Centuries of social, political, cultural, and religious diversity weigh heavily on expressions of Christianity. Party politics, greed, personality driven ministries, ministry as business, and denominational and non-denominational church struggles over members seem to be the order of the day. These influences have moved Christians further and further away from divine principles to which Christians are called to live out before a world that is far from God. The Church is called to be holy; so Christians must pursue holiness amidst an unholy world. The world does not know God so the world cannot lead in holiness. The best way to win the world to faith in Christ is by bearing witness to Christ through the Christian’s lifestyle of holiness – a life that is indifferent of the world—and expressed love towards those who are not living that life. Miller argues that a careful revisit of historical developments that have altered Christianity from its biblical form of indifference might be a meaningful way for the Church to regain its fervor in representing Christ in the world—a world that God expects for Christians to be in but not of.
Duke University School of Divinity Professors Hauerwas and Willimon correctly note that biblical Christianity is not meant to be a nationalized religion. Christ’s followers are “called-out” to live peculiar in the world. Hauerwas and Willimon point out that “the Church,” as those called out by God embodies an important alternative to the world that the world cannot know on its own terms. The most authentically biblical Church is the one that stands in contrast to society rather than one that seeks to diffuse Herself into the status quo of society.
Scripture requires that the Church be the continued presence of Christ in the world. A close study of the biblical Jesus reveals that the Church must be holy, full of love, and full of grace. In a society filled with a wide-range of perversion, hate and envy, it is critical that Christians earnestly contend for faith as revealed in Christ. This means that there are times when cultural adaptation is appropriate and there are times when Christianity must opt for cultural indifference. When society pursues systems of beliefs that are antithetical to biblical teachings, God requires the Church to stand against society.
The Church is connected to the world as it serves as healing balm, a way out, the divine arm of salvation for people in the world. She bears “Good news” in the face of bad news. The church, moreover, must remain distinct from the world in order to carry out its Christological purpose in the world. The Church must remain connected to the world through the Holy Spirit that empowers the church to continue to bear witness of Christ in the world.
As churches (communities of call out believers) return to holiness, we will regain distinction amidst a work of religious plurality. There was a time when people knew who the Christians were. They acted differently than others; they interacted with others with grace and love; their attitude was with optimism of Christ. The very name “Christian” was a term of mockery in Antioch of first century. The followers of Christ exemplified a distinct strive towards being like Christ. So they gloried in the term of mockery and wore it proudly. Today, among those who call ourselves Christians, the salient question is do we strive to be holy like Christ or are we accommodating to society’s ways of living?
Preachers do not preach on holiness much these days. Many Christians forfeit the beauty of holiness when we shun the very conversation of holiness. As soon as the preacher says the word “holiness,” some of us turn a deaf ear and blame her or him of the “l” word—legalism. As a result, many preachers offer polemics against “being religious.” They say something like, “God doesn’t want us to be ‘religious;’ we need ‘relationship.” Christian television has made the language of “Kingdom living” popular. Still there are others who use the following language: “We need to live ‘godly,’” “Let’s get crunk for Christ” or, “We need to be on fire for Christ,” avoiding the language of “holiness.” The assumption is that the language of “religion,” or “holiness” is loaded; thus, using the language in sermons is more off-putting than inviting in the ears of the congregation, particularly any people who are not Christians yet. There is often a desire in contemporary preaching to mingle contemporary jargon and ideology with preaching.
Perhaps, the purpose for alternative, popular language serves as mechanism to make the gospel seem “cool.” On the one hand, I do agree that cultural translation is important to effectively communicate the message of Jesus Christ. Language is key to translating the message of Christ. On the other hand, the message and life of Christ requires that preaching maintain commitment to a message that emphasizes the absolute difference between holiness and unholiness. So then, making the gospel practical and relevant to people of all walks of life, multiple vernaculars, and in changing times is essential for translating the gospel message with relevance.
There is a thin line, however, between drawing from cultural signs, symbols, patterns and languages to communicate a more profound message from a biblical worldview and drawing from the worldview of society and applying those worldviews onto biblical concepts. When found guilty of the latter, one risks improper ideological syncretism. It is important, moreover, to note that biblical holiness has internal norms by which it transforms people from living out worldviews and systems of beliefs, which are contrary to those internal norms. So, while we use relevant vernacular, contemporary signs, symbols, patters, and other tools to communicate God’ Word, we must remain in tune with the enduring nature of God’s character — holiness to which all believers are called.
The founder of the Methodist churches, John Wesley, once said, “True religion consists in the living relationship of God.” As I have suggested in other posts, preaching should not seek to bifurcate “religion and relationship.” Rather, preaching must propagate what Wesley calls “true religion,” which includes binding one’s self to biblical teachings, consisting of a vibrant relationship with God. Let the Church cry, “Holy!”
. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 17, 18.