My struggle with entire sanctification and my church

Milestone today. Pulling Weeds out of Potholes is more than likely going to receive its 10,000th unique hit. If you are that lucky person, please leave a comment.


I planned on doing today what I did yesterday; however, I was sidetracked. My thoughts raced in one direction and decided to stay there. I couldn't continue reading. This is the result of that. It all began with this quote from Doug Pagitt's Reimagining Spiritual Formation.

"I contend that Kingdom living and following in the way of Jesus are essential to the way we understand the lessons of the New Testament church. There are many of us who have come to believee that the 'gospel' that sits at the center of much of Protestant life today is a bifurcated version of the gospel message, one that reduces the call to Kingdom life to simple belief about Jesus while leaving the exemplary Christian life to the 'very' devoted."

I've mentioned Entire Sanctification briefly a few weeks back. One of the things I have been struggling with is what to do with this concept in a church that requires their ministers to believe in it. To put it bluntly, it appears that if I don't believe in the doctrine of entire sanctification, then I will never be allowed to become a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene.

At first, I liked the concept of entire sanctification. It made Christianity easier to swallow. It did exactly what Doug Pagitt described in the above passage: It created a tier of Christians who have a "simple belief about Jesus" and antoher tier of Christians who are "very devoted." I liked the sound of it. Believing that seemed to somehow liberate me from judgmentalism or some sort of legalistic tilt for the first few hours of contemplating it. However, I came to the conclusion that the liberation was a false freedom.

One of the problems with the American church is that we have tried to make Christianity easy to swallow. We're a culture used to gelcaps. We don't want anything that will inconvenience us. The church has compromised the kingdom because of a healthy desire, but it is a healthy desire that has been misprioritized. It seems to be the result of placing evangelism as a priority over being the people of God. I too often see churches that fail to be a glimspe of the kingdom of God focus on evangelism. I don't understand it. If you aren't the kingdom, then what are you evangelizing people to? The church in America has been quick to water down the gospel and meet our culture where it is at. We need to shine the gospel like a giant lighthouse, showing our culture the path that we all need to take. We don't want to water the gospel down because we are trying to save ourselves and them from the water.

Now, I'm back to my beliefs. I don't think I can believe in entire sanctification if it has to be a seperate act from salvation, but I do believe in the concept. That might be a little confusing, but we just disagree on when it happens. I don't believe there is a minimal Christian. What makes one a Christian is when they completely surrender their life to God. Now, they won't be perfect yet. The entire sanctification that has happened in their heart hasn't yet been able to actualize itself in their body. The sinful nature of the body continues to cling on. But it is a work in process. Even the Nazarenes admit that a person who has been entirely sanctified will still continue to sin. The problem I have is that they believe entire sanctification is an event that happens later in one's spiritual life. I believe complete sacrifice of one's self is the foundational element upon which one's Christianity begins. You can't become a Christian unless you give up your life, take up your cross, and follow the example of Jesus daily. You cannot be a Christian unless you have experienced what the Nazarenes describe as entire sanctification.

The reason the concept was so appealing to me the first time I heard it was that I would like to say that everyone who gives intellectual assent to the concepts of Scripture and intellectually accepts the grace of Jesus given to us on the cross are saved but not yet completely committed to living out the Christian life. But no matter how much I would like that, it just isn't true. There is no lesser tier of Christians. Either we are completely committed to following God and being his people, or we are not his people.

I don't hate the concept of entire sanctification. It's just when it occurs that I disagree with the Nazarene church. It also baffles me that believing when something like entire sanctification happens could prevent me from being a pastor in a denomenation's church. It's like making someone believe a certain endtime theory in order for them to be accepted. It just seems odd. But the main question I am struggling with is, "Should I even remain in a church that will not allow me to become a pastor because of a belief that I differ with them on?" That is one of my big struggles right now.


Here is a list of Scriptures that they use and my thoughts concerning them:

Leviticus 19:2 - "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

I see a call to holiness, but I do not see how that is something seperate from an essential element of what it means to be a Christian.

Acts - They just list the whole book. I would have to see some specific examples, but I also don't think that the teaching of holiness in Acts is seperated from salvation.

Romans 6:1-12 - "What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Chirst, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions."

Paul is writing to Christians who appear to be continue in a life of sin despite their claim to be Christian. Paul is trying to call them back to the holy life that God has intended for them to live. Paul wrote, "For whoever has died is freed from sin." We do not join Jesus in resurrection unless we have joined Jesus in his death. I don't see how we could possibly seperate salvation from dying to ourselves. Paul doesn't seem to be addressing a point in a life in which a believer then becomes holy: He is trying to tell believers who are living in a dangerous grace that they need to live the holy life God intended for them to live. Just because a believer can stray and live his faith on the edge of the pit doesn't mean that entire sanctification happens at a later date, does it?

My take on this writing of Paul is the same as my take on the teachings of John Wesley concerning entire sanctification. Both are writing to people who claim to be Christians, who are part of the church, yet refuse to live their lives in the way God intended. They weren't trying to make people realize that they need to become entirely sanctified: They were trying to teach people that they have already been entirely sanctified. It is time to make that fact that occurred at the time when you joined Jesus in his death and resurrection a reality for your life.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 - "May the God of peace himself santify you entirely; and may your spirt and soul and body be kept sound and blamess at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

If we are to be kept sound and blamess, then that seems to mean that we already are.

But the real thought I have about this is that it isn't written to one individual but to a group of people. I could read it as Paul wishes for the everyone in the entire church to be saved. It would make sense especially in the context. This follows a list of things that Paul is encouraging them to do or telling them to fix. However, we know that one of the items in the list, "admonish the idlers", was a problem that they didn't fix because of Paul's writings on that in 2 Thessalonians. Paul is telling them to be a church that is full of people who are committed to following Christ. It is a statement written to a collective group and not just one individual. Do you think I have been dishonest with this passage?

1 John 2:1-2 - "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

Again, nothing here that makes me believe entire sanctification is a seperate act from the sanctification that happens at salvation.


A few more quotes from Reimagining Spiritual Formation by Doug Pagitt:

"Accountability is built on the notion that a person will do her own work as she seeks to live a Christian life while others do what they can to keep her on track. This may seem like the best our local community can offer us, but we are striving for more. We feel called to vulnerability. We are seeking to move into relationships where we don't merely ask others to hole us to living in the way of Jesus, but where we invite them to participate in our efforts to do so. We are trying to open our lives up in such a way that others do not simply keep us on track, but become actual agents of redemtption and change.

"It seems to me that this call to communal spiritual formation challenges us to reimagine the gospel itself. Perhaps the challenges of living the dreams of God in the post-industrial world go beyond methodology problems. Perhaps we have been propagating a limited message, reducing biblical authors to sound bytes that cut the gospel message into so many pieces that we are left with little more than statements of what we believe rather than the broader story of how we are to enter into God's story through a life lived in faith."

Watch out for the potholes.