The Evangelicals and Catholics Together "Call to Holiness" is much more church-focused than historic Anglo-American evangelical talk about holiness. That is no doubt because evangelicalism has always warned against mistaking mere church participation for following Jesus. As Billy Sunday said, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile."

But many of our evangelical forebears, from the Puritan John Owen to Methodist founder John Wesley and Salvation Army founder William Booth, understood deeply the social nature of holiness. They also understood the social nature of spiritual sloth, and strove to purify the established church.

Historically, evangelicals have suspected that the church gets too easily co-opted by cultural and political norms; so they've labored for reform and revival, often creating alternative structures for inculcating holiness, from class meetings to camp meetings. They formed many of these structures because the churches were not "preaching the gospel to the poor." In the long run, the church has benefited from alternative structures, but only when it has appropriated them in a spirit of self-criticism and a longing for renewal.

Evangelical suspicion of church also prompted some to think about holiness mostly in individualistic terms. Although some 19th-century holiness advocates sacrificed for social reform, others tended to become preoccupied with the self. The title of a classic CT book review about one 19th-century holiness leader says it all: "The Entire Sanctification of an Extraordinary Ego."

"The Call to Holiness" reminds us how crucial it is to wed individual passion for holiness to perpetual church renewal and social reform. Evangelicals have an abundance of historical resources for all three tasks. The document also talks about radical, cruciform love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "the way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle." The Puritan John Bunyan would have said the same.

The difficulty is to find the wisdom to renounce the things that hinder us, while welcoming all the good gifts that God has given us. There is also an opposite difficulty: having the wisdom to affirm and enjoy the good things God gives us, including the fruits of human culture, without lapsing into worldliness. Many of us are rightly wary of falling back into the old "Christ against culture" pattern. Yet we must always engage culture with a critical eye. Even as Jesus loves all human beings, he will judge all human works.

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This is a moment of opportunity for us to renew our churches as outposts of the kingdom, as models of an alternative culture that witnesses both to God's judgment and his redeeming love. And it is a time for us to examine our own lives and band together to "provoke everybody into 'fits of love and kindness' " (Heb. 10:24, Cotton Patch).

Related Elsewhere:

A Distinctive People | A new document from Evangelicals and Catholics Together challenges narcissism, individualism, and spiritual sloth.

More articles on Evangelicals and Catholics Together include:

What I'd Like to Tell the Pope About the Church | Responding to the main criticism Catholics have against evangelicals: that we have no doctrine of the church. (June 15, 1998)
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A New Initiative | "The Gift of Salvation" A remarkable statement on what we mean by the gospel. (Dec. 8, 1997)
Evangelicals, Catholics Issue Salvation Accord | The Gift of Salvation," a document expressing significant theological agreement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics, is drawing mixed reactions from leading evangelicals. (Jan. 12, 1998)
Betraying the Reformation? | Two responses to R. C. Sproul's critical assessment of the ecumenical document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." (Oct. 7, 1996)

Other ECT statements mentioned in this article are available from First Things:

Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium
The Gift of Salvation
Your Word Is Truth
The Communion of Saints

More about Ecumenism is available on our website.

More about the pursuit of holiness includes:

Dick Staub Interview: Jerry Bridges Is Still Pursuing Holiness | After 25 years, The Pursuit of Holiness is a classic. (April 26, 2004)
Testify! | A glimpse inside the world of "holiness testimony," through the story of an ex-slave woman evangelist. (July 02, 2004)
Christian History Corner: Holy America, Phoebe! | It swept across church lines, transforming America's urban landscape with its rescue missions and storefront churches. Yet today, the "holiness movement" and its charismatic woman leader are all but forgotten. (May 14, 2004)

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