Christ, doctrine, & holiness

Joel Watts writes that matters of sexuality are not about Christ or doctrine, but holiness.

For me, the via media focuses on Christ. As a subset of this, it focuses on orthodox doctrines of the Church. For most of us, the issue of homosexuality is not a doctrinal matter (i.e., Trinity, baptism, episcopal authority) but is a matter (in Wesleyan terms) of holiness. That is why I can focus on episcopal authority even while arguing for inclusion. I can focus on orthodoxy, hold to prima scripture, and attempt to be a part of the Great Tradition while arguing for inclusion.

The way his words flow here, it reads to me as if he is saying orthodox doctrine is “a subset” of a focus on Christ but that holiness is not. Perhaps he is merely saying holiness is a different subset of the focus on Christ. Or maybe he is saying holiness is a subset of doctrine. I’m not entirely sure.

In any event, he has me puzzling a bit about the relationship between doctrine and holiness. I’ve always taken holiness — which is another word for sanctification which for Wesley is another word for salvation — to be itself part of the doctrine of the Christian Church. Holiness is what it means to live out our baptismal vows. It is what it means to be saved.

I don’t see how we can disagree about what it means to be holy and say we agree on the doctrines of justification and sanctification, for instance. Furthermore, if pressed, I’d argue that holiness comes before doctrine.

First, we focus on Christ. In this focus, what we notice overwhelmingly is his holiness. It is only after this that we begin to develop the superstructure of doctrine that gives shape and stability to our beliefs and practices. The Church was the church when all it had before it was the holiness of Christ. It did not have to wait for Nicea to become the church. All we needed was Christ and his holiness.

This is why questions about food laws and circumcision were existential issues for the church. They cut to the meaning of holiness.

Which is all a way of saying that I find matters of holiness more important than doctrine when it comes to Christian unity. And I think Wesley would agree.

This has little to do with the main point that Watts was trying to make about United Methodism and schism and so on, but it his post got my gears moving.

When it comes to questions of doctrine vs. questions of holiness, which do you think is more crucial for the unity of the church and the life of the Christian?


24 thoughts on “Christ, doctrine, & holiness

  1. If we’re going to talk about holiness as Methodists we have to talk about entire sanctification and what it means to be a fully sanctified person. We therefore have to determine the role we assign marriage in sanctification. Is it part of the process? Separate from it? Part of it for some, but not all? In other words we need to conceive of an image of total sanctification that both someone with heterosexual attractions and someone with homosexual attractions can achieve in this life. More importantly we need to be sure that is the vision being preached and practiced in our churches.

  2. Be aware that, in these brainy discussions, there is always an angel of light standing right outside the door waiting to convince you that scripture doesn’t really mean what it says.

  3. Sismarydandelion – Thank you for taking the time to make your points. It sounds like you have gone through some painful times. I hear you saying that the church forces people to sin by offering only heterosexual monogamy or celibacy as options for a sanctified Christian sexuality. I am curious what you see as a faithful, biblical, sexual ethic that we might teach instead.

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