Changing Sanctification

November 19th, 2009 / 18 Comments

Delegates to the 2009 Church of the Nazarene general assembly approved several changes to the denomination’s statement on entire sanctification. I am generally pleased with the changes. Almost all of them pertain to concerns that I and others have raised. In this essay, I note some of the changes I like. But I also list changes I think are still needed.

Here are a couple examples of the changes to article x that I like:

1. I complained in my writing that the previous article x on sanctification begins with the claim that entire sanctification is “that act.” This is a singular reference. Later in article x, entire sanctification implies multiple acts when it speaks of growth in grace. The new article uses the language of “the work,” which does not have to be interpreted as singular. I like that.

2. I suggested that the word “transforms” be used, and it is included in this revision. I’m happy about that.

3. I love the last sentence added to the document! The sentence includes important additions I have argued are needed. Others have agreed. Unfortunately, however, the sentence structure is quite poor. It already needs rewriting.

4. I like the additional material about Christ-likeness. This is something I have advocated, but is probably has been more prevalent in the language used by the Board of General Superintendents than in my work. I’m not surprised this language made the revisions after the change in our denominational theme. I’d like to see Christ-likeness more closely identified with love, however. Unfortunately, some people don’t think of acting lovingly when they think of being like Jesus!

There is much to appreciate about what has been done here. I see it as involving major clarification and important additions. This is an important change in our denomination!

Of course, I think work remains to be done on article x. Here are a few things needing change.

1. The new version distinguishes sanctification from entire sanctification. It identifies “entire sanctification” in the second paragraph with one particular moment or “that act of God.” This returns us to the problems I mentioned in my earlier work about “entire sanctification” being identified solely with one moment or instant.

I wish we would move away from distinguishing initial, entire, and final sanctification! It’s not explicitly biblical language, and it’s confusing! It implies that a Christian is partially sanctified before being entirely sanctified. We can find better language to talk about the dramatic moments and growth of transformation subsequent to our coming to Christ.

2. The new version adds “infilling” alongside “baptism” of the Holy Spirit. I continue to think such wording is not helpful. “Infilling” implies that we are substantive vessels into which a divine substance can be poured, instead of relational persons. Interestingly, the 1908 version of this article does not use baptism of the Holy Spirit language in this context. Call me a conservative: I want to conserve practice of the early Church of the Nazarene by eliminating reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit here! I want to retain language about the Holy Spirit actively working to make holiness possible, however.

3. Unfortunately, there is little language added about our response to God’s work! This is so unfortunate. The document continues to imply that God does this work TO us, rather than acting first (preveniently) and requiring our proper response. So long as we have language that portrays us as passive recipients, we will continue to wrestle with the kind of sovereignty problems that our movement identifies with Calvinist theologies.

4. There are a number of semantic changes that still need to take place. “Phases” remains from the original. “Devotement” remains. These words need updating. I would also prefer a word other than the newly proposed “glorification.”

In sum, the work that many of us have been doing to raise awareness of the need for change has brought about significant fruit. I praise God! But more work remains to be done. We need to present our understanding of holiness in clear and theologically coherent language.

 

Here is the newly proposed article from 2009 general assembly (underlined words are additions; bracketed words will be eliminated):

X. Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification

13. We believe that [entire] sanctification is [that] the [act] work of God[, subsequent to regeneration, by] which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ. It is wrought by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit in initial sanctification, or regeneration (simultaneous with justification), entire sanctification, and the continued perfecting of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification. In glorification we are fully conformed to the image of the Son.

We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect.

It is wrought by the baptism or infilling [with] of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.

Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by grace through faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.

This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.”

14. We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace.

We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the divine impulse to grow in grace as a Christlike disciple. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christlikeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavor, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost.

Participating in the means of grace, especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church, believers grow in grace and in wholehearted love of God and neighbor.

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Comments

Andrew Schwartz

I find it interesting that the phrase “Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus…” is included in Article X. It seems that locating the transforming work of God (mentioned in the first paragraph) within the “blood of Jesus” neglects the incarnation, life, and resurrection. Perhaps the section should be altered in a way that reflects a more robust Christology.


Bob Luhn

Re: the infilling/baptism of the Holy Spirit it seems to me that the main distinction between Wesleyans and Pentecostals has to do with what the evidence is of Spirit infilling or baptism. Wesleyans would say THE evidence is love from a pure heart. Pentecostals would say, speaking in tongues. I’m not ready to give up Spirit baptism or infilling terminology when the Bible uses it as well as a significant portion of the world-wide church


Daniel Fleming

I have been interested in the declaration in Article X, which claim entire sanctification removes original sin.  I find this interesting because the mature Wesley articulated prevenient grace removes the guilt of original sin.  It seems Article X neglects the distinction between the guilt and condition of original sin.


