The Doctrine of the Church

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.

The Standard We Let Slip: Effective Charity

The Standard We Let Slip: Effective Charity

When I grew up in the Holiness movement, if you had asked me to list off the top practices of a healthy Christian, I would have listed off the need for daily prayer and Bible reading, regular church attendance, and adherence to a list of standards. Perhaps the need to witness would have occurred to me. What almost certainly would not have crossed my mind very high on the list is the requirement to serve the poor, sick, and vulnerable.

Serving others as a church, which I will refer to interchangeably as charity, was simply not a part of our practice. It was rarely addressed and opportunities were never formally organized. We had revivals, camp meetings, homecomings, youth camps, fall festivals, prayer meetings, and church workdays galore. In 15 years, I would have attended nearly 3,000 church gatherings – but I don’t believe I ever once attended a church service project of any sort. I’m sure individuals would occasionally do something that constituted an act of charity, but this was not a part of a routine, and opting out of service to the vulnerable would never raise eyebrows in the way that say, opting out of a Wednesday night church service would.

This reticence to actively engage in physical service is not typical of the church throughout history. The early church was widely known for their provision for the outcasts of society. The last non-Christian Emperor of Rome noted that “it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase [Christianity] … For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”[1] It’s worth noting that Julian’s reference to holiness was not to an outward standard of appearance that differed notably from their culture – there was none – rather it was a reference to virtue, integrity, and love. Throughout all of church history there has never been a period when significant portions of the church were not actively involved in social issues and in service to the vulnerable, particularly the poor.

Interestingly enough, the Holiness Movement used to be known for being very active in charity and social reform. In the late 1800’s, Holiness Christians were involved in everything from women’s rights to making church available to the poor (it was the era of pew-renting).[2] One branch off the Holiness Movement became entirely centered around charity work; today we know it as the organization “Salvation Army.” [3] Sadly, this Holiness emphasis on serving has faded over the years, if not altogether disappeared.

This article will establish both that charity to the vulnerable is still required of the church today and that the Bible gives us significant guidance in a manner that is empowering and impactful.

 

Charity is Required of the Church

It is biblically obvious that we have a mandate to share our faith. However, this mandate is distinct from an additional requirement to meet the physical and relational needs of others. Very often, the two things are closely connected. Providing for someone’s physical needs is often the first step to addressing their deeper spiritual needs. This is exemplified by Jesus’ ministry – he met physical needs for health and provision as well as sharing his good news. He shares his philosophy in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “Good works” can include personal behavior, but it also surely includes acts of love for others – which is just another way of saying charity. While God’s people are called to show love for everyone, they also have a special call to serve the vulnerable. In the Bible the vulnerable usually consists of the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants – with “the poor” generally covering all of the subcategories.

The Old Testament is replete with commands to serve the vulnerable, but Jesus establishes that this applies to the church with his sermon in Mathew 25. “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.” In context, Jesus is teaching that these acts of service will be one of the crucial visible factors which show the difference between those headed to judgement and those headed to everlasting life (not as earned righteousness, but as the fruit of a transformed heart). The story he tells assumes that all of the righteous serve. There is no category in the story for the Christians who just like to look after themselves.

This duty is also plainly taught in James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Best wishes and spiritual platitudes are inadequate to care for others – action is required.

John intensifies the command in 1 John 3:17, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his [heart] from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

The early church took this to heart. In Acts 6, we see the apostles had a feeding program, which they had need to delegate to others in the church (like Stephen). James 1:27 goes so far to say that service is exactly as necessary for pleasing God as separation from worldliness: “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.” Don’t miss that. If you keep yourself “unspotted from the world,” you have not pleased God unless you also “visit the fatherless and the widows.”

In 1 Timothy 6:18, the rich are instructed to be especially generous: “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to [share].” Given that we are 90 times richer than the average historical person, every American would certainly meet the criteria of “rich” that Paul had in mind.

 

Objections to Charity

In the modern era, many in the church no longer feel an obligation to assist the poor because they believe that the government has already taken on that responsibility. One thing this argument misses is that government programs tend to be especially bad at the sort of relational assistance that effective charity requires. For instance, no one becomes homeless just because he lost his job. Anyone who sleeps under an overpass has also lost all his friends and family too. Even if the government provides him with a check or some housing, usually that person still has no support structure to prevent future homelessness. No law or entitlement program can build a strong family and a circle of friends.

But even if all the government programs suddenly became wildly effective, that still would not alleviate the church from its responsibility. If the government created a Department of Evangelism and started preaching the gospel on through public service announcements, would the church stop preaching it? Clearly not, and I believe we would be rather suspicious of the evangelism that the government was offering. By the same token, simply because the government is attempting to assist the poor does not mean we are alleviated of our Christian responsibility.

Another common objection people cite to serious service to the poor is Jesus’ remark that “the poor will be with you always.” The obvious problems with this is that the back half of Jesus’ same sentence is “but you will not always have me.” This makes sense in context, but hardly seems like a statement that is intended to apply to all future readers. Unless we are willing to hold that Christians will lose access to Jesus in the future, we must admit that Jesus’ statement about his imminent departure applied only to his first-century hearers. If the back half of the sentence is not universal, it stands to reason that the first half of the same sentence would also not be universal. Regardless of this bit of exegesis, Jesus is alluding to a passage in Deuteronomy 15:11, which follows the observation with a command. “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

God’s logic in Deuteronomy was that the fact that the poor would always be in the land of ancient Israel should motivate constant generosity. Even if we should understand Christ’s words to apply to our time, that should serve as a call to persistent action – not an excuse for self-indulgence.

 

The Church in Action Today

The good news is that there are still parts of the church where this sense of service is still taken seriously. Take this salient example from pastor and bestselling author David Platt:

“One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and adoption needs that we have in our county?”

The woman I was talking to laughed.

I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?”

She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.”

When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families signed up to help with foster care and adoption. We don’t want even one child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.”

This sort of exemplary behavior is even more common in poor countries, where people cannot lean on the government to provide the social services. In my time working in Haiti, nearly all local churches served their communities in multiple ways – independently of foreign funding. They routinely provided primary schools, adult literacy classes, farming co-ops, adoptions, and support for the elderly.

These examples of modern churches putting ancient commands into action also raises an important point. There is more than one way to serve the vulnerable and not all are equally helpful.

 

Effective Charity – More than Good Intentions

The Bible’s admonitions to serve are so clear that most readers will catch on to it eventually. Once they catch the idea that service is mandatory, they usually begin their acts of service in the ways that are the simplest. This consists of giving tangible goods out to people who are readily accessible to receive them. While these good intentions are a good place to start – they’re not a good place to end. If we would truly follow the example of Christ, we must concern ourselves with the long-term needs of the people we serve. This means not only meeting the immediate need, but helping people flourish. A flourishing life includes elements like spiritual growth, strong families, healthy lifestyles, education and career advancement, character development, and wise stewardship of finances and other resources.

 

A Framework for Charity

While we do not completely control the long-run outcomes for any individual we seek to help, this situation is very analogous to medicine. A heart surgeon cannot guarantee that his patient will survive, but a heart surgeon should expect to improve the average outcomes of his surgery over time. This is exactly what happens – you would certainly rather receive open heart surgery today than 50 years ago. So even though they do not control the outcome for each individual patient, they can still learn to grow and identify more effective methods. Charity works the same way.

An excellent book entitled When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett lays out a particularly useful framework for understanding different kinds of charity. This framework is grounded in the Christian notion that the most important thing in life is relationships – with God, with others, with one’s self, and with the rest of creation. When all these relationships are healthy, people and societies flourish, when they break down, some form of poverty prevails. Our job as Christians is to restore these relationships in our own lives and in the lives of people around us. Regarding helping others, Fikkert and Corbett distinguish three types of charity: relief, rehabilitation and development.

Relief is any assistance offered in a temporary crisis. the good Samaritan’s assistance to the beaten man on the road to Jericho is a good example. The characteristic of relief is that it usually involves one-way giving and the recipient is rarely in a position to contribute anything in return.

Rehabilitation is the process of moving from crisis back to a previous level of life – it typically follows relief. A characteristic of rehabilitation is that it requires some effort from the one rehabilitating. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man on the road to Jericho would have had to exercise and tend his own wounds as he recovered. Eventually, he would leave the financial support of the Samaritan. People recovering from a job loss or drug addiction will have a similar active role to play in improving their own situation.

Development is the process of improving your condition to a level not previously attained. Personal development is a part of everyone’s life as we strive to grow spiritually, increase our careers, and strengthen our families. For people in poverty, development is often a process that can be facilitated by charity. However, development always involves significant effort on the part of the person developing. Like rehabilitation, development is not something you can do “to” someone. They have to do it, and you can merely assist. If they are unwilling to work and grow, development is not possible until they have a change of heart.

