AMERICAN HOLINESS MOVEMENT’S PARADIGM SHIFT CONCERNING PENTECOST
concept of the baptism with the Holy Spirit can be determined by the connection
he made between Spirit baptism and the sacraments. It is not my purpose to
argue for specific sacramental rituals so much as to point out that the
underlying premise for certain Wesleyan traditions was the connection Wesley
made between Spirit baptism (initiation into the body of Christ) and water
baptism (initiation into the visible church). The American holiness movement
shifted the baptism with the Holy Spirit to a subsequent work of grace.
More is at stake
than a hermeneutical debate over the proper interpretation of
I. The Wesleyan Connection Between the New
Birth and Spirit Baptism
A. Affusion Illustrates Spirit
Wesleyans have generally allowed any mode of baptism, they have tended to argue
for affusion on the basis that it best symbolizes the Pentecostal outpouring of
the Holy Spirit. All of the classic Methodist theologians argued for affusion,
against Baptistic doctrine, because of the connection they saw between the
baptism of the Spirit and water baptism. Thus the historic Wesleyan concept of
water baptism was influenced by the assumption that Spirit baptism occurred at
understood water baptism as the sacrament of initiation into the body of Christ
and connected water baptism with Spirit baptism. In his comments on
Adam Clarke taught that the
baptism of the Holy Ghost is “represented under the similitude of water” and
without it one could not enter into the
Richard Watson argued for pouring
because of “a designed
correspondence between the baptism, the
pouring out, of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism, the
pouring out, of water . . .” (Watson, 2:653, 659).
concluded: “The manner in which the baptism of the Spirit is spoken of in the
sacred Scriptures should settle forever the mode of Christian baptism.” He
argued that since the Spirit was poured out, the proper mode of baptism was by
observed: “Look at the intimate manner in which water baptism is connected
with that of the Holy Ghost—the one
promised upon the condition of the proper reception of the other,
and then following it in immediate succession. . . . That the baptism of the
Holy Ghost was not by immersion, but by pouring, is put beyond a doubt;
therefore the reasonable conclusion is that water baptism was administered in
the same way” (Ralston 982).
S. M. Merrill, in
his Christian Baptism: Its Subjects and Mode, included an entire
chapter on “Spirit Baptism” in which he declared that under the new covenant
the “one baptism” is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and the sign of
regeneration, “the emblematic washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy
Ghost” (Merrill 289). Merrill said the baptism
of the Spirit was the promise and the outpouring
of the Spirit was the fulfillment; therefore, pouring is the proper mode of
water baptism (Merrill 296).
Miner Raymond concluded: “Since
in regeneration that which is signified in baptism, the Spirit, is said to be
poured out upon us, it seems appropriate that in water baptism that which is the
sign of regeneration, the water, should be poured upon the persons baptized . .
.” (Raymond, 3:327).
W. B. Pope favored
pouring or sprinkling because it is the outward and visible sign of the
influence of the Spirit (Pope, 3:322).
John Miley wrote:
“Indeed, these terms of pouring and sprinkling, as thus applied to the work of
the Holy Spirit . . . are quite conclusive against the theory of the
immersionists” (Miley, 2:400).
Even W. B. Godbey,
writing his first book in 1883 to refute the Campbellite influence in
Methodism historically has
preferred affusion as the form of baptism because it connected the baptism of
the Spirit with water baptism, and thereby with regeneration as well.
B. Eligibility at the Lord’s Table. Wesley allowed the unconverted at the Lord’s table provided
they were conscious of their utter sinfulness and helplessness and were seeking
God’s grace. In his day many argued that the Lord’s Supper was a confirming,
not a converting ordinance and
“that none but those who are converted, who have received the Holy Ghost, who
are believers in the full sense, ought to communicate.” However, Wesley
pointed out that when the Lord’s Supper was instituted the disciples were
“then unconverted, who had not
yet ‘received the Holy Ghost’, who (in the full sense of the word) were not believers . . .” (Wesley, Works
19:158; See also 9:112).
To this day the
invitation to the Lord’s Table in the Wesleyan and Free Methodist (but not
Nazarene) disciplines call both those who are walking in fellowship with God and
those who truly and earnestly repent of sin and intend to lead a new life
(Staples 1991, 251–263). This is in contrast to the Calvinistic view that only
those with a credible profession of faith should be allowed at the Lord’s
table (Berkhof 656–7; Saucy 229–31). While the Calvinistic position allowed
at the Lord’s table only those who professed saving faith, Wesley allowed
those who were awakened and seeking God. This important distinction was based on
his understanding that the disciples were unregenerate prior to Pentecost and
yet they had received the Lord’s Supper at the hand of Jesus. The basic
premise on which this conclusion rests is that the disciples were baptized with
the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and became New Testament believers at that time.
