Christian Perfection?

Holiness can sometimes look more like something out of “50 Shades of Grey” than something that came out of church.


BlacklightBDSMOkay. That did it. I was chewing on an idea for a post, feeling like I needed to write it “for the good of all humanity” (ego much?), and then got distracted by this latest tidbit on Facebook:  “It is therefore settled, by authority, that holiness or Christian perfection is the central idea of Christianity” (Bishop Jesse T. Peck (1811-1883).  I’ve made a half-hearted New Year’s resolution to not respond (or “correct”) every bit of stupid I run across on the interwebs, but sometimes you just gotta…

This one is just so typical of the Christian attitude that prevails in Western culture these days that it needs speaking out against.

Bishop Jesse T. Peck (1811-1883)

It’s a philosophy that encourages comparing ourselves against others — and more dangerously, comparing others against some standard the we’ve set up as the true measure of a Christian. It’s bad enough we have all these white-washed churches lining up to throw stones at every “sinner” they encounter in the news, or start the paranoid screaming about how America is going to the dogs because of [fill in the blank]. People putting on their Sunday best — not just clothes for Sunday morning worship, but their Sunday best faces for the rest of the week where they can pretend moral superiority over others who do those “unholy” things, like go to bars, smoke cigarettes (or worse, weed!), or have sex outside of marriage. Hopefully, they’ve evolved past getting upset over tattoos or ear-piercings and choice of clothes, but who knows? In some places, those are still outward signs of inner holiness.

And all these little “standards” just act as tools to measure — judge! — other people. “He’s obviously not saved because he was out last night at the clubs — he even still smells like smoke.”  “She needs the Lord, because I heard her boyfriend slept over last night.”  “He’s dating a MAN! Lawd ha’ mercy!”  We can kinda laugh at these people. They’re living caricatures like you’d see Madea make fun of, or find in an old SNL sketch of the “Church Lady.”  They’ve made the church and Christianity a joke in the eyes of normal people.

Does it honestly need to be said yet again that the hallmark of Christianity — at least as defined by Jesus — is love? Love of God and love for each other.  Is it loving to judgmentally comment on a person’s clothes as a reflection of their relationship with God? Is it loving, or even truth, to turn up our nose at someone because they’re in an open relationship? Do we reflect the heart of God when we dismiss someone because they have a fondness for leather or BDSM in their personal life?  How much less so over stupid stuff like clothes, entertainment, if-what-how-often they drink or smoke, have piercings, their hairstyles, their sexual orientation, or … you name it.

All that stuff is just stupid. Holiness is the degree to which we reflect the heart of God. It has nothing to do with outward appearance, although it should certainly bear outward fruit. The heart of the Father — the fruit of the Spirit — is mostly inward stuff that works its way out in normal, everyday action: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. It’s how we think and how we act. Holiness is how we treat each other.  And frankly, if the guy who not two hours before was tied to a chair, wearing a leather mask, and getting mental and physical sexual release through being flogged (I’m deliberately painting an image that radically flies in the face of traditional views of “Christian perfection and holiness”) — if this guy stops to help me with a problem that is crushing me, or shares a kind word with me when I need it most, he IS being holy.  And you can keep your “saintly perfection” for yourself.

Okay. All this venting really relies on my old-school interpretation of these ideas of “Christian holiness.” They are the “white-washed tombs full of decaying flesh and bones” — tidy and well-kept to some on the outside, but putrid and repugnant to any who dare get close enough for a closer inspection. It’s the stuff I heard in churches growing up and saw in the lives of my friends’ religious families. It is the stuff that has caused most genuinely-seeking individuals hungry for “realness” to turn away from all forms of institutional Christianity. It smells of fakeness and entrapment, of oppression and death.

