Holiness Movement

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The Holiness Movement among American Methodists in the 1830s-1880s was part of the Third Great Awakening. The goal of the Holiness Movement was to move beyond the one-time conversion experience that the revivals produced, and reach entire sanctification. A related movement, Pentecostalism went one step further, seeking what they called a "baptism in the spirit" or "baptism of the the Holy Ghost" that enabled those with this special gift to heal the sick, perform miracles, prophesy, and speak in tongues.[1]

By the 1880s tensions between the Holiness advocates and more traditional Methodist bishops led to seceding groups forming new Holiness denominations, especially the Free Methodist Church, Wesleyan Methodist Church, Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene (1908) and the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) (1881).

Phoebe Palmer

The chief Holiness leader was Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874), a Methodist lay leader and the most influential Methodist woman of her generation. In 1840, during a period of spiritual struggle and doubt, Palmer discovered through reading the Bible the calling to spread the doctrine of holiness. This discovery led her to leave the traditional woman's sphere and become a pivotal leader in the Holiness movement. Palmer led revivals in the United States, Canada, and Britain, wrote extensively, and became editor of the Guide to Holiness. She helped found the Hedding Church and established the Five Points Mission in New York City, which housed and educated needy families. After her death her followers broke away from the Methodists and set up their own Holiness and Pentecostal churches. Palmer's theology produced a laicized ministry and offered both parents and children of the second and third generations of believers a formula to gain assurance of total sanctification as a gift from God. Her "Altar Covenant" linked Scripture, sacred song, and physical setting to form the way to full redemption. The altar in Holiness became the focal point of worship, in accordance with Palmer's beliefs.[2]

The Holiness movement rejected the middle class formalities of the mainline Methodists and sought an authentic religious experience.

Late 19th century

The movement reached a wide audience through Holiness Camp Meetings, beginning in 1867 at Vineland, New Jersey. The Holiness movement influenced the transformation of the Methodist camp meeting in the later 19th century. The frontier camp meeting that had focused on the conversion experience during the first part of the century ultimately evolved into a system of summer camps and conferences. Holiness camps were established on permanent campgrounds in natural surroundings. Here families could escape the evils of urban life and renew spiritual values. The focus was on nurturing the faith of those already converted. The camps also emphasized religious education.[3]

Though still mainly Methodist, it spread to other Protestant denominations, while meeting stiff resistance from the established leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The hostility between such people as Hiram Mattison (representing the traditionalists in the Methodist Episcopal Church) and George Woodruff (representing the upstart holiness movement within that church), during 1867-87 may be attributed to their differing approach to worship. The issues at stake were the definition of holiness and what it means to be holy. For holiness advocates, especially those of the National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness, the pattern of their gatherings was testimony, shared feeling, and spontaneous or spirit-guided evangelism. The mainstream members of the church, however, preferred the pattern of joint specialized, rationally deliberated, and centrally coordinated benevolent activity. The National Camp-Meeting Association sought to provide a firm ground for the empowerment of people who would go forth to conquer the world for Christ. The mainstream church sought the same goal but operated on bureaucratic and organizational principles alien to holiness advocates.[4]

The Holiness Movement transformed Wesleyan teaching by emphasizing revivalist techniques of invitation, decision, and testimony, and by insistence on visible evidence. By the 1890s physical healing was commonly expected, and the experience of sanctification was called "baptism with the Holy Spirit". Divided by the rise of Pentecostalism after 1900, the surviving Holiness groups became less exuberant.

On the surface, Speaking in tongues was the critical factor separating Pentecostals from adherents of the Holiness movement, but the underlying difference between the two was the manner in which the movements interpreted scripture. Holiness people used metaphor to make biblical events synonymous with personal experience. For them, the Exodus symbolized the progression of the soul to the life of holiness. Pentecostals sought to reenact elements of the biblical text literally, and believed they participated in the fulfillment of scripture.[5]

Church of God (Anderson Indiana)

Holiness leader Daniel S. Warner was resolutely anti-sect and critical of all denominations; his followers coalesced in the 1880s around his publication, The Gospel Trumpet. It became known as the Church of God (Anderson Indiana), and in 2004 reported 252,000 full members in the U.S. in 2240 churches. It retains a focus on sanctification, remained Holiness, and was highly critical of those who came to believe that speaking in tongues was the defining gift of the Holy Spirit.