Therefore, Wesley connected the new birth and the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
II. The Connection Between Entire Sanctification and
Spirit Baptism in the American Holiness Movement
should not be understood as contradicting the Methodist tradition. While
he did connect the baptism of the Holy Ghost and Christian perfection (Tyerman
180–185), he also exhorted seekers, promising them: “You shall be baptized
by the Holy Ghost for the remission of sins, and justified freely by faith”
(Fletcher 4:115). He saw both regeneration and Christian perfection as
accomplished through baptisms of the Holy Spirit. Fletcher concluded: “If one
powerful baptism of the Spirit ‘seal you unto the day of redemption, and
cleanse you from all (moral) filthiness,’ so much the better. If two or more
be necessary, the Lord can repeat them” (Fletcher 2:632).
It was not simply Fletcher’s
emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit which created the nineteenth-century
holiness movement. The holiness movement came about through an emphasis on a
subsequent work of the Spirit coupled with a tendency to minimize initial
sanctification, an insistence that this second work of the Spirit must be
instantaneous, and that it results in a permanent state of holiness.
A. The Influence of Charles Finney. Although Charles G. Finney described his own conversion as “a
mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost,” (Finney 1882, 20; see also Grider 66) his
theology forced him to separate this experience from regeneration, even though
it occurred the same evening as his conversion (Finney 1944, 9; see also Hills
It is ironic that
Finney had so much influence on Wesleyanism since he differed from Wesleyanism
at so many points. Finney did not accept the doctrine of original sin
(Finney Theology, 172). He believed humankind has the ability to repent
and trust in Christ. Regeneration, according to him, is a change in the attitude
of the will. However, after regeneration Christians find themselves falling back
into sin and needing to enter into the state of entire sanctification. The
baptism with the Holy Spirit is the means of establishing the believer in a life
of permanent sanctification (Finney 1944, 37–39; see also Gresham 33–35).
Finney stated that he could not
receive “the view of sanctification entertained by our Methodist brethren”
(Finney 1876, 340). Yet, according to the evaluation of Timothy L. Smith, “the
man chiefly responsible for the adoption by American Wesleyans of the terms
‘filling’ or ‘baptism of the Spirit’ to describe the experience of
sanctification was Charles G. Finney” (Smith 1979, 23).
B. The Controversy over Phoebe
Palmer. According to Charles Edwin Jones, “While the holiness movement
always regarded John Wesley as its great authority, the movement owed many of
its distinctive ideas and practices to Phoebe Palmer” (Jones 5). Palmer not
only equated the baptism of the Spirit and entire sanctification, but taught
that “there is a shorter way” to the blessing of entire sanctification
(Palmer 15). This “shorter way” amounted to a three-stage process: entire
consecration, faith, and testimony. She claimed that no one need any evidence
other than the biblical text to be assured of entire sanctification. Nathan
Bangs, bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, confronted Palmer about her
teachings. Bangs warned against claiming the work was done without any evidence
of the Holy Spirit.
Transition in American Methodism, Robert E. Chiles observes that one of
the major shifts in emphasis was from free grace to free will (
C. The Solidification under J. A.
solidification of the holiness movement is seen in the career of J. A. Wood. In
1861 Wood originally published Perfect
Love in which he quoted from some eighty other theologians. The
original edition of Perfect Love
was written six years prior to the organization of the National Association for
the Promotion of Holiness in 1867 and contains a breadth not found in his later
later, in 1876, Wood wrote Purity and
Maturity, which he claimed to be a defense of Wesleyan doctrine. Wood
asserted that “it is necessary that we keep in mind the idea that GROWTH,
PURITY, and MATURITY are distinct” (Wood 1876, 157). He contended that purity
is a state arrived at by an instantaneous second experience. It cannot be
obtained by growth in grace. After the crisis experience we then grow into
maturity. Wood, however, had little to say about maturity
in Purity and Maturity. It was
not until his 1880 revision of Perfect
Love, which is about one-third larger than the first edition, that Wood
“viewed entire sanctification as being wrought by the Spirit baptism” (Grider
22). Grider also notes that in the second edition Wood is even more vigorous in
his opposition to gradual sanctification (Grider 100).