Give me people who care enough to help me fix my car, or who make sure I have groceries in my cupboards. Give me people who check up on me if they haven’t seen me for a few days on Facebook. Give me people who encourage me, ask me out for coffee or a beer, who want to be part of my life. Give me people who will actually mention my name to God at random times during the day because they’re thinking of me and honestly want God to touch me. Give me that kind of holiness. Because that’s what I’m looking for, and that’s what many people I know — outside of the church — are looking for before they’ll take on the label “Christian” for themselves. Realness. Real love.

“It is therefore settled, by authority, that holiness or Christian perfection is the central idea of Christianity.” Despite my New Year’s intentions, I couldn’t help myself. I commented on that Facebook post: “huh. I thought it was love — loving God, loving others. Guess maybe I’m not holy enough.”  And maybe I’m not.

photo credit: “Blacklight BDSM” by Beo Beyond on Flickr. cc. 

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STEVE SCHMIDT is a Bible teacher at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.


43 Replies to “Christian Perfection?”

  1. websters = Personal holiness is a work of gradual development. It is carried on under many hindrances, hence the frequent admonitions to watchfulness, prayer, and perseverance —- AMP Bible 1 Peter 1:15 ..but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in ((all)) your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

  2. The Pentecostal/Holiness movement and is definitely one of experiencing God and His gifts in a personal, powerful and unique way. It wouldnt be fair to say the do’s and dont’s of clothes, ideas of Holiness, beliefs, etc. are the same for all or only unique to Pentecostals. Many denominational traditions have these beliefs as many Pentecostals do not. There are many variations of Pentecostalism today very different from it’s beginnings. John Shaw your definition helped…that is the most important part of holiness..our gradual development not limited to a church or tradition 🙂

  3. even Buddha said (religion is VOID of all Traditions and Rituals, it is supernatural) grandma swore by the bun and maxie dresses with no make-up….Jesus said, come as you are, and all are welcome – I prefer the latter…

  4. It’s all about Christ. Those traditions are harmless compared to some but many now do say come as you are nowadays we only need to keep our eyes on jesus and we are ok 🙂

  5. You can look at holiness from a couple of different angles. You could rightly say that all believers are innately holy — when you accept Christ, when the Spirit invades your spirit, you are automatically holy, a child of God, set apart, changed, with a divine nature. But there is also definitely the process of maturation and growth (what old timers used to call “sanctification”). That’s true too. I’d argue that what goes on inside you, and how it manifests in the way you treat others, is more a mark of your holiness than other trivial things like clothes, hairstyles, or drinking and sexual habits.

  6. Steve I completely agree and the angles are endless. Actually one of the finest pieces of knowledge regarding the Holiness movement is that within it’s traditions are expressions from Africa, Voodoo rituals and indigenous faiths. how amazing is God that the very things some are against are right inside. We can improve and allow God to make some changes where and when He wants

  7. these are only my thoughts. while I enjoy the practice, some I do not care for. The variants and trivial’s will drain you, It is important to embrace our heritage and faith paths….to learn. Thank you for the topic and chance to do so.

  8. that’s what it’s all about, right? Rethinking old ideas, bringing new perspectives to a living faith. Growing. Stretching. Changing. God — and our own living faith — are too big to be confined to limited, old-time ways of thinking and living! 🙂

  9. that is what it is about and well said! My greatest blessings have been embracing and cherishing my Pentecostal side and catholic side, which that gets a very large range of remarks. also questioning and doubting and learning… It all gets us to where God is taking us 🙂

  10. If fellowship and church as a denomination or non-denominational, are a part of our life, there will always be an influence of many of these things lingering. They all involve a “practice” I guess is the word and cultural traditions will influence them. As long as God is leading we are ok

  11. and btw, for Wesleyans, which the Bishop was a Methodist, Christian perfection and holiness was all tied up with the idea of “perfect love” – love for God and love for neighbor. Which goes along with what you were saying. Your rant can’t really be about that one quote, can it? I mean there must have been something else that pushed your buttons. (and btw what you and your bf enjoy in the privacy of your own bedroom is none of our business! 🙂 )

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