Friday, July 08, 2005

Holiness and Social Cleansing

Great article in Christian History. Would that we could recover this kind of holiness movement:

For some critics, the term "holiness movement" has conjured images of navel-gazing holy rollers too interested in getting a spiritual thrill or (at most) saving souls to care about alleviating social distress. This caricature is simply not accurate. The movement's most enduring legacy is a nationwide network of missions to the socially and economically disadvantaged—primarily in inner-city neighborhoods.

Holiness leaders, like their eighteenth-century Methodist forebears, taught that sanctification does not stop in the individual heart, but must overflow into "social holiness." Just as cleansing from all sin could occur in this life (against the traditional view that it occurred after the soul left the body, to prepare the believer to stand before a holy God), the ideal of the perfect community was also for today—not to be pushed off into the hereafter...

(Phoebe) Palmer followed through on the social implications of holiness. For example, she was greatly moved by the poverty she encountered in New York. Believing that with wealth came social responsibility, Palmer dedicated a portion of her considerable family fortune to relief work. In the early 1840s, she began visiting and distributing tracts among the city's poor and ministering to the prisoners at the notorious jail known as the Tombs. From 1847 to 1858, Palmer served as corresponding secretary of the New York Female Assistance Society for the Relief and Instruction of the Sick Poor....

B. T. Roberts, founder of the Free Methodist Church, believed that the two most pressing reasons for making the mission to the poor central to the mission of the church were the teaching of Scripture and the example of Jesus. As Roberts noted, when John the Baptist inquired if Jesus were the Messiah, the Savior responded, "The blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them."

If Roberts turned to the example of Jesus to justify ministry to the poor, others looked to the logic of the Wesleyan doctrine of "holiness" or "perfect love." As Phoebe Palmer insisted, holiness made one a servant. A servant was one who was "entirely unselfish" and shared in Jesus' great work of suffering service to humanity. Catherine Booth, who shared Palmer's views, argued that the question of holiness—"how much like God can we can be?"—was the central question facing the church.


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