Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions
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Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The holiness spirit in Protestantism stems from the teaching of John Wesley, who believed there were two stages in the process of justification: freedom from sin and sanctification or the second blessing. With the decline of strictly Wesleyan principles among American Methodists, groups of perfectionists were organized to preserve and foster the idea of holiness as an essential part of the Methodist tradition. About 30 denominations in the U.S. qualify as Holiness bodies, even though the term does not appear in their official names.
One of the earliest Holiness groups was founded in 1860 as the Free Methodist Church of North America. Originally part of the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, it is concentrated in Indiana, which is the stronghold of the Holiness movement in the U.S.; in 1964 it claimed more than 55,600 members. The largest Holiness body in America is the *Church of the Nazarene, established in 1908 by a merger of the Pentecostal, Nazarene, and Holiness Churches. In 1919 the word Pentecostal was dropped from the name to disclaim any connection with the more radical forms of the movement. Moreover, none of six affiliated colleges and one seminary retains Holiness in its title although the basic emphasis on perfectionism has not changed. A typically conservative group is the *Pilgrim Holiness Church, organized in 1897 to restore primitive Wesleyan doctrine on apostolic practices, methods, power and success.
The pattern of Holiness theology is fundamentalist, which entails acceptance of Christs divinity, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement through Christs death, and final resurrection from the dead. But more specifically, Holiness Churches may be characterized by five main features, which, taken collectively, identify this form of modern Protestantism.
The Holiness movement in the U.S. is a fluctuating phenomenon. After the Civil War and until the early 20th century, perfectionist churches came into existence in the westward drive of the Methodist circuit riders. Since then the emphasis has changed. Instead of perfectionism, it is now Pentecostalism that holds sway. In the same basic tradition, the latest development shows a reaction against the cold formalism and bureaucracy of established churches, in favor of a more spontaneous (if extreme) religious experience.
Bibliography: J. B. Chapman, The Nazarene Primer (Kansas City, Mo. 1955). C. T. Corbett, Our Pioneer Nazarenes (Kansas City, Mo. 1958). J. L. Peters, Christian Perfection and American Methodism (Nashville 1956). T. L. Smith, Called unto Holiness (Kansas City, Mo. 1962); Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (Nashville 1957).
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