No one likes being misunderstood. It’s frustrating. It troubles us when we’re misunderstood…in fact, it’s so troubling that we often take it personally when others misunderstand our family, or our friends. I’m no different. Thousands of GodWords visitors are seekers or skeptics or spiritually confused, so I take it personally when someone makes it more difficult for these nice folks to understand God. At the moment I’m taking aim at Pentecostals.
One of the identifying marks of a particular brand of Pentecostalism is a list of do’s and don’ts known as “Standards”. Note the capital S. This list of restrictions includes things like long hair for men, women in pants, adult beverages, cosmetics, wedding bands, movies, and so on. Those who adhere to Standards are convinced that these restrictions help to keep them spiritually pure.
Please don’t misunderstand: I have no problem with Pentecostal people as individuals. I grew up in and ministered in and still worship in a church that originated in the Pentecostal Holiness tradition and whose motto is “Holiness Unto The Lord”. If a guy wants short hair, or if a woman likes skirts, that’s okay with me. Fewer movies is probably better than more. Alcoholism is a plague. I’m all for clean living…but that’s not the point.
Most Christians are, to some extent, concerned about clean living…or “being holy”. This makes sense, since the Bible teaches that Christians should live holy lives. Many Pentecostals, however, take the Scriptural mandate for holiness and twist it into something it’s not. They teach that Christians should separate themselves from non-Christians and “worldly things”.
To some extent, I understand their confusion. After all, the implication of the word “holy” is ‘being set apart’. The Bible asks whether light can have fellowship with darkness. The Bible also tells us to avoid the appearance of evil, which sounds like a really good idea to me. It would be easy to assume that Christians should pull back from society to remain pure…easy, that is, if you ignore the rest of the Bible.
Jesus didn’t suggest that purity is maintained by avoiding contact with impure things. He explained that it is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of it. Purity is, He explained, an inside job. He chastised the religious elite of His day for missing the point, saying “…you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence”. Jesus taught this by example as well. He rightly went against the religious traditions of His day when He ate with tax collectors and spoke with foreign women and worked on the Sabbath and ran the swindlers out of the temple.
Purity isn’t a matter of simple avoidance. God is utterly holy and utterly pure, but He didn’t hang back from the world to avoid contamination. He’s fully aware of the extent to which humans can degrade themselves, but He became one of us and lived with us and touched the sick and the sinful with His hands and His heart. God isn’t less holy because of His contact with sin. Based on Jesus’ example, Christians are supposed to place themselves in contact with those who are not yet holy.
Pants don’t make women sinful. Men with long hair aren’t necessarily being disobedient. Beer wasn’t created by Satan, and there are a lot of really great movies that I’d love to take Jesus to see. It’s okay to set standards to live by, but setting Standards only further confuses those who are already confused about God. Our insides are more important than our outsides…and Jesus died to prove it.
If holiness had anything to do with pants and pilsners, the Bible would clearly say so. Christianity isn’t about simple do’s or don’ts. It’s about allowing God to decide which direction your life should take. It’s about letting God transform you into His likeness. It’s about love interacting with those who need love most.