THE HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH
John Webster

HIS GLORY REIGNS
B. Childress
Jun 26 2009 08:00 A.M.


I.  God's holiness is a mode of his relation to his creation: the holiness of the Holy Trinity is made known as God speaks
his holy name and, in majestic freedom, accomplishes his work as creator, reconciler and perfecter.  Holiness is one of
the ways of characterizing the covenant - creating and covenant-sustaining presence of the glorious three-in-one.  
Because of this - because holiness is known in God's movement towards us as the creative Father, as the reconciling
Son who is for us even when in his righteousness he is opposed to our sin, and as the consecrating Spirit - an account
of the holiness of God is incomplete without attention to the creatures before whom God is sanctifyingly present.  It is a
fundamental rule of Christian theology that a doctrine of God which is
only a doctrine of God is not a Christian doctrine
of God.  The task of articulating a Christian doctrine of God, because it is a doctrine of the Holy Trinity made known in
free majesty in the economy of creations, reconciliation and perfection, is not finished when it has spoke of God in
Himself
(in se); for God is essentially, to the depths of His triune being, God for us and God with us, the One whose
mercy evokes the miracle of human fellowship with Himself.  There is always a double theme in Christian theology, a two-
foldness in all its matter which corresponds to the identity of aseity and self-giving in the life of the Holy Trinity.

In terms of giving a dogmatic account of the holiness of God, this means that to the treatment of God's holiness there
necessarily belongs a treatment of the holiness of the saints, that is, the holiness of the Church as the
sanctorum
communio
, and the holiness of the individual Christian, who is a 'saint in Christ Jesus' (Philippians 4:21).  

                                        
II.  To begin with, however, we need to ask a question which, at first glance, seems purely formal or procedural, but
which in fact takes us quickly to the heart of some central substantive issues.  The question is this:  How do we move
from the doctrine of God to the doctrine of the Church?  In what precise way are theology proper and ecclesiology to be
related?  That there is, indeed, such a relation, and that it is constitutive for theological talk about the nature of the
Church, is the burden of a good deal of recent trinitarian theology, especially those styles of social trinitarian thought
which emphasize that the Holy Trinity is to be conceived as a society trinitarian thought which emphasize that the Holy
Trinity is to be conceived as a society of persons not only constituted by their personal relations but overflowing in
gracious relation to the human community of the Church.  The resourcefulness of social trinitarianism for our
understanding of human common life, both politically and in the Church, has been a matter of much emphasis.  The
relatedness of Father, Son, and Spirit is canvassed as the ground or model for the Church, and the Church is thereby
conceived as the realization in time of the human vocation to society, and so as the social extension of reconciliation
through its gracious participation in the triune life of God.  Much might be said in response to this aspect of social
trinitarian theologies, but for our purposes two initial hesitations might be recorded.

The
first is that such accounts of the life of the Church as a participation in or image of the relatedness of God
characteristically give insufficient attention to the free majesty of God.  The gracious or miraculous character of the
Church, its sheer difference over against the perfect work of God which brings it into being, is often in some measure
compromised by the easy, unproblematic way in which the language of participation is often deployed.  The Hegelian
cast of much modern eccelesiology is very much in evidence, and meets little resistance from those who interweave
ecclesiology and the doctrine of God.

A
second related, hesitation concerns the way in which such accounts of the Church's relation to the triune life of God
betray a drift into divine immanence.  This can be seen in the way in which such ecclesiologies characteristically stress
the continuity between the action of God and the action of the Church, in a manner which can easily jeopardize our
sense of the freedom and perfection of God's work.  Such ecclesiologies can place excessive emphasis upon the
Church as agent, and correspondingly, underplay the passivity which is at the heart of the Church as a creature of
divine grace.  For if the being of the Church is a participation in the life of the triune divine society, then it is in the work
of the Church that the work of the triune God finds its realization and, in an important sense, its continuation.  In effect,
this constitutes an orientation in ecclesiology that makes the work of the Church an actualization of or sharing in the
divine presence and action, rather than a testimony to that presence and action.  In short:  the repeated
hapax ('once')
of Hebrews 9:26-28 - the uniqueness, the utter fullness, perfection and sufficiency of the work of Father, Son, and Spirit
- is to some degree endangered when the Church is considered to enter into the movement of the divine work.  One
result of this is that the holiness of the Church is no longer sheerly alien, no longer the result of the Word's declaration,
but in some sense infused into the Church by the Church's
koinonia with God, its perichoretic relations to the Holy
Trinity.