While Wood compiled Christian Perfection as Taught by John Wesley in 1885, he tended
to use only quotes from Wesley with which he agreed. For example, chapter 8 is
entitled, “Sanctification Instantaneous, by Faith, and Not by Growth in
Grace.” Leo Cox observes that Wesley did not make the same distinction that
Wood made, noting that “where Wood emphasized the instantaneous character of
cleansing as in a moment, Wesley was more insistent on a gradual cleansing from
the beginning of sanctification at regeneration to its completion in entire
sanctification” (Cox 93).
However, by 1905
Wood could claim his distinction between purity and maturity “relieves the
subject of entire sanctification of difficulties which have perplexed many good
men. . . . It also harmonizes some conflicting items in Mr. Wesley’s works on
Christian Perfection” (Wood 1905, 73). With the passage of time Wood developed
a more rigid doctrinal position which justified the existence of the holiness
movement. This position was perpetuated through most of the twentieth century as
Under the section
“Baptism with the Holy Spirit,” The
Wesley Bible states: “Entire sanctification is a second definite work
of grace wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit in the heart of the
believer subsequently [sic] to regeneration, received instantaneously by faith,
by which the heart is cleansed from all corruption and filled with the perfect
love of God” (Harper 1990). This, however, is not the teaching of John
Wesley, but the writing of A. M. Hills, based upon the theology of J. A. Wood
and others within the holiness movement, which was adopted by the General
Holiness Assembly in 1885. This statement served unofficially as the
“apostles’ creed” of the holiness movement (Peters, 162), yet George
Failing recognized this definition was not Wesleyan and asked, “Can any
comparable definition be found in Wesley’s works?” (Failing 23).
III. The Growing Discontentment with the Holiness
Status Quo and the Rediscovery of Wesley
J. Kenneth Grider
wrote that prior to the 1970s “perhaps not a single book was authored by a
holiness scholar in the previous 100 years or so that had not taken the position
that Pentecost was the time of entire sanctification of the 120 disciples” (Grider
89–90). Grider, no doubt, was unaware of some of the growing discontentment
within the Holiness movement because those who did not take the “party line”
tended to be ostracized.
A. The Case of A. J. Smith. Aaron Jacob Smith (1887–1960) was brought up in a Christian
home and professed to have been converted in 1907. Five years later he
attended college at
Smith gave his
testimony in Twenty Years in the
Dungeon of Doubt and How I Got Out, stating: “I am convinced of the
fact that there are millions of church members who are living merely on an
intellectual presumption. . . . I believe there are tens of thousands of church
members in the Holiness churches who either have never been truly born of God,
or have lost out, and are today living merely on past experiences” (A. J.
Smith, Twenty 25). However, Smith said that when he confessed to his
denomination that he was born again in
Smith became president of
It is also ironic
that John R. Church wrote a booklet defending sprinkling as a legitimate mode of
water baptism. His purpose was to equip Methodists who were baptized by affusion,
but could not defend their baptism against the arguments of immersionists. He
lamented, “There are many people in the Methodist Church today, who have no
clear-cut conception as to why they have been baptized by affusion” (Church
6). He argued from scriptural example that affusion was practiced in the early
church, but never explained its significance in relationship to Spirit baptism.
He contended that the birth of the Holy Spirit and the baptism with the Holy
Spirit were two separate experiences (Church 31), which actually weakened his
argument for affusion.
A. J. Smith
eventually received his Ph. D. from
Elmer Long was tried in 1947 for
teaching that all believers had the Holy Spirit (Long 1995; see also Long 1993).
His writings have also been banned at some Holiness camp meetings.
B. The Rediscovery of Wesley. When Zondervan reprinted the works of John Wesley in 1958,
students within the Holiness movement began discovering the inconsistencies
between Wesleyan doctrine and the Holiness movement. Rob Staples reported that
he first became aware of the shift in the early 1960s (Staples 1979, 2).
I have interviewed
several pastors who did not have the educational background Staples had, but
nonetheless began reading Wesley for themselves in the late 1960s. As a result
they experienced the new birth personally. Sometimes revival came within their
congregations, but always they encountered intense opposition.
In 1979 a few
concerned pastors formed the Fundamental Wesleyan Society in an attempt to
proclaim the historic Wesleyan soteriology. Their purpose statement declared
that “there has been among second-blessing holiness churches a serious
deviation from the scriptural teaching developed by John Wesley and early
Methodist writers . . . [that] has led to a shallow preaching of the new birth
and consequently, a confusion has developed concerning Christian experience . .
