Edit: References to “holiness theology” and “holiness teaching” refer to the Wesleyan Holiness Theology of Entire Sanctification.
Corps members whom I’ve spoken with tell me that holiness is impossible or just too hard…I am shocked when I hear them tell me this.
I believe this is a growing response among the Millennial generation. I want to talk about three reasons why I think holiness has been a missing component in many Millennials today. This is not just in The Salvation Army, but in other denominations throughout Christianity.
Reason #1: Criticism
As I’ve attended Moody Bible Institute, I have received much criticism from professors and students on The Salvation Army’s holiness teaching. We live in a day where the Calvinist theological side is prevalent to our Millennial generation. We hear about John Piper, John McArthur, and Mark Driscoll who are popular theologians to Millennials that do not teach and may even criticize Wesleyan holiness theology. Let’s be honest, there are not many holiness teachers that are in the evangelical limelight. When these major teachers are grabbing Millennials through their books, tweets, blogs, and podcasts, the criticism and teaching they receive from these teachers drastically effects what they think of holiness theology.
I have fallen into this category of being persuaded by criticism. Until recently, I really struggled with holiness theology and thought that it was an archaic doctrine that was rooted in a Victorian British thought when the outlook for the world was really good.
We can counter this criticism by reaching out more to the Millennial generation with our holiness teaching through social media and the internet. We don’t live in a day when a young person will come to us to ask the tough questions, they will just listen to those who have the loudest voice. We need to make our holiness theology a loud voice for all generations to hear.
Reason #2: Lack of Teaching
When I went to Moody, I was asked if I had a clear understanding of The Salvation Army’s doctrines. People from my Corps knew that I would be tested in many ways while at Moody in my theological understanding. They were right. Unfortunately, I did not have a clear understanding of Salvation Army theology. I knew what the doctrines said, but I didn’t know what they meant. Sure, I took Corps Cadets, I was a Jr. Soldier, and I took Recruits’ Class, but I had never really had any deep understanding of the basis of our doctrinal beliefs. It was more of, “This is what the doctrine says, so this is what I believe.”
I don’t have that understanding any more and I do know why I hold to the doctrines, but I feel that I was never taught the doctrines, including the doctrine of holiness. Many retired officers I’ve talked to talk about holiness preaching and the holiness meeting (which they’re still called today). The problem is that I believe our holiness teaching has been moved to the back burner. I feel we’ve become more seeker-sensative in our approach and have not been emphasizing this doctrine that is supposedly key to our theological DNA.
I will give credit that I’ve seen an increasing amount of Army-published books dedicated to the topic of holiness in the past few years, but many Millennials will not put in the effort to pick up a book to learn about theology. It’s like a child and their vegetables: sometimes you need to hide the vegetables in the potatoes or the meat in order for them to eat it. Our holiness theology needs to be taught in the places that the Millennials already are – Sunday Meetings, Sunday School, Youth Group, etc.
And please, PLEASE, do not teach it from a book. I admire and respect many authors who have written on holiness and have developed sermon series for churches to use, but Millennials want genuineness – they want to hear it from you. Give us the raw Scripture and the raw exposition.
Reason #3: Lack of Example
This is probably the hardest reason to digest, but I feel it needs to be said. I have found that sometimes (and by this I do not mean this applies to every single person), the people that we are to most likely find examples of holiness are the people that do not show it. I won’t name names or point fingers, but I just want to mention that Millennials are observers – they are looking at those around them that should exemplify the holy life and, in some cases, they do not see that.
I can recall a specific time when I was with someone who I thought, of all people, would exemplify holiness, but there was one comment that they made that really disturbed me. I thought to myself, “Is this what holiness is supposed to be?” That one comment made me think that either our holiness teaching was dying or that it had been a lie from the start. We should not make generalizations based on one experience, but when experiences begin to add up, it can really do damage.
I feel that these are three reasons why our holiness theology is suffering among Millennials. I hope this will be an awakening that there are voices out there who teach contrary to our holiness theology that Millennials listen to, that we need a return to holiness teaching in our meetings and other events at our Corps, and that we always need to be examples of holiness – you never know who may be watching.
But, I don’t want to be that person that complains about how things need to change and doesn’t put in the effort myself. Millennials: even if we cannot see the examples of holiness around us, we need to be an example to others. You and I need to make the loud shouts for holiness theology and we need to share the possibility of entire sanctification with our peers.
May God continue to guide The Salvation Army in her ministry and teaching.
What are your thoughts on holiness theology? Leave a comment below!