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The holiness movement in Christianity teaches that the carnal nature of humanity can be cleansed through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit if one has had his sins forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. The benefits professed include spiritual power and an ability to maintain purity of heart (that is, thoughts and motives that are uncorrupted by sin). The doctrine is typically referred to in holiness churches as entire sanctification or Christian perfection.


The holiness movement seeks to promote a Christianity that is personal, practical, life-changing, and thoroughly revivalistic. The key beliefs of the holiness movement are (1) regeneration by grace through faith, with the assurance of salvation by the witness of the Holy Spirit; (2) entire sanctification as a second definite work of grace, received by faith, through grace, and accomplished by the baptism and power of the Holy Spirit, by which one is enabled to live a holy life.

In the context of the holiness movement, the first work of grace is salvation from sin, and without it no amount of human effort can achieve holiness. People are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ who made atonement for human sins.

The second work of grace refers to a personal experience subsequent to regeneration, in which the believer is cleansed from the carnal nature, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead a holy life. Most teach that it is still possible for the sanctified to sin, and one grows in grace after this second spiritual experience and should strive for perfection.

The experience of sanctification enables the believer to live a holy life. Most holiness people interpret this as living a life free of willful sin or the practice of sin. The motive is to live a Christ-like life, to be conformed to the image of Christ and not the world. Since holiness is the supernatural work of a transformed heart by the Holy Spirit, many holiness churches are careful to follow moral principles and what they perceive as the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Most followers of the holiness movement believe as Christ said, that love fulfills the entire law of God.[1]

The traditional holiness movement is not a part of the Pentecostal movement which believes that sanctification involves speaking in tongues. Indeed, many of the early Pentecostals came out of the holiness churches. But they believe that the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues, a position which churches in the traditional holiness movement do not accept. When the Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street, the practice of speaking in tongues was strongly rejected by the traditional holiness churches. Alma White, the leader of the Pillar of Fire Church, a holiness denomination, wrote a book against the Pentecostal movement that was published in 1936. The work entitled Demons and Tongues, represented early rejection of the new Pentecostal movement. White called speaking in tongues “satanic gibberish” and Pentecostal services “the climax of demon worship”.[2]

Holiness groups tend to oppose antinomianism, which is a theological framework which states God's law is done away with. Holiness groups believe the moral aspects of the law of God are pertinent for today, inasmuch as the law was completed in Christ. This position does attract opposition from some evangelicals, who charge that such an attitude refutes or slights Reformation (particularly Calvinist) teachings that believers are justified by grace through faith and not through any efforts or states of mind on their part, that the effects of original sin remain even in the most faithful of souls. Baptists and Presbyterians are among the most ardent opponents of the holiness concept of sanctification, while modern-day liberal Protestant groups (such as the United Methodist Church) tend to ignore or downplay the doctrine in favor of social concerns and more recent expressions of theology and practice.


The roots of the holiness movement are as follows:

  • The Reformation itself, with its emphasis on salvation by grace through faith alone.
  • Puritanism in 17th century England and its transplantation to America with its emphasis on adherence to the Bible and the right to dissent from the established church.
  • Pietism in 17th century Germany, led by Philipp Jakob Spener and the Moravians, which emphasized the spiritual life of the individual, coupled with a responsibility to live an upright life.
  • Quietism, as taught by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), with its emphasis on the individual's ability to experience God and understand God's will for oneself.
  • The 1730s Evangelical Revival in England, led by Methodists John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley, which brought Wesley's distinct take on the Eastern Orthodox concept of Theosis and the teachings of German Pietism to England and eventually to the United States.
  • The First Great Awakening in the 18th and early 19th centuries in the United States, propagated by George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and others, with its emphasis on the initial conversion experience of Christians.
  • The Second Great Awakening in the 19th century in the United States, propagated by Francis Asbury, Charles Finney, Lyman Beecher, and others, which also emphasized the need for personal holiness and is characterized by the rise of evangelistic revival meetings.


The Methodists of the 19th century continued the interest in Christian holiness that had been started by their founder, John Wesley. They continued to publish Wesley's works and tracts, including his famous A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Furthermore, numerous persons in early American Methodism professed the experience of entire sanctification, including Bishop Francis Asbury.

In 1836, two Methodist women, Sarah Worrall Lankford and Phoebe Palmer, started the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness in New York City. A year later, Methodist minister Timothy Merritt founded a journal called the Guide to Christian Perfection to promote the Wesleyan message of Christian holiness.

In 1837, Phoebe Palmer experienced what she called entire sanctification. She began leading the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness. At first only women attended these meetings, but eventually Methodist bishops and other clergy members began to attend them also. The Palmers eventually purchased the Guide, and Palmer became the editor of the periodical, then called the Guide to Holiness. In 1859, she published The Promise of the Father, in which she argued in favor of women in ministry. This book later influenced Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army. The practice of ministry by women is common but not universal within the denominations of the holiness movement.

At the Tuesday Meetings, Methodists soon enjoyed fellowship with Christians of different denominations, including the Congregationalist Thomas Upham. Upham was the first man to attend the meetings, and his participation in them led him to study mystical experiences, looking to find precursors of holiness teaching in the writings of persons like German Pietist Johann Arndt and the Roman Catholic mystic Madame Guyon.

Other non-Methodists also contributed to the holiness movement. During the same era Asa Mahan, the president of Oberlin College, and Charles Grandison Finney, an evangelist associated with the college, promoted the idea of Christian holiness. In 1836, Mahan experienced what he called a baptism with the Holy Spirit. Mahan believed that this experience had cleansed him from the desire and inclination to sin. Finney believed that this experience might provide a solution to a problem he observed during his evangelistic revivals. Some people claimed to experience conversion but then slipped back into their old ways of living. Finney believed that the filling with the Holy Spirit could help these converts to continue steadfast in their Christian life.

