “guilt by association.” To demonstrate how this logic falls short, check out these mirror arguments that continue in the same logical pattern.

  1. Satan made a statement when he was being dangerous (Example, “Ye shall not surely die:” (Genesis 3:4)
  2. You made a statement, (Example, “1 Timothy 2:9 teaches the principle of simplicity”)
  3. Therefore, you are being dangerous

Does that sound ridiculous? Yes, it does.  There are only four types of sentences in the English language: declarative, exclamatory, imperative, and interrogative. Just because Satan was the first character in Scripture to use one of these forms of sentences does NOT mean that form of sentence structure is inherently more dangerous than the others.

Furthermore, what was the first form of sentence that God Himself used when He walked onto the Genesis 3 scene? A question!

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? — Genesis 3:9

If the fact that Satan used a question for evil makes questions evil, then God using a question for good would make questions good. Either way, guilt by association cannot prove questions as any more dangerous than other sentences.

 

“It’s Not About The Question; It’s About The Motive Behind It”

Thankfully, many outwardly strict Christians fully understand that there’s nothing wrong with questions in and of themselves. Instead, this group claims questions about distinctive doctrines are dangerous because of the motives behind them. Let’s address their concerns.

“If They Already Have an Answer, They Have a Bad Motive”

One way these Christians claim to recognize malicious intent is by pointing out that (especially in the case of Berean Holiness), “Just like the serpent, those question-askers aren’t looking for an answer. They already have their own answer carefully rehearsed, so there’s no way they’re seeking truth.” Let’s go back to Genesis 3:9, in which the first words of God were, “Where art thou?” Did God know the answer to His question? Definitely (unlike us, He knows the  answers to all of His questions). He was using the question to provoke Adam and Eve to think. In another example, look at the life of Christ; Jesus is recorded to have asked 307 questions. Was this because Jesus, God Himself, lacked knowledge? Definitely not. Jesus used questions to pique curiosity, gracefully challenge religious leaders, and, just like in the garden, provoke his listeners to think. Questions are a tool of teaching as much as they are a tool of learning. They are much less abrasive and more engaging than flat statements, and give an open invitation for fact-checking, differing conclusions, and open discussion. This makes them an ideal way to communicate controversial truths.

“Questions About Holiness Standards Are Aimed to Make You Doubt God’s Word”

A second claim of those discouraging questions on distinctive doctrines is that, “Just like the serpent, people who bring up questions about the outward standards are trying to get you to doubt God’s Word.” Many of their social media posts which reference the serpent include a saying such as, “Satan didn’t tempt Eve to kill or steal, he tempted her to doubt God’s Word.” The “Hath God said…?” quote will then be applied to anyone who dares to cross-examine the biblical basis for strict, outward standards. First off, even though the serpent did provoke Eve to doubt the truth of God’s Word, the phrase “Hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” is not when he did so. That came a bit later when Satan told the lie, “Ye shall not surely die.” Second off, is this a fair comparison? Is asking whether or not God said something the same as doubting that what God said is true? (No.) If I were to wonder if Scripture teaches God’s goodness, there’s nothing wrong with me asking, “Does God claim He is good?” I ought to go to the Bible and see for myself. However, if I knew that Scripture teaches that God is good, but then I were to decide, “Yeah, but I doubt God is really good; He seems corrupt to me,” now I have doubted God, not just my human understanding of God. Only at this point would I have crossed the line into the sin of unbelief.

The claims of these groups soon begin to form inconsistencies. On one hand, they claim that asking for the biblical basis of their outward standards is a form of bitter attack. On the other hand, they would acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with asking for the biblical basis of every other common Christian belief. For example, I could ask “Did God really say that promiscuity is immoral?”, and they would respond with, “1 Corinthians 6:9–10, 13, 18–19; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–4; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 15:19.” After reading these passages, I (and any other honest individual) would conclude, “Yes, God really said that.” In contrast, if I asked, “Did God really say that jewelry is immoral?”, then I’m met with (what I personally find to be) a mental obstacle course, running around this Scripture, jumping over that Scripture, taking that other Scripture, and carrying a heavy load of human commentary all the way. Realizing that their view on the second question is much more difficult to prove, the insecurity about answering it increases significantly. There is room for disagreement, a possibility that others may come to the conclusion of, “No, God didn’t really say that.” Thus, questions on strict, outward standards are much more likely to be discouraged in order to create total agreement (an unhealthy form of unity).

“Ask Questions to Better Understand; Never Ask Questions to Disagree”

It’s bad enough to arrive at differing answers to questions on outward standards, but sharing them is apparently an outrage. Whenever I have dared to do so, my social media feed fills with #QuestionsAreEvil posts. As I have been informed, “It’s alright to ask a question to better understand an outward standard, it’s wrong to ask a question if you are going to tear down or argue against a standard.” In other words, “You’re allowed to ask a question in order to better understand what I am telling you to believe. You’re not allowed to ask a question if you are going to conclude that my answer is scripturally unsound.” Why? It seems that merely disagreeing with these Christians is automatically considered as having malicious intent. There is no room for discussion. This lack of tolerance for consideration of any other view presupposes that this particular group is claiming either one of two things: A) “Absolutely everything we believe is true beyond question,” or B) “We would rather risk believing something that’s not true than risk changing our beliefs.” Clearly, this is the dangerous ground to stand on. It relies upon confidence and pride in tradition and leaves little room for humbly studying God’s Word with an open heart and mind.

 

Is Testing a Movement the Same as Doubting God’s Word?

For the subset of Christians who so adamantly warn against asking questions, desiring to test the beliefs of a movement with God’s Word has often been made equal to doubting whether or not God’s Word itself is true. Stop and think about this claim: does it line up with the biblical mandate to carefully examine all teachings?

Imagine an older brother (we’ll call him John) and a little sister (we’ll call her Sue) have been left at home alone with a list of written instructions from their mom. If Sue were to come downstairs and ask what chores mom wanted her to do, and John were to say, “She said for you to clean my room and mow the lawn,” Sue might cock an eyebrow. She’d ask, “Why would she ask me to clean your room instead of mine? Could I please see the note that Mom left?” to which John may reply, “No way! You should trust me. Why would you doubt Mom?” In such a case, is Sue actually doubting Mom? No. She’s doubting John’s understanding of Mom’s note, which is why she wants to examine it for herself. Is that malicious intent? Is that rebellion? Of course not. It’s common sense. The fact that John becomes so defensive at the questions and so reluctant to let Sue compare his claims to the note is a good reason for suspicion. John realizes that by letting Sue study, interpret, and apply the note for herself, she just might disagree with him, or even prove him wrong (causing John to lose control of Sue). Sue realizes that, at the end of the day when Mom comes home, she won’t be held accountable to what John said, she will only be accountable to Mom’s written instructions. Thus, Sue has a personal responsibility to ask hard questions, to read those instructions, and to apply them for herself as best she can, even if she comes to different conclusions than John.

Similarly, questioning doctrine is more than just biblically permissible, it is biblically mandated. When I stand before God in eternity, He will not be measuring me up against the extra-biblical standards of a church group. He will not be examining my life under the scrutiny of what so-and-so preached. He will be holding me accountable to His Word and to His Word alone. I have a God-given, personal responsibility to study Scripture, weigh out teachings, and to fact-check every single belief that’s ever given to me. I have a God-given responsibility to test every doctrine, to ask hard questions… and so do you.

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. — 2 Corinthians 13:5

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. — 2 Timothy 2:15

I speak to reasonable people; judge for yourselves what I say. — 1 Corinthians 10:15 (Berean Study Bible)

Pay close attention to your life and to your teaching. — 1 Timothy 4:16 (Berean Study Bible)

[The Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. — Acts 17:11

 

Conclusion

So long as the Scriptures are being interpreted and taught honestly, leaders have no reason to sweat when their congregants begin to fact-check their teachings against Scripture. They should have no reason to fear hard questions. Questions are both a tool for provoking thought and a tool for searching for answers, but either way, the end goal is truth. Instead of squelching these searches, instead of circumventing them by giving out prepackaged answers, we would do much better to teach others how to better study, interpret, and think through the Word of God for themselves. It’s true that they may end up coming to different conclusions than we would, particularly in the grey areas, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s healthy, because it indicates discipleship—not indoctrination.

At the end of the day, any group of people who are studying Scripture individually are inevitably going to differ in some of their conclusions on secondary doctrine and practical application. Instead of viewing these lesser differences as division, we ought to view them as an opportunity to practice genuine unity. Not a unity that demands every detail be identical, but a unity that rallies around Christ and Him crucified. With the gospel at the center, this unity is free to oil friction with unconditional grace, abundant mercy, and boundless love. This is the unity that will never fear questions on the minors, because it is firmly grounded in agreement on the majors. It doesn’t fear a loss of control, because it recognizes Christ as the ultimate head. This is the unity that is free to search for truth with an humble heart and rational mind. This is the unity that will cause the world to stand wide-eyed and amazed as it fulfills the prayer of Christ;

I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. — John 17:23

— Natalie Mayo

 

 

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Photo Credit: https://throughtwoblueeyes.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/creation-museum/ (03/01/2020)

Which Old-Time Holiness Should We Go Back To?

mennoniteladies

“I believe in true, old-time holiness” and “We need to get back to old-time holiness!” are just a few of the sayings I’ve heard all of my life (especially recently). They raise an obvious question: what is old-time holiness? The Holiness Movement was originally/historically known for teaching “the experience of holiness,” but most members today have not even heard of this teaching – thus, that’s not what we’re being called back to. Instead, “old-time holiness” hearkens back to the historic outward holiness or early dress code. But of which era? The standards of the 1760’s, 1840’s, 1880’s, 1910’s, 1940’s, 1960’s…? This article will begin with John Wesley’s teachings of outward holiness, then work through the beginnings of the Holiness Movement, the beginnings of Pentecostalism, and into the mid-1900’s. We will examine how the standards of the Holiness Movement have continued to evolve, as we evaluate which era we might return to.

Reverend John Wesley MA Fellow of Lincoln Colleges Oxford London

John Wesley’s Teachings on Outward Holiness (Mid-1700’s)

John Wesley lived from 1703-1791, and he is known as the founder of Methodist Christianity.  Along with many teachings on Christian love, unity of the brethren, moral perfection, and inward holiness, Wesley also taught on outward holiness and holiness of dress. Wesley was greatly impacted by the Moravians and the Quakers, both of which practiced the plain-dress of the Anabaptists.  The Anabaptists applied principles of simplicity and separation to many areas of their lives, resulting in very plain homes and churches, as well as plain-dress. This was a far-right pendulum swing of the Protestant reformation, which came in response to the Catholic Church’s extravagance in that era.

Wesley was an adherent to and teacher of the plain-dress doctrine. In his sermon, “On Dress” Wesley stated, “Let me see, before I die, a Methodist congregation, full as plain dressed as a Quaker congregation.” Very few groups still hold to the original standards, with the closest example left being the Amish. Plain-dress would traditionally include the following:

  • Women’s Head Coverings (Stricter groups only would wear opaque coverings, no lace)
  • Neutral Colors: Black, Grey, Brown, White, and Sometimes Dark Blue
  • Limited Buttons (Stricter groups would only use hook-and-eye closures)
  • No Prints: Solid Color Only
  • A Second Layer on Ladies to “Cover the Bosom”
  • Loose Cut Garments to Hide Curves and Figure
  • No Ornamentation: No Artificial Flowers, Trims, Embroidery, Beads, Decorative Belts, Decorative Scarfs etc.
  • No Lace and No Ruffles
  • Plain Fabric (Jean was rejected upon invention)
  • Clothing Covering the Body from Neck, to Feet, to Wrists

The scriptures and reasoning behind these standards were the same as the plain-dressing Amish use today. According to Cindy Woodsmall, “The Amish believe that God has called them to be separate from the world and its negative consequences…They believe this type of modesty in dress is necessary to keeping their hearts and bodies pure.”