Baer (2001) explores the significance of ideas of divine healing to the emergence of Pentecostalism from the radical holiness movement in the late 19th century. The careers and ministries of Maria B. Woodworth-Etter, John A. Dowie, and Charles F. Partham all demonstrate a commitment to notions of divine healing, where faith and belief in Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross could bring about a complete healing of the body and the soul. Pentecostalists participated in a broader evangelical culture in which divine healing was a key element in a program that could include ecstatic religiosity and a belief in Christ's imminent return. Newspapers reported the purported.[6]


Holiness church members opposed Darwin's theories of organic evolution and natural selection because they viewed the theories as challenging the biblical narrative and detracting from the idea of human perfection. Wesleyans among them placed experience over exegesis and did not assign as high a priority to fighting Darwinism as other conservative Protestants. They tended to adhere to the gap or ruin-and-restoration theory, which placed geologic ages between the beginning of creation and the Edenic restoration, or they backed the interpretation that biblical "days" spanned great geologic ages. During the fierce debates of the 1920s, typified by the Scopes Trial, the most important Holiness spokesman was Henry Clay Morrison, a Southern Methodist who played a major role in fighting for creationism. There have been relatively few creationists in the science departments of Holiness colleges, however. Some Holiness church members support theistic evolution, but they have been virtually silent.[7]


Mussio (1996) traces the development of holiness-inspired dissent in Canada by focusing on the Holiness Movement Church, a sect led by Methodist evangelist R. C. Horner and created in opposition to official Methodism in 1895. The Hornerite schism served to discredit the doctrine in the eyes of Methodist leaders. The holiness crisis sheds light on the broad cultural support for the experience, and demonstrates that the pressures placed on Methodism by dissent were integral to its transformation. The schism reinforced the Holiness movement's critique of professional elites and the middle class. As such, Hornerism and late-19th century Christian perfectionism can be viewed as part of a broad populist movement intent on defending traditional social values against the forces of modernization.[8]


Holiness thought shaped the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church during 1869-94. The decentralized organization of the society allowed holiness piety to flourish even as the official church position came to discourage holiness. Many of the missionaries linked their decision to become missionaries to their second conversion, or sanctification, and society members were recruited at camp meetings where holiness sentiments were prevalent.[9]


Bays (1997) places the development of the Oriental Missionary Society (OMS) and its missionary work in Japan in the context of a convergence during the 1890s of three forces: the dynamic growth of the Holiness movement in the United States, the beginnings of the faith mission movement, and the institutionalization of the Holiness movement. The origins of OMS are rooted in the work of Japanese religious leaders Juji Nakada and Tetsusaburo Sasao, whose desire to develop a Holiness movement in Japan converged with the missionary interests of Americans Charles Cowman and E. A. Kilbourne. The bible school and evangelistic network developed under Japanese leadership in 1901 soon became a Japanese-foreign joint venture. By 1917 the trend toward internationalization and institutionalization had placed the missionary endeavor under foreign control. The attempt to maintain foreign control also delayed the creation of the independent Japan Holiness Church until 1917.[10]