The account that I want to offer here of the relation between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Church's
holiness is of a quite different complexion.  Above all, this is because it makes the miracle of election central to the
Church's existence and nature.  Where the social trinitarian language of participation emphasizes the continuity, even
coinherence, of divine and ecclesial action, the language of election draws attention to the way in which the Church has
its being in the ever-fresh work of divine grace.  The Church is what it is in the ceaseless gift of its being through the
risen Christ and the Holy Spirit who accomplish the will of the Father in gathering a holy people to Himself.  Only thus, I
want to suggest, can we retain the wisdom of speaking of the Church's sanctity as an
alien sanctity, a non-possessable
holiness.  However, a caution needs to be entered lest, in countering the Hegelian tendencies of social trinitarian
ecclesiologies, we overreact and bifurcate God and the Church.  It is, doubtless, true that the alien character of the
Church - its sheer difference from God - can be so stressed that the ecclesiology which results is spiritualized and
dualist: spiritualized, in the sense that we lose sight of the Church as human historical society, dualist in the sense that it
polarizes God and the human community and renders God as a purely transcendent reality, unrelated to human social
space and time.   The counter to those dangers, however, is not to erode the distinction between God and the human
historical reality of the Church - to deal with the dangers in that way would not be to solve, but simply to repeat, the
problem.  Rather, the most effective counter is to offer a disciplined theological description of the nature and acts of the
holy Church:  that is, to govern our thinking in this matter by the gospel.  Gospel discipline will require us to say both
that the Church's holiness is real and actual, a perceptible form of common human being and action, and also that the
being and action of the Church are holy only in so far as they have within themselves a primary reference to the work
and word of the holy God.  The Church is holy; but it is holy, not by virtue of some ontological participation in the divine
holiness, but by virtue of its calling by God, its reception of the divine benefits, and its obedience of faith.  Like its unity,
its catholicity and its apostolicity, the Church's holiness is that which is by virtue of its sheer contingency upon the mercy
of God.

                                     

III.  To expand on this in more detail we discuss, first, the grounds of the Church's holiness.  In propositional form:

    The holiness of the Church is grounded in the work of the Holy Trinity in electing, reconciling and perfecting a
    people to become God's covenant partners and the fellowship of the saints.

    What is meant here?

First, there is a Church.  Within the ambiguous kingdom of human time and society there exists an assembly, a
congregation of men and women who constitute the covenant people and the fellowship of the saints.  Their common
life is the sign that there is, indeed, a human response to the divine call; to the divine self-utterance - 'I shall be your
God' - there really does correspond a human reality, the gathering of God's people:  the existence or subordinate
design of the Father's electing activity, namely, 'our sanctification'.

Already an important consequence for our understanding of the Church's holiness begins to emerge.  The dynamic of
the Church's holiness is not that of natural separation and association, but of election, segregation and assembly by
God.  The holy people of God is a form of common life which owes its origin to a decision and act beyond itself, utterly
gratuitous, excluding from consideration 'everything which men have of themselves'.  Neither in its origin nor in its
continuation is the sanctified community an autonomous gathering; it is - at every moment of its existence - a creature of
grace.  The dynamic of its life is, therefore, in no sense self-generated.  God separates the Church.  The Church does
not separate itself, for it has neither mandate nor competence to do so; indeed, to try to do so is blasphemy, for it is to
try to repeat by a human action the work of election which is God's alone.  The Church's holiness is the result of the
divine decision, not of any human acts of separating a 'pure' group from an 'impure'.  In this respect, the true holiness of
the Church is very different indeed from purely human social sectarianism, and readings either of the Churches of the
New Testament era or of contemporary Christianity that view holiness merely as a sociological or ethnographic quantity
which misses the point.  Only God is properly holy;
only God may elect the Church; only an elect Church is
sanctified
.  The Church's holiness is thus grounded in the election of God the Father.