This distinction is more than just semantic, if you attempt to provide continuous relief to people who need development, you will not solve their underlying problems and you will merely enable an unhealthy situation to continue unresolved. For instance, imagine a young woman who grew up in a dysfunctional home and has difficulty holding down a job. The root problem in this case could be a lack of knowledge, experience, or character due to her troubled upbringing. No amount of food or financial assistance would address this issue. If she is willing to improve, these root problems can be addressed by compassionate volunteers either through friendship/mentorship, a job skills class, or someone giving the woman an employment opportunity in which she is given grace to learn. There are many levels at which a local church can serve this woman – through formal programs like classes and job fairs, through informal connections, and perhaps through temporary financial assistance to help her get established. Because there are so many options and layers of assistance required to move this woman from dysfunction to flourishing, the church will almost certainly need to work with other churches and community organizations in the process.

This process is complicated and very specific to the individual served. But who is better equipped to deal with a messy relational process like development than the Church? It is there that people from many walks of life are connected to serve a common purpose. It is there that we all acknowledge the redemptive power of God. The church is well suited to facilitate development – a powerful form of charity which makes a world of difference in the lives of the poor.

 

Biblical Guidance on Effective Charity

Unfortunately, development is not very intuitive to most people taking a first step into charity work. When we see someone hungry, we default to trying to figure out a way to feed them indefinitely. While feeding the hungry would seem to be in step with the Bible’s commands, the Bible also elaborates whom we should feed and how. These commands are not incidental – they are central if we want to see the poor flourish. You will note that they meld nicely with the relief vs. development framework outlined above.

In the Old Testament, God commanded the children of Israel to provide for the poor by leaving some grain in the fields (Deut. 24:19). The poor could come and collect grain in the fields, mill it themselves, and provide their own bread. Farmers were not expected to make bread and give it to the poor – the poor had an active role to play. This work requirement diminished the chance of unhealthy dependence and combined with the Mosaic system of land distribution, meant that over the long run, each family was equipped to provide for itself.

Jesus did miraculously feed thousands, however he only gave food to a particular group of people who had listened to him all day long before he fed them; they were committed to a form of spiritual development and the food was just a bonus. Furthermore, it was not an ongoing occurrence. The only example of continuous food provision in Scripture (for the widow of Zarephath) took place entirely during a famine – a short term-crisis that called for relief. The idea of requiring recipients of charity who are not in such an exceptional crisis to work, contribute, or demonstrate commitment to growth is the Biblical model.

In keeping with this model, in 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives explicit instructions for how to discern between widows who the church should help and widows who the church should not help. Generally, if widows were in a situation where they could take care of themselves or where their family could provide for them, then that was the means required. The church was not the first stop for assistance. Furthermore, by his admonition that “he who does not work shall not eat,” Paul specifically taught that if a person was unwilling to solve his own problems then the church should refuse to solve that person’s problems for him. Assistance was conditional not only on need, but also on willingness to do one’s own part before asking the church for assistance.

This concept is called subsidiarity. Subsidiarity means to solve a problem at the most local level possible: the individual, his family, his church or community, then the government from the most local levels to most distant. In accordance with this principle of subsidiarity the Bible also teaches that our levels of responsibility as servants varies – we serve God before family (Luke 14:6), we have more responsibility for our family than strangers (1 Tim 5:8), and we owe aid to Christians before unbelievers (Gal 6:10). These teachings help us realize that God’s intent is not for us to run ourselves ragged in serving others. While we are called to love and forgive unconditionally, we are not called to continually provide for the material needs of those capable of providing for themselves.

The final biblical perspective to share on the needs of the poor comes from Jesus’ assessment of his own ministry. “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. (Matt 11:5)” In this passage Jesus lists the solution to a number of ailments. When he gets to the poor, he does not say “the poor have money given to them.” Jesus identifies the root problem of as lack of hope, a lack of the knowledge of God’s redemptive plan. Jesus met some physical needs, but mostly he provided things of eternal value. And while everyone needs the good news, he had a special place in his heart for sharing it with the poor.

 

Conclusion

Service to the poor and vulnerable is a central responsibility of the church. Furthermore, it does require some discernment and education to do it effectively. The perpetual handout model that seems so intuitive at first glance is neither biblical nor impactful. While this article only scratches the surface of effective charity, I hope that it provides you with some inspiration to get started or refine your current work.

Charity is a topic that requires both study and action. Maybe that action begins with a family member or acquaintance whom you can assist. Maybe your church has service opportunities you can participate in or lead. If your church doesn’t facilitate something, there are almost certainly nonprofits in your area who are in great need of your help. There is room for everyone’s time, treasure, and talent in this field. As ransomed sons and daughters of God, serving the vulnerable is both the least we can do and the most we can do.

—Nathan

P.S. My day job is equipping churches and nonprofits with tools and best practices to implement more effective charity. You can see some of my articles on the topic, as well as other resources, at TrueCharity.us

 

Sources:

  1. Letters by Julian: Letter 22,” Translated by Emily Wilmer Cave Wright
  2. The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century by Melvin Dieter
  3. Holiness Movement: American History” in Encyclopedia Britannica

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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.

 

Find this interesting? Check out all of our articles here.

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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The Holiness Movement: Are They God’s Special People?

The Holiness Movement: Are They God's Special People?

Chic-fil-a sauce, Wendy’s sauce, McDonald’s special Big Mac sauce. Each of them claims to be completely original. Unique. One of a kind. I like all these sauces and my wife hates all of them. The reason that our preferences are so neatly divided is that these allegedly “original” sauces are all more similar than they are different. They have common ingredients like vinegar, garlic powder, ketchup and paprika. If you only ever ate at McDonalds, you could be forgiven for thinking that their special sauce was completely different from anything else out there. Unfortunately, if you eat at a few other restaurants, you’ll find that it isn’t.

This is my experience in the Pentecostal Holiness movement. I grew up thinking we were completely different from every other church movement – in doctrine, in style, in manifestations of divine power. We were God’s special people, the last Christians remaining in the most perfected version of God’s true Church. After traveling the world, and visiting dozens of other churches from other movements, I learned I was wrong on all counts. Our special sauce turned out to be a very normal mix of some very common beliefs and practices, blended in only slightly different proportions from anyone else’s.

This idea that the Holiness Movement is special, or significantly more mature than other groups of Christianity, is at the root of the exclusivity and isolation that pervades the Holiness movements (yes, there are several Holiness movements). That exclusivity drives unwillingness to work with or learn from other churches, which results in Holiness churches having very little influence on the region they live in. This raises the question, “Is the Pentecostal Holiness Movement so unique in comparison to the rest of Christianity that it merits isolation—even at the cost of less impact for Christ?” What would cause some Holiness Christians to view themselves as particularly special? While I cannot go into detail on all of the reasons here, I’ll list a few highlights from my upbringing from two categories – doctrine and power.

 

Doctrine

The focus on external, universally determined rules of dress and entertainment.

“Holiness Standards,” the rules which define the limits of conduct for Holiness people, played a key role in how we separated ourselves from other Christians. The interesting thing about these rules is that the vast majority apply to what you wear and what you do for entertainment. They also only pertain to older issues; they rarely apply to new inventions like the internet or cosmetic dentistry. This is because the vast majority of these rules were codified in the 19th century (along with many other rules that have since been abandoned – see the article, Which Old-Time Holiness Should We Go Back To?) These rules all have followers outside of the Pentecostal Holiness Movement. The most significant group that follows them today is the Conservative Holiness Movement. They trace their lineage directly back to John Wesley (and then make the 1,700-year skip back to the book of Acts that church movements are so fond of making). They are, as far as I can tell, several times larger than the Holiness movement I grew up in and would dismiss our Pentecostal Holiness movement as an offshoot of theirs. It is fascinating to explore the website holinessmovement.org and learn about a movement nearly identical to the one I grew up in that denies our existence as we do theirs. There are also many movements and individual churches that keep the Holiness/plain dress standards which the Pentecostal Holiness movement has dropped. For example: head veils, hair worn up, no hairstyles, no open-toed shoes, no high-heels, no bright colors, and no patterns. Interestingly enough, I never saw these other groups revered as more special or more mature than us, but rather dismissed as “over the top.”

The belief in the baptism of the Holy Ghost as a separate event from salvation.

When Holiness Christians try to defend their standards as essential doctrines, they often run into difficulty. One common way out is, “I know these standards are required because I’ve seen them work. I’ve seen the people who keep them be baptized in the Holy Ghost.” Thus, the Pentecostal doctrine becomes the way to justify the Holiness doctrine. There’s one problem. Holiness Christians aren’t the only Christians claiming to receive the Spirit, with the evidence of tongues, post-salvation. I have written a separate piece addressing how this view underrates the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer, but right now all I want to point out is that it is not unique to Holiness. First, I have heard several Christians express the idea of the “filling” of the Spirit as a separate event, even though the indwelling occurs at salvation. This view is only semantically different than the way that many Holiness people hold the belief (where some Spirit power is given at Salvation, and more is given later). Furthermore, there are certainly other churches that hold to the belief in the exact same way as the churches I grew up in. A non-denominational church near me has this in their statement of faith. “The baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire is a gift from God as promised by the Lord Jesus Christ to all believers in this dispensation, and is received subsequent to the new birth. The baptism of Holy Spirit is accompanied with the speaking in other tongues as the Holy Spirit Himself gives utterance, as the initial physical sign and evidence.” The church that holds this belief is not at all Holiness, and would be dismissed out of hand because they don’t require the same dress standards.