To be fair, not every early Methodist followed all of the above regulations, but plain-dress was still considered to be the most holy standard. There are even accounts of Methodists being confused with Quakers, as it says in the 1859 novel Adam Bede, “I saw she was a Methodist, or Quaker, or something of that sort, by her dress.”

 

Methodist Women Pitts Theology Seminary

Early Methodist Women

Wesley specifically pushed for women to wear head-coverings. He writes, “But the woman is a matter of glory to the man, who has a becoming dominion over her. Therefore she ought not to appear except with her head veiled as a tacit acknowledgement of it” [1]. This view was shared by several other conservative leaders of that era such John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Matthew Henry, to name a few.  Very plain hairstyles were also advocated. Even today in the Evangelical Wesleyan Church (a more direct descendant of Wesley than Holiness Pentecostals) it is written in their by-laws that women are not allowed to curl their hair. [2]

Wesley also made a case against expensive clothing, in accordance with 1 Peter 3:3-4.

“Let your dress be cheap as well as plain.”

“The wearing costly array is directly opposite to the being adorned with good works. Nothing can be more evident than this; for the more you lay out on your own apparel, the less you have left to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to lodge the strangers, to relieve those that are sick and in prison, and to lessen the numberless afflictions to which we are exposed in this vale of tears.” [3]

Methodists took the teachings against expensive clothing so seriously that they would turn people away at the door who came to their services in “fine apparel.” [4]

John Wesley’s argument against costly clothing was the same argument he used against jewelry. In short, it “engendered pride” and the excess money should instead be saved and given to the poor. Furthermore, even if a person didn’t actually spend the money on the nice clothing or even if they could easily afford it, Wesley taught that they should still abstain due to the possibility of falling into of pride. If a person could live without a thing, or if they could have a simpler, plainer version of the same thing, then this is what they ought to do.  This line of reasoning would condemn many more items in modern times such as Coach purses, sports cars, stylish homes, Dainty Jewels dresses, Nike tennis shoes, iPhones, Apple watches, unnecessary guns, and much more.

 

The Holiness Movement’s First Teachings on Outward Holiness (Mid-1800’s)

As time went on, many of the “plain dressed” Methodists began to relax their standards to the great chagrin of their stricter brethren. Although I have not found a document specifically naming the outward compromises, photographs from the 1800’s reveal Methodists wearing prints, women without head-coverings, and an increasing amount of non-essential decoration, from ties to ruffles to trim. Concerned, revival preachers began to call for reform and a return to the teachings of John Wesley, not just of dress but also of sinless perfection.

Methodists 1800s

“Compromised” Methodists of the 1800’s

One of the most famous ministers to lament the compromise of Methodist dress was Peter Cartwright. In his journal he writes:

“When I joined the Church, her ministers and members were a plain people; plain in dress and address. You could know a Methodist preacher by his plain dress as far as you could see him…if the Methodists had dressed in the same “superfluity of naughtiness” then as they do now, there were very few that even out of the Church would have any confidence in their religion. But O, how have things changed for the worse in this educational age of the world! I do declare there was little or no necessity for preachers to say anythings against fashionable and superfluous dressing in those primitive times of early Methodism; the very wicked themselves knew it was wrong and spoke out against members of the Church. The moment we saw members begin to trim their dress after the fashionable world, we all knew they would not hold out. Permit me here to give a few cases…”[5]

Cartwright goes on to give examples of how the Methodists had declined from their earlier standards of holiness by telling stories of how it used to be. Speaking of a lady who had just received Christ, he continues:

“Not a word was said about dress. She went home, intending to come to the love-feast next morning, but it occurred to her that all her superfluities ought to be laid aside now, and that she, as a Christian, for examples sake, ought to go in plain attire; but alas! For her, she had not a plain dress in the world. She said to herself, What shall I do? She immediately hunted up the plainest and most easily altered dress she could find. To work it as she went; trimmed it and fixed it tolerably plain.” [5]

“In 1810, when I was traveling in West Tennessee, at a camp-meeting I was holding there was a great revival in progress. At that time, it was customary for gentlemen of fashion to wear ruffled shirts. There was a wealthy gentlemen thus attired at our meeting…it seemed there was something he would not give up. I was praying by his side, and talking to him, when all of a sudden he stood erect on his knees, and with his hand he deliberately opened his shirt bosom, took hold of his ruffles, tore them off, and threw them down in the straw; and in less than two minutes God blessed his soul, and he sprang to his feet, loudly praising God.” [5]

The ideal place for calling for reform was the camp-meetings and brush arbor revivals, which Methodists were known for. They were a time fiery preaching, shouting, and, surprisingly enough, interdenominational fellowship. According to Old Settlers Gazette (2006), “Presbyterians, Methodists, and sometimes Baptists worked the crowds together.” This fact plays a significant role in explaining how the Holiness Movement quickly spread beyond denominational barriers.

Arguably the most influential of all these camp-meeting preachers was Pheobe Palmer, who earned the title “Mother of the Holiness Movement.” She was also the general editor of a magazine entitled, “Guide to Holiness” which reached 40,000 subscribers at its peak.

Palmer did not ignore the goal of bringing sinners to Christ through sermons, which was historically the focus of revivals, but her emphasis was on holiness. By 1853 her schedule included Canada. Her labors there in 1857 resulted in more than 2,000 conversions and hundreds of Christians who claimed the baptism of the Holy Ghost or holiness (Palmer 1859:259). Her ministry there contributed to the general Prayer Revival of 1857–1858, which resulted in more than 2,000,000 converts in the United States and the British Isles. Between 1859 and 1863, Palmer preached at fifty-nine locations throughout the British Isles (White 1986:241–42). At one meeting in Sunderland, 3,000 attended her services held over a period of twenty-nine days, with some people turned away. She reported 2,000 seekers there, including approximately 200 who experienced holiness under her preaching (Wheatley 1881:355, 356). Between 1866 and 1870 she held services throughout the United States and eastern Canada (Raser 1987:69–70). At a camp meeting in Goderich, Canada in 1868, about 6,000 gathered to hear her preach (Wheatley 1881:445, 415). Palmer continued to accept preaching engagements until shortly before her death. Overall, she preached before hundreds of thousands of people at more than 300 camp meetings and revivals. Palmer’s husband was supportive of Phoebe Palmer’s ministry from the outset and he was not troubled by her greater reputation. Walter Palmer gave up his medical practice in 1859 to travel with her full-time. He often assisted in services by reading Scripture and commenting on the text. [7]

As part of the outward appearance she emphasized, Phoebe Palmer would wear an opaque head-covering and a dark, plain dress. It was written this way by one of her admirers:

She [Phoebe’s sister, Sarah] believed that simplicity of dress was the right thing for a Christian, and she never swerved. I remember when she and her sister Phoebe were called the “drab sisters.” With them, it was a conviction that an exceedingly plain dress was the way for them, and they urged it upon others. [8]

Not all Methodists were eager to return to the strict standards of plain dress, many refused. Thankfully for Holiness preachers, their teachings were able to reach a variety of church groups through the unified camp-meetings, and as a result, Holiness became an interdenominational movement. It’s important to note that “holiness” did not mean to the early Holiness movement what it means to us today. It was a common label for what we now call instantaneous sanctification or immediate perfection; this doctrine was extremely significant to the early movement. Testimonies of experiencing this second work began coming from all different denominations–Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Quakers, and more. Unfortunately, the “inward and outward holiness” didn’t unite multiple denominations for the long term. Instead, it triggered a plethora of splits, as churches scrambled to hammer out what their teachings on sanctification would be, what their outward standards would be, and then continually divided themselves from any churches which taught differently. [8]

 

Azusa Street Saints and Outward Holiness (Early 1900’s)

The Holiness Movement intersected with the Pentecostal Movement in the early 1900’s. The Pentecostal Movement has it’s origins at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. The school was founded in 1900 by Charles Fox Parham, and its only textbook was the Bible. Parham is an extremely important leader in Pentecostal history, because it was he who first articulated and publicized the doctrine of speaking in tongues as required evidence of receiving the Spirit. From all historical accounts, there is good reason to believe Parham was also the first to teach this doctrine, considering that it is not found recorded in the 1,800 years of Church history prior to him. The first document containing tongues as initial sign evidence in written form was Parham’s book “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”, published in 1902. [9]

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Parham left the Methodist Church in 1895 and married Sarah Thistlewaite, the daughter of a Quaker. Parham is said to have preached the ideas of the Holiness Movement in his evangelism, but outward holiness was one of his differing factors.

Innovative as usual, Parham often sat on the platform dressed in Palestinian costume. Unlike many preachers with a similar holiness oriented message, he encouraged his workers to dress stylishly and thereby to demonstrate the attractiveness of the Christian life. [10]

Ironically then, it was the founder of modern Pentecostalism who pushed the compromise of “old-time” outward holiness, and refused to preach or live the plain-dress standards of the early Methodists.

Of all the people Charles Parham taught and influenced, William Seymour would be the most significant in Holiness history.  Seymour adopted Parham’s doctrine of tongues as initial sign evidence and took it with him to California. The mid-1800’s to the mid-1900’s was chock full of revivals, but the revival Seymour led stands head and shoulders above the rest, the Azusa Street Revival.

Many of the Azusa Street Saints were from a Holiness background and still catered to the old style of dressing, with a few compromises. One of the most significant differences from the early Holiness standards was a lack of women’s head-coverings. The holier women still did not dare to wear their hair down, and curling it was unthinkable. According to Tommy Welchel, a historian specializing in Azusa Street, women wore their hair in “glory buns, the higher they were the more glorious.” They also were careful to only wear neutral colors, just like their predecessors. [11]

 

Holiness Pentecostals and Outward Holiness (Mid-1900’s)

As Pentecostal revivals spread, more and more emphasis was put on outreach, hundreds and thousands of new converts joined the church, and codes of outward holiness began to their lose influence. Here is an excerpt from “Oral Roberts: An American Life:”

“In addition to these theological distinctives, Pentecostal Holiness people were constantly and facticiously attentive to questions of personal morality. In its earliest days the church forbade “outward adorning, such as jewelry, gold, feathers, flowers, costly apparel, or ornamentation of any kind,” though in later years members were simply “forbidden to follow immodest and extravagant styles in dressing, or to wear needless ornamentation.” Still, as late as 1939, a preacher just returned home from the East Oklahoma camp meeting observed that “the quartet that sang last night was not made up of Pentecostal Holiness singers, I am sure; for the ladies wore short sleeves and finger rings; and Pentecostal Holiness ladies do not wear short sleeves in East Oklahoma … and as for rings—well, they just aren’t worn by out women out here.”[12]

It seems that the author finds it an oddity that “as late as 1939” women in one part of the Pentecostal Holiness movement were still forbidden from short sleeves and rings. The book goes on to explain how Pentecostal Holiness people of the 1930’s were also forbidden from several kinds of “worldly amusements” which included picnics. Furthermore, “Whether divorced persons could under any circumstance be church members was the cause of an early division in the group and long continued to be a source of debate and contention.”[12]

There were a few Pentecostal preachers who were concerned about this trend and continued to harp on a need for outward standards. Two of these men were Frank Bartleman and William Branham. Frank Bartleman began as Seymour’s right-hand man and went on to become the primary recorder/journalist of the Azusa Street Revival. After the revival, Bartleman became a founding father of the Oneness Apostolic Movement and played an important role in establishing the Oneness dress-code.