Second, the Church's holiness which is the goal or 'subordinate design' of election is established in the reconciling
work of the Son, who cleansed the Church that it might be holy.  '[Christ] loved the Church and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church
to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish'
(Ephesians 5:25-27; see also I Corinthians 1:2; Philippians  1:1).  The Father's will, we have already been told in
Ephesians 1, is effected in the Son who 'sets forth' (Ephesians 1:9) the purpose of the Father.  If we ask how the
sanctifying purpose of the Father is effected in the Son, Ephesians gives us a range of concepts: redemption
(Ephesians 1:7); forgiveness of trespasses (Ephesians 1:7); being brought near (Ephesians 2:13); sacrifice (Ephesians
5:2) and, near the end of Ephesians 5, cleansing (Ephesians 5:26).  Here the metaphor of cleansing recapitulates the
entirety of Christ's saving work: the objective work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, which is the divine act
of defeating sin and putting end to its pollution of humankind; and the applicative work of Jesus Christ in 'the washing of
water with the word', that is, in baptism and the gospel's word of promise.  That work, moreover, is teleological - unique,
unrepeatable, imparticipable, but nevertheless a work which evokes a human trajectory, a social form.  Baptism, Calvin
remarks, has an 'aim'; and the aim is twofold: separation or what we might call 'passive sanctification' (of which the
outward sign is baptism, as the visible confirmation of God's promise), and 'active sanctification', for the end of baptism
is 'that we may live holy and unblameable to God'.

Third, the Church's holiness which is the goal of election and which is established in the reconciling work of the Son is
perfected by the Holy Spirit.  Through the work of the Spirit, the Church, elect and cleansed, is made into a dwelling
place of God: the Church, "
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In
whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
"  (Ephesians 2:21-22).   The work of the
Spirit is to 'perfect', that is, to bring to completion or full realization the reality which is willed in election and established
in reconciliation.  The Spirit is God Himself consummating the design of reconciliation, whose goal is that there should
be covenant fellowship between Himself and the creatures whom He has made and redeemed by drawing them into
relation with Himself.  The language here - 'reconciliation,' 'fellowship', 'relation' - is deliberate: it is not the language of
participation.  'In the Lord' and 'in the Spirit' do not mean union of being between God and the Church.  Their reference
is not to ontological communion but to soteriology and its fruits; they indicate the saving divine agency which creates
and recreates fellowship between God and His creatures, anticipated in the Church which is God's 'dwelling place', that
is, a form of common life in which the restoration of the covenant is at work.  The
telos of the work of the Son is ending
alienation (Ephesians 2:12), breaking down the wall of hostility both within the human realm (between Jew and Gentile)
and vertically, by reconciliation to God (Ephesians 2:16).   That work of reconciliation is pointed to its completion -
though not, of course, completed here and now - by the Spirit, who not only effects a renewed relation to God the
Father (Ephesians 2:18: "
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father."), but also renews human
fellowship, making us into 'fellow citizens with the saints' (Ephesians 2:19).  Crucially, the completion of the work of the
Church's sanctification is not an undertaking of the Church itself; the repetition of 'through the Spirit' at the end of
Ephesians 2, Calvin says, is partly 'to remind them that all human powers are of no avail without the operation of the
Spirit'.  In sum:  If there exists a covenant people and a communion of saints - if the will of the Father to dwell with
humankind is effected, if the reconciling work of the Son is realized in human life and history in a body or form of
common life - then it is because the Church exists 'in the Spirit', by the Spirit's agency and by the ever-fresh coming of
the Spirit, in the realm of transformation in which the Spirit is Lord.