The belief that Salvation can be lost/rejected.

I was always told to look out for the Baptists as they would teach me I could live a loose life and go to heaven. Now that I have attended dozens of church services in various Baptists congregations, I know for a fact that this is not often the case. Typically, someone who rejects God completely is labeled as having never been saved. Is this a more accurate position? No, not necessarily. I won’t argue that it is, but as far as practical application, it doesn’t differ at all from the Holiness view. People are discouraged from abandoning God with the admonition that if they do, they won’t go to heaven. Furthermore, I’ve spoken to at least one thoughtful Baptist pastor who said that he felt the label “once saved, always saved” was a parody of his position, he also pointed out some difficult passages in Hebrews that he said caused him to believe that there were at least some situations when loss of Salvation was possible. A more toxic version of the Holiness belief was expressed to me by a man who had grown up in the Church of Christ. He described that he had grown up “once saved, never saved.” He lived in fear that one day he might live for God all his life, step out in front of a bus, say a bad word with his dying breath, and be consigned to hell for that error. The problem with this belief is that is it fundamentally assumes that our righteousness is the thing that qualifies us for heaven (as if Jesus wipes the slate clean once, but after that it’s on us to earn heaven). I have also heard this extreme position expressed in the Holiness church, but, thankfully, the extreme version is not the norm. I can’t address this belief in detail, but I will point out that it is unoriginal.

The belief that we can attain sinless perfection on earth.

This belief that sanctification is a destination at which certain people “have arrived” has always been a bit muddled. Very few “saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost” folks will claim that they have not sinned in the past year. Though they will say they are opposed to the view that says “you have to sin a little every day.” But, who holds that view? In over a decade of attending non-holiness churches, some 500+ services at 50+ churches, I have literally never heard anyone say that “you have to sin a little every day.” Even for most Holiness Christians, sinless perfection is at best a hypothetical state. No one will claim to have achieved it. Non-Holiness Christians simply don’t agree that it can be attained – but in my experience they also say we should continuously work to overcome sin and not use our liberty in Christ as license to sin. Consequently, this the argument over sanctification is purely hypothetical with zero practical implications. The Pentecostal and Conservative Holiness Movements aren’t special in its holding this belief, because this belief is not distinguishable in practice from those who deny it.

The belief that we were the only true church.

Unfortunately, the attitude of “we’re the last real Christians” is way too common in Christendom, including in the Pentecostal Holiness, Conservative Holiness, and Apostolic Church movements. I’ve seen it in the Christian Church, Orthodox Church, and the Bethel movement to a moderate degree, I’ve experienced it in the Local Church Movement, and I’ve seen echoes of the idea in many other congregations (Mennonite, some Church of Christ, etc.), though many churches also do a good job of explicitly rejecting it. To be fair, the Holiness movements hold this belief more fervently than any other church movements I have ever interacted with except for generally recognized unorthodox cults. One of the most reliable common denominators of cults is that they all think they are the only ones left of God’s true church, the stronger their conviction that they are the last ones left, the more cultish they are. I am not calling the Holiness Movements “cults,” but I am saying that one should be very cautious about adopting a telltale sign of a cult.

 

Power

I grew up learning that all churches outside of my own Holiness one were devoid of the power of God. How were we to grow in Christ if we didn’t have a preacher with the anointing and the Holy Ghost falling to answer prayers? In the first church I attended post-Holiness, a military interdenominational chapel, I did find some of what I had heard to be true. I did think their worship was not the liveliest and they never had an altar call. However, they had some significant offsetting benefits, like the fact that people loved each other, loved others, and in my sub-group at least, held each other accountable for spiritual growth and maturity. Since I’ve gotten out a bit more, I have learned that everything I have ever seen in a Holiness church is also somewhere else in the Body of Christ.

I observe that what we called “power” is really two things with a fine line between them. The first is Pentecostal stylistic details and the second is clearly biblical signs and wonders. Let’s address these common manifestations of power and I’ll show how I learned they are not unique to Holiness… at all.

Holiness has anointed preachers.

It’s not entirely clear what this means as it isn’t a common biblical term in the context of preaching – it’s an Old Testament allusion to the God-ordained role of a priest or king. The general idea that Holiness people have in mind is that their preachers get special messages from the Lord and special power to present those messages. How can we tell which preachers have this? Some seem to determine anointing based on increased volume and passion, but I submit this is a poor judge of this trait. Apostolic preachers have the exact same style of the pre-microphone era revivalist. They are loud and many rhythmically punctuate their impassioned appeals with guttural “ahs” and “amens?” Yet, we dismissed them based on their non-trinitarian doctrine, despite this completely identical style of preaching. Clearly, style alone is not sufficient to determine “anointing.”

What about that phenomenon when the preacher “must” be preaching to you or is especially convicting? This also is not unique to Holiness churches. I have sat through many non-Holiness sermons in which I found the message particularly relevant to my own life, sometimes to the point of being uncanny. I have heard non-Holiness preachers say things to the effect of “I’m not sure why I’m adding this, but I feel like it’s for someone here.” Some of them even use phrases that I thought were trademarked to the Pentecostal Holiness movement, such as “I’m just going to follow the leading of the Spirit today if that’s alright.” As far as conviction goes, I am typically more convicted by messages that plunge deep into the Scripture than messages which proclaim “new revelation” from God or twist an Old Testament narrative into a spiritual analogy. Personally, my spiritual maturity has objectively improved since I left the Holiness church, because in many places, I have found more convicting preaching, not less. What about that saving conviction that causes sinners to walk down the isle? Look around your local Holiness church. With all due respect, is it filled with new converts? Many churches I attended would wait years for one person to be saved. I have seen many more conversions in non-holiness churches, so it stands to reason that conviction is still happening there.

In short, Holiness preaching is neither unique in style nor effect. It doesn’t offer more conviction, more truth, or more conversions than the rest of Christian preaching. Does this mean it’s all bad? No, of course not. However, the preaching inside the Holiness Movement is certainly not all better either.

Vibrant and emotive worship.

A few weeks ago, I had reason to attend a testimony service which was led by a man from a Pentecostal church. I was immediately transported back to my upbringing. We sang old-time Pentecostal choruses between testimonies and people were admonished to testify with the same phrases and verses I was used to. You wouldn’t have noticed anything out of place if it had occurred in a Holiness church. Except for the fact that the man leading it not only didn’t believe in any of the Holiness dress standards, but he had most likely never even heard of them. His Pentecostal church had grown out of some of the same roots as the Holiness movement and shared much in common culture, but all this “old-time power” was somehow functioning independent of the Holiness doctrine.

As far as contrasting styles of worship in the mainstream evangelical church, there is always room to critique the attitudes or messages of any modern songs and singers. However, I have found many churches that do an excellent job in this department and I have certainly found as much emotive connection to God in non-Holiness churches as in them.

Fervent and effective prayer.

Natalie has had multiple Holiness Christians tell her that they know non-Holiness churches are compromised because they “took the altar out.” First off, prayer altars are not in the New Testament. We don’t see a single church set up by an apostle that had one. They’re a modern, man-made tradition. The Old Testament altar was always a place of physical sacrifice. That doesn’t make prayer altars bad, but prayer is the thing that is biblical, not any particular mode or context of prayer. Prayer services, prayer chains, prayer altars, or prayer phone apps are all just different tools to fulfill our mandate to pray.

I do think that Holiness churches are above average in the promotion of prayer. However, I don’t believe that I ever spent any time studying prayer in a Holiness church. The model of everyone praying out loud at once tends to lead to a lot of thoughtless repetition in many cases. I have spent much more time outside of the Holiness movement approaching prayer more deliberately – studying what the Bible says about how to do it and seeing that modeled in the thoughtful prayers of others. I have also participated I in a 24-hour prayer chains for a man undergoing a surgery with a 10% chance of not leaving him paralyzed (he recovered). I’ve also participated in many non-holiness prayer meetings. Prayer has not been abandoned by the wider Christian church.

Divine impressions, dreams, and revelations.