William Branham is a slightly lesser known name today, but was very well known and respected in his time. Tommy Welchel, the expert on Azusa Street history, reminiscences about William Branham in a highly honoring way. In his book “True Stories of the Miracles of Azusa Street” Welchel tells of a prophecy Branham made over him personally in 1960, he then goes on to tell how it came to pass. [13]

Thankfully for us, Branham’s Holiness standards, along with his reasoning behind them, were recorded in document form.

“I was talking the other night to some friends of mine where we was way back up in the mountains, and a young woman…And we noticed standing there, a couple of brothers and I, the lady nursing her baby. She just removed her breast from her dress and begin to nurse the baby; and it was kind of amazing for a minute; that’s the way my mother nursed me. It’s exactly right. I have more honor for a woman like that than I do some of these women that put a little old strap under them to throw theirself out: don’t even look like a human being. They got a purpose in doing that; that’s sexy, ungodly….But when you come to go on the outside and maybe wear ever so much of a blouse or so forth, and then boost yourself out there with straps and things, that looks ungodly and cause men… Do you realize that’s a spirit of the Devil on you? Oh, yeah. So you don’t want to do that, sister. Don’t you do that; that’s Hollywood’s makeup and a trap of the Devil. When you do that, you make men think the wrong thing about you; and when you do that, then you’re guilty of committing adultery with that man, because you presented yourself that way to him.” [14]

Branham is speaking against the modern-day bra here, which only became mainstream in the 1930’s. It’s interesting to note, that he had no issue with full-exposure for the purpose of nursing. But wearing a bra? “Spirit of the devil.” Here’s another excerpt (it seems to be the written version of a taped sermon):

You say, “Where are you getting scriptures for high heels now preacher?‟ Everything that we need to know is in this Bible. Listen to what the prophet of God said. Alright, see if this sounds to you like highheeled shoes. Isaiah 3:16-22…

“Thunders” people today want to show us that they could preach “thunders” and wear high-heeled shoes. They are going to fall into a dark chasm. False thunders brought out all those heresies. That narrow road is the road to life. “Straight is the gate, narrow is the way that leadeth to life.” And she fell over into that smoke and flames and was lost. You cannot get to heaven in a high-heeled shoe. And I say that the people in the message [his church] need to stamp out all of this nonsense. That shoes could be an inch, it could be a half-inch, and if it is narrowing down and tapering down, it is going to cause you to twist. Is that right? [Congregation says, “Amen!”] And the women ought to know better than that. And if a woman is honest in her conscience, even though she wears a horseshoe and it is causing her to walk in a certain way, she will try to change it. She wouldn‟t wait for the minister to say, “Take off the high-heeled shoe.” It could be half inch, it could be one inch, and that thing is tapered down and built in a certain way, it is going to cause you to walk in a wrong way. It is going to cause you to walk in a funny way. Yes. I say away with all the high-heeled shoes. Quit the thing. You cannot get to heaven in those high-heeled shoes.

Branham was not alone in preaching his “holiness standards,” as he himself called them.  I’ve heard many personal stories from older saints about open-toed shoes, the color red, and even the radio being preached against in that same era. It is very good to realize that these clothing standards were not created by ‘extreme’ preachers of the 1900’s, they were actually bits and pieces of the original holiness standards dating back to the 1700-1800’s.

As the book on Oral Roberts stated, the general trend of the 1900’s still seemed to be a lessening of holiness standards. I have not been able to find a written description of which standards were dropped when, but photos speak 1,000 words.

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Although they are not clear enough to reveal jewelry, makeup, and hair length, many of these photos do exhibit sleeve and skirt length which would be entirely unacceptable in Pentecostal Holiness churches today. Why the change? When did the pendulum swing back? Although there could be a vast amount of speculation, the most reasonable explanation I have heard is that the roaring 60’s and the 1967 Summer of Love caused a huge stir among the religious community.  A call for “old-time holiness” came in response.

“Old-time holiness” never did make her return. Instead, her principles were cherry-picked and only particular rules came back, while their sister-rules never did. For example, several outward principles were originally based in 1 Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;” The early Methodists and Holiness Movement hammered this verse across the board, calling for neutral colors only, extremely simple and cheap clothing, preaching against all forms of decoration (from lace to flowers to printed cloth), and strongly urging for head-coverings. These teachings continued to be watered down throughout the centuries until the bulk of them were lost. Take hair, for example; head-coverings turned into only wearing simple up-do’s, and simple up-do’s were replaced with “you can wear your hair down, but just don’t curl it.” Today, Pentecostal women have a reputation for some of the most beautiful and elaborate hairstyles in American culture. As for plain-dressing, the rule commanding completely barren/untrimmed clothing was done away with in the 1800’s, neutral colors went out the window a century ago, and in modern-times it would be hard to imagine a Friday night service without a selection of the newest Dainty Jewel’s styles. As for ornamentation, almost every type is accepted now: flowers, feathers, lace, trim, beads, embroidery, print, decorative scarfs, decorative ties, and decorative belts.  The only rules which remain from the 1700’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:9 are those against jewelry and make-up.

Another reason for the plainness-principles of the early Holiness movement was so that everyone would be at the same level.  In other words, there would be no room for social class, “haves” and “have-nots.” This was cited again and again as the reason early Holiness people would give up their jewelry and nice clothing, or even build plain homes. Today, this principle of denying oneself unnecessary possessions-in order to be plain and uniform, would apply to many more of our 21st century luxuries.  It would apply to collections of historical artifacts and guns, to dresses, to purses, to cars, to shoes, to phones, to computers, to watches, to the places we eat, the vacations we take, the houses we build and the cars we own. How many of us today deny ourselves the nicer brands, makes and models in order to avoid “engendering pride” as John Wesley put it? We don’t.  Instead, we cherry-pick the original standards and over-simplify things into “no jewelry” and “no make-up,” creating significant inconsistencies. For example, I can walk into a Holiness Pentecostal church with my hair done to the nine’s and receive a plethora of compliments, but if I walk in with light make-up I’ll be thought of as vain. I can walk in wearing a $120 Dainty Jewel’s dress and fit in perfectly, but if I walk in wearing my $3 necklace, then somehow I’m seen as proud and showy.

 

Conclusion

Standards of outward holiness have gone through tremendous phases of change ever since Wesley’s adoption of “plain-dress” in the 1700’s. The Amish, who do not have holiness roots, are one of the few religious groups who have actually kept the original standards. It’s no wonder that we continuously hear a call for a return to “old-time holiness.” But which phase of old-time holiness should we return to? The original one? It’s hard to imagine walking into a Holiness church today and looking over a sea of utterly plain, brown and black, cotton-clothed congregants, complete with opaque head-coverings.  Is that the old-time holiness we should return to?

The original Methodist and Holiness people should always be respected and commended for their emphasis on striving for perfection, their eager study of scripture, and their incredible desire to live a holy, God-honoring life. They had admirable devotion and dedication; it would do us all a great good to study their example. The key is that we must to learn from them not return to them. We should never idolize any era of our history, and we should never find our identity or worth in our ability to keep past traditions.

One of the most valuable Holiness history lessons is the fact that creating a set of extra-biblical rules has never succeeded. The heart behind the extra rules was noble.  The motivation was to help congregants apply biblical principles in modern time, but regulations never work for the long-haul. Instead, they have caused much confusion as the culture has evolved. Historically, Holiness people have rarely been able to all agree on which old rules to keep, what new rules to make, and how strictly to enforce all rules. This has caused a huge amount of division and contention resulting in church groups splitting and splitting and splitting again. [8]

Rules are much easier to list than principles are to teach, but they do far less good. For example, I can understand the rule against not wearing decorative flowers all day long; but, if I don’t understand the underlying concepts of humility, then I will remain in the sin of pride and mess it all up in other areas of life. In contrast, if I understand the concept, I may decide that wearing decorative flowers would attract unhealthy attention and cause my sisters to envy; and even better, I’ll also be able to apply loving humility across the board.  If I happen to live in an era or location where the wearing of flowers is not proud or unloving, then I’ll be able to understand that too (Replacing Rules with Discipleship.)

Returning to biblical discipleship may not be as romantic sounding as a call to “old-time holiness,” but in reality, isn’t that exactly what will lead to biblical holiness? Holiness will never be found in an ability to follow a leader’s rules. But, when that leader is willing to open the scriptures, expound their timeless truths, and teach the Word as accurately as possible, he will point his congregants to the ultimate source of holiness, Jesus Christ. As each Christian grows deeper in authentic relationship with Jesus we will become more and more like Him. We will be led and guided by the Spirit in how we ought to live. Hebrews 12:10 teaches that, even though our holiness is filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) we have been made “partakers of his holiness” and according to Phillippians 3:9 each of us must be “found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:” Holiness, by faith in Christ alone, is the only holiness with which we will ever receive eternal life.

-Natalie Mayo

 

Find this interesting?  Check out all our articles here.

Sources:

  1. http://www.uplook.org/1994/11/headcovering-a-historical-perspective/
  2. The Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church, Evangelical Wesleyan Church, 2015, p. 41, 57–58.
  3. John Wesley, “On Dress.”
  4. Rupert Davies, A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 1965, p.197.
  5. Peter Cartwright, The Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher, 1857, p. 75-78, 515.
  6. https://wrldrels.org/2016/10/08/phoebe-palmer/
  7. John Alexander Rache, The Life of Sarah A. Lankford Palmer, 1898, 261.
  8. https://www.lcoggt.org/history/conservative_holiness_movement.htm
  9. Charles Fox Parham, A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness, 1902.
  10. Edith Blumhofer, Restoring the Faith: the Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture, p. 54.
  11. Tommy Welchel, Podcast Interview with Good News Church-Yukon, OK, September 5, 2017.
  12. David Edwin Harrel, Jr., Oral Roberts: An American Life, 1985, p. 19.
  13. Tommy Welchel, True Stories of the Miracles of Azusa Street, p. 30.
  14. “Exposition of Damnable Heresies, Holiness Message Standards/False Thunders Failed,” p. 53, 57, 59.

Danger! Beware of Compromising Holiness

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The articles published by Berean Holiness have been met with a plethora of responses, most are super positive: upbeat, encouraging, and kind. However, there are also many which include personal attacks, all capitals, excessive exclamation points, lots of talk about rebellion, accusations of doubt and confusion, and very rarely (if ever) engage the content of the articles. In fact, it’s quite common that these commentators have not even read the articles. The gist of their messages could be summed up as follows, “You’re COMPROMISING HOLINESS!! You’re DOUBTING HOLINESS, that’s turning people away from Christ and you’re NOT going to make it to heaven like that!!” These responses are driven by fear, a fear of compromising holiness and losing one’s salvation because of it. And, do you know what? That’s a legitimate fear.

Thankfully, the Bible does not leave us to live in insecurity. There is a sure way to know that we are pleasing to Christ and walking in His holiness. Unfortunately, the danger of compromising holiness still does exist.  Compromised holiness slips in by subtly replacing biblical holiness, just as carbon monoxide replaces oxygen.  It’s no less deadly.  We must stay so closely aligned with true holiness, that we will immediately be able to recognize the counterfeit.


Catching A Vision of Holiness

Defining God’s Holiness

Our translation for holiness comes from the Hebrew word qadowsh which means “to cut.” To be holy means to be cut off, or separate, from everything else. It means to be in a class of your own, distinct from anything that has ever existed or will ever exist. Qadowsh means a second thing: to be holy means to be entirely morally pure, all the time and in every way possible.

When you put these two elements of holiness together, you’re left with only one conclusion: that the Lord of hosts is the sum and definition of what it means to be holy. He occupies a moral space that no one has ever occupied before, and as such, we have no experience or frame of reference to understand what he is like because there’s nothing like him.[1]

Holiness is not merely an attribute of God, it is His very essence-His otherness. Holiness is everything that makes God different from ourselves and our fallen world.

