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.