So far, then, I have suggested that the ground of the holiness of the Church is the saving work of the Holy Trinity.  The
Church's holiness is therefore an
alien sanctity.  Because the Church is holy by grace, and because grace is a
movement of relation and not a mere handing over of a commodity, then in the case of the Church the attribution of
holiness is not a matter of the straightforward ascription of a property.  God's holiness is proper to Him; indeed, it is Him,
for He is originally holy.  The holiness of the Church, by contrast, is not a natural or cultural condition.  As with all the
predicates of the Church, the Church is what is
spiritually, that is, by virtue of the presence and action of the triune
God.  This is an application in the matter of holiness of the great ontological rule for the Church which is announced in
Ephesians 2:8-10: "
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of
works, lest any man should boast.
"  There we have in brief compass what needs to be said about the ontology of the
Church.  The Church is what it is by grace.  This entails a denial that the agency at the heart of the Church is the
Church's own spontaneity: 'not your own doing...not because of works'.  And it entails an affirmation that the agency at
the heart of the Church is God's, for the Church is 'God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus'.  There is, accordingly,
a proper passivity to the being of the Church, for
faith - that is, recognition and assent and trust in the word and work of
God - and not
boasting - that is, self-grounded, proud competence - is the fundamental act of the Church's existence.  
From this ontological rule about the holy Church's constitution there follows a further rule about the action of the holy
Church:  all the acts of the holy Church must demonstrate a reference to the work of the One who alone is holy: the
electing Father who reconciles in the Son and perfects in the Spirit.

Next, therefore, we move to look at the
practices of holiness.  What human and social form is taken by this reference to
the work of the holy God?  How do faith and the absence of boasting become a mode of common life?  To answer this,
we move to the next proposition which reads:

                                      
IV.
 The holiness of the Church is visible in all its acts as confession of the name of
God, the thrice Holy One, the Lord of hosts.

The act of acknowledging, or perhaps better, confessing the holy God, by an echoing of the unceasing cry of the
cherubim and seraphim, holy, holy, holy (Revelation 4:8) should be the fundamental act of the holy Church.  In that act
is manifest the basic character of the Church's holiness, for, in the act of confession, the Church joins with the prophets
and apostles and martyrs, all those whose lives have been transfigured by the divine calling, and becomes that human
company which is holy in its confession of this one, the Lord God of hosts.

1)  What is it about confession or acknowledgement that makes it basic to the Church's holiness?

Confession or acknowledgement is recognition.  It is an action in which the worth, dignity, and goodness of that which is
other than the Church is accorded the recognition of which it is supremely deserving.  In confession, the Church simply
assents to God's reality, uttering its Amen' to God's manifest being and works: 'Blessed be the Lord for ever! Amen and
Amen'  (Psalm 89:52).  Confession in this sense is not an isolated or discrete activity in the Church's existence.  Rather,
in the entirety of its being and in all its activities, the Church acts out the basic structure of confession - it celebrates in
all it is and does the fact that it is the creature of God's mercy.  Because of this, the Church's holiness, too, is at its
heart a confession.  Holiness, we have seen, is not a static property of the Church but a movement or event.  That
movement, the history that we call the Church's holiness, is a twofold movement, or, perhaps better, a commerce
between two unequal realities.  The history of the Church's holiness includes as a first and primary movement the
condescension of the holy God who mercifully elects, assembles and consecrates the
communio sanctorum.  And it
includes as a secondary and derivative movement the congregation of the saints, evoked by God's mercy, among whom
and by whom the holiness of Father, Son, and Spirit is confessed.  The Church's holiness - again like its unity,
catholicity and apostolicity - occurs as part of this history of grace and confession.  The Church is holy, that is, as it
cries to God: 'holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts'.

This acknowledgement originates, of course, in God Himself.  The Church cannot confess unless God opens its mouth.  
Confession takes its rise, not in the Church, but in God's manifestation of Himself as the Holy One, in God's
communicative presence as revealer.  Revelation is enacted and declared salvation, the visible hand of the holy and
merciful Trinity.  And revelation generates the communion of saints, the gathering of those called to holiness in
fellowship with the everlasting Father, the eternal Son and the Spirit of consolation.  Only on the basis of this divine
vocation and enabling is it possible for the people of God to say:
Te Deum laudamus.

2)  What is it that the holy Church acknowledges in making its confession of the triune God?

The holy Church acknowledges God.  The God who is acknowledged in this way is the active subject of the work of
salvation.  He is the Father of infinite majesty; the true and only Son, worthy of all worship; the Holy Spirit, the comforter
- the three-in-one manifest in the divine work of delivering humankind from the bondage of sin.  And the church fulfills
the goal of its consecration by God when it confesses this work.  In doing so, it joins in the worship which the entire
creation offers.  

