Moving Beyond the Barriers
Restoring Corporate Holiness
by L. Alton Garrison
Recently, a megachurch pastor who is married with children admitted he is gay. Several young men publicly accused another well-known pastor of sexual abuse. A male prostitute publicly admitted sexual involvement with a well-known leader, author, and pastor. A prominent televangelist admitted to an affair. From biblical times until now, some people who profess to be Christ’s followers have committed unexplainable and devastating sins.
When Christian leaders fail, the negative effect on the church is multiplied exponentially. These failures undermine the global confidence of spiritual leadership. Their unwise behavior lessens the influence of the church as a moral authority.
Corporate holiness is a significant challenge within and beyond Pentecostal churches. The loss of holiness is not due to doctrinal inadequacies, scriptural deficiencies, or leadership ineptness. The loss of holiness stems from the absence of core persuasions and beliefs that transcend the cultural morass of immorality and promiscuity.
The Bible is clear regarding God’s will for those who have made Jesus Lord of their life: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15,16). Holiness is an attribute possessed by God, essential to His nature, and an expected discipline of those who confess Christ as Lord.
To be biblically accurate, holiness is not an experience, status, or recognition. It is a distinct discipline that results in a God-reflecting quality. The indwelling nature of God through the Holy Spirit brings transformation. Thus, we may better understand holiness as a progressive manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
Holiness begins with the decision to accept Christ and develops into a discipline from a Christ-centered life. Holiness is more than a standard of behavior; it is a measure of discipline and maturity. Holiness, in its most pragmatic form, is the character of Christ.
How do I become holy and develop a greater discipline of holiness? The Bible is clear that righteousness is a direct result of forgiveness (Romans 3:22; 5:17). Holiness, however, is a spiritual discipline that we pursue. Holiness is intentional. It begins with grace but is completed through maturity. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord” (NLT1). The apostle Paul described the work of the Holy Spirit: “And we all … beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV2).
Simply put, the more we behold Him, the more we become like Him. The more we become like Him, the more we beam Him to others. This process is transforming us into what Peter describes as “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). As we journey forward, the Holy One transforms us to reflect the fullness of His character.
According to some, however, the transformed life of holiness is not a private matter: “In the Bible, the ‘holy one’ (saint) is not an individual with a halo. In fact, except for God and Jesus, the term never occurs in the singular.
“On the contrary, holiness is always social, something we ultimately must enter into along with others. John Wesley was well aware of this: ‘The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness, but social holiness.’
“Not only are we meant to be in the company of others to grow in holiness, the families, races, and nations that result from our being together are tools designed by God to implement His purposes. God calls us … His ‘holy nation.’ ”3
The one stark purpose of the church is to demonstrate God’s “manifold wisdom” to demonic principalities and authorities (Ephesians 3:10). Satan knows that if he can derail the church from the path toward holiness, he can thwart the ultimate purpose of the church. Satan cannot stop the manifold wisdom of God through the church; therefore, he is determined to discredit it. Corporate holiness places hell at an extreme disadvantage. Likewise, the absence of corporate holiness places the church at an extreme disadvantage.
The purpose of this article is to help us rediscover the core beliefs and convictions that can save our spiritual calling from public shame while protecting the church from the repudiation associated with failure. The Pentecostal Movement seeks to be led by the Holy Spirit; it cannot embrace Spirit-led ministry while rejecting the Spirit’s nature of holiness. Numerous barriers exist to corporate holiness. However, there are two areas that are becoming critical barriers in our modern society.
Rejecting Spiritual Authority
As a district superintendent, I had the unfortunate but necessary responsibility to mediate church conflicts. I never mediated a conflict, however, that originated over doctrine. Every conflict started over personal preference. People often try to spiritualize their preferences or agenda, expecting spiritual authorities to accept unbiblical positions. When spiritual authorities reject such positions, people often reject that spiritual authority. Paul warned of this practice in 2 Timothy 4:3,4. People will often reject truth in favor of their own opinions.
The mantra of American culture is, “I have my rights.” This mantra has no biblical standing in the church. Lordship means we surrender our rights and embrace responsibilities. Maturity in a Christ-follower means releasing the right to be unforgiving, critical, reactionary, disloyal, moody, vindictive, judgmental, or divisive. When Jesus is Lord, people respond to their spiritual authorities biblically because they love God, the lost, and the church.
