Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Holiness or Love?

Ever since radical Islamic fundamentalists destroyed the
World Trade Center towers in 2001, the West - especially America -
has been characterized as "impure" and "immoral" and "infidels" by
terrorist individuals who claim that particular World View...

Indeed, cultural "corruption" in many countries around the world has,
for years, been blamed on Western influences in music, clothing, movies,
dating customs, and other Norms formerly dominated by strict
religious oversight. The extent to which this is true has helped engender
a deep sense of disgust and hatred for (especially) America in the hearts
and minds of those who now judge their societies to be
"steeped in wickedness"...

What about American Christians? There are, in fact, several notable
places in Scripture where believers are commanded to be "holy", and to
keep themselves "unspotted from the World"... There are enough such
passages to convince many Christians that so-called "personal holiness"
is the over-arching theme of the Faith and the primary structure upon
which all else about the Faith is built.

This emphasis on Holiness very easily amounts to a growing list of
what things a Christian "ought" or "ought not" do or say or think, as if
the rejection of some outward activities and the embracing of others
necessarily yields increasing degrees of purity of the soul... This in turn
most often leads to pharisaical segmentation into "Us vs. Them" groups,
with those inside the group condemning the bit of sawdust in other
people's eyes while ignoring the log beams in their own...

"The heart of Man is desperately wicked", the Scriptures tell us; surely
this is equally applicable to both the "saved and separated" Christian
AND to the radical Islamic jihadist who chants "allah akbar"("god is great")
as he kills another American soldier?? Both think they're on "God's side"
and that God approves of their "Us vs. Them" view of the other party...

In contrast to the angry, judgemental, condemning spirit which so often
accompanies a focus on strict religious dogma and on "personal
holiness", the Scriptures -- indeed, the words of Jesus Himself -- make it
abundantly clear that ALL the "Law" hinges on the priority of LOVE,
and that if there is any over-arching "theme" of the Christian faith, it is that
we are to BE LOVING God AND (if our Love for God is genuine) to
BE LOVING those around us.

If we wonder at all, then, what Godly LOVE is all about, 1 Corinthians 13
gives us a detailed description; in that letter, the apostle Paul wrote that
of ALL the things a Christian could focus on, LOVE was the greatest; and
in one of the epistles of John we're told that we are Liars if we say we
love God yet harbor anything less than LOVE in our hearts for those
around us. The fact that we have access to God at all, through Christ, is
(according to John's gospel) because He first loved us; we've been given
Salvation not primarily because God hates sin but because
He LOVES us...

Does God desire purity ("holiness") in believers? Certainly, but it's critical
to ensure that our priorites match the priorities of the broader message
of the Scriptures; and in many of the portions of Scripture which refer to
"holiness", a more careful translation discusses WHOLE-liness, Maturity,
Completeness... "Be Being Made complete..."

Jesus warned the "holy" of His day that they were "whited sepulchres"
(Mat 23:27), "pure" on the outside but "full of uncleanness" on the inside...

There is a danger here for both the Islamic extremist and the
judgemental Christian: To magnify as a major focus what is intended
by God to be an emergent result of LOVE is, to our shame, putting the
cart before the horse...

As we honestly look in our hearts, if we see anything there that would say,
"I may be a Sinner but not as big a Sinner as THEM", then we have the
true Gospel turned inside out...

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