Everything God thinks, desires, speaks and does is utterly holy in every way.

God is holy in every attribute and every action: He is holy in justice. He is holy in love. He is holy in mercy. He is holy in power. He is holy in sovereignty. He is holy in wisdom. He is holy in patience. He is holy in anger. He is holy in grace. He is holy in faithfulness. He is holy in compassion. [1]

Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? -Exodus 15:11

The holiness of God is so radically different from everything we know that it can be hard to comprehend or even imagine. God’s holiness is utter, dazzling, moral perfection. It carries divine transcendence of beauty and glory far beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Spotless, pure, blameless, righteous, magnificent, awesome, wonderful…holy, totally holy, that’s who God is.

 

Encountering God’s Holiness

The holiness of God is not a concept to take lightly. In 2 Samuel 6:3-7, you will find the account of Uzzah, a man who was struck dead because he touched the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s holiness, to keep it from falling. The Ark was normally kept within the tabernacle’s Holy of Holies; only the high priest could enter these quarters, and he could only do so once a year. Even then, a rope was tied around his ankles just in case he was struck dead (this would allow the body to be removed without someone else going in). Thankfully, there are some Old Testament saints which God allowed to encounter His holiness and live to tell about it. Let’s hear Isaiah’s story:

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. -Isaiah 6:1-8

 

Realizing Human Wretchedness

Isaiah’s response to God’s holiness was a frightening realization of his own unholiness, his sinfulness and unworthiness. As he later explains it:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. -Isaiah 64:6

This innate wretchedness of man is also taught in the New Testament:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? -Romans 7:18-24

Notice that Paul says “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” Unbelievers do not delight in the Word of God. Paul is not telling about what it was like before his salvation, he is describing himself in the present time, while he was an apostle and author of the New Testament.

I remember testifying in church when I was around 15. I was excited and overwhelmed as I tried to put into words just how incredible it is that the God of the universe would want me. I made the mistake of describing myself as, “just a wretched sinner.” Oh, boy! The congregation visibly cringed, as lips pursed to silence. Afterwards, I was taken aside by an older Christian and sharply rebuked, “Why on earth would you say something like that?! Did you see Sis. So-And-So’s face?!” I was frustrated and confused. I had to smile, though, when a visiting minister from Kentucky thanked me for the testimony, saying, “Wretched! That’s exactly what I am!”

Denying our wretchedness and sinfully-inclined nature is very dangerous for 2 reasons:

  1. It indicates that we haven’t encountered God’s holiness
  2. It creates an unhealthy dependence on ourselves, turning into self-righteousness

The book of 1 John includes specific warnings:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. -1 John 1:8

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -John 1:10

God is holy. Humans are wretched. End of discussion.

Even after salvation, Natalie Mayo, in and of her human self, is not holy.  I am wretched, I am wicked, and I have a sinful nature which must be crucified every day. There is absolutely nothing I can do to create my own holiness. How then, can I obey the command to “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16)? Where can my holiness come from? How will I know when I have it?

 

Finding the Source of Holiness

Not of Works

First off, where does holiness not come from? Not works. This should be easy to agree on.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

If works are not sufficient to make us holy for salvation, then works are not sufficient to make us holy after salvation (for sanctification). And, yes, following rules, also known as obeying the law, would be considered as “works.” The only way we could receive holiness through following rules would be to perfectly kept all of the rules. However, we have all broken God’s laws, and as a result, anyone who seeks to be holy through laws is putting themselves under the curse of the law.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. -James 2:10

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: -Galatians 3:10-12

In summary: humans are commanded by God to be holy, but we cannot attain holiness through works or through following rules. In other words, we’re sunk.

 

In Christ Alone

Thanks be to God! He has made a way for us to live in holiness:

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. -Hebrews 12:10

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. -Romans 3:20-28

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. -2 Corinthians 5:21

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. -Galatians 2:21

If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. -Galatians 3:21-22

For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. -Galatians 5:5

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: -Philippians 3:9

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: -2 Peter 1:1

Scripture could not be more clear; righteousness, moral perfection, holiness-they absolutely, positively cannot come through our own works or through obeying rules. They only come through faith in Christ alone. We have no holiness; we are partakers of His holiness through faith. He became sin for us, that we could share in His righteousness.

Look at the life of Abraham. After choosing to serve God, he straight-up lied about his wife, not once but twice, and was willing to stand back and let pagan authorities help themselves to her (Genesis 12:18, Genesis 20:2). Then, when Sarah suggested he have relations with her servant, he didn’t protest one bit, he went and slept with her. If you’d like to say these things weren’t sin for Abraham because he predated the law, think again, Jesus taught the doctrine of marriage out of the first chapters in Genesis (Matthew 19:4-9). The point is simple, Abraham is biblically known as a righteous, holy forefather, but there is no way his holiness came from his works. So, how can we call Abraham holy?

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. -Galatians 3:6

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. -James 2:23

Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted for righteousness; faith not following rules.

The sole source of holiness is faith in Christ. At salvation, sins are forgiven, the Holy Spirit indwells us (Ephesians 1:13-14), and from that point onward we are called to pursue holiness as we walk in the Spirit and study the Word. It is crucial to remember that, just as holiness cannot be attained by works before salvation, holiness will not be grown in by works after salvation. The idea that holiness can be attained through things, doing things or not doing things, is the definition of legalism. Legalism is a dangerous theology that our human natures are heavily bent towards. Earning favor with God makes sense to us; we’re arrogant enough to think we’re capable of such, and almost all of the world religions are built upon this concept-except Christianity.  Christianity is radically different because it teaches that holiness and favor with God will never be earned through works and rules. Does this mean that we are free to sin? In the words of Paul, “God forbid!”

If holiness cannot come through works or rules, then what is the purpose of such? Where do they fit in the picture?

 

The Danger of Compromising Holiness

The Relationship of Holiness and Rules

God is holy, and He is the only being in the universe who IS holiness. In fact, when I was originally asked to leave a holiness outreach I served with, the reactions of my non-denominational and Baptist friends were worthy of recording. I told them exactly what I had been told by my church authorities, “We’re holiness from the tops of our heads to the soles of our feet…We can’t have you working here because you’re not 100% holiness.” “Not 100% holiness?!” My other Christian friends sputtered, as their mouths dropped open, “What on the earth?! Only God is 100% holiness! You can’t be expected to be a walking, talking attribute of God!” I had to laugh at their misunderstanding. I tried to explain that the authorities really only meant I was required to believe their standards were biblically mandated. However, the dynamic reactions did make me start thinking. In all my Holiness Movement lingo, was I guilty of undermining the biblical definition of holiness?

I should take a time-out here, and clarify that I don’t believe any of my Christian friends in the Holiness Movement would disagree with the above portion of this article. However, there is a very common abuse of the Holiness Movement’s doctrine, which I have seen over and over and over again. It is this wide-spread abuse of their doctrine (not the proper use of it) which I would like to tackle in the remainder of this article. To all my friends in the Movement, if I’m wrong and what I address next is actually the proper use of your doctrine, please correct me!

Moving on. If Christians can’t be be the essence of holiness, what can we be? We can be in a deepening, daily relationship with the source of holiness, our holy God. As we grow in this relationship, He will continue to draw us to Himself and conform us into His image. One of my favorite definitions of holiness, as it pertains to humans, was given in a sermon by Jeff Pollard:

Holiness is a progressive and on-going work of God’s Spirit in which He continually renews and transforms us into Christ-likeness…Holiness in this sense is empowered by the Holy Ghost, informed by the Word of God, and manifested by faith, repentance and loving obedience.”

Because of how much God loves us and how much He desires what’s best for us, He has given us His Word and commanded us to obey it. God is the ultimate authority. So, if we believe on Him it only follows logically that we will make a significant effort to obey Him. Studying and living out the scripture will be an outflow of an authentic relationship with God. Don’t be confused, it is still not obedience that holiness comes from, our relationship with Christ is where holiness comes from, and loving obedience is just the evidence of that relationship. One cannot say they love Christ and then continually choose to break His rules. This would be as ridiculous as a wife who says she loves her husband, but then continually has adulterous affairs.

 

Biblical Rules Vs. Personal Applications

There are two primary categories of obedience to God: 

  1. There is obedience to the clear rules of scripture.
  2. There is obedience to the Spirit of God as He convicts us on how to apply the principles of scripture.

There are many sin-lists in the New Testament which are very clear rules that apply to every single believer. For example:

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: -Colossians 3:4-10

Equally important, there are lists of rules for what believers must do. Here is one from the same passage as the above sin-list:

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. -Colossians 3:12-16

Every believer with a genuine relationship with Christ will make a continual effort to follow the above rules and many more like them (to see more, check out New Testament Evidences of Personal Holiness).

In contrast, the applications of biblical principles may very well differ from Christian to Christian. For example, I know of many Christian women who believe they should apply the biblical principle of modesty/simplicity by only wearing plain, home-spun dresses. I commend the heart behind this practice. However, I have no such conviction, and believe I am sufficiently applying biblical principle of modesty/simplicity by wearing store-bought clothes that keep me covered and aren’t flashy or overly expensive. We are both applying the same principle, and obeying our application as an outflow of relationship with Christ. Does my liberty to wear store-bought clothing make them any less holy for wearing home-spun clothing? Absolutely not. Does their conviction to wear home-spun dresses make me any less holy for wearing store-bought clothing? Absolutely not. We are both holy through faith in Christ and Christ alone, we merely have come to different conclusions about how to apply a biblical principle. Since scripture does not mandate or forbid either application, both options are totally legitimate and within the bounds of Christian liberty.

 

Stricter Doesn’t Mean Holier

It is very important to realize that the stricter/harder application is not necessarily the “holier” application. If stricter is holier, then gloves are more holy than only long-sleeves, veils are more holy than only uncut hair, burkas are more holy than only high necklines, covering feet is more holy than only covering legs, closed-toed shoes are more holy than sandals, going to church daily is more holy than three times a week, tithing 70% is more holy than 10%, and the list could go on and on and on.

In the above example, my Holiness friends would agree that wearing home-spun dresses would not make me any holier or any more pleasing to Christ. They realize that I have absolutely no conviction or logic or prodding of the Spirit which makes me believe I should apply modesty in such a manner. So, for Natalie Mayo, wearing a home-spun dress would not be an outflow of my relationship to Christ. It wouldn’t bring me an iota closer to Him, or help me to obey Him the slightest bit more, it would just be an unnecessary burden, a meaningless work, and make me feel pointlessly odd.

Unfortunately, it can be much harder for someone from a church with strict externals to apply this concept to other areas. Take the issue of women’s pants (Can a Godly Woman Wear Pants?). In scripture, there is a very undefined concept of modesty, as well the general teaching that we should embrace our biological gender. Many Holiness Christians would believe that the best way to apply these principles is by women wearing skirts. That’s a legitimate application, and I commend them for following through with their personal discernment. However, there is a vast majority of Christians who have no such belief. In biblical times, men and women wore the same type of garment (robes) and many Christians find no reason to believe men and women ought to wear different types of garments today.

There is still much backlash from Holiness Christians, saying, “No! If you really loved Jesus, you would choose the holier option!” My question is, “How is it holier?” The fact that things cannot make us holy seems to be lost when it comes to any controversial standards. Holiness only comes from a relationship with Christ, and obedience to Him is an outflow of relationship with Him. If any standard is not directly in the Word of God, and a person has absolutely no conviction/belief that the best way to apply a biblical principle would be with that standard, then how on earth could following that standard make them holier? It can’t. Unless wearing skirts is an outflow of a relationship with Christ, then to do such a work is merely to pleasing men. That’s not holiness, that’s peer pressure.

