Holiness and Low Church

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In the Old Testament there were all sorts of reminders of God’s holiness and his holy requirements for his people. There were holy places and spaces…holy things and holy people. The temple was holy and so were parts of the temple like the altar. The priestly garments were holy as were the priests themselves. Then there was the Most Holy place that required holy people to do holy things on one particular holy day wearing particularly holy things to gain access to that extra holy spot.

God gave them visible reminders of the fact that things were different with them than it was with the nations. Along with that, God was unlike the “gods” of the nations and was to be approached in his own peculiar ways, each one a powerful and often visible reminder of holiness. When you put on the priestly garb that Aaron had to sport, I imagine it was impossible not to think of holiness…or when you entered through the curtain to the Most Holy places, I am sure holiness was on one’s mind.

High church captures a lot of this…visible reminders of holiness. Low church, such as those of us in Churches of Christ, don’t have robes and incense, extra holy places and people and things. Instead, we have emphasized that we are all holy people and priests (1 Peter 2:9) and in doing so are tempted to lose all sense of holiness. It is like when you like a book so much that you underline nearly every single line…you finally realize that underlining everything is really underlining nothing. Because we are ALL God’s priests…His saints and his temple where his Spirit dwells, I think we have a harder time conceptualizing holiness. At least I do.  I cannot speak for you.

It is important we recapture our understanding of holiness. We don’t have to wear special robes to do that be we do need to recognize that we are special people and that worshiping God is a very special thing.

9 Responses

  1. Holy and spectacle don’t always go hand in hand and while he did call on the people to be Holy, this was in relation to Him and His commands and he didn’t correlate something that looked impressive as being an example of what Holiness looked liked.
    When Moses approached the burning bush, God told him to remove his sandals, because he was walking on “Holy ground”.
    Was the ground within the area now covered with glitter or glowing? No, it, from what we are told just looked like ground, the same ground before God declared it Holy and indistinguishable from the ground around it in type. What made the ground Holy was God declaring it so and Moses recognizing that he was approaching God near this declared ground.
    True the priest, the Temple, etc. were impressive to look at, but then again so was the house of Solomon that actually might have surpassed the Temple in pure elegance, but this didn’t make it Holy.
    Now when we read in the NT. We see Jesus being born in a manger (unimpressive) and Jesus was by all accounts (and prophecy) unimpressive and dressed as a lowly Jew would, but not as the high Pharisees/Sadducees/ Jewish leaders did.
    Jesus was highly unimpressive to look at, but was extremely Holy.
    Jesus himself told the people to not be persuaded by the Pharisees who took pride in their dress in order to look Holy.
    Then we have God in I Pet.4:16 “Be Holy, as I am Holy”, which is based upon the OT and which doesn’t attach how one looks, but rather how one is in character.
    And while cues might be good to remind us of our Holiness, they can also be bad in showing a sense of Holiness that might not actually be within. How many of the priest in the Catholic church dressed Holy and then were found out to have committed child molestation.
    As noted by Jesus the value of the branch is relayed through the fruits towards God and others and not the external beauty of the plant.

  2. I used to think of God’s holiness in the context of God’s location to me. He is holy, thus separated and far removed from me. If I could only behave properly, perhaps I could have communion with God. This idea is common in our fellowship, I think.

    However, I recently began to think about Holiness in a different way; in the context of distinction of characteristics. For example, God’s love is holy; it’s pure love and set apart from my ability to love. God’s grace is holy; it’s pure grace and distinct from what I can offer. God’s mercy is holy…you get the idea. IF all of God’s actions are holy, that doesn’t have to imply that he is far removed from me. Rather, the actual point of the Bible I think, God is close, intimate, and near us each day loving us with pure love and showering pure grace and kindness upon us – even when we behave poorly.

  3. I think the concept of “Be Holy as I Am Holy” lends the idea that while God is innately Holy, we are not, thus we must make an effort to be so, which means becoming more like God in his characteristics…in love, grace, kindness, etc. But how we see Holy is on approach of the heart and spirit. Something may not look what we would think of as Holy, which is how the Pharisees saw Jesus, but they could not see his heart and didn’t understand his love and mercy. Being Holy not only changes our approach to others, but our approach to God from the world.

  4. Low church can still have respect for God and dignity. However, please stop trying to get so far away from high church that you don’t read the gospel, read a psalm, or say a prayer that makes sense.

    I grew up in the cofC and almost never heard the gospel read.

  5. Up until this article I had never heard the terms “low church” or “high church” as I was under the impression that church was the congregation or the people. From what I understand of the concepts under consideration is that we are talking about observances by the saints…formal (high) as opposed to informal (low). This may or may not be correct.
    But in the congregation I go to it appears we have a high-low observance in that it is largely formal and slightly informal, at least during class time.
    Now when I look in the scriptures there is a shift from formal (ceremonial) (high) to informal (people gathering to eat the LS) (low).
    I would assume the scriptures are pointing towards a direction for how we are as a gathering church. Unified.
    I have been raised in the coC and hear the gospel all of the time.

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