Holiness Without the Legalism
A new theological manifesto marks an effort by historic Holiness churches to rearticulate their key doctrine for today. At the end of February, the Wesleyan Holiness Study Project (WHSP) released a document that had been in the works for three years.
According to Kevin Mannoia, graduate and faculty chaplain at Azusa Pacific University, this document also marks the first time these historic Holiness denominations have cooperated in this way. Each of the ten denominations provided funding and sent three representatives to participate in the three-year project. These included both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal branches of the movement, as well as black and white denominations. The participating denominations are the Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church, Brethren in Christ, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, International Pentecostal Holiness, Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Church of God in Christ, Shield of Faith, and the Christian & Missionary Alliance.
From the 1840s to the end of the19th century, key leaders believed that the culturally dominant form of Methodism had slipped from its original commitments and formed splinter groups to revive the concern for holiness taught by Methodist founder John Wesley. These groups served the poor and culturally marginalized, and taught them principles of holy living. Some split with the Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Pentecostal movement sprang from the soil of these Holiness groups.
CT editor David Neff interviewed Kevin Mannoia, who served as chair of the WHSP steering committee, about the significance of the project. The Holiness Manifesto can be read at holinessandunity.org
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The Holiness Manifesto says that "holy people are not legalistic or judgmental. They do not pursue an exclusive private state of being better than others. Holiness is not flawlessness but the fulfillment of God's intention for us." Can you unpack that for us?
That is our effort to acknowledge the "valley moments" in our own histories. We recognize, for example, that in the mid-20th century a lot of what we did was based out of a legalism that was behaviorally oriented and in many cases became judgmental.
And we're trying to say that we all recognize that pitfall. We reject that, and we want to capture the spirit of this message afresh.
The document says that holiness is not "an exclusive private state of being" and frames holiness as neighbor love. It uses "covenant" language. There's a more communal understanding of holiness in this statement, that holiness is not just about us as individuals but about individuals belonging to a covenant people.
We're trying to say that we have also fallen prey to the idea of a privatized faith, that you are holy internally and that it has no external responsibility to community and to culture. We recognize that we cannot be holy in our hearts without an overflow of action and engagement with other people and with culture. The important thing here is that holiness begins with God. It does not begin with the church, it does not begin with a person, it does not begin with the Bible. It begins with God.
One characteristic of God is holiness, and at the root of that is his love for humanity. Out of that abundant love then, his otherness, which is essentially his holiness, finds expression in reaching and engaging with humanity for redemptive and reconciling purposes.
So if we pursue becoming Christ-like, which is the essence of holiness, then we will not only be transformed into his holy character, but that love will flow through us and compel us to engage and to transform culture. You can't have individual holiness without social holiness. It's impossible.