Several weeks ago we had our Minister and Spouses Gathering. This is an annual event sponsored by our district for ministers and their spouses. This year the format was a little different. We had our General Superintendent and his wife. Two of the sessions were teaching sessions and two of the sessions were “working” sessions. I applaud our General Superintendents for doing this. What they are doing is going from district to district, mainly in small groups and having round table discussions with local pastors. The idea is to see what The Wesleyan Church is doing right – what The Wesleyan Church is doing ok and what isn’t working in The Wesleyan Church. Again, I think it is a great idea.
One of the things that I picked up is that there is still an interest in teaching holiness in The Wesleyan Church. Dr. Armiger made it clear that we still teach the doctrine of holiness. I suppose that I already knew this. One of the themes that came through very strong in my seven years in the FLAME program was that The Wesleyan Church is a church that believes and teaches holiness. I suppose that is partially why I am a Wesleyan pastor. One of the benefits of attending FLAME is that this doctrine came through loud and clear in class after class.
I remember taking Doctrine of Holiness and it wasn’t long before there was controversy about what holiness is. One of the things that I appreciate about our denomination is those who have gone on before. The early founders were passionate about this teaching. Just check out this article by Dr. Keith Drury – Seth Rees got himself in quite a bit of trouble with a church. Sort of reminds me of contemporary church fights.
During our roundtable sessions, it was mentioned several times that the message that we teach and preach is a transformational message. Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God, because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship. Don’t copy the behavior and customs (and culture) of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Another translation says don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed. I like the way this passage reads because it is really what holiness is all about. It is about being transformed. We don’t do the transforming as Romans 12:2 reminds us. “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” This is the message of holiness – we consecrate ourselves to God – He transforms us through the work of the Holy Spirit to be a new creation. We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 —This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
All this brings me to the title of this post – transformed vs. conformed. I’ve already mentioned that I have a deep appreciation for those who have gone on before in the church universal and in both founding denominations of the church I serve – The Pilgrim Holiness Church and The Wesleyan Methodist Church. Again, I believe the message of holiness is one that needs to continue to be taught. Our lives can be transformed into a Christlike life through the power of the Holy Spirit working in his people. Notice that I have used the word “transformed” over and over again. The scripture makes this clear that we are to be transformed into the image of Christ. The gospel song “O To Be Like Thee” has a line in it that goes like this, “Stamp Thine own image deep in my heart.”
This message of transformation was important to Charles Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism. Look at the message found in a familiar Christmas carol – Hark, the Herald Angels Sing – verses that aren’t often published or sung.
Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner Man:
O! to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.
As you can see the message of transformational holiness is something that God does within us. It is not something that we can do – or try to follow what others do to change us. That change comes from God through the power of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t always this way in the Wesleyan Church. Sometimes well meaning people tried to conform others into their idea of holiness. The good thing is that for the most part those days are over. You will find pockets of this from time to time, but for the most part, pastors are teaching the message of transformational holiness.
So the question becomes, “Are you trying to conform yourself by your own power into what you think holiness is?” or “Are you letting the Holy Spirit transform you into the image of Christ?”