Presbyterian William Boardman promoted the idea of holiness through his evangelistic campaigns and through his book The Higher Christian Life, which was published in 1858. Also, Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker, experienced a profound personal conversion. Sometime in the 1860s, she found what she called the “secret” of the Christian life—devoting one's life wholly to God and God's simultaneous transformation of one's soul. Her husband, Robert Pearsall Smith, had a similar experience at the camp meeting in 1867. Methodist minister B. F. Haynes wrote a book, Tempest-Tossed on Methodist Seas, about his decision to leave the Methodist church and join the Church of the Nazarene. In it he described the bitter divisions within the Methodist church over the holiness movement.[3]

The first distinct "holiness camp meeting" convened at Vineland, New Jersey in 1867 under the leadership of John S. Inskip, John A. Wood, Alfred Cookman, and other Methodist ministers. The gathering attracted as many as 10,000 people. At the close of the encampment, while the ministers were on their knees in prayer, they formed the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness, and agreed to conduct a similar gathering the next year. This organization was commonly known as the National Holiness Association. Later, it became known as the Christian Holiness Association and subsequently the Christian Holiness Partnership.

The second National Camp Meeting was held at Manheim, Pennsylvania, and drew upwards of 25,000 persons from all over the nation. People called it a "Pentecost," and it did not disappoint them. The service on Monday evening has almost become legendary for its spiritual power and influence. The third National Camp Meeting met at Round Lake, New York. This time the national press attended and write-ups appeared in numerous papers, including a large two-page pictorial in Harper's Weekly. These meetings made instant religious celebrities out of many of the workers. Robert and Hannah Smith were among those who took the holiness message to England, and their ministries helped lay the foundation for the now-famous Keswick Convention.

In 1871, the American evangelist Dwight L. Moody had what he called an "endowment with power" as a result of some soul-searching and the prayers of two Methodist women who attended one of his meetings. He did not join the holiness movement but certainly advanced some of its ideas and even voiced his approval of it on at least one occasion.

In the 1870s, the holiness movement spread to Great Britain, where it was sometimes called the higher life movement after the title of William Boardman's book The Higher Life. Higher life conferences were held at Broadlands and Oxford in 1874 and in Brighton and Keswick in 1875. The Keswick Convention soon became the British headquarters for the movement. The Faith Mission in Scotland was one consequence of the British holiness movement. Another was a flow of influence from Britain back to the United States. In 1874, Albert Benjamin Simpson read Boardman's Higher Christian Life and felt the need for such a life himself. He went on to found the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

In the 1950s and 1960s, several small groups left the mainstream holiness movement to form what is known as the conservative holiness movement. After the 1968 merger of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church which formed the Wesleyan Church, a minority of more conservative holiness Christians did not approve of the merger and several small holiness churches were formed. There is an annual gathering in Huntington, West Virginia, called the Interchurch Holiness Convention.[4]

==Denominations==The holiness movement led to the formation of several Christian organizations, including:

  • Evangelical Christian Church of India [5]
  • Eglise Evangélique du Laos (One of the largest Christian denominations of the country) [6]
  • Brunstad Christian Church, also known by some as "Smith's Friends"
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Christ's Sanctified Holy Church
  • Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A.
  • Church of Daniel's Band
  • Church of God (Anderson, Indiana)
  • Church of God (Holiness)
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Churches of Christ in Christian Union
  • Evangelical Methodist Church
  • Free Methodist Church
  • Salvation Army
  • The Fellowship (Australia)
  • Wesleyan Church
  • World Gospel Mission
  • Worldwide Faith Missions
  • Free Methodist Church of India
  • Metropolitan Church Association


  1. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, by Vinson Synan
  3. Pete, Reve M., The Impact of Holiness Preaching as Taught by John Wesley and the Outpouring of the Holy Ghost on Racism
  4. InterChurch Holiness Convention website
  5. World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 369
  6. World Christian Encyclopedia , Second edition, 2001 Volume 1, p. 441

Further reading

  • Boardman, William E. The Higher Christian Life, (Boston: Henry Hoyt, 1858).
  • Brown, Kenneth O. Holy Ground, Too, The Camp Meeting Famil Tree. Hazleton: Holiness Archives, 1997.
  • Brown, Kenneth O. Inskip, McDonald, Fowler: "Wholly And Forever Thine." (Hazleton: Holiness Archives, 2000.)
  • Dieter, Melvin E. The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996).
  • Grider, J. Kenneth. A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, 1994 (ISBN 0-8341-1512-3).
  • Kostlevy, William C., ed. Historical Dictionary of the Holiness Movement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).
  • Mannoia, Kevin W. and Don Thorsen. "The Holiness Manifesto", (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008)
  • McDonald, William and John E. Searles. The Life of Rev. John S. Inskip, President of the National Association for the Promotion of Holiness (Chicago: The Christian Witness Co., 1885).
  • Smith, Hannah Whitall. The Unselfishness of God, and How I Discovered It: A Spiritual Autobiography (New York: Fleming H. Resell Co., 1903).
  • Smith, Logan Pearsall, ed. Philadelphia Quaker: The Letters of Hannah Whitall Smith (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1950).
  • Smith, Timothy L. Called Unto Holiness: The Story of the Nazarenes—The Formative Years, (Nazarene Publishing House, 1962).
  • White, Charles Edward. The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (Zondervan/Francis Asbury Press, 1986).

External links