Posts Tagged ‘christian holiness’

When in Rome-What are Christians to Do?

When in Rome-What are Christians to Do?

 by Al Truesdale
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Al Truesdale

The writings of the apostle Peter might have first been penned nearly 2,000 years ago, but as time passes, they become more and more relevant to believers seeking to serve Christ. For in many ways, our society is beginning to mirror the culture in which early believers lived.

The apostle Peter urged his audience to rigorously discipline their values and practices. Greco-Roman culture contrasted sharply with his description of Christian discipleship. For example, Greco-Roman society was honeycombed by polytheism (worship of many gods). The Romans even encouraged their citizens to worship multiple gods, as long as people recognized the supremacy of Rome and its central deities. The absence of hope, as well as fear of demons, death, and judgment, marked Greco-Roman culture. So one issue that made the gospel attractive was its promise of refuge from a pervasive fear of spiritual enemies.

Also, from a Christian standpoint, Greco-Roman society was morally rudderless. This was evident in Greco-Roman sexuality practices and entertainment. Laws placed few restraints upon sexual expression. Greeks saw human sexuality as only a pleasurable art. The Romans viewed it as that part of humanity where the animal still resided, and did not consider the idea that sexual intercourse should express a sacred bond of love between husband and wife. Between the ready availability of prostitutes and the presence of slaves in many households, sex was in plentiful supply.

Roman entertainment also depicted their lack of value for life and morals. The Roman Coliseum evidenced an expanding thirst for violence as the games degenerated into pointless massacre and the crowds became immune to cruelty and bloodshed. Claudius (A.D. 41-54) required that mortally wounded combatants remove their helmets so he and the crowd could better watch death’s agony.

Against this pagan backdrop, Peter called for Christians to conform to an entirely different way of life. Darkened passion, ignorance, and futility marked the old way. An imperishable hope, confidence in God, and holiness characterize the new. The Greco-Roman gods required strict attention to religious ritual, but they did not require strict moral conduct.

How unlike the holy God! The contrast between the promiscuity of many Greco-Roman deities and the holy discipline required of God’s children was unmistakable. No God like Him could be found among the Greco-Roman deities. Ransomed from futile ways, God’s children were now to express and share in His very nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Against this pagan backdrop, Peter called for Christians to conform to an entirely different way of life. (Design Pics)

Peter had no illusion about reconciling the kingdom of God with a pagan world. Neither should we. That doesn’t mean we should ignore or discount honorable conduct by those who are not Christians-many people display commendable efforts to lift the human spirit. But it does require us to vigilantly examine our social environment. Rigorous attention and discipline, as guided by the Holy Spirit, are as imperative today as they were in the first century.

The Western world is experiencing a “resurgent paganism” similar in many ways to the New Testament Greco-Roman context. As the light of morality and Christian practices dims, more and more people steer their lives by values and ideas that are “pagan” by first century standards. One of the greatest dangers Christians face today is that of subtly absorbing “pagan” values. Escaping this danger requires us to pursue the kind of alert and disciplined life in Christ that Peter urged.

Let’s identify three prominent characteristics of “resurgent paganism.”

1. The first is moral relativism. Society’s belief in moral norms that apply to everyone is decaying. Our shared Judeo-Christian moral fabric is fraying. This erosion has been described as a “fragmented moral universe.” No divine center is generally recognized as grounding morality. Our crumbling foundations are often replaced by the belief that “right” and “wrong” depend upon individual preferences. Morality is “relative” to a person’s social and temporal context. Its content can change from one circumstance and person to another.

Pop culture, advertising, and news and entertainment media regularly invite us to embrace moral relativism. The invitation is sometimes subtle, sometimes bold. Moral relativism contradicts the revealed character and will of God. Like acid, it will eat through a mind and life not disciplined by the Holy Spirit. Peter assures us that God has given us “everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3, NRSV).