Holiness Christians often claim to have special words from God on many issues; perhaps they do, it’s not for me to say. Many people justify the dress standards based on special messages from God. “I looked up to heaven and I saw my wedding ring between me and God, so I took it off.” Imagine my surprise to learn that this sort of thing is just as common outside of Holiness. My favorite was when I heard from an ex-Holiness person that his wife was impressed by God that she would have to wear pants, because skirts had become the thing in which she was trusting for her salvation. I was also encouraged by a story I heard about a Christian radio host who felt impressed to play the same (contemporary) song three times in a row on the air – this led to a businessman quitting his job and going into the ministry.

While I am by no means a cessationist, I do find that people throw around messages from God far to freely for my taste. In any event, depending on the theological persuasion of the recipient, I have noticed no reduction in the number of people who deliver a message, thought, impression, message in tongues with interpretation, or dream which they believe to have been of divine origin. This is quite common in certain circles of non-Holiness people. Of course, you can dismiss it all as “not really from God.” And they can dismiss yours with the same statement. But you can’t claim uniqueness in this aspect.

Miracles.

There are a wide variety of miracles that were claimed in my Holiness upbringing. I can’t say that I saw much, but there were occasional references to divine healing or the casting out of a demon. Of course, no matter where you are, not every alleged miracle and manifestation is legitimate – as even the Bible makes clear when it instructs us to test prophesies and spirits, not just believe them. However, I have interacted with just as many miracles outside of Holiness as in. I heard from a youth group who went to a nursing home and prayed for a wheelchair bound man to stand up and walk – he did. Working as a missionary in Haiti, some of the Haitian pastors dealt with (and occasionally exorcised) people who they told me were demon possessed on a monthly basis at least. And of course, there are myriad stories of cancer going into remission or disappearing and the like.

Conclusion

I spent many years thinking that Holiness had a corner on some very distinct doctrines and manifestations of divine power. As it turns out, I have yet to find a single belief or practice of the Pentecostal Holiness church that I haven’t seen somewhere else. Perhaps that myth was sustained because we didn’t fellowship with any other churches and never asked anyone else what they believed. We just sat in Sunday school and told each other what other people believed. We even told each other that you “cannot” visit another church or denomination, not even for one service, because “it’s not worth risking your soul over” (someone actually said this).

When you look into modern church history, you find that Pentecostal Holiness is a splinter group of a split (Holiness Movement) of a split (Methodism) of a split (Anglicanism) of a sub group (Catholicism) of the original church. Once you start to learn about all our denominational cousins, our house blend of the special doctrinal sauce starts to make more sense – it turns out that we’re not unique after all.

But there is some good news. I have spent a fair amount of time in my life examining the teachings of other non-Christian religions and worldviews – I have read the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the writings of atheists. Their beliefs are substantively different from Christian teachings and far inferior in both logical consistency and practical application. The teachings of Christ stand apart in a landscape of competing worldviews like a mountain among anthills. Only one religion can be true when claims are contradictory, and we have good reason to believe that Christianity is that truth. This makes Christianity special, and, according to its teachings, all of us who believe in Christ for salvation become part of God’s special people.

We do well to claim our identity with Christ – to hold “Christian” as our highest title rather than fixating on the superiority of our tribe. In some ways, Holiness was an early practitioner of modern identity politics – which teaches that your beliefs should be completely defined by your racial group, gender, or class. Our Pentecostal Holiness identity was totally defined by our sub-group, with no room for individual thought, action, or conscience.

There is a cure. We should focus on what we have in common as Christians, instead of just what separates us. Perhaps some humility and some “commonality training” would do us all good.

– Nathan Mayo

 

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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

 

Like what you read? Check out the rest of our articles here.

Resources:

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

 

How Long Do the “Last Days” Last?

End of the World

When I last visited Karlštejn castle in what was once the kingdom of Bohemia, I perused a chapel which had its walls covered with a frenetic mural from some 500 years ago. The mural laid out each scene from the book of Revelation in order. Our guide explained that “people from this era were obsessed with the idea that it was the end of days.” She elaborated that the medieval Bohemians interpreted several contemporary wars, plagues, and an earthquake as signs that they were living in the end times.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse Then?

And of course, they were not alone in that belief. In the churches I grew up in, there was a pervasive belief that we had reached the end of time and that was why our churches were shrinking. Sermons and Sunday school lessons routinely referred to why the world was “gospel-hardened” and used that as a way to explain the distinct lack of fruit our churches were bearing. There was frequent talk about the end of days. Many news events were understood in the light of prophecy.

The mere belief that “the end of the world is nigh” is not a problem. However, the version of this belief that I grew up with was distinctly counter-productive. There were two basic premises to how they understood the last days:

1) Everything has been getting worse.

2) Everything will continue to get worse and there is nothing we can do about it.

As it turns out, belief 1 isn’t factual and belief 2 isn’t biblical.

Is everything getting worse?

As evidence that we were living in the last days, frequent references were made to the state of world affairs. Microchips and the mark of the beast were discussed in hushed tones. News of any tension between nations was sure to evolve into the next world war. Any threats against Israel would inevitably portend Armageddon.

It is very easy to find statistics proclaiming the 20th century as the most violent in history. The reality is the complete opposite. Taken in absolute terms, more people died untimely deaths in the 20th century than any other, however, this is primarily because the world’s population exploded in size. Why did the world’s population explode? Because the 20th century saw tremendous progress in science, reduction in crime, and diminishment of war. Percent terms matter far more than absolute terms.

To understand that, consider this question. If your primary concern was safety from violence and you had two choices to visit on your vacation, would you go to New York City or Ciudad Victoria in Mexico? In the most recent year for which I have data, 318 people were murdered in NYC and 314 in Ciudad Victoria. On face, NYC seems to be a bit more dangerous. However, you won’t be surprised to learn that the population of NYC is 23 times greater than population of our Mexican metropolis, so the rate of homicide is 86 deaths per 100,000 in Ciudad Victoria and a mere 3 per 100,000 in New York City. New York City is far safer. This is an illustration of the world. The ancient world was Ciudad Victoria, the modern world is New York City. A massively expanded population, and better outcomes in per capita terms on almost every metric.

Don’t take my word for it – look it up. The data speaks for itself. This is a great source on violence: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/war-and-violence/#/title-slide

For a sample, look at the reduction in homicide rates over recent history:

How Long Do the "Last Days" Last?

This is just one measure of improvement. There are many others. We can look at health outcomes, as approximated by life expectancy. In the pre-modern world, global average life expectancy was around 30 years, today the average is 72 years, with many countries having an average life expectancy of 80+ years. In 1950, not a single country had a life expectancy of 72 years or better. Even when you factor in such scary things as the Covid-19 pandemic, it must be scaled against the Black Death, which killed between 30% – 60% of the population of the infected regions. Unless at least 2 billion people die from Covid-19, you can’t make the case that things are getting worse.

We can look at human freedom as well, as measured by the type of government that people live under. While no government is perfect, if I offered you a choice between moving to a randomly selected democracy or a randomly selected autocracy, I’m pretty sure I know which one you would choose. Democracies are much better at protecting human rights and improving standard of living. More countries are democratic today than at any point in history.

Democracy

I could go on for a very long time pointing out obvious improvements to our world. Improvements in education, standard of living, access to law enforcement, and many other things. But these are mere temporary matters, what about matters of eternity? Let’s look at the church around the world.

Though I understand that not everyone who claims the name of Christ follows his commands, the percentage of the world that owns him at least in name is at an all-time high. Certainly 0% of the Americas was Christian before 1492, and most of Sub-Saharan Africa hadn’t heard the name of Christ until the 1700’s. The Chinese church was miniscule until the 1800’s, and there are officially 29 million believers there now (and the real number may be as high as 100 million).

For an encouraging read and a lot more well-sourced data, check out “The Myth of the Dying Church” by Glen Stanton. As noted there, in 1776, church attendance in America was only around 17%. While weekly church attendance in America today is around 35%, which is down from 44% in the 1950’s, it is still normal by historical American standards. Furthermore, the denominations that are dying are the most liberal ones, that denied the veracity of Scripture decades ago. Larger conservative denominations and the conservative side of the non-denominational movement are growing notably faster that population growth. I would concede that the American church has less cultural influence than it did 50 years ago, but it is far from dead and even if it was, the developing world is not following our trend.

Just to take an example, in Haiti in the 1950’s, the Protestant church made up only about 12% of the population, today it is 30% – an eight-fold growth in churches when factoring in population growth. Evangelicalism is exploding in many parts the world, and the Church is far from defeated. Weekly church attendance in sub-Saharan Africa is an astonishing 71%! There are many concerns to be sure, but the numbers don’t support the idea that the Church of Jesus Christ is on life support.

Christians by country

Ah, but what about the evils of our time? What about moral relativism, abortion, and gender confusion? Certainly, these are grave matters. But there were evils of other times as well. We got rid of legal human slavery and all of the barbarous exploitation that went along with it. We got rid of mob justice, lynching, and witch trials. We got rid of dueling, a whole lot of racism, and quite a bit of anti-Semitism. Eugenics was incredibly popular in the early 1900’s and is mostly out of vogue now. The once popular beliefs in the divine right of kings and romantic nationalism led to much oppression and many pointless wars. And of course, many practices and beliefs we oppose now, were faced by the earliest church as well. There are evils and false teachings in each generation. The truth never changes, but bad ideas come and go.