Although Scripture provides consistent teaching regarding spiritual authority, it is a fragile subject in many churches. When a leader teaches on lordship, submission, self-denial, and accountability, there is strong resistance from those who reject biblical and spiritual authority. Exodus 32:1–9 records how people can spiritualize an agenda or preference, thereby creating a barrier to corporate holiness.
When people lack a competent understanding of spiritual authority, they become vulnerable to deception and destruction. Understanding the need and responsibilities of spiritual authority is critical to procure holiness.
God is the absolute authority; man is a delegated authority (Romans 13:1). The church is organized as a body with Jesus Christ as its Head, not as a corporation with Jesus Christ as its president. Christ is the Head, and those who receive salvation function under His authority. The late Adrian Rogers, shares some interesting biblical observations about spiritual authority in his book, The Incredible Power of Kingdom Authority: “The popular idea of the church being a democracy (the rule of the people) is not found in the Bible. … The church is a body of the Lord, by the Lord, and for the Lord. … It is a Christocracy, not a democracy.”4 The Body is to be the servant of the One who inhabits that body. When a body is healthy, all the members have one agenda — the mission, vision, and values of the church unique to that local body.
The kingdom of heaven operates by unity, not majority. Voting on decisions that belong to spiritual authority is a poor substitute for leadership. All believers have equal value and worth before God, but not all have the same gifts and corresponding spiritual authority in the church. We must never construe anointing as authority. The presence of anointing flows under authority, not against it. There are God-given roles of ministry leadership and oversight. Personality differences should not preclude acceptance of or submission to spiritual authority (Acts 14:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:7).
God has called the pastor to guide, instruct, correct, and give pastoral care (Acts 20:28). The New Testament describes a pastor by three basic terms (Acts 20:17,28,29; 1 Peter 5:1–4). The pastor is an elder — this speaks of maturity; the pastor is an overseer — this speaks of his or her management; and the pastor is a shepherd — this speaks of his or her ministry.5
An unscrupulous pastor/leader could possibly abuse God’s system of governance; therefore, God has reserved the judgment of spiritual authorities solely for himself. Those who violate God’s governing system will find themselves uncomfortable in His judgment.
In spite of a system that depends on delegated spiritual authorities, God has reserved and preserved this system as His choice of governance: “Obey your spiritual leaders and submit to them [continually recognizing their authority over you], for they are constantly keeping watch over your souls and guarding your spiritual welfare, as men who will have to render an account [of their trust]” (Hebrews 13:17, Amplified Bible6, emphasis mine).
Wisdom dictates spiritual authorities offer personal accountability to God, to their spiritual authorities, and to those they lead and serve. No spiritual authority is a law unto himself. “Being under authority is a place of privilege where the focus is service. Being in authority is a place of power where the focus is ruling.”7
Accepting Discipleship Deficiencies
A great error in discipleship is underemphasizing spiritual maturity. Strong emphasis on grace and soft emphasis on maturity has spawned a theological culture of holiness-neutral faith. This culture views grace as the path of discovering God rather than as a process of spiritual discipleship toward maturity. Scripture clearly challenges this modern theological culture.
Titus 2:11,12 states, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God” (NLT). The Bible clearly states that as God reveals grace to us, it produces holiness through personal discipleship. Accepting grace as a “holiness-neutral faith” brings devastating consequences.
In his book, unChristian, David Kinnaman writes: “In virtually every study we conduct, representing thousands of interviews every year, born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives. … One study we conducted examined Americans’ engagement in some type of sexually inappropriate behavior, including looking at online pornography, viewing sexually explicit magazines or movies, or having an intimate sexual encounter outside of marriage. In all, we found that 30 percent of born-again Christians admitted to at least one of these activities in the past 30 days, compared with 35 percent of other Americans. In statistical and practical terms, this means the two groups are essentially no different from each other.”8
Theologian W.E. Sangster said, “All through the Word of God exhortations to holiness appear. They are not sporadic, occasional, or tempered by doubt concerning God’s ability to do this thing in us. Underlying them all is the confidence that God can do something more with our sins than forgive them.”9
Additionally, Jerry Bridges in his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, has said: “God has made provision for our holiness and He has also given us a responsibility for it. … Through the power of the Holy Spirit and according to the new nature He gives, we are to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13).”10
To move beyond the barriers to corporate holiness, we must embrace discipleship as:
Intentional spiritual formation
Discipleship is not automatic; it is intentional. Developing strong, mature Christ-followers must be a focal objective of a missional culture. We must intertwine effective discipleship with leading people to Christ. Emerging trends highlight the need for specific, measurable goals in the area of biblical discipleship.
