What does holiness today look like? Oh, I am not talking about Holiness Today, this magazine, as much as I like it. I am asking an altogether different question. What does it mean to be a holy person in the media-saturated, politically-divided, and economically-savaged social context in which much of our world is immersed today?
The holiness movements of the previous three centuries were characterized by a passionate belief that there is a way of life that can be described in biblical terms, lived out in the social reality of the times, and characterized by a vibrant and life transforming spiritual experience.
It has been refreshing for me to see places around our globe where people of the Church of the Nazarene continue to embrace a genuine passion for the holy life. It is not always easy. Some of the settings where they live are incredibly oppressive and others are dangerous and life threatening, yet these courageous people live a winsome and rugged holiness that cannot be ignored.
I have seen it in one country, where our pastor was able to register the Church of the Nazarene by presenting to the Religious Affairs Office of his country the arrest records of the past 15 years. He had preached each Sunday, knowing that because he had done so, he would be arrested. Sometimes he was kept for 24 hours; at other times he was kept for days. However, his arrest records provided the necessary proof that the church had indeed been in existence throughout the 15 years required for the church to be registered. His life and witness gave living proof that holiness works!
I have seen that winsome and rugged holiness in the face of a loving pastor who worked with the people in a huge slum within a major South American city. Where drugs and gang activity took lives and wrecked homes, this pastor and his church provided a computer lab inside the slum. Teenagers could go there to learn a constructive skill; they were also taught and discipled in wholesome and holy living in spite of their environment. Eventually, many of these young people were hired by major corporations as computer technicians, therefore providing them with a way out of the poverty that had gripped their families for generations. Compassionate holiness made a profound difference in those young lives.
I have seen it in a local congregation in a large U.S. city, where a congregation has built a community center that is not primarily for church use. This facility gives the church people a means of reaching into a changing community where subsidized housing has presented them with a challenging environment. Rather than flee a changing community, this vibrant church, already 100 years old, has rediscovered its own roots. A new generation of Nazarenes committed to community transformation is being created, which has helped the church to turn a major corner as it renews itself while it changes the world.
Holiness is, by its very nature, winsome and rugged.
It is winsome in that it is demonstrably an alternative way of living that exudes the holy love of God in the face of pressure to conform to the environment. It loves deeply, cares compassionately, and engages willingly. It offers a loving hand in the face of hostility and rejection, and more often than not, it finds a surprisingly positive response. Unbelievers are intrigued by genuine holiness. They may not understand it, but they cannot ignore it.
Holiness is rugged. It is capable of living in the power of the Holy Spirit at the very gates of hell. It refuses to be molded by the culture, but it is willing to be guided by Paul's admonition that not even a hint of immorality should be seen in the life of the Christ-follower.
Winsome, rugged holiness is not censorious or judgmental. It refuses to engage in disputes that divide, destroy, and demean. It can differ graciously, believe in others, and love unconditionally.
This is that holiness of which Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13. This is that holiness that drove Phineas Bresee to the neglected quarters of the city. And this is that holiness that drives the mission of the Church of the Nazarene around the world.
"Called Unto Holiness"—that's what I'm talking about!
Jesse C. Middendorf is a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, January/February 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.