“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed
Let me first say what ‘holy’ does not mean. It does not mean ‘perfect’ and it does not mean ‘without sin.’ Every sin that you can find outside the Church, you can find inside the Church. We know this. Individuals in the Church and the Church as a whole — we’re guilty of prejudice and intolerance; personal immorality and legalistic self-righteousness; competitiveness; misuse of the truth for personal gain; lust for money, prestige, power, and success. Praise God the Church is not perfect! If the Church were perfect, where would I fit in? Where would you?
‘Holy’ does not mean ‘sin-free,’ it means ‘called-out.’ Consecrated. Set apart for God’s divine purposes. We are God’s treasured possession. We are his called-out people.
“You are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood… You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” ~1 Peter 2:5, 9
The Church is not a voluntary association of believers who got together one day and decided to start a religious group. It is God who creates his Church, his holy community, and calls his people into it.
It is just as impossible to be a Christian by yourself as it is to be an arm or a leg and to live and function apart from the body. To be a Christian is by definition to belong to the Church. There’s no such thing as a purely individualistic relationship to Christ. To follow Christ is to be joined to the community of followers he draws to himself. To be reconciled to God in Christ is also to be reconciled to other people. As God’s holy people, we are called out from our sinful attempts to live in self-sufficient isolation above, or apart, or against others. We’re placed by God in a community where the barriers that separate people are broken down.
For God’s purposes. That’s what ‘holy’ means: called out for God’s divine will, to join God in what he’s doing in the world.
To be God’s holy community gathered in the name of Jesus is to stop reflecting the same social and personal hostilities as people in the world and start reflecting God’s work of reconciliation in how you think and act and speak and post and repost and forward on social media. To be holy is to stop being primarily concerned with our own happiness and comfort and security and to start putting the needs of others ahead of our own. To be consecrated or called-out means to renounce the ways of the world and to commit together by the power of God’s Spirit to live differently from the people around us, to live visibly and obviously and scandalously in the name and manner of Jesus.
Holiness is both a gift from God to the Church and a calling to the Church to live it out. It’s both a position we have in Christ and a task to join God in his global salvation mission.