Every now and then, one of my retired officer colleagues will engage me in a dialogue about the state of holiness preaching in the Army today. I am not one of those who decry the loss of holiness preaching and teaching in the Army because I do not believe we have abandoned it. Rather, I think we have expanded our vocabulary — we teach or preach the concepts of holiness whether we use the word or not. To say it another way, it seems to me that relentless faithfulness to the Word will of necessity issue in teaching holiness because it is intrinsic to a Biblical understanding of who we are in Christ.
For example, while reading Henri Nouwen on spiritual formation in my devotions, I was reminded of what the Handbook of Doctrine says about holiness. Nouwen suggests that we view holiness (admittedly, he didn’t use the word) as a journey rather than a series of steps or plateaus. Because of the emphasis in our culture on personal achievement and human development, we can be tempted, says Nouwen, to try to measure our spiritual development in quantifiable terms rather than as walking in step with the Spirit. The Handbook of Doctrine agrees, stating holiness is “a journey which should be characterized by growth and development.” (p. 191)
“Salvation Story” puts it this way in the chapter on holiness: “Our conversion inaugurates a journey during which we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness. Thus salvation …is the beginning of a pilgrimage with Christ. …Our Christian pilgrimage is a faith-journey inviting us to a life of discipleship. “(p. 86)
Similarly, fill in the blank of this quote: “_______________ takes place by the direct work of the Holy Spirit, regenerating and conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ as the Spirit indwells, fills, guides, gifts and empowers people for life in the community of faith and in the world.” (The Kingdom Life, Alan Andrews, p.23) The author used the words “spiritual formation” but it means the same if “holiness” is the word.
During my tenure as Corps Officer of the Old Orchard Beach Corps, I was preaching a four-part series on the book of Jonah on Sunday mornings. While waiting for other bandsmen to join us for open-air on Sunday evening, Commissioner Bramwell Tripp made reference to my sermons. I commented, “Well, I know that they are not holiness sermons, per se …” Commissioner’s response stunned me: “Oh, but they are, Captain. They are!”
Whether you call it discipleship, spiritual formation, holiness, or sanctification, I think there is more good teaching going on than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. To paraphrase St. Francis’ words to his acolyte, “Preach holiness every week. When necessary, use the word.”
Thank you to all who preach each week for your relentless faithfulness to the Word. We rely upon that faithfulness for our own growth in holiness.