Archive for August, 2006

The Sanctified Church: the Holiness Movement & Pentecostalism

3 August, 2006

American Pentecostalism is deeply rooted in the Holiness Movement that swept the United States during the 1860s and 1870s.  The Holiness Movement evolved out of the theological ideas of John Wesley, whose sweeping spiritual reformation in England, developed into a full-blown revival in America.  Wesley’s belief that converted Christians need not commit sin, known as Christian Perfectionism, was refined into a doctrine of “Entire Sanctification” after his death.  American Wesleyans believed that salvation was followed by a “Second Blessing” of sanctification in which the desire for sin was uprooted and replaced by purity and piety.  Many within the Holiness Movement held that the “Second Work of Grace” constituted the Pentecostal baptism.  The movement was fueled by fervent commitment to prayer, the literal interpretation of Scripture and a broad vision of evangelism and social transformation through the power of the Spirit of God.  Holiness camp meetings were often emotional with zealous preaching and pre-Pentecostal manifestations of the Spirit, which included shouting, dancing, running and shaking.  While many Methodists embraced the tenets, over 100 denominations emerged from the Holiness Movement.  In 1867, the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness was organized in Vineland, New Jersey, followed by innumerable State and regional fellowships who promoted their message of salvation and sanctification through printed tracts, camp meetings and missions work (Mapes 29).  With its core of restorationist zeal and the belief in a palpable experience with God, the movement spread city to city and had a popular appeal on the American frontier.Charles Fox Parham, the young Holiness evangelist who founded Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, where the Holy Ghost first fell on January 1, 1901, had emerged from the Methodist Episcopal Church.  As a Methodist, he believed in the doctrine of the “Second Blessing”, but he became increasingly convinced that sanctification was not the Pentecostal baptism.  He visited Christian communes and healing homes around the nation and was persuaded that there remained an experience beyond sanctification that would restore New Testament power to the Church.  To this end, he commissioned a study at the Bethel Bible College of the biblical model and evidence of the Holy Ghost baptism.  By some accounts, the student body unanimously concluded that speaking in tongues was the consistent manifestation accompanying Spirit baptism in the Book of Acts.  Earnest prayer meetings ensued, and on New Year’s Day 1901, Agnes Ozman, a young pupil from Wisconsin, received the baptism speaking fluently in other tongues, an experience that soon replicated throughout the school.

Despite early evangelistic efforts and some attention in the Topeka press, Parham and his small band of Pentecostals did not meet with immediate success in spreading their message. In 1905, Parham relocated his ministry headquarters to Houston, Texas, and there encountered greater reception of the Pentecostal message as large crowds began attending services and receiving their Pentecost.  Parham’s message did not conflict with the Holiness teaching of salvation and sanctification, but offered believers a “Third Blessing”, a spiritual empowerment for service.  The triplet cliché from the period is still sometimes heard in Pentecostal circles:  “I’m saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost!”  While some Holiness teachers opposed Parham’s new doctrine, many adherents were swept up in the current of revival, looking for a renewal of the fervor that had begun to wane in the movement with the crisis of the Social Gospel in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

In 1910, William Durham, who had received the Holy Ghost at Azusa Street, championed the doctrine of the “Finished Work at Calvary”, which collapsed sanctification into the salvation experience.  Many Pentecostals became convinced of Durham’s doctrine, and Pentecostalism can still be divided into Wesleyan and non-Wesleyan camps.  Despite the controversy over the role, validity and distinction of sanctification, the Holiness Movement provided a strong, spiritual infrastructure upon which Pentecostal doctrine could be easily superimposed, and modern Pentecostals owe a great debt to the Holiness predecessors whose focus on prayer, personal piety and the power of the Spirit created the atmosphere that birthed the fiery Pentecostal revival that continues to burn brightly a century later.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Robert Mapes.  Vision of the Disinherited:  the Making of American Pentecostalism. New York:  Oxford University Press.  1979, p. 29.