. [leading] many to profess salvation without victory over the power of sin nor
a direct witness of the Holy Spirit; and others to profess entire sanctification
without being made perfect in love” (Brown Arminian,
Herbert McGonigle’s 1973
article, “Pneumatological Nomenclature in Early Methodism,” was a wake-up
call in the academic community demonstrating that early Methodism did not
emphasize the baptism with the Holy Spirit as the equivalent of entire
sanctification. Subsequent articles in the Wesleyan
Theological Journal dealt with this issue both pro and con from either an
exegetical, historical, or theological framework. While scholars were sometimes
accused of debating an irrelevant issue, those at the grassroots level often
laid their reputations on the line and were accused of ignorance.
C. The Holiness Paradigm. Far more is at stake than a hermeneutical question of how to
In comparing Wesley’s list with
the top seventeen texts listed from the IHC survey, only six texts were on both
lists. Sixty-five percent of the IHC texts are not on Wesley’s list. Wesley
used 19 texts not on the IHC list. Between the two lists there is an agreement
on only 17% of the texts.
Holiness movement also tends to use
The nineteenth-century American
holiness movement developed a new emphasis which tended to discount initial
sanctification, emphasize a second crisis experience without acknowledging
progressive sanctification, explain Christian perfection in terms of a perfected
state, not perfecting grace, and equated Spirit baptism with Christian
perfection. Many have come forward to an altar of prayer and have been told they
were born again. They left in an awakened state without the Holy Spirit, who
gives victory over sin, nor any direct assurance of the Spirit. Realizing they
needed something more, they were counseled that they needed the baptism of the
Holy Spirit. They were told to claim this blessing and testify to it. It is
quite possible that many have claimed two works of grace while still remaining
in a pre-Christian state. In their disillusionment some adopted rationalizations
and legalism as their justification, while others sought physical manifestations
and emotional excesses (Snyder 72–73).
In comparing historic Methodism
with the modern Holiness movement, Wesley Tracy said the holiness movement
pressures people into a premature profession of sanctification. He said there
are “tens of thousands of persons who were rushed prematurely into testifying
to an experience that they have never understood, felt a need for, or permitted
God to prepare them for. In contrast, the early Wesleyans “were quick
to seek sanctifying grace but slow to profess
D. The Wesleyan paradigm. The classic Wesleyan paradigm taught that the natural condition
of humankind is spiritual sleep. Through the prevenient grace of God we are
awakened to our helpless condition. Wesley used such terms as “the almost
Christian,” “the faith of a servant,” or “the legal state.” C. Leslie
Mitton explained: “Wesley was convinced that there were many devout and
earnest people who never passed beyond this earlier state. In fact, he describes
it in his Journal as ‘the
state most who are called Christians are content to live and die in.’” Saving faith, which comes as a gift to those who
have truly repented and believed on the finished work of Christ, leads to “the
altogether Christian,” “the faith of a son,” “the evangelical state.”
Through saving faith we are
justified and receive the witness of the Spirit that we are accepted. We are
born again through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. This is not our final goal,
but strictly speaking, the beginning of the race. From this start we press on to
perfect love or Christian perfection.
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1905. Mistakes Respecting Christian Holiness.
However, when Godbey wrote his commentaries for the holiness people (Godbey
1909, 366), he taught two works of grace at Acts 2:38. The gift of the Holy
Spirit was to be sanctified wholly (Godbey 5:65). In 1911 Godbey
participated in a debate on water baptism and the baptism with the Holy
Ghost. He argued at one point that the water ordinance is only a sign or
symbol of the real baptism—the baptism with the Holy Spirit. However, at
another point in the debate Godbey argued for two works of grace—the birth
of the Spirit and the baptism with the Holy Ghost. He said Spirit baptism
and sanctification meant the same thing. The context of the statement
indicates he was referring to entire sanctification, when “the old man got
burned up” (McWherter, 7–9; 15–16).
This is discussed in greater detail in Reasoner,
Spirit 60–67; Reasoner,
 Stevens 396–402. This account has been reprinted as Appendix B in Stackpole 79–86. See also the critique by Foster 209–210.
 Smith 1962, 21. In 1852 the Pastoral Address in the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church issued a warning concerning “new theories, new expressions, and new measures.” In 1878 D. D. Whedon, editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review warned that the holiness movement was not Wesleyan in emphasis. In 1880 W. B. Pope cautioned against the modern trend to teach a pentecostal visitation superadded to the state of conversion. In 1894 the bishops’ address to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church warned about the divisiveness of the holiness movement. These citations are given in Reasoner, Spirit 71–74.
 The irony is that in Perfect Love Wood had written, “The approach to entire sanctification may be gradual” (Wood 1880, 19; see also p. 82). James Mudge reacted to Wood (Mudge 228).
It is reported that A. J. Smith organized the
first Western expedition to
 Mitton 16. For a more modern attempt to describe the Wesleyan paradigm, see Brush.