From beards to wedding rings, from makeup to cap-sleeves, any item preached against without a scriptural rule will be adamantly condemned as “less holy,” thus, it is assumed that giving it up is more pleasing to Christ. How? If giving such up was best for every believer, why didn’t God add these things to the sin lists? Makeup, beards, rings-these were all very popular in the New Testament era. Any of the New Testament authors could have easily taught against these things. But, they didn’t. So, why do we? Even if they aren’t the best options, the only way that giving them up is more holy is if a person does so out of genuine conviction. If they give them up because everyone else in their church does, that’s not holiness. That’s social conformity. (Does Jesus Obscure His Commandments)

Works cannot make anyone holy, rules cannot make anyone holy, things cannot make anyone holy. Holiness comes from Christ. If there is a person who is not led by Christ to give up beards, makeup, rings or cap-sleeves, then, for that person, giving them up is a meaningless work.

 

The Danger of Enforcing Personal Applications

If there is one thing I have witnessed over and over in regard to holiness standards, it’s been good-intentioned Christians handing a list of extra-biblical rules to someone who (they believe) needs some more holiness. The thought behind this practice is, “Here, just follow all my opinions about how to apply biblical principles and you’ll have holiness.” Can you spot the danger? This idea precariously teeters over the chasm of being made holy through works. It’s especially harmful to young people and new converts who are not spiritually mature. Too often, their relationship with Christ, the real source of holiness, is short-circuited and traded off for a list of rules. Instead of learning to grapple with scripture for themselves, instead of learning to study deeply, pray fervently, develop their own convictions, and be led by the Spirit, they are very conveniently supplied with “the end goal.” Spiritual maturity is skewed into being defined by things, things you do, things you don’t do, and this nicely formed list of things is received as a fantastic short-cut to spiritual growth. This results in young Christians living in a shell of other people’s opinions, deceiving themselves and others with facade of spiritual maturity. Meanwhile, their walk with Christ suffers greatly and their muscles of discernment lie shriveled in atrophy. Time and again, I’ve seen these Christians fall into terrible sin, go off the deep end, only for their authorities to say, “And that’s what happens when you leave holiness.” No! My insides would scream, “That’s what happens when you hand someone a list of your opinions instead of ever discipling them!” (Replacing Rules with Discipleship.)

It turns out that I am not the only person this practice has frustrated. Let’s take a look at Paul’s reaction when he found out Peter had began practicing unnecessary rules in the Old Testament, and even worse, handing out these rules to others:

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. -Galatians 2:11-16

Were the rules addressed in Galatians different from the rules typically handed out today? Yes. However, the concept is the same. There were “spiritually mature” elders who were cherry-picking and dictating which parts of the Old Testament the new converts should follow in order to be holy and pleasing to Christ. (Note, these were at least Old Testament rules, not extra-biblical ones.) Peter was afraid, so he switched behaviors and started practicing rules that were not an outflow of his relationship with Christ, but rather an attempt to please religious men. Worst of all, he compelled other believers to also follow Old Testament rules and please these men. Paul was outraged, and rightfully so. What Peter was doing was not pursuing holiness, it was distorting holiness and undermining faith in Christ. Furthermore, please note that the bad doctrine was not salvation by works, but rather sanctification/maturity by works. Check out a following section:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? -Galatians 3:1-3

Talk about a scathing rebuke. Paul thought this idea of obtaining Christian perfection through following religious leader’s rules was ludicrous, and he had no qualms about saying so. It makes you wonder what he would think of the way certain standards are taught today. There’s more, though, look at the way he described this teaching, as well as the concept of pleasing men, in the first chapter:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. -Galatians 1:6-10

Paul didn’t just think following rules to please men was a bad idea, he slammed it as contrary to serving Christ. Oh, yeah, and the whole idea that we can be made perfect through rules? He called it a perversion of the gospel and put it under a curse. That’s as serious as the epistles get.

 

The Danger of Expecting Others to Develop Your Convictions

Many Christians who emphasize a strict outward standard would agree with the statements so far, and yet, they’d add a serious caveat, “It’s true that we must let young Christians discern how to apply scripture for themselves, and not just given them our own rules. But, as they grow in Christ, they’ll come to be convicted of the same things we have been. We’ll know they’re mature when they look like us.” Knowing they’re mature because they are following biblical rules is one thing, claiming that they’re mature because they’ve come to have the same extra-biblical opinions as ourselves is circular reasoning. It goes like this, “Spiritual maturity includes having the same opinions on holiness standards that I do, I know this because every Christian that becomes spiritually mature comes to these standards; I know they’re spiritually mature when they have them because spiritual maturity includes having the same opinions on holiness standards that I do.” Dizzy yet?

In contrast to this idea, Romans 14 blatantly teaches that spiritually mature Christians will come to different conclusions on how to apply biblical principles. Check it out:

Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks…But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. -Romans 14:3-6, 10

This passage is chock full of contradicting applications of biblical principles. And, do you see how Paul responds? He doesn’t set everyone straight on which person’s convictions are the holiest. He says for each person to be fully persuaded of his own belief, and to respect his brother’s contradicting belief. That’s a day and night different from expecting your brother to “grow up” and look like you.


The Danger of Backwards Emphasis

It wouldn’t be fair to close this article without pointing out something extremely important. The Holiness standards, which immediately come to mind as a measuring stick of maturity, actually have a completely backwards emphasis from the scriptural standards. Holiness standards have everything to do with externals, and it would be easy to claim that 80% of them have to do with personal appearance. Have you ever compared this to what the biblical authors emphasized in regards to holiness? Easily less than 5% had to do with appearance. And, no, this was not because the first century had such holy cultures that there was no need to dress more modestly than the average Joe. These were cultures that embraced public, mixed bathing, as well as many other forms of nudity, not to mention rampant sexual immorality. Have you ever seen statues from this time period? Enough said. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, the biblical authors still spent very little time on outward appearance. Instead, they placed heavy emphasis on love, peace, unity, truthfulness, thankfulness, faithfulness and many more internal virtues. When they spoke of things to abstain from, they spoke against pride, promiscuity, greediness, idolatry, covetousness, gossiping, lying and other such sins. (For a detailed study, check out New Testament Evidences of Personal Holiness.) What would happen if we only preached against beards as much as Paul did? What would happen if we only preached against makeup as much as Peter? What would happen if we only preached against jewelry as much as James and John?  Would we still be able to keep our churches up to par with Holiness standards?  I think not.

 

A Deadlier Compromise

Holy, holy, holy… Holy in love, holy in power, holy in justice, holy in mercy. His majestic, dazzling purity fills the universe. His glorious righteousness transcends anything humans can imagine. Utter perfection, divine splendor, breath-taking beauty. Totally separated from everything fallen and sinful, completely in a class of His own. This is the Almighty God, Creator of the universe, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. He IS holiness.

Catching a glimpse of holiness sends humans to their knees, if they don’t die first. It fills us with a realization of our own wretchedness, sinfulness and unworthiness. There is absolutely nothing we could do to earn God’s favor. Works, rules, things-these will never gain us favor with holiness of this magnitude. The only restoration would be for Him to bear the punishment for our sin, that we might be clothed in His righteousness. Thanks be to God, that’s exactly what He did. Christ was crucified, that through faith in Him, we can be made partakers of His holiness. We are utterly dependent on a relationship with Christ for our holiness, yet, obedience to His clear rules and gentle prodding will be an outflow. By His Spirit and by His Word, God will conform us into Christ-likeness: loving, kind, merciful, gracious, forgiving, selfless, righteous, joyful, generous, truthful, gentle, peaceful… the list goes on and on. A wretched sinner transformed into a holy saint; it’s an incredible sight, nothing short of a miracle.

Tragically, this miracle is often short-circuited and traded in for a list of rules. “Yes, you were saved by faith, but you’ll need to do these things to become holy. No, these rules aren’t exactly in the Bible, but this is my opinion on how you should apply principles-and you’ll follow my opinion if you’re 100% holiness.” What would Paul say? “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you…Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” Holiness will never come from works, works are only holy if they come as an outflow of a relationship with Christ. If works come as an endeavor to please men, they are nothing but a meaningless burden.

Can you imagine how much it must frustrate Christ to see lists of extra-biblical rules being taught as the means of His holiness? Can you imagine how much it must grieve His heart to see converts base their spiritual maturity off of what they look like, completely short-cutting around a deep, and transforming walk with Him? Can you imagine His disappointment when His body splits and divides itself when one member doesn’t develop identical convictions to another?

This, my friend, is not holiness. This is compromise, deadly compromise.

 

Conclusion

I ought to clarify one more time that this article was not written against the proper use of the Holiness Movement’s teachings. This was intended to address the abuse of their teachings, but we must admit, it’s a very common abuse.

To answer the question in the introduction, there is a way to know we have personal holiness, and it’s very simple: faith in Christ alone. As we grow in deeper in our relationship with Him, His Spirit and His Word will guide us into truth and convict us of sin. But at the end of the day? We still aren’t banking on our righteousness when death comes knocking. Heaven will only be obtained by His holiness, and we are partakers of His holiness only by faith, never works.

To all my friends who have a genuine conviction towards a strict outward application, I want you to know that you have my utmost respect. Whether it’s a conviction to wear home-spun dresses, to wear veils, to wear skirts, to stay clean-shaven, to not wear wedding rings, to not pluck your eyebrows, to not curl your hair, to not watch movies, to not have internet-whatever it may be, go for it and never back down. If your conviction flows out of obedience to Christ’s work in your life, then for you, it would be compromise to give it up. So don’t, and God will greatly bless your faithfulness. That said, please be careful that you do not expect your personal application of scripture be practiced by others. Don’t force it on someone as a rule, for such rules are only hindrances if they are followed to please you and not Christ. Lastly, don’t look down upon or disfellowship a brother with different convictions from yourself. If he is living in blatant sin or contradicting a clear biblical rule, that’s one thing, but please, stay aware of the distinction between plain biblical rules and your personal application of principles.

In summary, any doctrine which includes rules as a means to holiness, most especially rules which are not taught in scripture, is a not a holiness doctrine at all. Paul would call it a perversion of the gospel. I would call it a deadly compromise. True holiness is a glorious picture of thriving, vibrant, glorious relationships with Christ. He walks with us and talks with us; He loves us and forgives us; He calls us higher and deeper. He opens His Word and He opens His heart. Daily, step by step, we’re transformed into His glorious image. Bit by bit, we become some of the most loving, most compassionate, most forgiving, most joyful, most kind, most caring, most truthful, most pure, most holy human beings this world has ever seen. Christ pours Himself into us, and then we pour ourselves out for the least and the lost, turning our world upside down. It’s a glorious vision, it’s a glimpse of true holiness. It’s a virtue and an attribute of God that we must crave with everything in us. That craving must never be subdued with anything less: not works, not rules, not standards, not pleasing men. True holiness, His holiness, holiness through faith in Christ alone; this must be the only thing which satisfies us.  Nothing more, nothing less. No compromise.

-Natalie Mayo

 

For Lance Mackenzie’s full rebuttal to this article and Natalie’s response check out:

Rebuttal and Response to “Danger! Beware of Compromising Holiness.”

Like what you see? Check out all our articles here.

References:

  1. https://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/the-doctrine-of-holiness-article

Just How Christ-like is “Christian” Shunning?

Invisible Girl

Just last week, I received two phone calls in the same day. Both calls were from Holiness leaders who have personally poured into me, and who I look up and admire as godly role-models. Both calls lasted between 1-2 hours, and both calls were about our doctrinal disagreements (and the disagreements were identical); however, the affects these calls had on me were polar opposites.

