I have also been troubled by a testimony I read in a new book, The Radical Holiness Movement in the Christian Tradition. Lillian Harvey was not part of the Bible Missionary Church. In fact, she and her family ultimately could not find a church which was spiritual enough to suit them. In her quest to "die out," she eventually came to the point of renouncing marriage. Yet Hebrews 13:4 declares that marriage is honorable. Here the lines between Roman celibacy and the Protestant "death route" begin to blur.
Lillian's testimony also included her struggle to jump up and down on the sidewalk, praising God in public. Because she struggled to die to the flesh, she entered "five years of darkness" which was lifted only when she became willing to testify publically on a trolley bus. During that five-year period, she remained outwardly devout and was "living in hell." For the rest of her life, she believed that if she ever disobeyed God again she might revert back to this "hell."
This is a pathetic and pathological testimony of "Christless holiness." God gave us some inhibitions and it is not a sin to observe social conventions and etiquette. But the greatest distortion concerns the nature of God. People who cower under this kind of God tend to abuse their own children. And there seems to be a high incident of child abuse and molestation within this ultraconservative subculture.
The second dynamic is that popery is not restricted to the Roman church. Those who tried to minister under this distortion of holiness were told that they should be willing to suffer any deprivation for the sake of the church. The history of legalism is strewn with the wreckage of sincere men and women who put up with abuse, control, manipula- tion, and neglect all for the "cause of Christ." But Christ had not demanded such abuse be accepted. This was the requirement of a manmade organization.
Today, the Bible Missionary Church is shadow of its former self. Before his death in 1980, Huffman had precipitated two divisions within the Bible Missionary Church over his domineering leadership and "dying out" theology. Not surprisingly, he blamed the problem on "carnality."
Things came to a head once more in 1987 when the general conference cast 103 ballots to elect a general moderator. Beneath the surface, one of the lingering issues which caused disagreement was the "death route" doctrine. Still deadlocked, ultimately the general moderator was determined by board action.
It should be noted that the International Fellowship of Bible Churches was organized the following years "largely because of negative experiences with controversy and hierarchical polity." For many of these men, it was a grace awakening that caused them to leave. But the lasting influence of the Bible Missionary Church is that those who have worked through this "yellow dog holiness" doctrine intellectually tend to revert back to it in their relationships with other believers.
Let us be clear. Jesus Christ paid the full price of our salvation at the cross. We can add nothing to his finished work. Salvation is a salvation from the bondage and power of sin, but that salvation is the gracious gift of God. We cannot make ourselves holy. Paul warned in Colossians 2:21-23,
"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
With the slogan "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!," Paul is ridiculing such a reduction of spirituality to a graceless set of regulations. In the fourth century, Chrysostom wrote, "Mark how he makes sport of them, handle not, touch not, taste not, as though they were keeping themselves clear of some great matters."
Certainly we are to seek first the kingdom agenda of Christ, and across the centuries believers have died for their faith. We should be willing to do the same if circumstances require the ultimate sacrifice. But we do so out of love and not out of fear. We would do so because we are saved and not in a futile attempt to save ourselves. "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:3).
A. W. Tozer was not afraid to tell it like it is. But one of his most astounding statements declares, "I have found God to be cordial and generous and in every way easy to live with." Unfortunately, some who claim to be his followers can be as mean as snakes.
But truly holy people are gracious people. Holiness without love is legalism. Love without holiness is antinomianism. We must insist on "holy love." Mildred Wynkoop said that love takes the harshness out of holiness.