“He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.” — Proverbs 22:11
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” — 1 Timothy 4:12
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the tradition in the West is that a bride wears white at her wedding because “white has long been associated with purity and virtue.” We are the Bride of Christ. We are called to present ourselves pure and holy to the Lord. As St. John tells us in the Revelation (19:8), the Bride of Christ makes herself ready, and “it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”. And St. Paul tells the Church at Corinth, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Corinthians 11:2). But alas, the Bride has shown herself to be less than pure. One of the greatest threats to the walls of the Church is syncretism. When we blend non-Christian ideas with the Christian faith, the faith becomes impure. The walls of the Temple that God is rebuilding must be pure and undefiled. We must be different from the world, not tempted to bring the things of this world into the Temple.
The problem of syncretism has been profoundly displayed in recent events here in America. Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University, in an article entitled “The End of American Protestantism”, said
America is a synthesis of evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. Americans were able to synthesize these antithetical traditions by making their faith in God indistinguishable from their loyalty to a country that insured them that they had the right to choose which god they would or would not believe in…Protestantism came to the land we now call American to make America Protestant…But in the process the church in America became American.
What we have seen is an obscuring of the Gospel by focusing on single issues which are important but not the totality of the Gospel. When we become so singularly focused we lose sight of the greater picture of what the Church is and begin to allow unrighteous behavior to infiltrate the walls of the Temple. Instead of creating pure bricks, the end result of this incipient syncretism is a false gospel that becomes a stumbling block. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said, “When anything is added to the message of the Gospel, the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ is compromised and another gospel can be created that is, well, actually not the gospel.” (Christianity Today, July 15, 2014).
The process of becoming holy requires us to allow the Holy Spirit to bring His fire and purify us, to burn away the things that do not belong. As was noted in the first paragraph above, the Bride of Christ makes herself ready by clothing “herself with fine linen, bright and pure”. The solution to ridding our lives of the impurities brought about by syncretism is not adhering to a singular theological litmus test. St. John tells us that “the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). We are called to be Christlike in our behavior as well as our theology. Again St. John says, “…we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
It’s about relationship. As the bricks of the wall, we must be in right relationship with the Cornerstone, living in covenant with Him. We are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons…and respect the dignity of every human being.” But the purity we seek is not simply about having a right theology or dealing morally with one another. It is about being intimately wed to the Bridegroom. Then, He will clothe us, His Bride, in “fine linen, bright and pure”.