Billie Goodson

I too like many of the rewrites that have been done.  I am also encouraged that it seems some remains to be done!  I think I would be uncomfortable if we had a statement that everyone thought was perfect.  Maybe that seems odd, but I can’t get 3 people to agree where to eat lunch, small wonder we all can’t agree on something this important!


Brent Dirks

As long as Article X is “revised” is it possible to arrive at a holistic view of sanctification? Do you think that including terms that have been used in the past contribute to the confusion of this doctrine? It would also be interesting to see how various continents or countries view this doctrine. Where I am at (outside of the US) the older writings on this subject seem to be valued more than the newer writings, hence more of the view of a second baptism. Does changing “Baptism WITH the Holy Spirit” to “Baptism OF the Holy Spirit” minimize the relational aspect of this work or is it the same? It’s interesting that “means of grace” is the last word, thus contributing to the schizophrenic nature of this doctrine.


Thomas Jay Oord

Thanks for these great comments!  Here are a couple quick responses:
1. A robust Christology would be helpful, although I am also sympathetic to the argument that the article should be relatively short.
2. I want to affirm the Holy Spirit’s activity. But the idea of “infilling” seems problematic. You’re right that it’s a biblical term.  So I can’t ignore it. I like the biblical language of the Spirit dwelling in us (Rm. 8:9, 1 Cor. 6:19). The Ephesians passage compares being filled with wine to being filled with the HS.  But I can’t find many instances in which the word “infilling” is used.  Can you cite some examples?
3. The mature Wesley was right to emphasize the role of prevenient grace—God’s loving presence—removing the guilt of original sin.
4. Getting total consensus on Entire Sanctification is a pipe dream!  But I’m optimistic we can get relative consensus.
5. I think we need a holistic view of sanctification, and that may mean a relativizing of the sharp distinctions often made between justification and sanctification.


Thomas Jay Oord

Bob,

You’ve got me wondering about the “filled” language in Acts 2. I looked up the Greek words, and I found them to be different in their description of the wind filling the room and the HS filling the disciples.  I’m going to check more into this.  I’m hoping the Greek word used here can be understood in less none/part/whole language and more in interactive/relational terms.


Derek Flood

Tom, I support your move towards expressing sanctification in terms of relationship. I prefer the idea of the Spirit “indwelling” us, which has a relational connotation.

The line “We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin” seems to me to not reflect Wesley’s view. He would say, I believe, that regeneration or the new birth removes original sin, but saw entire sanctification as something beyond that. Personally I think that this idea of entire sanctification is not biblical. That is, the idea that we are in a relationship with God, continually transformed into Christ’s likeness through personal loving transforming relationship with God IS biblical (I’d call that just plain old “sanctification”), but the idea that we are ever “done” or “perfect” here (the “entire” Wesley was looking for) simply is not biblical. I believe that what it reflects is the carry-over from Wesley’s (yucky and unbiblical) understanding of total depravity that he retained from Calvinism. What Wesley really needed to learn was to accept that he was loved by God, despite his guilt, despite his anxiety, and even if he was still (like all of us) a flawed human being. So I wish the modifier “entire” would just be dropped.


Dave Troxler

Tom,

I read through this two days ago. After setting it aside to ponder more, it hit me as I was receiving a new member into the church yesterday.  It was during the reciting of ritual and asking the prompts for affirmations of faith, it hit me. 

While we have proposed this change in doctrine, our ritual has not caught up with the change.  We continue to assert that “subsequent to regeneration is the deeper work of heart cleansing…”

We yet need to change the ritual on receiving members to transformational and relationship language.

While we acknowledge Jesus as source of our forgiveness and ultimately we agree to abide by the Covenants for Christian Character and Conduct.  It does not speak of Christlikeness per se.  We might infer that it is the objective, however it is not specific enough.

There is no direct reference to growth in Christ by the believing member tied to a response to God’s love or as demonstrating one’s love for Christ.  In fact, in no place is love for God or others mentioned in the ritual for new members.  If we want to express growth, that change should also be effected.

On another theme, interestingly, the ritual does speak already of “infilling” and not “baptism” by the Holy Spirit.


Thomas Jay Oord

Great stuff, Derek and Dave!  Thanks for posting these comments!


Steve Carroll

Tom,

Thank You for taking the time to work through this. IT has encouraged me to take a closer look at my tradition’s wording with regards to Entire Sanctification.


Todd Stepp

Derek, I think a closer reading of Wesley would indicate a distinction between guilt of and stain of original sin.  Wesley identifies the guilt of Adams sin (in all of us) as being canceled by prevenient grace.  Yet the stain, and the “being” (Wesley) of it remains.  The stain of Adams sin requires washing or healing which begins at the new birth, the beginning of the process of sanctification, leading to the “second time” that the Lord speaks “Be clean,” and “Then only, the evil root, the carnal mind, is destroyed; and inbred sin subsists no more.”