In summary, I do not think the evidence in any way supports the idea that world today is objectively a worse place to live or worse for the Church than it was in 1800, 1500, or 500. If you had choice to be born any time between 150 AD and now, I suspect you would choose sometime in the last 100 years – if you didn’t, I guarantee you you would regret that choice. Things have changed, many things have improved, and sinful man is still sinful man. If these are the trends of the world, then the idea that everything is getting worse and there is nothing that can be done about it is patently false.

The fact that many things have improved in the past means that more things can improve in the future. I’m not saying that things must improve, or even predicting that they will improve, but rather pointing out that they certainly can improve. The gospel can go to new regions and flourish there. Governments can improve and the poor can be raised from poverty. Why can’t extreme poverty be eliminated in Africa? It was eliminated in much of South East Asia in the past half-century and eliminated in Europe in the half-century before that. Why can’t a new Christian nation be founded? Why can’t we see the third Great Awakening? It has all happened before. Where did God write that it was time for the church to throw in the towel?

What does the Bible say about the last days?

More significant than what I think or what you think about the end times is what the Bible says about it. The Bible references the subject quite a bit. The basic point the Bible makes becomes clear after reading only a few verses.

One of the first New Testament references to end times come from Christ himself in the Olivet discourse, recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

To take a brief section from Luke’s account, after Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple (a clearly first century event) the disciples ask what the sign is that the destruction of the temple is about to occur. Jesus answers them in verse 10:

Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.

Jesus moves from talking about the destruction of the temple to the signs that it was about to occur. This is the context in which he talks about “wars and rumors of wars” – to a first century audience, telling them the signs that they should expect to see before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. And how can we be sure that he hasn’t transitioned to talking about the distant future here? Simple – he tells his disciples “they shall lay hands on you” and then tells them that they will be delivered up to “the synagogues.” I’ve heard of a lot of persecution in the past century, but I don’t believe that it is taking place in front of kings and in synagogues. This is clearly written to describe something that took place 2,000 years ago. The careful reader might note that this passage says the persecution comes before the wars, famines, etc. However, in Matthew’s account, the persecution comes first. If we combine the two accounts, we understand that the first-century persecution is intertwined with the wars, earthquakes, etc., which also clearly occurred in the first century.

In Acts 2:15-17, Peter quotes the prophet Joel to explain the sight of the disciples speaking in dozens of languages and says:

For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

Peter refers to the day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of a prophecy about the “last days.” This prophecy may still be applicable to today, but it was certainly fulfilled initially in AD 33, because Peter makes that clear.

Starting in 2 Timothy 3:1, Paul gives Timothy some advice about living in end times.

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

In verse 10 he continues the practical advice:

But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;

If Paul only meant these words to apply to people in the distant future, he would not have written instructions to Timothy as to how he should deal with such people. He wrote “from such [people] turn away,” “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” and “but continue thou in the things which thou hast learned.” Rather, he would have said “be glad you won’t have to meet people like this, they’ll be showing up in a few thousand years.” Certainly, Paul writes this passage to Timothy as if he is giving instructions to Timothy in how to deal with these people. Paul looks like he thought he was living in the “last days” and that Timothy would be dealing with these last days kind of problems.

In 2 Peter 3:3, the apostle provides his audience with additional end times instruction.

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

Peter then goes on to discuss how unbelievers would reject God and concludes with a warning to his first century audience in verse 17.

 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 steadfastness.

Peter warns his first-century hearers not to follow the scoffers in the last days. Like Paul, he doesn’t wax prophetic and tell his hearers “Be glad you’re not in the last days yet.” He makes it plain that they are already living in these last days and that these end-times scoffers are already walking among them.

But if my interpretation of Peter is insufficient, Iet’s look at Jude’s interpretation of that passage in Jude verses 17-18

But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.

Jude is clearly quoting Peter here (“mockers” and “scoffers” is the same Greek word, and the only two times it is used in Scripture). Jude is applying Peter’s teaching to his first century audience. Additional reading of the passage emphasizes that Peter’s teaching is not intended uniquely for an audience in the distant future, but applies then, in a time Jude and Peter both referred to as “the last time.”

In 1 John 2:18, the apostle John is so clear to his audience as to remove all doubt. He says:

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

In the original language, the word for “time” can also be translated as “hour” and is done so 89 times in the KJV. When is the last time or last hour? Then. Sometime around 60 AD was the last time. John leaves no ambiguity.

Interpreting the biblical sense of the last days

There are two relevant interpretation options for these passages.

1) These passages were written solely or mostly about the distant future. This is the de facto interpretation I grew up with for the bulk of these passages. These passages were read when talking about the book of Revelation and the second coming of Christ. These passages were read to explain perceived changes in American culture from the alleged golden age of the 1950’s. The problem is that the Bible clearly teaches that all of these passages were directly relevant to the first century audiences.

2) These passages were talking about events that occurred in the first century and were either completely or partially fulfilled in that time. While there are many camps for interpreting eschatology, I can find a position sufficiently large enough to find common ground with most of them. These passages are talking about both events that occurred in the first century and events that would occur later. Thus they were talking about the whole final era before the second coming, which we could call the church age, or the “last days.” The window for the use of these instructions opened in 33 AD, stays open for 2, 3, or more millennium, and then closes when Christ returns.

As noted above, possibility 1 is not biblical, because it requires you to distort the obvious first century applications in the texts. If we acknowledge that the first century believers were living in the last days, the takeaway is the simple. Circumstances today are bad, in some sense, but not necessarily worse than they were in the first century.

“The last days” is a phrase God uses to refer to all the time after Christ’s departure from earth. Believing that we live in the last days is not a problem, it is biblical. But how we understand what that means makes all the difference in the world.

How ought we to live?

So what is the point of all of this? Am I trying to lure you into a false sense of security? To think that the world is improving, therefore the end cannot come? No. I think we have been living in the last days for 2,000 years. The Bible says we are.  However, our experience over two millennium of living in the last days shows that the world and church can improve and often does.

I have absolutely no Biblical reason to believe that the last days will not continue until the year 5,000. Some people point to the creation of the secular Jewish state in 1948 as concrete fulfillment of prophecy (despite the fact that the prophecy clearly says that the Jews would return to following God’s commands, not just create a secular state that largely rejects both the Old Covenant and the New – Ezekiel 36:25-27). All of the prophecy referring to the reunification of Israel occurs before its reunification under Ezra and Nehemiah, so it seems more likely to me that the older event (plus the coming of the Messiah) is the one to which the prophecy refers. Even if you believe that the 1948 event is what Ezekiel was talking about, all subsequent attempts to predict the return of Christ based on adding some window of time to the creation of Israel have failed … badly. Many preachers from many denominations have egg on their faces from bad predictions.

What is the point? Jesus wanted us to live like we were in the last days in the sense that we were always mindful of his return – never imagining that this life was all there was. Jesus did not have in mind that we would use our end times theology as justification for abandoning the great commission.

We live in the same last days that the Pilgrims lived in who brought the gospel to a new continent. We live in the same last days as the missionaries who first brought the gospel to Africa. We live in the same end times in which the disciples brought the gospel to Europe.

Think of how the Egyptians under Joseph understood the last days of plenty. They understood those seven years as a time to work hard, before the famine came. Jesus wants us to labor as though the fields are white for harvest (they are). He doesn’t want us cowering in our churches like an abused animal – cringing in the knowledge that the apocalypse is inevitable.

Yes, we have to deal with “lovers of their own selves,” covetous people, and scoffers, but so did Timothy, and you don’t see him using that as an excuse not to evangelize.

Protestantism has grown by 35% from 2000-2019. The Church is on a roll. So, if your local congregation isn’t growing, it’s high time to stop blaming the apocalypse.

 

Nathan Mayo

 

Find this interesting? Check out all of our articles here.

 

References:

Violence trends: https://slides.ourworldindata.org/war-and-violence/#/title-slide

Life Expectancy trends: https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy

Governance Trends: https://www.systemicpeace.org/polityproject.html

Chinese Church Numbers: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/christianity-china

Growth of Protestantism: Status of Global Christianity, 2019, In the Context of 1900-2050.

The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity Is Actually Thriving in America and the World by Glenn Stanton.

African Church Attendance: The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious Than Ever by Rodney Stark

American Church Attendance: The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy by Roger Fink and Rodney Stark

Various other facts like the fatality rate of the Black Death and murder rate of New York city are in the public domain and easily checked.