On the first call, I was informed that I was forbidden to contact or talk to the children in the family, I was no longer welcome in their home, they would not see me if I traveled to their area, I would no longer hear from them, and when I asked if I would be allowed to visit their church the answer was, “It’s a public place, so I guess I can’t stop you.” The reason given was, “I am Holiness. My family has chosen the Lord, and you have chosen another direction, so we are not in fellowship.” Another direction? Anyone who realizes how deeply my life’s purpose and identity is rooted into my faith in Christ may have an idea how deeply this stung. When I asked if the person would like to write out why they so sharply disagreed with me, and even offered to publish it, the answer was, “I am not the slightest bit interested.” Following this call, I felt unwanted, I felt worthless, I felt shamed.

On the second call, I was asked to explain my views on the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This leader spent nearly two hours walking me through Acts and 1 Corinthians, answering a plethora of my questions in detail, hearing me out, thinking through my points, presenting their views tactfully, bringing attention to where we agreed, and boiling down passages where we disagreed until we could pinpoint our difference. This leader told me they appreciated our conversation because it helped them hammer out their own beliefs, and because “sword sharpens sword.” I was asked to do them “a favor” and let them know if I came across any more significant data or a better case in my study. Following this call, I felt cared for, I felt valuable, I felt respected.

 

Psychological Consequences of Shunning

According to Maslow’s Hierachy of basic human needs, love and belonging are the among the most necessary. In fact, babies that do not receive sufficient affection will actually die-even if every physical need is being met. Denying a person love and belonging could either be on purpose or by neglect, doing such on purpose is the practice of “shunning”. Shunning can take different forms, but it is most commonly a refusal to speak or have any interaction with a given person. Psychology Today describes it as, “an act of control and aggression, with powerful consequences” [1]. Let’s look into their research on these consequences:

Williams has studied ostracism for decades, and has created a game of cyber-ball, in which research participants sit at a computer and toss a ball back and forth with unknown players. When the ball is no longer tossed to them, and they can no longer interact with the unknown players, the results have been remarkably consistent—within minutes of being excluded from the game, feelings of control, belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence are reduced. This sense of loss holds true across all personality types…

So just how bad is shunning and ostracism? Williams has found that people who are ostracized suffer deeply, including the obvious loss of self-esteem and depression, but also including physiological symptoms such as ulcers, suppression of the immune system, anxiety, psychosis (in prolonged isolation, such as prisoners kept in solitary confinement), and a loss of feeling valued or having any meaningful existence. [1]

Here is a second source, Dr Savin Bapir-Tardy, a counseling psychologist:

Essentially shunning is a form of social shame and humiliation.

More specifically, shunning or ostracising is a form of abuse. It is discrimination and silent bullying…

The psychological consequences of being shunned can best be explained as a social death penalty. The immediate effects are isolation from family and the community. There is an attempt to make sense of why this is happening to them. How could the family have rejected them? The person then starts to attack their sense of self, which is also why shunning is often perceived as the death of personhood. This leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness, depression, low self-esteem, suicidal ideations and self-harming behaviours…

Working therapeutically with people who have been shunned is very challenging. All of the negative beliefs that they hold about themselves are often, in the eyes of the victim, reinforced by the act of being shunned. Also, individuals who have been shunned live with psychological agony, often for the rest of their life. In the long term, shunning becomes a long-term psychological torture. [2]

These are severe consequences from a scientific perspective. Unfortunately, I can only add to them personally, as I have heard multiple accounts of migraines, depression, anxiety, and even complete mental break-down, as consequence of shunning, and not just any shunning, but “Christian” shunning. My question, then, is just how Christ-like is this practice?

 

Understanding the Biblical Concept of Disfellowship

Many Christians who practice shunning would claim to do so in accordance with the biblical teaching of disfellowship. This teaching can be found in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5′ 11, 2 Thessalonians 3:6’14-15, Romans 16:17, Matthew 18:15-17, and 2 John 1:7-11.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 is specifically dealing with an incident within the Corinthian Church where a member was sleeping with his step-mother. Paul is adamant that this must not be tolerated and says,

I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. -1 Corinthians 5:9-11

This passage teaches that any Christian who continues living in gross immorality without repentance, must be disfellowshipped as brother. He should not be allowed to participate in the close-knit fellowship of the believers, because he is no longer living as a believer. Keep in mind that this was in the days when Christians fellowshipped by breaking bread together from house to house, as described in Acts 2:46. Paul continues his instruction to the Corinthians in his second letter:

Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.-Corinthians 5:10-11

Paul understood that being excluded from the believer’s activities was a great punishment indeed, and he was clear that it should be kept as short as possible. His teaching should be understood in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. -Matthew 18:15-17

Again, this is dealing with any Christian who is sinning and unrepentant. Only after the 3 step process of dealing with the sin has been completed should the brother be disfellowshipped.  After this, he is to be treated as “an heathen man and a publican.” Stop and think here, how did Jesus treat heathens and publicans?

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick -Matthew 9:10-12

Jesus was known as a friend to sinners, and it was the self-righteous pharisees who hated him for it. Treating someone who was once a brother as a sinner does in no way entail refusal to interact with him.

Besides living in gross immorality, there is one more biblical reason for disfellowship, heretical perversion of the Gospel, and this is what 2 John addresses:

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: -2 John 1:7-10

2 Thessalonians 3 seems to teach disfellowship for both reasons, heresy, as well as unrepentant sin:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us…And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. -2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15

In summary, the scriptural teaching of disfellowship bears a night and day difference from the modern practice of shunning. First off, disfellowship as a brother/sister in Christ does not require refusing to speak to or acknowledge someone, which is the essence of shunning. Disfellowship is an act of love. Heaven will not be attained by any person who refuses to repent of their sin or who perverts the gospel of Christ, and thus it is imperative to get their attention. The best way to help them is to first follow Christ’s instruction of taking the offense to them directly and privately, but if this is not heeded, then they must be excluded from fellowship as a brother in Christ. Instead, they are to be treated in the same loving manner as sinners are treated, they are to be never counted as an enemy, and they are to be forgiven, comforted and shown an abundant affirmation of love if ever they do repent of their errors.

It is critical to realize that the doctrinal errors which are to be disfellowshipped over are only the extreme ones, the ones which are heretical and detrimental to salvation. The textual example is denying that Jesus has come to earth. This type of error is a far cry from a disagreement over whether or not Christian men have the liberty to grow beards. Church splits over issues such as these are a smack in the face to Christ’s prayer for unity:

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. -John 17:20-21

Unity of the Body of Christ is so dear to the heart of God that those who would threaten it by perverting the gospel are endanger of being disfellowshipped themselves:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. -Romans 16:17

 

Motivations Behind Shunning

Somewhere in America there was a once a young man who went back to visit his childhood home church after 5 years of living out of state. He was still going strong for Christ, and had even been preaching for a couple of years. In his own words, “I was literally stunned by their reaction. I walked in so happy to see everyone. No one would even talk to me. I remember being so confused. At the altar service people were gathered around me praying for me to be saved.” He then describes how that even someone who had been one of his closest friends wouldn’t have anything to do with him. And what gross immorality or perversion of doctrine had granted him this treatment? Back to his own words, “The only major thing that looked different was that I had a beard.” The worst part, he says, was that when he talked to his parents about this their response was, “What did you expect?” Shunning-over a beard-was to be expected.

What are the motivations behind such treatment? According to Psychology Today, the top reasons for shunning include: embarrassment, shame, jealousy, annoyance, racial or cultural bias, poor timing and shyneses [3]. Dr Savin Bapir-Tardy looks at more reasons, specifically within a religious context:

The phenomenon of shunning and ostracising has often been linked to cults. It is a tactic that is used as a form of punishment for those who are perceived to have transgressed, questioned any of the community’s beliefs or who do not share the same collectively held beliefs…

Shunning is often implemented by community leaders. They encourage families to also shun their family members, including their children. Failure to do so implies a loss of honour within the community and families who refuse are likely to be banished as a whole because they have lost their honour within the community and the community as a whole feel that they had been dishonoured…

It is well-documented in research from social psychology that people obey orders that are given from someone in authority. If those in authority are encouraging shunning, people will obey this, regardless of the psychological distress and the damage that it may have on the family.

Adding to this, shunning is a powerful tool for social influence, so leaders use it to ensure that people will obey them, in order to maintain their membership within the community. Let’s not forget, humans are social beings and the prospect of facing social humiliation, shame and rejection are not a prospect that we aim for in fact, we would do anything to avoid it. [2]

Religious shunning is most often a used as a tool for manipulation and control. It is unloving, unkind and uncaring. It is self-centered, and willing to sacrifice a neighbor’s well-being for one’s own reputation and/or power. Religious shunning is the same treatment that the Jews would give to the unclean and the Samaritans. Jesus took a hard stand against this. Remember how he “must needs go through Samaria” in John 4:4? Remember how He sat and talked to the Samaritan woman who had been the wife of five husbands? Remember how he would reach out and touch the lepers (Luke 5:13)? Remember how the hero in his parable of the good Samaritan was exactly that, a Samaritan? [4]

It is human nature to only love those who are like us, especially those who look like us, but the gospel came to turn this racism upside down. Jesus came teaching the greatest commandment to be loving God, and the second greatest loving your neighbor. And who is your neighbor? The Samaritan. The person who your entire culture and society and religious community told you to shun, that’s your neighbor. Go love them. There was one person who, while they were telling me they would no longer have anything to do with me, asked, “Do you know you’re loved?” My answer was a emphatic, “No!” Love languages include giving gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service [5]. You cannot show love in any of these ways while shunning a person. Love and shunning do not mix. Christ taught, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Does Christ get any glory at all when the world sees Christians refusing to speak to one another over doctrinal disagreements? Absolutely not. They see adults acting like children.

In contrast to the immaturity of shunning, spiritual maturity can never be attained without perfecting godly, Christ-like love.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2-3

And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. -Colossians 3:14

Furthermore, a definition of holiness is to progressively become more Christ-like. Considering that God is love, it is impossible to have holiness without continually growing in love.

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, -1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

 

Consequences of Shunning on the Body of Christ

Shunning is a divisive practice and a harmful practice. It is an affront to both Christian unity and Christian love. In the heart of the one shunning, it often represents pride, spite and insecurity, while in the heart of the one being shunned it often breeds hopelessness, worthlessness, rejection, and despair. Beyond these effects, there is one more group which shunning negatively impacts, this group is the bystanders who live in fear of being shunned.

From a biblical standpoint, every human has been created with the need of being truly loved and truly known. These needs must be met simultaneously if they are to be met at all. A person cannot be truly loved without being truly known; and being truly known without being truly loved is not fulfilling. Now imagine this scenario. Imagine you are a young adult who has grown up in a church with very strict standards. As you have studied the Word for yourself, there are several prohibitions which you cannot find in scripture, perhaps these include: beards, manicured nails, short-sleeves, hair-trimming, jewelry, or culottes. You see some of your peers begin to practice a few of these things and hear them called, “rebels,” “backsliders” and “disrespectful.” The ones who will practice these things outside of church, but not at church (in an attempt to be respectful to other’s personal convictions) are called, “struggling,” “deceitful” and “hypocrites.” This labeling is especially dangerous, because it skews your friends’ view of themselves, heaping on undeserved guilt and shame.

Next, you watch your Christian peers lose their reputations, their ministries and their friendships, as they become increasingly shunned. Even you are warned against associating with them. It’s a frightening experience, so you start going above and beyond in your standards, in order to avoid shunning and gain favor. Your plan works. Affirmation is heaped upon you by the leaders you most admire, your spiritual maturity is applauded, and it is you who are asked to fill the ministry positions from which your friends were dismissed. It’s every thing you wanted, yet you’re left feeling empty and duplicitous. The question is haunting, “How would these same leaders who love me so much now, treat me if they really knew me? What if they knew what I really believed?” You’d like to believe as they do, but you just don’t see it-and, forbid it that you ask any questions, that may blow your cover. You, my friend, are trapped inside a miserable facade.