Setting aside the problematic, substantival language for a moment, it is at this point that I have a real problem, Tom, with your #1, above.  It seems to me that, if we talk about sanctification as process alone, without talk of entire sanctification, we have very significantly and fundamentally changed who we are as a denomination.  We will have, in effect, stated that there was no real reason for our having been formed as a denomination.  In Wesley’s terms, “if there be no instantaneous deliverance after justification, if there be none but a gradual work of God (that this is a gradual work none denies), then we must be content, as well as we can, to remain full of sin till death.”  We will be like many UM who are “going on to perfection” and claim (in ordination) that they expect to “be made perfect in this life,” but who really never do expect such a thing.

While I agree that there has been a huge need for our owning more clearly the process, your proposal, it seems to me, leaves Wesley on the opposite side of the continuum.  (I think that you would agree with that.)

It makes very clear why William Abraham told a group of UM at a conference I attended just before G.A., that the Nazarenes are even now in the process of giving up the doctrine that was the reason for their birth.  When I questioned him, later, you were among those whom he referenced.  –  When I sent him what G.A. actually passed, I think he reevaluted his comment.

And I would say that it is at this point (#1) that I am in favor of sticking with Wesley.

For what it’s worth!


ank

During our Holyness & Identity class (EuNC) we talked quite a bit about article X of course. Our overall conclusion was something like “can we please stop arguing about words and just rest in the belief that sanctification is possible in whatever way the Spirit sees fit ?” But of course, that is quite a useless comment if you are working hard to rephrase the articles for the 21st century, which in itself is a very necessary task. Thank you Tom, for doing this !

Being quite new to the theology (and practice) about sanctification, I have a question. Most of the discussion seems to be caused by the fact that we don’t really know people who are entirely sanctified (in an instant), meaning that they really do not sin anymore, nor live in a constant awareness of (/relationship with) God. I am told that that is possible, that that is what happened in Wesley’s days and during the days our church was founded.
I really don’t know anyone who fits the description, and have heard quite some cynical tales about those who were said to be (entirely) sanctified.

Maybe it is the wrong question, but do you know any ? Do we have “proof” that it is possible, or is it (just) part of our belief system ? What can you say about this (Tom, or any of the others) ?


Christina Uehlin

I’m loving the word “transforms” but am not such a fan of “glorification”, as you are not also.  I feel like “glorification” implies that we will be honored to the point of equality to God.  I would be more comfortable with a word like “favor”, “approval”, or “reverence”. Obviously the sentence would need to be re-worded to accommodate these alterations.


Brandin Melton

I think that the changes to the wording on entire sanctification are indeed a step in the right direction, but I do think that there are still some changes that need to be made.

One of the things that I agree with the most is your statement that “I wish we would move away from distinguishing initial, entire, and finanl sanctification.”  I still think this is one of the most confusing aspects of the doctrine and does not accurately reflect most persons experience.

I understand why we talk about initial sanctification at our conversion, but “entire” sanctification does not accurately communicate to most people what really happens the moment we realize our need for full surrender to God.  Our sanctification process is just transition to a more focused process of growth and maturation.


Nardus Bornman

I am from South Africa and cannot believe that the Nazarene’s even consider giving up their heritage. I am busy with my studies through one of your institutions and this came as a schock to me.I think the problem is that holiness people all over the world try to be in the main stream of evangelicals and in the process is compromising. I did trust God for cleansing and the fulness of the Spirit 3 years after my conversion when I was 18years old. At that stage I knew little about the doctrine and I am now 53 years.I still thank God for the preacher that preach the message.In holiness circles where I was an evangelist the same arguments were raised and they lost the message.The next step is we lost the message of salvation and we became as all the other churches. I am not a Nazarene but thank God for all the books I have read through the years from Beacon Hill.If all this new phrasing and denial of the second work of grace was true why did we not experience the revival that the early holiness people experienced? It CHANGED the history of the world. Blessings your friend in Christ. Nardus


Carrie

I am brought back to my theology classes simply by questions about sanctification, by someone who did not grow up in the Nazarene church and whose previous denomination did not define (at least to them) any meaning or understanding of it. I knew exactly where to look (beyond just the articles of faith). The classes where we discussed this and one of the events where you brought up these desired changes (pre 2009 assembly) made a huge impact on my growing understanding. I’m hoping to use this blog post, along with other materials, to find a way to discuss this with the friend. I asked for a little time to refresh my understanding and to gather different view points while trying to remain close to the Nazarene understanding (due to my job).


thomasjayoord

Thanks so much for sharing, Carrie!


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