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.