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The Holiness Manifesto

Dennis Bratcher, ed.

The Holiness Manifesto grew out of a three year consultation by representatives from ten participating holiness denominations:  Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church, Salvation Army, Church of God (Anderson), Church of God in Christ, Brethren in Christ, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Christian and Missionary Alliance, International Pentecostal Holiness, and Shield of Faith.  Three representatives from each church along with observers from Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches formed the Wesleyan Holiness Study Project.

The Study Project grew out of a concern by some church leaders and theologians that the message of holiness was being diluted internally and co-opted externally.  On the one hand, during the middle 20th century holiness was increasingly defined in terms of performance, usually in terms of what people should not do.  That led to an inordinate emphasis on correct behavior that tended to degenerate into legalism. On the other hand, because of a developing emphasis on church growth in the latter 20th century as well as the influence of popular writings, the rise of generic evangelicalism brought more influence of Reformed perspectives into Wesleyan and holiness traditions. Together those factors threatened to overshadow the message of love and transformation of heart and life that are the heritage of the holiness movement.

In the past 10 years or so many in the holiness traditions have become increasingly aware of their unique heritage and the potential it holds to speak to the needs of a post-modern society.  With an emphasis on God’s grace, transformation, and authentic living in relationship with God and other people, the holiness message is increasingly appealing to a wide range of people from all religious traditions.

One of the goals of the study Project was to draw attention to the need to rearticulate the holiness message in ways that were faithful to its unique heritage in the holiness movement, but also to avoid the pitfalls of legalism on the one hand and generic evangelicalism on the other.  Also, there was concern for cooperation between the historic holiness churches reflecting both John Wesley’s and the early holiness movement’s concern with uniting in the proclamation of this truth beyond non-essential beliefs.

The Holiness Manifesto was released in February 2006.

Holiness Manifesto

Wesleyan Holiness Study Project, Azusa, California, February 2006.

The Crisis We Face

There has never been a time in greater need of a compelling articulation of the message of holiness. Pastors and church leaders at every level of the church have come to a dead end in seeking ways to revitalize their congregations and denominations. What we are doing is not working. Membership in churches of all traditions has flat-lined. In many cases, churches are declining. We are not even keeping pace with the biological growth rate in North America. The power and zeal of churches has been drained by the incessant search for a better method, a more effective fad, a newer and bigger program to yield growth. In the process of trying to find the magic method for growing healthy vibrant churches, our people have become largely ineffective and fallen prey to a generic Christianity that results in congregations that are indistinguishable from the culture around them. Churches need a clear, compelling message that will replace the 'holy grail' of methods as the focus of our mission. Our message is our mission!

Further, we are awash with leaders of churches who have become hostages to the success mentality of numeric and programmatic influence. They have become so concerned about 'how' they do church that they have neglected the weightier matter of 'what' the church declares. We have inundated the 'market' with methodological efforts to grow the church. In the process, our leaders have lost the ability to lead. They cannot lead because they have no compelling message to give, no compelling vision of God, no transformational understanding of God's otherness. They know it and long to find the centering power of a message that makes a difference. Now more than ever, they long to soak up a deep understanding of God's call to holiness—transformed living. They are tired of putting their trust in methods. They want a mission. They want a message!

People today are looking for a future without possessing a spiritual memory. They beg for a generous and integrative word from Christians that makes sense and makes a difference. If God is going to be relevant to people, we have a responsibility to make it clear to them. We have to shed our obsession with cumbersome language, awkward expectations, and intransigent patterns. What is the core, the center, the essence of God's call? That is our message, and that is our mission!

People in churches are tired of our petty lines of demarcation that artificially create compartments, denominations, and divisions. They are tired of building institutions. They long for a clear, articulate message that transcends institutionalism and in-fighting among followers of Jesus Christ. They are embarrassed by the corporate mentality of churches that defend parts of the gospel as if it were their own. They want to know the unifying power of God that transforms. They want to see the awesomeness of God's holiness that compels us to oneness in which there is a testimony of power. They accept the fact that not all of us will look alike; there will be diversity. But they want to know that somewhere churches and leaders know that we are one—bound by the holy character of God who gives us all life and love. They want a message that is unifying. The only message that can do that comes from the nature of God, who is unity in diversity.

Therefore, in this critical time, we set forth for the church's well being a fresh focus on holiness. In our view, this focus is the heart of scripture concerning Christian existence for all times—and clearly for our time.

The Message We Have

God is holy and calls us to be a holy people.

God, who is holy, has abundant and steadfast love for us. God's holy love is revealed to us in the life and teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. God continues to work, giving life, hope and salvation through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, drawing us into God's own holy, loving life. God transforms us, delivering us from sin, idolatry, bondage, and self-centeredness to love and serve God, others, and to be stewards of creation. Thus, we are renewed in the image of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Apart from God, no one is holy. Holy people are set apart for God's purpose in the world. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, holy people live and love like Jesus Christ. Holiness is both gift and response, renewing and transforming, personal and communal, ethical and missional. The holy people of God follow Jesus Christ in engaging all the cultures of the world and drawing all peoples to God.

Holy people are not legalistic or judgmental. They do not pursue an exclusive, private state of being better than others. Holiness is not flawlessness but the fulfillment of God's intention for us. The pursuit of holiness can never cease because love can never be exhausted.

God wants us to be, think, speak, and act in the world in a Christ-like manner. We invite all to embrace God's call to:

  • be filled with all the fullness of God in Jesus Christ—Holy Spirit-endowed co-workers for the reign of God;

  • live lives that are devout, pure, and reconciled, thereby being Jesus Christ's agents of transformation in the world;

  • live as a faithful covenant people, building accountable community, growing up into Jesus Christ, embodying the spirit of God's law in holy love;

  • exercise for the common good an effective array of ministries and callings, according to the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit;

  • practice compassionate ministries, solidarity with the poor, advocacy for equality, justice, reconciliation, and peace; and

  • care for the earth, God's gift in trust to us, working in faith, hope, and confidence for the healing and care of all creation.

By the grace of God, let us covenant together to be a holy people.

The Action We Take

May this call impel us to rise to this biblical vision of Christian mission:

  • Preach the transforming message of holiness;

  • Teach the principles of Christ-like love and forgiveness;

  • Embody lives that reflect Jesus Christ;

  • Lead in engaging with the cultures of the world; and

  • Partner with others to multiply its effect for the reconciliation of all things.

For this we live and labor to the glory of God.

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2013, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
(No copyright claims are made for the text of the original document.)
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