In a little more detail: the holy Church acknowledges the
Father of infinite majesty.  God's majesty as Father is the
supreme eminence of His being, will, and works, a majesty which is limitless in extent, unobtainable, without measure or
circumspection, always and everywhere utterly replete.  This infinite majesty is not an isolated attribute; it is, rather a
property of the divine essence which characterizes all that God is.  And so God's holiness, too, is inseparable from His
majesty; and this is why the holy church invokes the Father of infinite majesty by crying: 'Holy!'

The holy Church acknowledges the true and only Son, worthy of all worship, characterized by an exalted Christology,
especially in its recital of the Son's work of condescension and exaltation: the focus is on the person who accomplishes
and is manifest in that work.  This one is confessed as
truly the Son of God - not Son by adoption, but himself an
ingredient within the divine identity, of one being with the Father and the Spirit.  He is the
only Son of God - the only-
begotten, utterly unlike any creature, having an eternal origin, 'the everlasting Son of the Father', and therefore not
made.  And, being all this, he is accordingly 'worthy of all worship' (venerandus), for he shares in the dignity and glory of
the godhead, and is fittingly the object of the devotion of heaven and earth.

This eternal glory of the Son is set forth in the accomplishment of the son's mission in time.  'Glory' and 'mission' - the
creaturely history of the will of the father - are in the strictest way correlative.  The Son is, in the confession of the holy
Church, the king of glory, the Father's everlasting Son; and it is as this one (not
despite the fact that he is this one) that
he sets humankind free from sin and free for holiness.  He submits to accomplish this work of deliverance, taking upon
himself its ignominy, not shrinking from being born of a woman, and is pierced by the sting of death.  And precisely
because he does all this, his work is a work of overcoming: in it, he opens God's kingdom; having accomplished it, he is
seated at the Father's right hand in glory, from whence he is awaited as judge of all things.

The holy Church acknowledges the
Holy Spirit, the comforter.  The Spirit only enters the recital of the object of the
Church's praise at the end, and it would be easy enough to see this as typically Western pneumatological minimalism.  
Yet the reference to the Spirit is no mere appendage or afterthought; it is essential to the complete statement of the
sweep of salvation history which the
Te Deum celebrates.  For the title 'Comforter' or 'Paraclete' gathers up into one
word the fact that the Father and the Son would still be in some measure outside us if it were not for the fact that as
Spirit, God undertakes to be present with His holy people for all time (John 14:16-17).  The Spirit is sent by the Father in
the Son's name to instruct the saints by bearing witness to Christ (John 15:26).  Indeed, without this third reference to
the Spirit's perfecting work, the suffrages in the final section of the Te Deum ('We therefore pray thee, help thy
servants...') would be a mere undirected cry, without secure hope of any answer.  God's saving of His people, His
blessing of His heritage, His governing and uplifting of the people of God, His keeping of His Church without sin, His
preservation of the saints as holy - none of this would be possible without the confession of the Spirit's deity, without the
third repetition of the cry: 'Holy!"

Let us now draw these threads together and indicate their connection to the Church's holiness.  The Church is the
communion of the saints as it confesses the name of God the thrice Holy One.  God's name is God in His majestic self-
manifestation as Lord and Saviour, the Holy One in our midst.  As He utters His name and works His saving work, He
creates and preserves for Himself a people, set apart for His praise, consecrated to the work of acknowledging that
God's name is holy, and so forming the modest human accompaniment to the confession of the heavenly powers: 'Holy,
holy, holy is the Lord, the God of hosts.'

3)  In what practices of confession is the Church's holiness visible?   What is the human, historical shape of
holiness?