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/

A Closer Look at Christian Unity: Past, Present, At Home & Abroad

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It was around 3 AM in Hungary when I found myself sitting in a truck cab with two Serbian men, both complete strangers to me until that night. The man at the wheel was a Pentecostal pastor of a pioneer work in Kaposvar, he was sharing his experiences and I was listening intently.  “Every month we who are pastors in Kaposvar meet together: Baptist, Methodist, all of us.  We share what God is doing in our ministries and then we pray one for one another and for each other’s churches…”  My mind began to whirl…wait, what?  Who was meeting together?

I was walking out of the red light district in Amsterdam, still in shock over the blatant sex-trafficking and dehumanization I had just witnessed, when I heard voices singing hymns in the street.  I looked up to see a wooden cross, “JESUS” written on the front.  Men and women were sharing the gospel on the sidewalks, passing out Bibles, and preaching with a megaphone.  My friend and I couldn’t help but ask them who they were, “Christians” was the answer, “I am from a local Pentecostal Church, and my friends go to a Baptist Church.  We all have a heart to reach our city and so we come together every week.”

A Closer Look at Christian Unity: Past, Present, At Home & Abroad

It was my first day in Russia, a nation cracking down with strict laws on evangelicals.  A native, Pentecostal pastor’s daughter was texting me; asking me to come to prayer meeting that night.  “It will be much larger than usual though, once a month we invite all churches in our city to come and pray with us for each other and for our community.”

This type of interdenominational unity was an entirely new phenomenon to me, but it was incredible.  I saw love, I saw fellowship, I saw the Body of Christ functioning as one.  A love for Jesus and a love for their community were the common denominators of these fellowships, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.  Questions began to dance in my mind, why hadn’t I seen this type of collaboration in the Bible Belt, the land of churches on every corner?

I moved back to America, out west to Colorado, and began to fellowship a few churches in Colorado Springs.  Just weeks after I arrived, over 4,000 Christians from 66 local churches – all across denominations, came together and set-aside October 5th to volunteer in 100+ projects throughout their community.  The reason?  To shine the love of Christ to Colorado Springs.

It’s  hard for me to pretend that Europe is the only continent where Christians strive for unity.  They do in America too.   So, why did none of the six churches I previously attended ever participate in these attempts?  Why did they never make such attempts?  I’m afraid I don’t know why, but I do know that this is common – not just where I grew up either, there are many denominations which have a tendency towards isolation.  We could speculate all day on what has caused this, but “Why are things  the way they are?” isn’t as nearly as an important a question as “How ought things to be?”  For that answer, we need go no farther than the Bible.

Examining Christian Unity in Scripture

Christian Unity Through the Lens of Christ

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. -John 13:34-35

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 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. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 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

Christ clearly had the desire that all believers would stand united as one.  This was to be a testimony to the world that God loves His Church and that Christ was sent by the Father.

Christian Unity in the Pauline Letters

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  -Ephesians 4:1-6

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ… 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.  -Ephesians 4:12-16

12 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. 13 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. 14 For the body is not one member, but many… 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary… 25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.  26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.  -1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 21-22, 25-27

These scriptures clearly echo the teaching of Christ, commanding Christians to forbear one another in love, endeavor for unity, be a body fitly joined together edifying itself in love, and to be one as the body of Christ without any schism.  Besides these passages which address unity bluntly, there are also a plethera more which command Christians to love one another, have peace one with another, and to avoid contention.

The Biblical Teaching on Disfellowshipping Christians

On the flip side, when should Christians disfellowship one another?  Scripture addresses this, as well.

6 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. 7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you… 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 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. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.  -2 Thessalonians 3:6-8, 10-15

This passage shows us an example of admonishing Christians who were taking advantage of one another, eating other Christian’s food without ever working themselves. These men were busybodies, had disorderly conduct, and did not walk in the tradition they had received.  They were given a warning, but if they disobeyed they were not to be associated with anymore.  Thinking back to how the Early Church fellowshipped by eating at one another’s houses, this makes sense.  These men were taking advantage of this system-they did not work, but instead survived off the generosity of fellow believers, and thus becoming an unnecessary burden and drain.  It seems very fair that if they continued with this behavior they should no longer be invited to come for fellowship.  Still, they were to be admonished as brothers and not seen as enemies.

9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 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. 11 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. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.  -1 Corinthians 5:9-13

This passage sets a precedent for disfellowshiping Christians that are living unrepentant in blatant sin, specifically the sins which are here mentioned: sexual immorality, covetousness (πλεονέκτης; greediness), idolatry, railing (λοίδορος; gossiping), and extortion (ἅρπαξ; stealing).  However, after these Christians are warned, and if they continue, disfellowshipped, they are still to be accepted back into fellowship if they change their ways.

6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. -2 Corinthians 2:6-11

In summary, anyone who is part of the Body of Christ, anyone who is a believer, is biblically commanded to pursue oneness and unity one with another.  The only exceptions to this rule are when there are Christians living in continual sin, who refuse to change even when they are warned.  These sins are easily identifiable and listed clearly in scripture.  Still, unity is the goal; even the disfellowship is intended for the purpose of these brothers’ spiritual growth with the goal of receiving them back with love.

How Do We Know Who Is a Christian?

This leads to the question, “How do we know who is a Christian?”  Thankfully, the Bible answers this, as well.

31 Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.  -Acts 16:31

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. -Romans 10:9

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. -Romans 1:16

According to scripture, anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, anyone who believes the gospel, is a believer, a Christian; thus, they are someone who we ought to be striving to become one with.

A Modern Perspective on Christian Unity

With this lens, let us now examine a modern view on Christian unity.  Please understand, this is not an attempt to make this or that person or church look bad; this is me sharing exactly the same quotes and articles that I was raised reading as a Holiness teenager.  At one time, this was my authoritative source, and for a plethora of other young people it still is.  How the next generation of Christians is molded and taught is extremely serious to the health of the Body of Christ, so please read and consider the following quotes with care.

First, it is clear that the author shares an appreciation for Christian unity:

I think fellowship and unity are of great importance to the health of a church and the life of a Christian. I think a good start to promoting unity and fellowship would be to try to help others see the need for it. Stir a desire in people by outlining the benefits that come with unity and fellowship; such as spiritual strength that we draw from one another, accountability that we find with fellowship, strength in unified numbers…Go to revivals and youth rallies at neighboring churches and go to as many youth camps and youth retreats as you can… as a teenager it is important to have fellowship with young people who believe like you do and who can help encourage you!

However, the way in which he responds to questions on other issues makes the fact clear that he was not actually advocating for Christian fellowship among churches within the same neighborhood, but rather, for exclusive fellowship among a very specific type of Christian.

Question:  What do you think is the wisest move for someone in a church where everyone is either married or a teen, and you are twenty something, and single…The closest holiness church is an hour away, and there still no one my age there the closest with someone my age is about an hour and fifteen minutes?

Response:  Be Careful! I would strongly suggest that you stay away from the other denominations. 

Question: Do you think it really matters if the church you go to is holiness as long as they are living holy lives, and believe in the God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost the same way as you do?? Would you be involved with them? Would you go on missions trips with them? Yes/ NO and if no why no? Thanks.

Response: I realize that there are people out there in nominal churches who are living up to the truth that they know and they are hungry for true holiness. If that is the case then God will lead them deeper into the truth of separation and holiness living, and no doubt He will lead them to a holiness church as well. But for me to say that someone who knows the truths of holiness could justify going to a church that was not holiness just because there are people there who live holy. I cannot say that.  You are held accountable for what you know! Just be careful who you get involved with!

The next question actually concerns dating, but please don’t let this topic be a distraction.  The only idea that I want us to pay attention to is the idea that other Christians are labeled as “unbelievers” and as from “another faith” only because they do not share an identical set of non-essential beliefs (essential doctrines are those which are required in order to be a Christian).

Question: How do we believe on dating outside of Holiness? Example: Dating Baptist or Presbyterians…

Response: Wait a minute!  If you date someone from another “Faith” then you will be going against God’s word and His will.

2 Corinthians 6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness:” 

{unbeliever – includes sinners as well as those who do not believe as we do}

If you get “romantically involved” with an unbeliever then you are setting yourself up for disaster…

Hope this helps! – Bro. Spurlock-

Think about these responses.  It’s true that it would be unwise to date someone with significantly different doctrinal ideas, so on that point I am agreed.  However, notice that the author has gone so far as to lump all non-Holiness Christians into the category of “unbelievers” and as being from “another faith.”  Interestingly enough, he still acknowledges that they do no fit into the category of “sinners”.  Let’s pause for a moment, and look at the meaning of the word “unbelievers.”  This is the same Greek word (ἀπίστοις, apistois) that is used in Revelation 21:8, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”  Clearly, Christians who are not sinners cannot be unbelievers.  Thus, 2 Corinthians 6:14 was misused.

