A few weeks ago I received a private message from a fellow believer in Christ raising some questions on the issue of holiness. It’s going to get long and tedious past this point, folks, so I don’t blame you if you hit the silk now.
As a due courtesy, the following went to the person who sent me the private message first. I have expanded somewhat on what I wrote to him and have taken care to remove any identifying passages re 3rd parties.
I took this message quite seriously, and spent time reading scripture, praying, meditating, and reading books and essays on this topic by Christians and non-Christians alike to best absorb and understand not just what the brother wrote to me, but what others have written on the topic, and to open my heart and mind both to self-inspection re my motives and goals, and of course over all to understand what God desires of me personally and of us as a body of believers.
Because in the end, what everyone who wrote on the topic seemed to agree upon -- including the person who wrote to me -- was that holiness consisted first and foremost of a willingness to be in tune with what God wants, both for ourselves and for the rest of His creation.
What triggered the message to me was a series of posts on two Christian forum threads that had raised quite a few discussion points.
Not all Christians participating in these discussions were in accord with all points raised, but for the most part, while we will not compromise what we felt God has led us to believe, to our differing brothers we say go in peace.
As Paul wrote, what is sinful to one is not necessarily sinful to another and while those strong in their faith should not lord it over their weaker brothers, neither should the weaker brothers hinder the strong.
Christ and Paul both cautioned against stumbling blocks we set before others. Most Christians are in agreement that those new to the faith should be encouraged to grow in maturity, strength, and wisdom, and sometimes for a particular new believer in a particular time and particular place and particular set of circumstances, we should let them hold to their incomplete understanding until they have a sound enough faith footing to proceed.
But this is not the same as dictating all other believers must stand still and not grow at their own pace, but rather stay mired at the new believer's level.
I am reminded of when civil rights finally began permeating the South when I was a boy. A lot of conservatives were saying, "Wait! Hold! Not too fast! Let the people prepare themselves for this change."
And the irrefutable answer was, "If not now, when?"
The trigger incident for the private message sent to me involved some posts by a particular Brother In Question (hence BIQ).
Someone on the forum asked if anybody had any good pie recipes (I’m using deliberate arch metaphors here so as to further obscure identity and protect people's privacy).
Several other members chimed in, myself included, each recommending a different type of pie; for purposes of this discussion we'll say I recommended cherry pie and some of the others recommended various fruit pies while others recommend other types of pies.
The BIQ then posted to the effect that we were wrong to like fruit pies, though he did raise a valid point about some people being allergic to fruit pies.
To which we responded yeah, that's why we let people know what's in them so they can decide for themselves (and besides, you don't have to eat a pie to understand how it is baked and how to apply that knowledge to other kinds of pie).
The BIQ then posted he didn't need to read other people's recipes: He made mud pies so of course he knew everything there was to know about baking all kinds of pies.
That's when I posted a quote from a particular R-rated movie, which can be paraphrased as: "Hop up and down. I want to hear your strutting peacock machismo clang together."
Now, the Bible tells us in Proverbs to use the rod of correction. This has been perverted to mean it is okay to beat children and inflict pain on them in the name of "discipline".
But that's not how shepherds use a rod. They use their rods to steer the sheep, blocking one path, nudging them along another, on occasion shoving them over if the situation is dire enough.
They don't beat their animals or inflict harm on them.
So my quote from the particular R-rated movie was meant to nudge the BIQ, to get him to think, "Hmm, here are a bunch of bakers, maybe they know something about pies" instead of setting himself up as a fount of all knowledge.
(And, yes, merciful heavens, I am well aware I am an egregious sinner in that category as well; sometimes it takes one to know one.)
Now, I don't know if the person who sent me a private message also sent one to the BIQ raising this point to him; I would like to think so because I believe the person who contacted me is a fair person.
But the private message sent to me feared for my soul, and -- in light of my quoting an R-rated movie -- wondered if I understood and appreciated Biblical holiness (it also raised other points re opinions I voiced, but the R-rated movie quote seemed to be the trigger).
As I said, I took this message very, very seriously as it did not come from the sort of person to toss such a remark off lightly.
So I read and I prayed and I studied and I meditated.
Yes, I believe in holiness.
But I do not believe holiness requires priggishness or prudery.
God created us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees us when we're sitting on the toilet. He designed us so that we would eat and excrete and have uses for our sex organs. By His own word spoken to Peter and Paul and through Christ, nothing He has created is unclean. Nothing.
That was His intent from the moment the Word was spoken to create the universe.
So if I use blunt language to get a point across, God knows in my heart what my intent was.
My intent was not to arouse the BIQ by referring to a portion of his anatomy. My intent was to toss a metaphorical cold bucket of water on him, to get him to examine his post and see what message he was sending to others.
To the person who wrote the private message, I sent this in response:
“You and I are both laborers in the fields of the Lord, but we are not set to the exact same task. We are similar, yet we are different.
“You feel for your task a certain set of standards are to be met. You may very well be right, and even if you are wrong in a particular aspect, it's inconsequential to the task at hand. As long as you get your assigned task done properly, you may do it in any manner or style you see fit, and if wearing a suit and tie seems correct and appropriate for you, do so with God's blessing.
“But my task doesn't require a suit and tie; indeed, like Sun Yat Sen I believe neckties strangle clear thinking. I'm a jeans and sweatshirt kinda guy, and as long as I complete my assigned task, I don't think God really cares all that much what I look like so long as I deliver the groceries.
“God looks at you and says, ‘I love you, my child, because you wish to show me respect.’
“And God looks at me and says, ‘I love you, my child, because you don't let external appearances affect you.’
“And God looks at you and says, ‘I love you, my child, despite your wish to impress me with your show of respect.’
“And God looks at me and says, ‘I love you, my child, despite your being an utter lazy slob.’
“It doesn't matter to Him. It shouldn't matter to us. As Paul wrote who are we to judge the servant of another?
“The fields are full, the harvest is ready. Let's not squabble over dress codes and table manners.
“Yours in Christ,