Initially, we need to probe the term 'visible' to ensure that we are using it in the right way.  A good deal of mainstream
modern ecclesiology (especially in its ecumenical versions) has been heavily committed to the visibility of the church,
that is, to the Church's tangible, historical and material character as an ordered society.  Corresponding to this
commitment has been a consensus that the notion of the
invisibility of the Church has little to commend it, because it
suggests a spiritualizing of the Church into bare subjectivism without objective social form or durability.  One result is
that a high premium is placed on the externality of the Church, on the historical activity of the Church in which the
Church's being is visible.  Clearly there is a truth here: the Church is a real human assembly, known in its acts, and its
holiness is therefore a visible phenomenon.  But the key question is not
whether the Church is visible but what kind of
visibility
it possesses.  The visibility of the Church is not simply that of a natural quantity or life-force or social presence;
it is the visibility of the 'invisible' Church.  'Visibility' is therefore a spiritual event.  It is that which can be described only
talking of the active, communicative presence of the triune God.  It cannot be converted into mere phenomenal form,
and it can be fully perceived only by faith in the word and work of God.  There is an immediate consequence of this for
talk of the Church's
holiness.  The holiness of God's holy people is visible not simply as something predicated of the
Church on the basis of its activities; to say this would be to convert holiness into something which the Church itself
realized, and so to contradict the New Testament's witness that holiness is 'in Christ Jesus' (I Corinthians 1:2;
Philippians 1:1).  Rather, visible holiness is confessed of the Church; and that confession is not a recognition of a
property which the Church has
in se, but an acknowledgement of that which it is by virtue of the sovereign work of the
triune God.  In the Church's practices of holiness, therefore, its action is wholly oriented towards the action of the Holy
Trinity, in electing, gathering, and consecrating.  The Church's acts do not realize, complete, continue or in any way
extend or embody God's work, which is perfect, and which alone in properly holy.  The Church's acts of holiness, having
their origin and their sustaining energy in God, bear testimony to God's work, accompanying it with their witness, and, in
all their human fragility and sinfulness, echoing the holy work of the holy God.  How does the holy Church act to
accompany and echo the work of God?  Four things are to be said.

First, the Church's holiness is visible as it hears afresh the promise and command of the gospel.  Holiness occurs as
the Church submits once again to the gospel's judgment and consolation, its publication of salvation and its direction of
the people of God in the ways of holiness.  The Church is holy as a hearing Church.

Hearing the gospel is never a finished business, never something which the Church has behind it.  It is always a fresh
activity, and so the Church's holiness is always a process of the Church becoming holy by standing beneath the word of
the gospel as both
promise and command.  Standing beneath the gospel's promise means hearing the joyful
declaration: 'Behold your God'.  In such hearing the Church is once again faced with the gospel's affirmation that God is
one who comes, one who is
with us as saviour, renewing and preserving His people and fulfilling with final authority the
divine commitment: I will be your God.  The promise of the gospel is that 'the grace of God has appeared for the
salvation of all' (Titus 2:11); that 'appearance' is identical with 'our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ' (Titus 2:13), the
one who 'gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous
for good deeds' (Titus 2:14).  But to stand beneath that promise of the gospel is already also to stand beneath the
gospel's
commandments: the end of God's work of purification is active zeal for good deeds.  Thus the Church is also
holy as it stands beneath the gospel's commandment.  As commandment, the gospel is the declaration of the law, the
shape or direction for the life of God's holy people.  Hearing the gospel's summons to obedience, the Church is holy,
submitting to the gospel's judgement of sin, and setting itself to govern its life by God's commands.  In this way, the
Church is holy as it stands beneath the final promulgation of the summons to that holiness which corresponds to the
divine commitment of election:  You shall be my people.  How, then, is the Church holy?  By attention and submission to
the gospel as the indicative of election and the imperative of obedience.

Second, the Church's holiness is visible as it confesses its sin in penitence and faith.  The Church is consecrated by
the Father's resolve, holy in Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  Such holiness is not achieved perfection, but an
alien holiness which is the contradiction of its very real sinfulness.  The Church is holy, not because it has already
attained the eschatological state of being 'without spot or wrinkle', but because the promise and command of the gospel
have already broken into its life and disturbed it, shaking it to the core.  The Church is holy only as it is exposed to
judgement.

This means that, far from being a matter of confident purity, holiness is visible as humble acknowledgement of sin and
as prayer for forgiveness.  'There is no greater sinner than the Christian Church,' said Luther (
The Church as a
Sacrament
, 1999) in his Easter Day sermon in 1531.  It is in repentance, rather than in the assumption of moral pre-
eminence, that holiness is visible.  Thus the Church's holiness is inseparable from its prayer (again, in the words of the
Te Deum): 'O Lord have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.'  Realized moral excellence does not necessarily
constitute holiness and may contradict it.  Holiness is visible as faith's penitent cry for forgiveness and mercy, its appeal
for God to do what the Church cannot do for itself, namely, to keep it without sin and to gather it into the company of the
saints in glory.

