The other day Rev. S. confided me that one of our pastors was causing some stir within our church’s pastoral team. It is a problem that is bound to happen every October, just before our end-of-the-year regular administrative assembly, because it is the time when we have to submit the names of candidates for all the different leadership positions within our congregation.
This particular pastor is an excellent Christian and he has our utmost respect. He earned his reputation working as a missionary in Nepal, facing paganism and demonic forces almost daily (no, I am not exaggerating), while being a good witness of Christ. But the problem with him is that he came from a Pentecostal denomination, and he is too influenced by perfectionism. Whenever we proposed some candidate, he objected pointing out a flaw or another: “But he has trouble raising his kids”… “But he is reluctant to tithe…”, “But he is divorced and remarried…”, and so on.
The other pastors of our church understand that is not realistic to expect perfection. As a side observation, I concur and I also can see that the current generation that provides our church leadership material (i.e., people usually over 45) is facing several issues and many of them lead less than perfect lives. So why point the finger to those people’s faults?
I think that most of the objections raised by this pastor come from his flawed understanding of Christian holiness, an understanding that has been tarnished by Christian perfectionism, or a doctrine that maintains that, in John Wesley’s own words, is possible for the Christian to attain in this life the “deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin”. Please note that this is not, by any means, a denial from all sin; and even the perfectionistic Wesley had a rather realistic view of sins in the Christian. After all, he was an accomplished pastor of soul and had an excellent insight on issues of sanctification and holiness. But the teaching of this doctrine led to impossible standards in most Holiness churches; and I can tell that in our particular environment, this brought the practice of double lives and hypocrisy among Pentecostals and other Holiness churches.
That’s why the doctrine of perfection is a danger for the Church: despite all its good intentions, it is a sure recipe for hypocrisy, double-standards, legalism, and judgmentalism. As for me, I prefer a church of fallen people with all its warts and difficulties rather than some shiny, “Stepford-Wiwes”-esque, pasted-smile den of hypocrites.
Despite the good intentions and the sincere intention of commend the search for holiness implied on the doctrine of Christian perfectionism, I cannot clear it as is neither Biblical nor realistic; and it is completely contrary to a true Reformed view of total depravity. Better than writing any answer to it, let me suggest you this excellent rebuttal by Zacharias Ursinus written roughly 200 years before Wesley, as a commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.
We need to keep in mind all the time what Paul has said so eloquently on 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. With his usual wit, my namesake Ed Hurst has nailed down the crux of the issue on the motto of his “School of Holy Cynicism” (a post of his, a post of mine): Mankind is fallen. Sinners will sin. Let’s not lose sight of this. If we do, we are doomed to fail.