“As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” (1 Peter 1:15, NRSV)
There is much misunderstanding about the meaning of the term “holy.” Too many seem to think it means entirely good, without flaw. That may serve us well when speaking of a holy God. But a perfect church?…Hardly.
At its root, holiness instead has to do with being set apart, indeed with being different. In the commandments, when God called for one day a week to be holy, God meant that this day was to be set aside as different from the other six, distinctive in its practices. So also the Hebrew people were to exhibit holiness by refusing to bow down to the idols worshiped by all of the neighboring nations. Similarly, the church is called to live out in the world ways of being and doing that are alternatives to accustomed standards and customs.
This means that, far from being embarrassed when its ideals are at odds with accepted ways, the Christian community should revel in what it distinctively has to offer to the world. When the lives of people are being ruined by oppression and the church protests, we are exemplifying holiness. When greed goes unchecked, even applauded, and Christian people cry out “Enough!” we should rejoice that we are fulfilling our calling to be different for the sake of what is right. How willing are we to be considered out of step with society in order to be holy? Who wants to be labeled as “odd,” after all? But we are called to be a holy church, not a club that panders to whatever is currently popular. [i]
Being holy, being set apart, often becomes difficult in our current culture. It may remind us of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized for setting themselves apart and above the people. That is not the meaning of being holy that we are talking about here. What we are talking about is daring to model Jesus in the face of a cultural majority that is running as fast as it can away from Jesus’ example.
When we see people who claim to be Christians calling out for violence against other people who disagree with them, we must say “Enough!” When we see people who call themselves Christian fighting with people who disagree with them, we must say, “Stop!” We must be willing to stand up against popular opinion and remind people that Jesus called for peace, love, understanding, mercy, and forgiveness. We must remind people that just because you say you are Christian does not make it so when your actions are so blatantly against Christ’s message. We must be willing to allow our Christian beliefs to win in an election season where candidates hide behind a quasi-faith when it helps them gather support. We must insist that the people we vote for are truly interested in building a more just and merciful world for the future. We cannot be fooled by their labels; we must be informed by their conduct.
[i] This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer, © 2004, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. Page 84