I am a Pentecostal. I haven’t always known I was a Pentecostal but I think I’ve always been one. Even though I grew up in a small-town Southern Baptist church, my grandmother Peggy’s Pentecostal Holiness church always intrigued me. True, sometimes it scared the living daylights out of me, but it also often made me feel warm and welcome. Those people who shouted, raised their hands, wept at the altar, and had a drum set to accompany the organ captivated me.
As I’ve explored my Pentecostalness over the past five years, I’ve sought to understand the spirituality of Pentecostals—our pathos and ethos. In that search I found at the heart of the Pentecostal spiritual life is the pneumatos, that openness to the anarchy of the divine pneuma.
I started to understand the Pentecostal aspects of my grandmother’s religion. I desired, sought, and received those empowering experiences from the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen people healed and set free. I’ve heard and delivered accurate and specific prophetic utterances.
But lately, I’ve been drawn to the other identifying marker of my grandmother’s religion: holiness.
See, I can remember the day I went shopping with my mom and grandmother and got angry because my mom wouldn’t let me buy a deck of cards at the Dollar Tree. When I asked, my mom explained that my grandmother didn’t “believe in playing cards” because it might lead to gambling.
I can remember my grandmother praying while she cut my hair on a Sunday morning. She was praying for forgiveness. She said, “I hope the Lord forgives me for cutting hair on a Sunday.” The Sabbath was holy, and cutting hair wasn’t worthy of the Sabbath.
Peggy wasn’t just Pentecostal; she was Pentecostal Holiness. While some of the prohibitions she lived by seem a little outdated and over-the-top right now, I have to respect her devotion. She loved the Lord and desired to please Him. She loved Him so much that when I visited her on her deathbed, she didn’t ask me to pray for her. Instead, she grabbed my hand and prayed for me. Peggy wasn’t perfect by any means; she had a temper and knew how to use it. She wasn’t perfect, but she was holy.
Recently, I researched and wrote a seminary paper about the nature of sanctification and holiness in the Pentecostal movement. What I found was that all Pentecostals have roots in a devout holiness form of Christianity. The early Pentecostals took the biblical mandates “Be Holy” and “Be Perfect” seriously. They saw holiness as wholeness. For them salvation wasn’t just a Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card. Salvation was therapeutic; salvation brings healing. Healthy people are whole people and whole people are holy people.
Holiness, in its purist form, isn’t about following a list of what and what not to do. Holiness is not a state of sinless perfection. Holiness is not denim skirts and up-dos. Holiness is a loving relationship with God that brings healing to the scars caused by a sin-sick world.
I know that many Christian’s today like to talk about how we know longer live under “The Law.” They talk about the liberty and freedom we have as Christians. But a friend told me this week that he’s observed the church “exchanging holiness for cheap grace.” We define grace as some phenomenon that allows God to overlook our sins. We believe that somehow God deceives himself into thinking we—his children—are holy when we are not.
That’s not a biblical definition of grace. Grace is power. Grace is God’s gift to us to overcome hell, sin, and death. It’s power that makes us the Sons and Daughters of God. It’s not God overlooking our sin; it is God cleansing us of all our unrighteousness. It’s true; God does forgive. But we can’t pretend that this relationship we have with God is not a covenant. Covenants have conditions. God says that we should be holy—but he gives us the grace (read: power) to do just that.
We can complain about all those “old-fashioned” prohibitions our Holiness forbearers held. We can cry out “Legalism!” while we claim our unbiblical libertinism. But when you read the testimonies of those forefathers it’s hard to argue with their results. They might not have worn makeup or gone to movies but when they went to church stuff happened. They had a lot more healings and miracles back then. The Spirit flowed freely in their lives. Maybe our modern Christianity is actually hindering us from being used by God to our fullest potential.
Maybe if we let God makes us whole, healthy, and holy, we’d see more of those miracles today.
So, this is more a challenge to myself than anyone else. Maybe I need to embrace my entire heritage. Maybe I need all of Peggy’s kind of salvation. I’m not supposed to be just a Spirit-empowered Christian. I am supposed to live like a Spirit-cleansed Christian. That kind of salvation is wholeness, healing, and therapeutic.