It is our experience that particular churches can become ‘holy places’, this does not require us return to some quasi-Jewish theology of ‘sacred-turf’; rather, it is because one day the whole creation will be sacred, will throb and thrill with the presence of the living and loving God, and because at certain points ‘where prayer has been valid’ this can be seen as it were in anticipation. To that extent the church is called to worship God revealed in Jesus and by the Spirit in every corner of the globe, and so to claim it for his wise and healing rule. In this process, moreover, there are clear indications of God’s ultimate purpose: he intends to establish his new city, new Jerusalem, as the place where he will live with his people forever. If, then, we are called to anticipate what God is going to do in the future with our acts now (for example we are called to implement already the justice which will be perfectly worked out in the age to come), we should surely also be seeking to create societies in the here and now, which will anticipate the nature of the renewed and healed Jerusalem. Not that we could ever ourselves build or bring about the New Jerusalem itself; such things leads to delusion and ruin. Rather, we are called, while forswearing all racial, cultural or geographic imperialism, to create communities of love and justice out of which healing can flow to others.

What struck me with this passage was what makes something holy. Historically, geographic locales were called holy based on the presence of God – e.g. the Holy Land, the Holy City. This is the quasi-Jewish theology of carded turf that was done away with by and in Christ.

But what makes a church or a person holy? How does a person or fellowship heed the command to be holy? And if God is the standard, which attributes and behaviors are we to mirror? To some a church is not a holy space of they use the wrong translation of the Bible, or worship to the wrong style of music, or use “worldly” tactics… “worldly as defined by “them.” These are the ones who we do not take too serious. Certainly there is a spiritual parallel to the sacred-turf theology; a person or church is holy based on the presence of God – not as literally as Jesus walking the hills of Galilee…but spiritually. Holiness is also based on behavior and attitude. So we think of holiness as doing the right things – or more often, not doing the wrong things – holiness by subtraction.

Herein is a challenge to add to our existing criteria of holiness, a holiness based on anticipation… and our role in response.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 5:23 pm and is filed under Church and Society, Politics, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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7 Comments(+Add)

1   Eric    
January 6th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Holiness has two elements/connotations: that of purity and separation (called out). Only God is ultimately Holy (with a capital “H”; and actually thrice Holy), because only God is absolutely pure and absolutely separate. As Christians called to be holy, we can be holy (with a little “h”) in as much as we are washed by the blood of Christ and commanded to “come out” of the world and be separate (not in the extreme sense).

I’m not sure how that plays with a holiness ascribed to places, but the Old Testament holy places were places made holy explicitly by God’s presence. I believe a person or a group of persons (church) strives to be holy by striving to meet the two aspects of holiness, that of purity and separation from the world (again, not in the extreme sense, but in the sense that we are “in the world, but not of the world”).

2   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
January 6th, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Neil,

A church we used to attend treated a number of pieces of furniture as “holy” – this included: The communion table, the pulpit and the organ.

One Sunday, when the youth were playing music for the church service, I move the communion table out of the ’sanctuary’.

Another Sunday, one of my family members sat on the corner of the organ because no chairs were available between songs, and they needed to sit down.

After getting the complaint about not respecting ‘holy’ items in the church, I commented that there is only one piece of holy “furniture” on earth, and its location is currently unknown.

3   Chad    http://www.chadholtz.wordpress.com
January 6th, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Neil,

Great quote. Who is it from?

Rather, we are called, while forswearing all racial, cultural or geographic imperialism, to create communities of love and justice out of which healing can flow to others.

amen.

I think we know holy when we see it. Sometimes, in our best moments, our churches and people capture it beautifully.

4   Neil    
January 7th, 2010 at 12:23 am

re 2: i remember telling a person once that there was nothing specifically holy about the piano in the worship center… that it came off the assembly line like all the rest and could have just as easily been bought and put in a bar.

i suppose i could have been more tactful.

5   Neil    
January 7th, 2010 at 12:25 am

Great quote. Who is it from?

n. t. wright

6   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
January 7th, 2010 at 8:27 am

We might be able to identify a “holy” place if we knew what holiness actually is. But the Holy of Holy waswhere God dwelt; which means the only holy place on earth is inside every believer. It cannot be improved upon since it was not earned but given.

Many times the Chikinah glory gets obscured through the prism of an earthen vessel.

7   Christian P    http://www.churchvoices.com
January 7th, 2010 at 2:23 pm

It is because God dwells in Christians that we can have holy communities. I have known a few congregations and gatherings that I would call holy, not because the people there do not sin, but because they exhibit the love and grace of Christ to others.