In the earlier responses, the author warned Holiness young people to stay away from other Christians.  He said that even if there is a church that believes identically on God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, even if they live holy lives, if they are not a “Holiness Church” than one should not go there, nor be involved with it.  Pause and think about the implications of these teachings.  This minister is literally telling young people to stay away from their brothers and sisters in Christ, and not to get involved with them, even if they live holy lives.  He is actually assuming that his Christian walk and particular set of non-essential beliefs (personal convictions, traditions etc.) are inherently much superior and more matured than every other non-Holiness, blood-bought, child-of-God’s beliefs and opinions.  He believes this to the degree of claiming that if other Christians really wanted the truth, God would place them in one of his churches.  It’s a claim with circular reasoning, “Stay away from all other churches because they don’t want the truth; if they did want the truth they’d be in our churches, and since they’re still in the other churches they clearly don’t want the truth”.  The author does admit that these other Christians are genuinely saved (because he differentiates them from sinners) yet, he still is adamant about avoiding them.  Why?

How does this line up with Christ’s desire for all believers to “be one” even as He and the Father are one?   Does this perspective allow any room for meeting to pray with local pastors from other denominations, starting a safe-house together, sharing the gospel together in the red-light district, or working together at Christian community events?  It seems that it doesn’t, but even if it did allow for it, this type of Christian unity is very rare between Holiness and non-Holiness believers, tending towards isolation.

If the other parts of the Body of Christ are so inferior to us, wouldn’t the most loving response be to be salt and light to them, living out our truth, holiness, and Holy-Ghost power in a manner that will make them crave what we have?  The great majority of these other Christians do not meet the biblical criteria of disfellowship, so on what biblical grounds do we remain isolated?  If these teachings to divide from the rest of Christ’s Body are not scripturally based, they will do nothing but harm the Holiness church.

John Wesley on Distinctions and Unity Among Believers

The views of John Wesley are of particular interest, as his teachings on holiness and outward appearance can be traced as a direct source and root of the Holiness Movement, especially in regards to the Holiness Standard.  In other words, the same movement which now is represented by the above view on Christian unity, originally was represented by the following one; the contrast is an interesting study.  First, here is a reference on just how much Wesley aligned with the Holiness Movement, below are a few of his outward standards;

Wear no gold . . . no pearls or precious stones; use no curling of hair, or costly apparel, how grave soever. I advise those who are able to receive this saying, Buy no velvets, no silks, no fine linen, no superfluities, no mere ornaments, though ever so much in fashion. Wear nothing, though you have it already, which is of a glaring colour, or which is any kind gay, glistening, or showy; nothing made in the very height of fashion, nothing apt to attract the eyes of by-standers.

Considering his unusually strict stance, his teachings on what distinctions the Methodists should be know for, and how they should relate to the rest of Christian denominations, are of great interest.

The following quotations are taken out of his writing entitled, “The Character of a Methodist”.  This chapter is not written directly on the subject of Christian unity, but rather the way in which his Christian followers should see themselves in regards to other Christians.

THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist…

Nor do we desire to be distinguished by actions, customs, or usages, of an indifferent nature. Our religion does not lie in doing what God has not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden. It does not lie in the form of our apparel, in the posture of our body, or the covering of our heads; nor yet in abstaining from marriage, or from meats and drinks, which are all good if received with thanksgiving. Therefore, neither will any man, who knows whereof he affirms, fix the mark of a Methodist here, — in any actions or customs purely indifferent, undetermined by the word of God.  Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it… 

“What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” 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 earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”

For reason of space, I will not insert Wesley’s following 11 paragraphs of the characteristics a Methodist should be known for, but will instead list the majority of them, using his words:

1)  He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy, as having in him “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” and overflowing his soul with peace and joy. “Perfect love” having now “cast out fear,” he “rejoices evermore.”

2)  He cheerfully receives all, saying, “Good is the will of the Lord;” and whether the Lord giveth or taketh away, equally “blessing the name of the Lord.”

3)  For indeed he “prays without ceasing.” It is given him “always to pray, and not to faint.” 

4)  He loves every man as his own soul. His heart is full of love to all mankind…That a man is not personally known to him, is no bar to his love; no, nor that he is known to be such as he approves not, that he repays hatred for his good-will. For he “loves his enemies;” yea, and the enemies of God, “the evil and the unthankful.” And if it be not in his power to “do good to them that hate him,” yet he ceases not to pray for them, though they continue to spurn his love, and still “despitefully use him and persecute him.”

5)  He is “pure in heart.” The love of God has purified his heart from all revengeful passions, from envy, malice, and wrath, from every unkind temper or malign affection. It hath cleansed him from pride and haughtiness of spirit, whereof alone cometh contention.

6)  His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth.

7)  Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God hath enjoined, he doeth; and that whether it be little or great, hard or easy, joyous or grievous to the flesh.

8)  His obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows.

9)  Whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God.

10) He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. 

11) As he has time, he “does good unto all men;” unto neighbours and strangers, friends and enemies.

The above list bears incredible similarity to the lists of biblical applications of Holiness as written out in the articles on Separation from the World and NT Evidences of Personal Holiness.  Does it make you want to meet these so-called Methodists?  It does for me!  I find it fascinating that this is what Wesley desired his followers to be known for, even though he taught so much on outward appearance.  Read his closing paragraphs with attention;

These are the principles and practices of our sect; these are the marks of a true Methodist. By these alone do those who are in derision so called, desire to be distinguished from other men. If any man say, “Why, these are only the common fundamental principles of Christianity!” thou hast said; so I mean; this is the very truth; I know they are no other; and I would to God both thou and all men knew, that I, and all who follow my judgment, do vehemently refuse to be distinguished from other men, by any but the common principles of Christianity, — the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction. And whosoever is what I preach, (let him be called what he will, for names change not the nature of things,) he is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.

   18. By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labour to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatsoever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after what they know they have not yet attained. No: “Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” And I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that we be in no wise divided among ourselves. Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thine? I ask no farther question. If it be, give me thy hand. For opinions, or terms, let us not destroy the work of God. Dost thou love and serve God? It is enough. I give thee the right hand of fellowship. If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies; let us strive together for the faith of the Gospel; walking worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called; with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; remembering, there is one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called with one hope of our calling; “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

It seems that Wesley understood the Christian unity very much like Paul did; that all of us who have confessed Christ as our personal Lord and Savior are all one as the Body of Christ.  There should be no differentiating between us as; no caste system of lessers and greaters.  We must love one another, and be willing to work together for the glory of Christ and salvation of our communities.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s hard for us in the 21st century to know what unity should look like, when there seems to be denominational splits over the smallest of matters.  Think back to the New Testament pattern, Christians united by locality and geographical location, not by theological agreement on the non-essentials. It’s hard to imagine this, and even harder to know how this example should apply in our diverse, modern Church culture, but a few things are for sure.  One: we, as the Church, have been commissioned to stand for truth and be the hands and feet of Christ in our generation.  Two: this will never happen without a fight.  Three: no soldier will fight at his best when his hands, feet, and eyeballs are scattered across a city refusing to acknowledge one another.

We will never win the fight for the unborn, for the millions of human trafficking victims, for the family and the home, if we do not stand together as a unified body. A church on this corner, that corner, and the other corner is fantastic, but only if they’re working together. If they’re in constant competition, or even just apathetic silence to one another, than a great opportunity to impact their community has been lost. For example, when I came back with stories of how the church in Albania banded together to break up a pedophile ring in their city and start a safe-house for the rescued girls, the general response was, “Fantastic!  Too bad we’re too small a church to ever do something like that.” But then drive down the road and pass four more “too small” churches before I make my second turn. It then occurs to me that this American city has many, many more churched Christians than that little isolated place in Albania, but without unifying, the girls in their neighborhoods will going being sold, night after night.

No matter how difficult, not matter how controversial, we cannot afford to give up on Christian unity. This is the prayer of our Savior mere hours before going to the cross.  It’s dear to His heart, and it must be dear to ours.

-Natalie Mayo

 

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References:
Archive for the ‘Dress and Adornment’ Category,The Old Landmark, Celebrating Our Apostolic Heritage, theoldlandmark.WordPress.com.
Character of a Methodist,” by John Wesley, Scroll Publishing Co.

http://answersinholiness.blogspot.com/

How Big is the Church?

500 2BSoldiers

The Great Commission, restated several times in Scripture, commands us to go into all the world and make disciples. While the experience of the first missionaries in the New Testament show us that this will not be easy, and many will reject the truth, the Bible also gives us some cause for optimism.

The Trajectory of Early Church Growth

In Daniel 2:35, Daniel prophecies that the stone in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which represents the Kingdom of God springing up from Christ’s ministry, would grow to fill the earth. “[T]he stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” In John 12:32, Jesus says that “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” The way the New Testament uses the word “all,” this most likely means that all kinds of people will be drawn to him, rather than each and every person. However, it still conveys the idea that ministry will be largely successful. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says that the “gates of hell” will not prevail against his church. This is also suggestive of the power that his church will have in ministry.

