This week Faith Community began a series of explorations of 1 Peter 1.15-16, "15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
We discovered "holy" means 1. set apart, 2. morally pure and 3. shining (rarely.) Holy can be recognized by distinctives. Hebrews were marked as God's distinct people by circumcision, Kosher rules and Sabbath keeping. No matter where in time or space they were, they were recognizable. Numbers 6 describes the Nazarite -- a Hebrew set apart from even other Hebrews and recognizable because they would not consume grape products or come in contact with dead bodies. To be holy (set apart) is recognizable.
Holy also means morally pure. Holy desire, holy love all are expressed in purity, undiluted or without other mixed attributes.
But our biggest discovery was that Peter's call was to the church, not the individual. Every "you" in verses 13-23 is plural. In West Virginia we would say, "Y'all be holy..." God calls the body to be holy. This holiness expresses itself in the life and interactions of the group of believers. All the statements and injunctions are for the group, not the individual.
Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God. We are being built TOGETHER into the dwelling place of God [collectively.]
This emphasis differs greatly from the personal piety paradigm preached in my childhood. Everything was about the individual and his/her separation from the world, the flesh and the devil. Individuals were called to be holy. We needed to be distinct in our actions, attitudes, adornments and amusements.
So how does a group express holiness? How does the group reflect the holiness of our God? Such an understanding of communal holiness brings freedom and constraint at the same time. Freedom from the bondage of legalistic, externalism imposed on the individual. Constraint to live out what it might mean to reflect a holy God through set apart community.
The first community called to be holy as God was holy consisted of the children of Abraham. The circumcision marked a man for life as one of the set apart people. Paul says, we need to have a circumcision of our hearts. The second marker was the Kosher law. Lastly was Sabbath-keeping.
In this pericope Peter connects holiness or purification with love (verse 22.) We will unpack that verse in a later post. But we can say now that love is the distinguishing mark of the New Testament community. Jesus himself declared, "By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13.35.) He said we could reflect the nature of our Heavenly Father in that we can "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect" in a discussion of how God loves everyone, even those who count themselves His enemy. (Matthew 5.48.)
Love can only be developed in community. That is why the hermit holiness movement transformed into the monastic holiness movement. You need people to interact with in order to love. Love means nothing in the vacuum of solitude. God in His original design of humanity reminds us, "it is not good for man to be alone."
So the command to be holy would be meaningless to an individual. Love requires community to be expressed, exercised and expanded.
How sad that today the message of the Gospel, the very nature of our Lord is discredited by the unloving relations of the community of faith. Presbyterians and Wesleyans argue the extent of the atonement. Catholics and Baptists fight over the timing and mode of baptism. Division rather than unifying love marks Christendom. Even in local congregations, hostility, gossip, slander, distrust and brokenness mark the gather of the people of God.