  1. Harrell (1975)
  2. Charles Edwin Jones, "The Posthumous Pilgrimage of Phoebe Palmer," Methodist History 1997 35(4): 203-213; Charles Edward White, The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (1986); Kendra Weddle Irons, Phoebe Palmer: Chosen, Tried, Triumphant: An Examination of her Calling in Light of Current Research. Methodist History 1998 37(1): 28-36. 0026-1238
  3. Charles H. Lippy, "The Camp Meeting in Transition: The Character and Legacy of the Late Nineteenth Century." Methodist History 1995 34(1): 3-17. 0026-1238
  4. A. Gregory Schneider, "A Conflict of Associations: The National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness Versus the Methodist Episcopal Church." Church History 1997 66(2): 268-283. in JSTOR
  5. Charles Edwin Jones, "Beulah Land and the Upper Room: Reclaiming the Text in Turn-of-the-century Holiness and Pentecostal Spirituality." Methodist History 1994 32(4): 250-259
  6. Jonathan R. Baer, "Redeemed Bodies: The Functions of Divine Healing in Incipient Pentecostalism." Church History 2001 70(4): 735-771. in JSTOR
  7. Ronald L. Numbers, "Creation, Evolution, and Holy Ghost Religion: Holiness and Pentecostal Responses to Darwinism." Religion And American Culture 1992 2(2): 127-158. 1052-1151
  8. Louise A. Mussio, "The Origins and Nature of the Holiness Movement Church: A Study in Religious Populism." Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 1996 7: 81-104. 0847-4478
  9. Dana L. Robert, "Holiness And The Missionary Vision of the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of The Methodist Episcopal Church, 1869-1894." Methodist History 2000 39(1): 15-27. 0026-1238
  10. Daniel H. Bays, "The Early Years Of The Oriental Missionary Society: Foreign Missionaries and Native Evangelists in Japan, 1901-1917." Fides Et Historia 1997 29(1): 15-27. 0884-5379

See also

Further reading

  • Brasher, J. Lawrence. The Sanctified South: John Lakin Brasher and the Holiness Movement. (1994). 260 pp.
  • DuPree, Sherry Sherrod. African-American Holiness Pentecostal Movements: An Annotated Bibliography. (1996). 650 pp.
  • Harrell, David Edwin. All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America (1975), a major scholarly history excerpt and text search
  • Jones, Charles Edwin. Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867-1936 (1974)
  • Kimbrough, David L. Park Saylor and the Eastern Kentucky Snake-Handlers: A Religious History. (1992). 346 pp.
  • Kostlevy, William C. Historical Dictionary of the Holiness Movement (2001)
  • Mills, Gene. Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (2003).
  • Opp, James. The Lord for the Body: Religion, Medicine, and Protestant Faith Healing in Canada, 1880-1930 (2007)
  • Sanders, Cheryl J. Saints in Exile: The Holiness-Pentecostal Experience in African American Religion and Culture. (1996). 177 pp.
  • Smith, Timothy Lawrence and W. T. Purkiser. Called unto holiness: the story of the Nazarenes‎ (2 vol 1962), standard scholarly history
  • Stanley, Susie C. Holy Boldness: Women Preachers' Autobiographies and the Sanctified Self. (2002). 336 pp.
  • Stephens, Randall J. "The Convergence of Populism, Religion, and the Holiness-Pentecostal Movements: A Review of the Historical Literature." Fides Et Historia 2000 32(1): 51-64.
  • Stephens, Michael S. Who Healeth All Thy Diseases: Health, Healing, and Holiness in the Church of God Reformation Movement. (2008) online review
  • Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. (1997). 340 pp.
  • Thornton, Wallace Jr.The Conservative Holiness Movement: A, Historical Appraisal The Conservative Holiness Movement: A Historical Appraisal, by Wallace Thornton, Jr.
  • Thornton, Wallace Jr.From Glory to Glory: A Brief Summary of Holiness Beliefs and Practice,
  • Thornton, Wallace Jr. Radical Righteousness: Personal Ethics and the Development of the Holiness Movement
  • Thornton, Wallace, Jr, "Thornton, Wallace, Jr. (2014). When the Fire Fell: Martin Wells Knapp’s Vision of Pentecost and the Beginnings of God’s Bible School. Asbury Theological Seminary Series in Pietist/Wesleyan Studies. Lexington, Kentucky: Emeth Press. ISBN 978-1609470692. [1], 2014
  • Thornton, Wallace, Jr, “The Revivalist Movement and the Development of a Holiness/Pentecostal Philosophy of Missions.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 38, no. 1, 160-186." [2], 2003