Posts tagged Holiness
6 Things Christians Often Confuse with Holiness

Throughout my years as a Christian I have had to wrestle with the Biblical call to holiness. The battle hasn't been over the call itself but how those around me have interpreted and communicated that call. As part of my faith journey, I have had to deconstruct what I understood holiness to be and allow the Bible to define it for me. In scripture, I discovered, holiness is a matter of the heart, not the external things like whether you wear a suit to church. When the heart is holy the life expresses that holiness through love. Love, as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, is an other-centered, trans-cultural phenomenon that leads the believer to exhibit patience, kindness, humility etc. in every day life regardless of their culture, education, social status or personality traits. As I discovered this I found the following six elements - which were constantly confused with holiness - to be missing from scriptures definition.

Intellectualism: I value intelligence big time. Few things are as heart breaking as human beings, made in the image of God, who have not cultivated the intelligence he gave them. We were born to use our minds, to lead our hearts with intelligence and to invest in that intelligence from cradle to grave. However, many Christians seem to have made the mistake of confusing intellectualism with intelligence and then associating it with holiness. So lets set the record straight. Intelligence is nothing more than "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills." Intellectualism on the other hand is "the exercise of the intellect at the expense of the emotions". In the world of philosophy, intellectualism is "the theory that knowledge is wholly or mainly derived from pure reason...". In this theory, emotions play little to no role and are often viewed as problematic. For some reason, Christians have taken this rationalistic approach to knowledge and conflated it with Biblical knowledge. The more intellectual a person is (rational + non-emotional) the more holy we perceive them to be. But nothing could be further from the truth. God created the emotions and a person who shuts them off is not holier for doing so - rather they can be properly described as emotionally unstable, numb, or are perhaps suffering from a dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating known as alexthymia. The ancient stoics, ascetics and deists exhibited this kind of anti-emotional intellectualism for philosophical reasons not rooted in Biblical thought. Sadly, this concept has managed to infiltrate Christianity and given birth to an often icy, out of touch, and apathetic religion.

Emotionalism: While some Christians take the anti-intellectual approach others take this opposite view. Emotionalists tend to be very anti-intellect and think true religion must be 100% emotive and experiential. The moment you try and talk logic, reason, or theology with them they shut off. In conversation, this kind of Christian can often come across just as narcissistic as the intellectual but for the opposite reason. They view education and high intelligence as "worldly wisdom" and celebrate those who are "unlearned" - often seeing in them an automatic advantage in matters of spiritual truth over those who have been to university and made the study of theology their expertise (whom they view with suspicion). For some reason, being an emotionalist is, to some Christians, a sign of true holiness. But the truth is emotionalism at the expense of deep thought and rational faith is an imbalanced approach that devalues the intellect God has given us to develop. Sadly, this approach has often nurtured bizarre, emotionally unhealthy and fanatical expressions of the Christian faith.

Dogmatism: Dogmatism is defined as "the tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others" and for some weird reason, Christians often view dogmatic people in a holy light. Their "no compromise, light has nothing to do with darkness" rhetoric gets some people rallying together with enthusiasm. But this approach has less to do with truth and more to do with type-a personalities and pride. Those who have type-a personalities are described as being "more competitive, outgoing, ambitious, impatient and/or aggressive."* Such people join the church and rather than surrendering their domineering and apathetic tendencies to Christ they baptize them with doctrine and get to work on anyone that doesn't agree with their "pure" brand of theology. Far from being holy, this dogmatic approach to faith reveals a deep imbalance in the heart were pride, arrogance and superiority complex reign supreme. Sadly, this attitude leads to judgmentalism, finger pointing and division wherever it is allowed to thrive.

Moralism: Similar to the dogmatist, the moralist tends to be a type-a personality with little to no regard for the experiences, backgrounds and struggles of others. They may come across as fully committed Christians but they exhibit an unbending posture on moral issues that they then impose on others. Those who agree with them speak of the need to be holy and without blemish and accuse those who do not take such a hard-line approach as being "compromisers" or "wishy-washy" in their faith. The result is this class tend to scare people away from Christ rather than drawing them. Often time, the moralizer has deep emotional issues and imbalances in their personal life. Becoming the moral police for their church appeals to them because it is often the only place in their life where they can exercise control.

High Culture: There is no doubt that high-culture is a beautiful thing. "High culture most commonly refers to the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture. It is the culture of an elite such as the aristocracy or intelligentsia."** Some elements that come to us from high-culture are things like high-fashion, class in speech and etiquette, social expectations for gender relations and inter-generational/ personal communication, and classical music. High culture differs from popular-culture or folk-culture in all of these areas and purports to exhibit the finest and most dignified approach to cultural expression. However, high-culture - for all its beauty - is simply a man-made system of cultural expectations and dogmas. Sadly, many Christians confuse high-culture with holiness and demand that others fit into their cultural narrative. Anyone who doesn't is not considered holy. This approach breeds narcissism, elitism and cultural insensitivity which often marginalizes (whether actively or passively) those who have "common" cultural backgrounds and moldings.

Hyper Modesty: This form of thinking is the reverse of high culture. According to this mindset, true holiness always expresses itself in a kind of modesty that lacks class, taste and fashionable quality. When I was a kid I would often hear the "hyper modest" camp judging of criticizing someone who came to church simply for having an outfit that looked tailored, of high quality and at times simply well kept. Some would even go as far as to suggest that if you had an old and worn out outfit and someone gifted you a new and classy one the holy thing to do would be to wear the old one for it was the "humbler" option. For this class, anyone who comes from a high-culture must, if they want to be holy, reject their high-culture in exchange for one that looks more poor. This class is also very judgmental of anyone who has material wealth, social status and high education. Like the high culture approach, this one also breeds narcissism, elitism and cultural insensitivity which often marginalizes those who come from a more aristocratic cultural background.

So there you have it, what other things would you say Christians often confuse with holiness? Comment below!

Note: All definitions provided via Google dictionary unless otherwise specified.