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Social Holiness Defined

Excerpts from Social Holiness by R. George Eli (Peter Lang, 1993)

"There are two dimensions to social holiness. The first dimension relates to the structure and the function of the church as a transformed community in which Christian life is nurtured and grows to maturity. It is within this transformed community that individual faith life both begins and grows, and corporate Christian identity is also nurtured, as oneness in Christ grows and develops into the mature witness of the church. ... The second dimension of social holiness is that which brings Christian community into relationship with the social order, because the church has been given the mission of being a transforming community in the world. ...

Social holiness seeks to describe the ministry of Christian community, by characterizing the community in mission as it ministers in grace to its own members and also to the social order, manifesting a faith that is active in love, demonstrated through an unrestrained, unlimited care and concern for all human well being. The goals of social holiness are derived from and are achieved only by God given grace, and this grace is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, whom Christians experience and evidence through having the mind of Christ. This mind of Christ is the first goal of social holiness evidenced by Christians, and having such a mindset results in the Christ consciousness of the church, manifested by Christian community as it proclaims its own identity in its corporate witness to society. It leads into a parallel goal, the walk of Christ, which describes the nature of the character and actions of Christian community. Social holiness therefore draws Christian community into society in concrete ways, leading into social concern and action. Social holiness should never be misconstrued as humanitarian concern manifested in social work. (p. 3) ...

Social holiness establishes distinctions that concern justice and fairness, with respect to the institutions and structures of society. Social holiness clearly goes beyond the idea of individual witness. It is deliberate, commissioned involvement in society by Christian community, proclaiming God's future in the present by means of the transforming power of the presence of God's kingdom. Through word and deed, grace is offered as God's possibility for all persons. This gracious power is meek but also abrasive. Social holiness enables spiritual revolution through acts that have distinct and concrete socio-political consequences. ... This does not mean that graced community is hesitant nor reticent when it may be necessary to identify and address oppressive and exploitative situation. ... Social holiness must challenge institutional oppression, criticize the status quo, and demonstrate and offer constructive possibilities for human well being. This is the ideal of social holiness. ... Christian community must balance its pastoral and prophetic roles as it seeks to fulfill the mission of social holiness. As a community it is inescapably political, but it is not concerned with political power. Its goals are derived from and achieved by grace. And grace is Christ, contending for the hearts of human beings, and for the sell being of human community." (p. 108-9)

Richard George Eli is a teacher, musician, Methodist pastor and Wesleyan scholar with a Ph.D from Duke University.

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