The word holiness is one of those words that every Christian has in their vocabulary, but no one seems to know what it means or what it is. Holiness is grounded in the character of God. Holiness is separateness. God is holy because he is separate from, totally unique, and wholly other than His creation and the gods created by men.
In the Old Testament, God called the Israelites to holiness. In Leviticus, he chooses one group of people to “set apart.” This group, the Israelites, is to be different from everyone else.
“The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” (Leviticus 18:1-3 NIV)
The book of Leviticus sets out rules for government, good social relationships, and what is known as “the holiness code.” The holiness code would mark the Israelites as different, set apart, not like Egypt and the Canaanites. They would be circumcised, eat kosher, dress differently. Their religious practices would be different. Instead of human sacrifice, like the followers of Moloch, they would sacrifice animals. The Israelites were never told to go and make other nations holy; they were called to make themselves holy. Understanding that point is key to understanding where Fundagelicals go wrong.
Fundagelical Christians believe that holiness is a matter of following certain rules and regulations set forth in the Bible. The big problem being that no two Fundagelical groups can agree on exactly what those rules are. Are they the Ten Commandments? Most groups would accept this, but they like to add other rules too. They add prohibitions against a range of human sexual behavior, the use of alcohol, various forms of entertainment, and magic 8 balls. They believe that in order to be holy, they must follow these prohibitions. They also believe that in order to be holy, they must force you to follow these prohibitions. American Fundagelicals believe they are called to create a holy nation.
This is where they go off the rails. God called them to be a holy nation. They are to purify themselves, to focus on living holy lives. However, they have decided to implement and enforce a holiness code on other people. This is why they strive so hard for anti-abortion laws and anti-LGBT laws. They are attempting to make the United States into a Christian Nation.
The idea of using force to convert people was long and slow in development. Augustine wrestled with the idea of force but eventually decided the use of force to correct doctrinal dissidents was permissible. Charlemagne’s advisor Lull convinced the King to use force in converting the Anglo-Saxons. By the 1300s forced conversion of Jews and forced repentance of “heretics” was the new norm. Christianity had been weaponized. Historians suggest that since Christianity now had an army and political power, they could force people to submit and so they did. There never seemed to be any acknowledgment on what true conversion meant.
Today, the Religious Right is experiencing political power. They are now attempting to create laws that will force others to act holy. The question is: does acting holy make you holy? If you force me to not drink alcohol on Sunday, does that make me holy? Have I chosen to purify myself? Have I chosen to set myself apart from God? Have I answered the call to holiness?
The ancient Jews lived as a conquered nation under the Babylonians, the Medes-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. They lived holy in the midst of “unholy” empires. They didn’t try to change the surrounding empire; they kept themselves holy. Their uniqueness and devotion to their God drew many of their conquerors to their religion.
How about this, a return to the original idea of holiness? Instead of trying to force Christianity, or more properly Christian holiness, on others through the rule of law, how about Fundagelicals clean up their own houses, their own scandals, and draw people to Christ through their own holiness and devotion to God.
Of course, it is easier to follow external rules of ritual worship than to actually live a transformed life and worship God. Jesus twice quoted Hosea the prophet against the Pharisees and their insistence of forcing external rules on people. Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” You can force someone to offer burnt offerings, but that doesn’t mean they are living the life God requires. You can force a holiness code on America, but that certainly doesn’t make it holy.
Thanks for reading, don’t forget to like the post and subscribe if you haven’t already. You can watch my vlog at Rev’s Reels on YouTube. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Join me and a bunch of other former Fundagelicals at Open Door Ministries in Westminster at the Westminster Mall.