SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONIA (ANS)—While sitting in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Chandler, Arizona for a service, I listen as Rector Dominic Moore used the recent sexual crises in the Roman Catholic Church—nuns being used as sex slaves—as a reminder that reformation didn’t end with the Reformation, but is a continual process of renovation of our character, conforming us into the image of Christ.
His words rang out like a bell in bad weather, reminding the congregation of the way home: conformity to Christ, not culture or the norms of any civilization. Jesus is the Christian goal.
But the crisis isn’t exclusively within Roman Catholic Church. Shortly after I got out of service, a colleague sent me a Fox News report stating, “Hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders, volunteers accused of sexual misconduct in bombshell investigation.”
My heart sank on both occasions, reminding me how frail and fallen humanity is—the church included.
One does not need to look very far to know the universal church is under severe scrutiny. Even in the midst of trials and tribulation, we must remind ourselves that the church is Christ’s bride; He loves us. But he yearns more for His beloved than being slaves to the systems of the world and flesh.
The Missing Jewel
Years ago, A.W. Tozer wrote a book called Worship: The Missing Jewel. The book’s main focus, as the name implies, is on worship. It is a powerful work. But a new emphasis is needed today: holiness. It seems that the missing jewel in our modern world is a yearning to live a life set apart for the gospel, unfettered by the lures of the flesh and world—be it sexism, materialism, or any other ism one can think of (see Galatians 5: 19-21 for a list of the works of the flesh). In saying this, I’m not suggesting some legalistic trip, but a reality-soaked pursuit of Christ and His kingdom. Put another way, we need to walk in the Spirit as conduits of Christ’s love, our tree overflowing with spiritual fruit (see Galatians 5:22).
Concerning the sexual aspects of this article, I’m not naïve of the temptations in our contemporary world (Internet porn, etc.). But the truth is people in all ages have dealt with sexual trials. The question is not—are there more readily available temptations in our world today, but how we deal with temptations when they come? For the answer, read Jesus’ description of holy pursuit in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.
Indeed, the missing jewel in the church today appears to be holiness, a life lived in surrender to Christ and His call. We downplay it as outdated or unimportant. We like to emphasize service (as we should); we long for evangelism (as we should); and we adore worship (as we should). But what of holiness? Paul recognized the lack of pursuit in his day as well. In 1st Thessalonians 4:7, Paul summarizes the Christian’s quest as thus: “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” As anyone with access to a concordance can learn, the word Paul uses in this text is hagiasmos, a derivative of hagios. Hagios means purity and sanctification; to live a life set apart. James Strong likens it to the essence of God, as in “likeness of the nature of the Lord,” or to be “different from the world.” Bottom line: It’s an important Biblical word.
I’ll get off my soapbox and let others unpack the concept—and pursuit—of holiness. Here are several recommended books on the topic, listed chronologically (showing the need in all ages), written by men across the denominational spectrum (showing that all Christians are to pursue a life of holiness).
- Holy Living (1650), Jeremy Taylor. Church of England writer and chaplain.
- A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729), William Law. Church of England priest and author.
- God’s Way of Holiness (1865), Horatius Bonar. Scottish pastor, poet, and hymnodist.
- Holiness (1879), J.C Ryle. A classic by the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool.
- Paths and Means to Holiness (2000), Constantine Cavarnos. An Orthodox priest weighs in on the subject.
- The Pursuit of Holiness (2006), Jerry Bridges. A modern classic by an Evangelical Protestant.
- Gaudete et Exultate— Rejoice and Be Glad: On the Call to Holiness Today’s World (2018), Pope Francis. A new work by the Pope, presenting a Roman Catholic perspective.
In the end, reading about holiness is only part of the solution; the real result comes when we live it! Rector Dominic Moore had it right: the reformation of our lives must continue, allowing the Lord to renovate our brokenness, into, what St. Peter describes as, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).
I’m not claiming that living a holy, Christ-centered life will solve all the problems of sexual sins found within the church, but it’s a step in the right direction. And it’s a step that is pleasing to the Lord, the Holy One.