Greg Ogden reports: “According to George Barna, fewer than one in five born-again adults have any specific, measurable goals related to their spiritual development. Not one of the adults we interviewed said that their goal in life was to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ or to make disciples of the entire world.”11
Relational influences and religious conveniences are replacing spiritual disciplines. The result is a fading biblical worldview among Christ-followers.
The church is at a critical juncture because those who claim to be Christians are not sufficiently practicing individual faith disciplines. Discipleship must become intentional. Every church or pastor can begin by:
- Teaching faith basics in a regular, systematic format.
- Promoting Bible reading and providing Bible studies.
- Communicating discipleship goals and measurements.
- Encouraging accountability.
- Correcting false understandings of the Bible.
Understanding biblical convictions
Biblical convictions are Spirit-directed boundaries. Convictions promote spiritual growth and protect spiritual health. There are three levels of conviction: biblical absolutes (essentials), community standards (traditions), and personal convictions (declarations). Tensions develop when someone mistakes personal conviction for a biblical absolute and seeks to impose his conviction as a godly essential. This disturbs unity and harmony in the church body, and hinders spiritual formation. Frequently, when this occurs, people introduce a forth level — personal preference. When personal preference replaces biblical authority, corporate holiness is rarely the objective. The result is a lack of unity that hinders God’s relationship with His people.
Biblical Approach to Conflict Resolution
Churches often disrupted by tension, disagreements, and division lack a biblical approach to conflict resolution. Internal strife results in an inward focus. The result is a powerless church filled with gossip, unforgiveness, and division. Churches can avoid or redirect these with a proper understanding of Matthew 18. In short, this is how healthy churches and spiritually mature people deal with conflict:
- Talk to the person with whom you have a problem before you tell anyone else.
- Use feeling words, not action words. “When you did that, I felt like. …” rather than “Why did you hurt me when. …”
- Learn the power of the apology. Follow an apology with, “What can I do to make it right?”
- Watch voice tone and volume: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, ESV).
- Seek the final 10 percent of truth. Get to the substance of the issue and resolve it.
- Speak words of affirmation: “Honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7, Amplified Bible).
- Here is an adage that should be our goal: “Casual with all, close friends to a few, and unresolved conflict with none.”
Once we have identified barriers to holiness, what is next? “The New Testament leaves no doubt that holiness is our responsibility. If we are to pursue holiness, we must take some decisive action.”12
Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
- Submit to the lordship of Jesus.
- Worship sincerely.
- Grow and change.
- Fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
Build a spiritually healthy church. Acts 2:42–47 outlines the functions of the church necessary for its effectiveness: evangelism, discipleship, worship, service, and fellowship.
The last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21,22, depict the goal of a holy God — to create a holy city for a holy people. As we remove barriers to holiness and seek the Holy Spirit’s involvement, we will become the church of Jesus Christ, one without spot or wrinkle. Holiness is not a burden; it is our destiny.
1. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
2. Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, Wheaton: Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3. Alan Kreider, Social Holiness (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2008), 47.
4. Adrian Rogers, The Incredible Power of Kingdom (Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, 2002), 170–71.
5. Ibid., 175.
6. Scripture quotations marked The Amplified Bible or The Amplified New Testament are taken from The Amplified Bible, Old Testament copyright 1965, 1987 by the Zondervan Corporation and The Amplified New Testament copyright 1958, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
7. Malcolm Burleigh, “The Power of Being Under,” 12.07.2010 sermon, Assemblies of God Chapel, Springfield, Missouri.
8. David Kinnaman, unChristian (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2007), 47,48.
9. http://www.yoyomaster.com/ministry.file/Holiness.pdf. Accessed 1/13/2011.
10. Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (NavPress, Colorado Springs, 2006), 77.
11. Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2003), 27.
12. Bridges, 83.