Is there a transformative power in Christianity?
I have been reflecting for some time on the idea of “separateness” that is so often espoused by Wesleyan theology. John Wesley built an entire tradition of Christianity on the notion of holiness. As a Christian, I believed Wesleyan theology to be superior to Calvinism and other options because Wesleyanism seemed to take the idea of holiness seriously. In a very poetic sense, Wesleyan theology is desirable because it purports a fallen creation that can be redeemed in this life.
Considering that I attend a Wesleyan-holiness Christian college, it is a safe assumption that the faculty and students of this institution should be an adequate case study in what it means to be “set apart.”
First, let’s establish the foundation of what Wesleyan theology claims of holiness. It references such passages as Hebrews 6:1, Philippians 3:15 and 1 Corinthians 2:6 which all call Christians to be “perfect.” There is a particular fondness for 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless.” Now, I have to give Wesleyan theologians credit where it is due. I am glad that they at least take their own Scriptures seriously. Instead of rationalizing “be holy as I am holy,” they embrace the notion.
The danger, of course, is that some holiness-theology Christians can become arrogant and believe themselves to be above others. However, most thinking Wesleyans are more responsible in their understanding of the implications of these verses on their lives. They strive for holiness, for perfect love, for “Christian perfection.” The Nazarene denomination, in particular, believes that Christians can experience a ‘second work of grace’ called Entire Sanctification, in which the believer can, for lack of better words, ‘rise above sin.’
So then, lets examine these Christians by their own standards. Are they set apart? A cursory review of the students at my on campus reveals little difference than my friends at secular schools. Of course, drinking is outlawed and sex is taboo, but I would wager to say that a good 75% of students partake in one or both of these activities regularly. But these kinds of behaviors aside, what difference is there really?
There is proportionally the same amount of Christian kids who go tanning and waste time and money on an effort to become more attractive according to an arbitrary social construct. Not that this action is necessarily bad, but why would a Christian, holy, perfected and sanctified from worldly desires partake in such an action? John Wesley taught his followers to “gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” He encouraged them to abstain from frivolous expenses and give back to those in need. But the Christians here purchase the same clothes as non-Christians at secular clothes. I would argue that a statistically identical number of students here purchase unnecessarily expensive clothes for social reasons.
Of course, I do not believe these kinds of behaviors are bad. But then, what makes the students here “set apart?” I see no city on a hill. I see no light of the world. Nothing that would make an outsider want to join in. Going deeper than those superficial issues, the Christians here are equally as prideful and gossipy as their secular counterparts.
There is no real difference. Now there are certain behaviors that are adjusted to live in this community. Most students go to church. Most abstain from excessive cursing. They are more than willing to proclaim Jesus’ name and disparage postmodernism, liberalism, feminism, etc.
Among all the Christians I have known in my life, some are nice and some are not. Some are generous and some are not. Some are humble and some are proud. Some truly care about others and some are egocentric. This call to “be holy” seems to be either unheard or untrue. What is interesting is that the Christian Bible, if read objectively, does not say that Christians might be holy, but rather that the Holy Spirit will effect a holy character in Christian believers.
We can make the following observation:
- If the Christian bible valid is true, then all Christians will become holy
- And all Christians do not become holy
- Therefore, the Christian bible is not valid and true
Conclusion? There is no more transformative power in Christianity than there is in any other socially constructed system. The changes in behavior of students here are formed by community rather than a transcendent Spirit that empowers its believers. In the same way that different cultures, regions, families and political traditions form certain beliefs, thoughts and behaviors, Christianity has the same effect.