2. The second characteristic of “resurgent paganism” is the idolatry of human sexuality. Billions of advertising dollars and an entertainment industry that knows no satisfaction drive the worship of sexuality. More and more ways are sought to exploit human sexuality. We are witnessing a revival of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexual rapture. Her temple in Corinth once housed perhaps hundreds of sacred prostitutes who “ministered” a steady stream of worshipers. Aphrodite’s “temples” are now prevalent in society. This feature of “resurgent paganism” measures the value of everything by how well it exploits sex. The standard applies to people, toothpaste, clothing, corrective lenses, and automobiles.

3. A third characteristic of “resurgent paganism” is that a person “is” what he “owns.” The more a person “owns” the more of a “person” he or she is. Contrary to what Jesus said, we measure humans as quantitative, not qualitative. For example, advertising tries to convince us that people who wear certain labels are valued more highly. Cable news programming commits endless hours to tracking the careless behavior of a wealthy starlet. Judging by the airtime given, she is more of a person than a faithful schoolteacher or dedicated foster parents.

So, across the centuries the Apostle Peter now speaks to us in a period of resurgent paganism: “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). Our unfailing resource is the power of God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

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Al Truesdale is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and Christian ethics, Nazarene Theological Seminary.

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Originally published in Holiness Today, March/April 2009.  Currently found at Holiness Today Online.

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We Believe in Entire Sanctification

We Believe in Entire Sanctification

by David J. Felter

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David J. Felter (Attig Photography)

In what is being called the “historic” 27th General Assembly this past June [2009], delegates once again affirmed Article X-Entire Sanctification, from our Articles of Faith. It is important that every Nazarene understand what many call, “our distinguishing doctrine.”

Scriptures remind us that all who are in proper relationship with God are called to be holy. Christian holiness obviously points to Jesus Christ and is descriptive of those persons who exist in a dependent relationship with Jesus. Christians are at once a holy people, and are also called to pursue holiness in expressions of their relationship with Jesus Christ.

The word sanctification is different from the word holiness. We might say that sanctification is the means to the end, which is holiness. The Christian Church believes in the sanctifying work of God, (1 Peter 1:2) We believe this call to holiness originates in the First Testament’s call to holiness (Leviticus 11:44-45) and continues on into the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Bible scholars have understood the term sanctification as an “umbrella” term with differing levels of meaning. The term may refer to something we do, as well as to something God does. It has both the element of process and crisis inherent within its range of meanings. We believe that Christian holiness requires the entire sanctification of believers and that this involves both a process whereby we express our deepening devotion to God and our willingness to experience a “moment” of total submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Also, we believe the Holy Spirit is doing the work of sanctification-setting us apart as the exclusive property of God-and cleansing our interior being of all that conflicts with love for God and our neighbor.

Further, we believe the best definition of Christian holiness is the simplest one: Christlikeness. Christian holiness is about love and the renewal of God’s image in our being. It was summed up by our Lord when He stated: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10:27).

dove_with_flameWe believe entire sanctification is that act of God following our conversion experience by which Christians are freed from competing loyalties that hinder or obstruct uncontested love for God and one’s neighbor. Further, we believe the heart is cleansed from the principle of sin, which is undeniably selfishness. By the power of the Sanctifying Spirit, we are enabled and empowered to love God with the totality of our being, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Entire sanctification is provided for every Christian by the blood of Jesus. It is by grace through faith and follows our willing, complete surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The sanctifying Spirit affirms this gracious relationship to our consciousness, commonly known as the witness of the Spirit.

We believe that there is a difference between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace. The sanctifying Spirit motivates us toward spiritual growth and Christian maturity. Our responsibility is to nurture this impulse by incorporating all the means of grace.

Our distinguishing doctrine, drawn from the inspirational insights of Wesley and a long line of Scripture students, back to the apostolic New Testament Church, has never been more important or relevant. It stands the test of scriptural scrutiny, and responds to the spiritual and social needs of every culture, in every location. Every Christian can experience what John Wesley called, “an entire renewal in the love and image of God.”

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David J. Felter is editor in chief of Holiness Today, though just this week he announced his retirement. This article was originally published in Holiness Today, November/December 2009; it can currently be  found at Holiness Today.

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