How would I know? I know because I’ve been there. I went above and beyond for many years, believing that this was the most spiritual option. The applause I was looking for was gained, but in one of my steepest life crisis, the shell came crashing down. I had just walked through one of the most stinging rejections a girl could imagine, and I was left craving real love and real approval. More than ever before, I needed my authorities to really know me, so they could really love me. Their love for the girl who I was bending over backwards to pretend to be was no longer sufficient. I took a bold step of honesty, and told them how I actually had come to believe for myself. Their response? I was given a week and a half to be cleaned out and gone, unfollowed on social media, and never asked where I would even sleep until I could find a new place to live. Others, firmly let me know I am no longer welcome to visit them, told me I will no longer hear from them, forbade me from contacting their children, and even ignored texts which state how much I appreciate them and ask if there’s any offense I can make right. I found out exactly how much I was truly loved.

Do you know what effect this has had on my observing peers? They are only that much more afraid to ever be honest about who they really are and what they really believe. Truly, how spiritual is that? Whether or not the strictest beliefs are correct, this tactic of shunning as a way of belief-preservation entirely misses the heart of discipleship and genuine growth. Refusing to allow a person the right to be ‘wrong’ is refusing them the right to be real; there is no acknowledgment of where they actually are in their walk with Christ, and as consequence, very little hope of helping them forward.

 

Conclusion

Shunning is everything that holiness is not. It denies two of the greatest human needs, love and belonging.  This can have severe psychological damage upon the person being shunned, resulting in physical symptoms. Towards the unbeliever, shunning drastically decreases their chances of coming to Christ.  Towards the believer, it splits and divides the Body of Christ. Shunning is most often motivated by pride, spite, anger, bias, insecurity, and a desire for control. Sadly, it is often confused with biblical disfellowship, which only happens on grounds of unrepentant, gross immorality or severe heresy, and never includes snubbing or refusing to speak to someone. Finally, shunning has severe consequences on the observers as it causes them to be afraid of ever speaking of their personal beliefs; they become trapped in a miserable facade, never to be truly known or truly loved.

It would be a disservice to end this article without a huge shout-out to the many Christians, even in the strictest of churches, who fully understand and practice a biblical response to those they differ with doctrinally. In the words of the gentleman from the earlier example, “I have to say, my wife and I know one Holiness family that we have known for years that treats us the same, They are like gold…they don’t treat people like us as outcasts…they treat other people who are Christians (but not Holiness) with dignity and respect.” Now, doesn’t that sound a bit more like Jesus? For all my former friends who are ashamed to associate with me, fearing for their reputation, there are still those who have demonstrated the love, grace, compassion, and freedom in Christ. They have opened up their homes and their hearts, they have fully recognized me as a sister in Christ, they have discussed our doctrinal differences with utmost kindness and respect, and they have been there for me whenever I needed a friend. They have granted me the right to be wrong, rather than trying to force me into agreement. They could care less what men think of them, because they care so much more about being the hands and feet of Christ. This is the Christian love which restores, heals, gives hope, and affirms value. This is the Christian unity which tears down barriers, biases, and useless division. This is the love and this is the unity by which they world will know that, truly, Christ has come and these men are his disciples.

-Natalie Mayo

Like what you read?  Check out all our articles here.

 

Resources:

1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-bullying/201309/the-silence-shunning-conversation-kipling-william

2. http://www.sedaa.org/2016/11/the-practice-of-shunning-and-its-consequences/

3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-time-cure/201302/shunning-the-ultimate-rejection

4. https://avoidjw.org/en/avoiding-witnesses/disfellowshipping-biblical-teaching/

5. https://www.5lovelanguages.com/5-love-languages/

The Holiness Standard in Church History: The Early Church

Tertullian

All of us girls who have grown up in Holiness know the in’s, out’s, do’s and don’t’s of the Holiness standard like the back of our hands.  However, one thing that most of us don’t know is where this standard came from in the first place.  Have you ever wondered about the origin of the Holiness style?  What did it look like in the Early Church, the Medieval Church, the Reformation, or in Early America?  Let’s dive into history and see for ourselves, starting with the Early Church in this article.

First things first, what are we looking for in church history?   To make it simple, let’s look primarily for 2 tell-tale characteristics of the holiness standard; no makeup, and no jewelry.

After reading through a good deal of Holiness and Oneness sources on the historicity of their standards, I have found 2 primary sources quoted again and again from the Early Church: Tertullian (c. 160-c. 240) and Clement of Alexandria (c. 155-c. 220) (these are the only historic sources used in the Holiness-Handbook).  I was able to find and read the original texts that quotations are taken from, and was impressed by the scope of their teachings on outward appearance, as well as their reasoning for them.  I will begin with the excerpted quotes that you will often see in Holiness literature, and then, provide a portion of the context for better understanding.  Let us start with Tertullian.

Examining Tertullian

The Holiness Standard in Church History: The Early Church

For they who rub their skin with medicaments, stain their cheeks with rouge, make their eyes prominent with antimony, sin against Him . To them, I suppose, the plastic skill of God is displeasing!..But, in the next place, what am I to interpret those jewels to be which vie with gold in haughtiness, except little pebbles and stones and paltry particles of the self-same earth; but yet not necessary either for laying down foundations, or rearing party-walls, or supporting pediments, or giving density to roofs? The only edifice which they know how to rear is this silly pride of women:

-Tertullian [1]

Now let us read more of the context in order to grasp the big-picture of what Tertullian is teaching. It will soon be apparent that even though he does have some overlap with Holiness Standards, the bulk of his teachings are very different, even contradictory.  Take special care to notice the amount of scripture he is using to ground his teachings and at the way in which he uses it.

Female habit carries with it a twofold idea — dress and ornament. By dress we mean what they call womanly gracing; by ornament, what it is suitable should be called womanly disgracing. The former is accounted (to consist) in gold, and silver, and gems, and garments; the latter in care of the hair, and of the skin, and of those parts of the body which attract the eye. Against the one we lay the charge of ambition, against the other of prostitution; 

Note the things which Tertullian puts in the category of prostitution, not clothing or jewelry, but “care of the hair, and of the skin”.  Hmm… Okay, moving on.

What service, again, does all the labour spent in arranging the hair render to salvation? Why is no rest allowed to your hair, which must now be bound, now loosed, now cultivated, now thinned out? Some are anxious to force their hair into curls, some to let it hang loose and flying;…God bids you be veiled. I believe (He does so) for fear the heads of some should be seen! And oh that in that day of Christian exultation, I, most miserable (as I am), may elevate my head, even though below (the level of) your heels! I shall (then) see whether you will rise…

Purple with them is more paltry than red ochre; (and justly,) for what legitimate honour can garments derive from adulteration with illegitimate colors? That which He Himself has not produced is not pleasing to God, unless He was unable to order sheep to be born with purple and sky-blue fleeces! If He was able, then plainly He was unwilling: what God willed not, of course ought not to be fashioned. Those things, then, are not the best by nature which are not from God, the Author of nature. Thus they are understood to be from the devil, from the corrupter of nature: for there is no other whose they can be, if they are not God’s; because what are not God’s must necessarily be His rival’s. But, beside the devil and his angels, other rival of God there is none.

Now, let’s look at some of Tertullian’s reasoning behind his teaching;

Are there not some who prohibit to themselves (the use of) the very creature of God, abstaining from wine and animal food, the enjoyments of which border upon no peril or solicitude; but they sacrifice to God the humility of their soul even in the chastened use of food? Sufficiently, therefore, have you, too, used your riches and your delicacies; sufficiently have you cut down the fruits of your dowries, before (receiving) the knowledge of saving disciplines.

“Saving disciplines”…is this what it sounds like?  From the context, it seems that Tertullian has the idea that the more self-denial, the more holy the person, even if the thing he denies himself (like the example of meat) is not actually wrong at all.

Let a holy woman, if naturally beautiful, give none so great occasion (for carnal appetite). Certainly, if even she be so, she ought not to set off (her beauty), but even to obscure it.

It was God who chose to create women as the crowning beauty of His creation; is it truly biblical then, for Tertullian to teach that women ought to obscure their natural beauty?  Taking his whole writing in to consideration, he seems to be referring to beauty of the hair, skin, and face of a women,  more than her body figure.  What is Tertullian’s biblical grounds for this idea?  It is his view of the woman; his following description is the most revealing content of all.  Read carefully;

If there dwelt upon earth a faith as great as is the reward of faith which is expected in the heavens, no one of you at all, best beloved sisters, from the time that she had first known the Lord, and learned (the truth) concerning her own (that is, woman’s) condition, would have desired too gladsome (not to say too ostentatious) a style of dress; so as not rather to go about in humble garb, and rather to affect meanness of appearance, walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve, — the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition. In pains and in anxieties do you bear (children), woman; and toward your husband (is) your inclination, and he lords it over you. And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert — that is, death — even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins? Come, now; if from the beginning of the world the Milesians sheared sheep, and the Serians spun trees, and the Tyrians dyed, and the Phrygians embroidered with the needle, and the Babylonians with the loom, and pearls gleamed, and onyx-stones flashed; if gold itself also had already issued, with the cupidity (which accompanies it), from the ground; if the mirror, too, already had licence to lie so largely, Eve, expelled from paradise, (Eve) already dead, would also have coveted these things, I imagine! No more, then, ought she now to crave, or be acquainted with (if she desires to live again), what, when she was living, she had neither had nor known. Accordingly these things are all the baggage of woman in her condemned and dead state, instituted as if to swell the pomp of her funeral.

Wow, think about those statements.  The reason that Tertullian taught women should dress without color in their garments, the reason women should abstain from makeup and jewelry, the reason women should not fix their hair or even reveal it, the reason women should obscure their natural beauty, is because Tertullian sees women as unworthy of beauty.  In his own words, “The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway…And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins? Come, now.”  Instead, he teaches that Christian women ought to walk about “mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve.”  Is this the biblical message?  Are women really supposed dress and look as blandly as possible in order to live in a constant state of shame and guilt over our sex?  Is this the gospel message?  Thanks be to Christ, it is not!  Whether or not his teachings are true, Tertullian’s justifications for them are not grounded in scripture.

Tertullian is correct in assuming that there can be too much emphasis on beauty, and that spending an excessive amount of money on appearances is wasteful, drawing an unhealthy amount of attention to ourselves and distracting from Christ.  It is also possible to dress too scantily or flamboyantly in a provocative way and draw an unhealthy attention from men.  However, with all things there are more than two sides of the spectrum, there is also a solid, middle ground, a healthy balance.  A balance which both affirms the beauty and value God created women to have, while simultaneously avoiding an impression of arrogance, self-glorification, or seduction.

What came of Tertullian’s teachings that women should abstain from appearing beautiful?  Did this reflect or become the Early Church’s mainstream teaching?  Or at the least, can links between Tertullian’s teaching and the Holiness lineage be traced?   To answer these questions, we’ll need to do a bit of background research.

Tertullian was known to be, “An extremist by nature, he had gone through a period of licentiousness during his early years, but later advocated a severe asceticism and discipline that his followers found hard to emulate.” [2].  “Asceticism” is defined in the Oxford dictionaries is “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.”   Tertullian’s extreme lifestyle and teachings of self-denial (which would include the ones on women’s appearance) caused tension between himself and the rest of Christianity, and he actually broke with the Church in 207 (and, no, this was not the Roman Catholic Church-this is still back in the 200’s).  He then joined himself to the very strict, ascetic sect of Montanism, which was later to be declared heretical for several reasons.  Interestingly enough, Montanists “believed that they were the only true Christians” [3].   Tertullian later broke from this sect to form his own sect, the “Tertullianists”.   However, the lineage of Tertullian’s followers cannot be traced in history any farther than the early 400’s when Augustine writes that the last of them converted to the Catholic Church [4].