In example after example, the book of Acts shows us congregations that grew up incredibly fast in response to the gospel. Paul would visit a new city that had no believers, and within 3-4 years, there would be a church there of significant enough size to warrant a letter, possibly several hundreds or thousands of believers. Paul may have been an exceptional missionary, but there were others spreading the Gospel independently in the same time who saw similar results. If we assume that the church started with approximately 3,000 believers at Pentecost, then the church grew, on average 26% per decade for at least the next 150 years.

By 180 AD, around a century and a half after Pentecost, the population of the church was around 100,000. This amounts to 0.05% or 500 in one million of the total world population at the time. This is even more impressive when you consider that Christianity was mostly confined to the Roman world, and had not reached the Americas, Northern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Eastern Asia. Due to the intense persecution at this time, we can reasonably assume that almost none of these people were “nominal” Christians; they would almost all be true, practicing believers.

The Size of the Holiness Movement

If we assume, as the Holiness movement does, that it represents the purest part of God’s universal church (or perhaps, all of God’s universal church, as the phrase “Holiness or hell” suggests), let’s see how its size compares to the early church. Estimates for the size of the Holiness church are not available anywhere that I can find, however, we can use the church directory in the publication “the Holiness Messenger” to approximate the size of the movement. There are currently 446 churches listed online. Although there is no way of knowing whether they all meet Holiness standards, we will assume that they do. If we make the rather generous assumption that there are 45 practicing Holiness people in each, that only amounts to 20,070 Holiness people. If we make the equally generous assumption that there are at least 100 Holiness churches outside of the US of comparable size, that brings our total to just under 25,000 Holiness people in the world. That makes the population of the Holiness movement 0.0003% of the world’s population, or 3 in one million.

Furthermore, as best as we can tell, that population is shrinking. Looking at the print directory published in 2010, the number of Holiness churches used to be 660. While some of this is probably measurement error, the trend does seem to be moving in a bad direction for the Holiness movement.

In my own personal experience, all four of the Holiness churches that I have previously attended are smaller than they were when I attended 10-20 years ago (and one has ceased to exist). It’s a simple question to ask yourself, how many people have been saved at your local Holiness church and remained there in the past five years? Can you count them on one hand? Can you count them without a hand? If you subtract backsliders, do you need negative fingers to count them?

Holiness is also not very geographically distributed. It seems to be completely absent from 17 states and there is only one church in 6 other states. Holiness had 37 missionaries registered in the 2010 directory in at best 10 countries, so that leaves around 180 countries with no Holiness presence. Holiness is also not very diverse. Hispanics and African Americans make up very little of God’s true church. I personally do not know one, though I may have seen one at a camp meeting somewhere. I have never seen a Holiness person of Asian descent anywhere. Holiness also tend to be lower on the Socio-economic ladder. I know very few Holiness people who are in the upper 40% of American income earners. I know of no Holiness doctors, lawyers, pilots, military officers, or business executives. Holiness mayors, sheriffs, city counsel-men, state representatives, and judges are equally conspicuous in their absence. If you know one, I’m surprised, but you certainly don’t know many. If Christians are the salt of the earth, and Holiness people are the best Christians, then Holiness people are only salting a tiny fraction of the earth. Their influence is limited almost exclusively to white, poor, rural, America.

So, allow me to illustrate the size of the church visually. The first picture, of 500 soldiers, represents the 500:1,000,000 ratio of the early church (180 AD) to the rest of the world.

How Big is the Church?

This picture represents the 3:1,000,000 ratio of the Holiness church to the rest of the world.

How Big is the Church?

Clearly, if the Holiness church is the true church of God, then the church has decreased in influence dramatically over the past 1,900 years. Far from growing to fill the whole earth, it has “shrunken to a corner of a corner of America.”

Explaining the size of the Holiness movement

There are a few possible reasons why that could be the case. Allow me to examine each.

1) There are lots of Holiness believers around the world that simply go by a different name.

Proponents of this belief would have to present some evidence to support that claim. I have visited 39 countries and attended church in many of them. I have never found other churches that share even 50% of Holiness theological distinctive and practices. The beliefs themselves are not that original, but the blending of the beliefs varies considerably from group to group. I typically notice people that “look Holiness” in the US (most of which who end up being members of the “Oneness” United Pentecostal Church), but I have not seen people on the street in other countries that stood out to me. I have seen no evidence that there are large numbers of people around the world who are Holiness by another name.

2) There are a lot of true Christians in other denominations, but God is just less happy with them.

This belief is shared by some more liberal Holiness people, but it runs into issues when you try to determine to degree to which it is true. If you believe that only a tiny fraction of other mainline denominations are Christians (say 5-10%), then you have done little to expand the numbers of the universal church, and we are still stuck with the question, “Why has the universal church failed so badly?” If you grant broader latitude to other denominations, like a very generous Holiness person might, we could imagine that 50%-80% of mainline denominations are true Christians, but that God isn’t very happy with them. If that is the case, then why doesn’t God convict the majority of the church to conform to the “true standards” of the Holiness movement? I have interacted with hundreds of Christians from other denominations, and I have observed no evidence that they are convicted by Holiness standards. I have heard of no “purification movements” within these churches to “return” to Holiness standards. If God is sending a large swath of non-Holiness Christians to heaven, but he is not happy with them, why wouldn’t at least the most sincere of those people be migrating to the Holiness church? I have never met a single person who migrated from a mainstream protestant denomination to Holiness. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, I’m just saying it seems unlikely that this could be the explanation.

3) Jesus says that “few” people will find the truth. The 25,000 are just the few people.

Jesus did say in Matthew 7:14 that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” There are multiple ways that this statement could be true. Reasonably, if 1 in 5 people was a true Christian, then the number of Christians would be “few.” The 1 in 26 people that say they are Bible believing Christians also certainly meets Jesus’ description. While Jesus could have had in mind the 1 in 300,000 people who are Holiness, this is not necessary for his words to be fulfilled. If it were, he might have said “and pretty much no one will find it.” Furthermore, it is unsatisfactory that the few who found him would decrease, not only in percentage of the population, but also in absolute number from the early church. If that’s true, then the “few” decreased fourfold, while the population of the earth increased thirty-eightfold. The few decreased, while the gospel traveled to entirely new continents that had never had a chance to receive it before.

4) We are experiencing the “falling away” foretold in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”

There are a few of possible answers to this objection. First, this passage may not be referring to the end times at all. Paul references “the son of perdition” “sitting in the temple.” A quick google search will show you that no temple currently exists (although a certain school of thought predicts that it will be rebuilt for a fourth time), and this could very feasibly be referring to the persecution foretold by Christ in regards to destruction of temple in 70 AD. The son of perdition could refer to either Nero proclaiming himself to be a God, or the Roman military leaders who desecrated the temple, and then sacked it. Second, even if this is referring to end times, no one can say that the broader church outside isn’t experiencing this phenomenon. Although the church is growing in parts of the world, it is experiencing a “falling away” in most of the West. Third, it is notable that a lot of people misquote the verse by adding the word “great” before “falling away.” Even if the falling away is currently happening, that probably does not refer to a shrinkage of the 95%+ required to make Holiness the “remnant.” If the church is cut in half from what it was in 1900, that certainly constitutes a falling away, but it doesn’t make Holiness all that remains.

5) Holiness does not represent the fullness of the universal church.

This, I think, is a sensible explanation.  The universal church, the bride of Christ, has flaws, but has not failed to fulfill her mandate. The Church has expanded to all the corners of the globe, and I have seen it. I have personally seen it in the poverty stricken Haiti, in Muslim oppressed North Africa, in the spiritually frigid Northern Europe. I have seen the power of the gospel transform lives, and Christians live out the commands of Christ to love, serve, and grow. We may be a remnant, but we are an influential one. We are salting the earth at all levels of society, in all cultures, and among all races. Although we thought Holiness was the only one left, like Elijah, we find that there are 7,000 prophets who have not bowed to Baal. If we only count people who say they believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God, the population of Christians is around 285 million or 3.7% of the world’s population.

This amounts to 37,000 in one million people. Allow me to illustrate what that looks like.

How Big is the Church?

Isn’t that army so much more reassuring than the army of three? Be of good cheer. Christ has overcome the world. There is much more to be done, and it is not for me to say when God will decide to end the world. But in the interim, the salt is still good for something.

These arguments do not prove conclusively that the tiny fraction of the world who is Holiness is not the last remnant of the universal Church. However, these observations helped me to understand that God is doing something much bigger, with many more people, than I ever imagined while sitting on a padded pew in a Holiness church that no longer exists.

-Nathan Mayo

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References:

Early Church Population: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2017/09/how-many-christians/

Population of the World: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_estimates

Number of Bible Believing Christians: https://www.learnreligions.com/christianity-statistics-700533
Number of Holiness Churches in 2010: http://holiness-preaching.com/frame-church-directory.html