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Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions

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Holiness Churches

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 Christ’s divinity, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement through Christ’s 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.

  1. Besides justification, which is a sense of security that past sins are forgiven, there is a “second blessing” in which the faithful Christian feels himself close to God.

  2. There is an emotional experience produced in the heart by a direct action of the Holy Spirit. Although instantaneous, the “second blessing” may require years of preparation. It may be lost and regained and may be increased in efficacy. But there is no mistaking the presence of the Spirit when He comes. More extreme sects identify the Spirit’s coming with the infusion of extraordinary gifts, such as speaking with tongues or sudden healing. The milder Holiness churches recognize the Spirit by an exalted feeling, inner impression, bodily emotion, and a deepened sense of awareness of God’s loving kindness.

  3. As a group, Holiness bodies depreciate the teachings and practices of the larger denominations for having abandoned the true faith and for compromising with *modernism. Their theology is literally Biblical.

  4. The favorite method of preaching is the popular revival, always for making converts; and often *revivalism is the essence of a Holiness denomination.

  5. Most Holiness churches profess, without always stressing, the early Second Coming of Christ, which is to inaugurate a millennium of earthly peace and happiness before the last day.

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).

New Catholic Encyclopedia
Vol. 7, 1967, pp. 53-54

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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