The above facts seem to point to the conclusion that Tertullian’s writings cannot be used as evidence of the Early Church teaching a “Holiness Standard.”  In contrast, his writings show evidence of one man who had an extreme view on self-denial, and who ended up excommunicated from mainstream Christianity and mixed up with a heretical sect.  He certainly should not be claimed as a predecessor to the Holiness Movement, because not only did Christendom never accept his ideas on women’s appearance, but furthermore, his followers went extinct 1600 years ago. Why, then, would the Holiness-Handbook or the Apostolic site on Holiness history, Old Land Mark [10], cite Tertullian as proof that their Holiness Standard was practiced in the Early Church?  You tell me.

Examining Clement of Alexandria

The Holiness Standard in Church History: The Early Church

Clement of Alexandria was born in around 150 AD and lived until around 215 AD.  His greatest achievements were in his effective response to Gnosticism and his direct impact on the life of Origin.  A lesser known impact Clement had, but very significant in this context, was that of his impact on John Wesley when he was developing his doctrine on Christian perfection [5, 6].  Like Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria also had a strained relationship with the rest of Christendom and was similarly viewed teaching heresy in his time. His most serious offenses were, “That he posited the existence of many worlds before the creation of the present one (3) That he did not believe the incarnate Word to be the true Word of the Father (4) That he made the Son of God a creature [7].”  So, how does Clement of Alexandria show up in the Holiness Handbook?  Below is the exact quote that appears in the publication;

Those women who wear gold imitate the Egyptians. They occupy themselves with curling their locks. They are busy anointing their
cheeks, painting their eyes, dyeing their hair, and practicing the other pernicious arts of luxury. The truth is that they deck the covering
of their flesh in order to attract their infatuated lovers

-Clement of Alexandria (circa 195 AD), 2.272

An interesting excerpt for sure, and it can certainly be agreed that any type of self-preparation for promiscuous reasons is wrong due to its motivation.  To more fully understand Clement’s perspective, as well as to understand whether or not he was a predecessor to the modern, holiness movement, let’s take a deeper look into his writings.

Like the Old Testament authors, Clement seems to be taking his hardest blow against extravagance and self-absorption.  For, in the same context that he makes fun of makeup he also picks at many other things which are very hard to consider wrong, but could become part of a self-consumed mentality.  For example, here is his description of women cleaning themselves which is also included in the passage mentioning makeup, “She has come, she is here, she washes herself, she advances, She is soaped, she is combed, she goes out, is rubbed, She washes herself, looks in the glass, robes herself [8].”

What other standards of holiness did Clement teach? Here are a few more, all taken from the same writing as the excerpts against makeup and jewelry.

Bathing for pleasure is to be omitted. For unblushing pleasure must be cut out by the roots; and the bath is to be taken by women for cleanliness and health, by men for health alone. To bathe for the sake of heat is a superfluity, since one may restore what is frozen by the cold in other ways. Constant use of the bath, too, impairs strength and relaxes the physical energies, and often induces debility and fainting… Nor must we bathe always; but if one is a little exhausted, or, on the other hand, filled to repletion, the bath is to be forbidden, regard being had to the age of the body and the season of the year. For the bath is not beneficial to all, or always, as those who are skilled in these things own. But due proportion, which on all occasions we call as our helper in life, suffices for us. For we must not so use the bath as to require an assistant, nor are we to bathe constantly….

It seems that Clement followed the same thought-process as Tertullian did, as far as putting a hefty emphasis on self-denial.  Moving right along, let’s look at how Clement practically applied scripture on personal Holiness; it’s hard to follow his train of logic here:

But in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly! 

Pay close attention to the way in which Clement of Alexandria attempts to use scripture to validate his ideas…is he reading meaning out of the text or is he reading his own meaning into it?

But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word), if it is to attract men, is the act of an effeminate person,–if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” says the Lord; those on the chin, too, are numbered, and those on the whole body. There must be therefore no plucking out, contrary to God’s appointment, which has counted them in according to His will. “Know ye not yourselves,” says the apostle, “that Christ Jesus is in you?” Whom, had we known as dwelling in us, I know not how we could have dared to dishonour. But the using of pitch to pluck out hair (I shrink from even mentioning the shamelessness connected with this process), and in the act of bending back and bending down, the violence done to nature’s modesty by stepping out and bending backwards in shameful postures…For he who in the light of day denies his manhood, will prove himself manifestly a woman by night…

For it is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man’s natural and noble ornament. “A youth with his first beard: for with this, youth is most graceful.”

By and by he is anointed, delighting in the beard “on which descended” the prophetic, “ointment” with which Aaron was honoured. And it becomes him who is rightly trained, on whom peace has pitched its tent, to preserve peace also with his hair.

In the psalmist’s comparison of unity being like ointment in a beard, or in Christ’s teachings on how God pays so much attention to us that even knows the number of our hairs, is the scripture teaching that it is sinful and shameful for a man to shave?  Absolutely not.  Despite any good intentions, Clement is by no means teaching the scriptures; he is manipulating them to validate his own ideas.

Wherefore the wearing of gold and the use of softer clothing is not to be entirely prohibited. But irrational impulses must be curbed, lest, carrying us away through excessive relaxation, they impel us to voluptuousness…use simple clothing, and of a white colour, as we said before. So that, accommodating ourselves not to variegated art, but to nature as it is produced, and pushing away whatever is deceptive and belies the truth, we may embrace the uniformity and simplicity of the truth.

…Whence also in the law, the law enacted by Moses about leprousy rejects what has many colours and spots, like the various scales of the snake. He therefore wishes man, no longer decking himself gaudily in a variety of colours, but white all over from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, to be clean; so that, by a transition from the body, we may lay aside the varied and versatile passions of the man, land love the unvaried, and unambiguous, and simple colour of truth. And he who also in this emulates Moses–Plato best of all–approves of that texture on which not more than a chaste woman’s work has been employed. And white colours well become gravity. And elsewhere he says, “Nor apply dyes or weaving, except for warlike decorations.”

Hold up. Is this forbidding of colored clothes actually taught in the Old Testament?  No way!  Just because Moses rejected leprous dark-spots growing in the skin does not mean he was commanding that we all wear white colors.  Did it not cross Clement’s thoughts that perhaps Moses rejected the dark-spots because they were literally growths of an infectious disease?  There are over 600 laws in the Old Testament, if Moses meant to teach us to wear white, why didn’t he just say so?  But even if one of those laws did command the Israelites to wear white, that wouldn’t apply to us any more than the command for Israelites to wear clothes made from only one type of fiber.  Let’s move on to another example of how Clement interprets scripture.

With whom, then, are we to associate? With the righteous, He says again, speaking figuratively; for everything “which parts the hoof and chews the cud is clean.” For the parting of the hoof indicates the equilibrium of righteousness, and ruminating points to the proper food of righteousness, the word, which enters from without, like food, by instruction, but is recalled from the mind, as from the stomach, to rational recollection. And the spiritual man, having the word in his mouth, ruminates the spiritual food; and righteousness parts the hoof rightly, because it sanctifies us in this life, and sends us on our way to the world to come.

Wait, Moses said what?  Parting the hoof represents what…?  No, no, no.  Dear Clement, please stop, this is not teaching the scriptures, this is cherry-picking the Old Testament and creating your own meaning for whatever verse you’d like.  Please stop.  Realize, dear reader, that this does not mean that Clement’s ideas were wrong per say, this only goes to show that the way he was defending them was not actually using scripture at all, but rather misusing it and reading in to it.

I’m afraid to say that Clement of Alexandria defends his views against makeup and jewelry (although, he did not forbid all jewelry) with as bad a method of scriptural interpretation as the above passages.  Most of the sections against such are merely him stating his opinion, for example the original excerpt in the Holiness-Handbook where he assumes that women who curl their hair and put on mascara do so only to be promiscuous or arrogant; he allows them no middle ground between flamboyance and bareness.  Here’s another example of his argument against jewelry, “For, in a word, if one thinks himself made beautiful by gold, he is inferior to gold; and he that is inferior to gold is not lord of it.”  Following this logic, if I think a particular dress will make me appear more beautiful, does that mean I am inferior to that dress and ought not wear it?  His logic is hard to follow.  Other passages include Clement making assertions that scripture says this or that without any evidence or reference.  For example, “The Word prohibits us from doing violence to nature by boring the lobes of the ears.” This makes little sense in light of Exodus 21:6, where this very act is part of the Old Testament law;  where in all of scripture does it teach that this is doing violence to nature?

The most interesting quote I noticed while reading Clement, was his interpretation of, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.”  I had always heard that plaiting the hair referred to putting jewelry in the hair and not to fixing it, but when Clement teaches on hair (this verse being referenced) he says, “It is enough for women to protect their locks, and bind up their hair simply along the neck with a plain hair-pin, nourishing chaste locks with simple care to true beauty. For meretricious plaiting of the hair, and putting it up in tresses, contribute to make them look ugly…”  It seems that Clement, who lived far closer to the time of scripture, understood the plaiting of hair to be referring to elaborate hairstyles (and not jewelry), the opposite of which is a simple bun.

Conclusion

Whether or not the Early Church taught the “Holiness Standard” doesn’t actually affect it’s truth (one way or the other), but the above research is not in vain; several points have been established.  First, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria do not prove that the Early Church taught a Holiness Standard.  In contrast, when it comes to their strict asceticism, and heavy-emphasis on self-denial, both men were oddities to the rest of the Church, to the degree that they were both charged with heresy (granted, these charges did not directly relate to their teaching on outward appearance, but to their skewed views on the Deity of Christ).  Second, the Holiness Church of today would have great disagreements even with the teachings these men gave on outward appearance: from beards, to baths, to veils, to colorless garments.  Third, even if these men taught the modern Holiness standard to a T, if they could not back it up with sound scriptural arguments, what use are they to us?  The above examples of how Tertullian and Clement read their own meanings into scripture should cause red-flags to raise on their trustworthiness in interpretation.  Fourth, not only were the ideas of these men not reflections of the Early Church, but the Early Church actually threw out their ideas.  There is no lineage of Christians which followed their teachings on abstinence from shaving, jewelry, makeup and colored clothing and passed them down to us.  Clement never began his own sect, and Tertullian’s died out over a millennium and a half ago.  Were there Christian groups which emphasized simple, modest living after that time?  Absolutely!  But Tertullian and Clement’s type of appearance regulations seem to have fallen off the bandwagon of Christianity for a good 1300 years, until John Wesley, influenced by Clement, revived their ideas.

-Natalie Mayo

 

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References:
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1. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0402.htm. http://mb-soft.com/believe/txs/tertulli.htm

3. https://www.allaboutreligion.org

4. http://www.tertullian.org/tertullianistae/de_haeresibus.htm

5.https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/clement-of-alexandria.html

6. https://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1398&context=asburyjournal

7.  https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-ecclesiastical-history/article/clement-of-alexandria-on-trial-the-evidence-of-heresy-from-photius-bibliotheca-by-piotr-ashwinsiejkowski-supplements-to-vigiliae-christianae-texts-and-studies-of-early-christian-life-and-language-101-pp-xvii185-leidenboston-brill-2010-93-978-90-04-176-270-0920-623x/E4CB4A4513C1B28A71C6E7DBFD7B6E6C

8. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-instructor-book3.html

9. http://holiness-preaching.org/frame-holiness-handbook.html
10. https://oldlandmark.wordpress.com/category/holiness-standards/

 

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