Third, the Church's holiness is visible as it bears witness to the world.  'You are...a holy nation...that you may declare' (I
Peter 2:9).  The
origin of the Church's holiness, as we have seen, is entirely outside itself; the consequences of this are
that, first, it is manifest as a hearing of the gospel's promise and command, and, second, that its sign is penance, not
perfection.  Similarly, the
goal of the Church's holiness lies beyond itself.  The supreme end of the holiness of the
Church is the glorification of God in the obedience of the saints; its intermediate goal is bearing witness.  As the
fellowship of the saints, the Church declares 'the wonderful deeds' of the one who has called the Church out of
darkness into light, and so consecrated it for his service.  Crucially, the dynamic of holiness includes not only gathering
and withdrawal but also sending.  The holiness of the saints is not a mere turning inwards; if it were, then it would all too
quickly become mere sectarian hostility towards a profane world.  If this kind of dynamic of withdrawal is questionable, it
is not only because it tends to assume that the line between sin and achieved holiness coincides with the line between
the Church and the world.  It is also because strategies of withdrawal almost inevitably transpose the divine movement
of election and consecration into social exclusivity, and so make the church's holiness into a clean sphere over against
a polluted world.  It is precisely this transposition of holiness into the wrong kind of visibility that is one of the objects of
Jesus' unsparing judgement.  The real dynamic of visible holiness has a quite different character.  There is,
unquestionably, a radical separation, a 'calling out' which effects the Church's separation and which makes its members
into a company of 'aliens and exiles'.  And that separation is visible as 'abstinence', the Church's refusal to give itself to
'the passions of the flesh'.  But the end of all this is 'that you may declare': holiness is to be maintained 'among the
Gentiles' not simply to prevent the pollution of the Church, but with the end that 'they may see your good works and
glorify God' (I Peter 2:12; cf. Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15).  Holiness is visible as testimony, as good works which are
transparent to and declare the wonderful deeds of the holy God.

Fourth, the holiness of the Church is visible in its prayer: ‘Hallowed be thy name!” If the essence of holiness is
confession of the Holy Trinity, then the primordial act in which holiness is visible is the Church’s prayer that God’s name
be sanctified. That prayer is not, we must note, first and foremost a prayer that the Church itself somehow establish the
sanctity of God’s name. Quite the opposite: it is a prayer that God Himself hallow His own name. The prayer of the
Church, its trustful cry that in this matter God will take up His own cause and demonstrate His holiness, is thus rooted in
‘the sanctifying of God’s name by God Himself’. And so as it prays this prayer, the Church acts out the constitutive
character of holiness, namely, its indication of the holy name of God enacted in His deeds.

Yet in this indication the Church’s holiness is no mere passive assent to a state of affairs – God’s holiness – before
which the Church can simply sit with folded hands. Certainly, this prayer is a prayer ‘for an act that cannot be ours’. But
to God’s self-sanctification there corresponds the holy Church’s own acts of sanctifying God’s name. For,

    [t]hose who really press and involve God with their petition in the expectation that He will answer it, as people who
    are seriously and fundamentally disquieted and startled, press and involve themselves too in their own place and
    manner as people and within the limits of their own human capabilities and possibilities.   They declare, and within
    their limits take on responsibility, that in the matter about which they pray to God something will be done
    correspondingly by them. (K. Barth, The Christian Life, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1981).

We have already mentioned some of what might be involved in such holy action: hearing the gospel; testimony and the
sanctification of reason. But enclosing and undergirding all these works will be the work of praise. Praise is the great act
of rebellion against sin, the great repudiation of our wicked refusal to acknowledge God to be the Lord. In sum,
therefore: the Church is holy as, day by day, it magnifies God and worships His name, ever world without end.



Source:

Holiness, by John Webster, Copyright 2003, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
2010 - HIS GLORY REIGNS
LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES