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Two of last week’s posts introduced pietism. The first explored its origins in Germany and the second examined its expansion in Methodism.

As we saw, pietism is based on the theology of Christian perfection, which comes from the perfection of Christ. Whilst all Christians are enjoined to sanctification — bearing increasingly holy attitudes and behaviours as a result of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit working through them — the danger is semi-Pelagianism. A list of proscribed activities — dancing, drinking and smoking — is not only a form of legalism but gives some believers in Arminian (‘free will’) denominations the idea that they can save themselves by obeying this checklist of behaviours.

Therefore, a number of pastors and theologians have condemned it over the centuries. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

denounced the basic aim of Pietism, to produce a “desired piety” in a person, as unbiblical.

Pietist denominations and Wesleyan denominations follow a doctrine called theosis in their interpretation of personal holiness and sanctification. Yet, everyone’s journey on the road to sanctification is different and personal piety happens in different ways at various times. One person might never be tempted by alcohol yet fall into sins of pride; another might drink in moderation yet conduct themselves in perfect humility. Nowhere in Scripture — as Bonhoeffer said — does the Bible proscribe or prescribe a variety of things that the pietists and Wesleyans say it does.

A case in point is Methodist Hillary Clinton banning smoking in the White House during her husband’s presidency. Mrs Clinton was trying to save other people from themselves and to get them to practice this little bit of holiness. Another aspect is social justice, also popular with many striving for Christian perfection. They like to impose this notional holiness on others by supporting government policies for higher taxes to ensure that wealth is evenly distributed. The Welsh, despite their increasingly secular nature, are still influenced by their Presbyterian Church’s teachings, which are more Methodist than Presbyterian with regard to morality. As such, they are becoming prohibitionists where drinking and smoking are concerned. They claim that society would be so much better if only these two pleasure outlets were done away with.

None of these ‘good for you’ policies works. We have seen this throughout history. Nevertheless, pietism and theosis of whatever kind can lead to mysticism, introspection and what is known as radical pietism, involving utopian communities.  Radical pietism promotes separatist communal living rather than church membership, a Christian experience based on emotion and sensation rather than doctrine and holding each other to behavioural accountability — often publicly.

The word ‘heart’ features prominently in any pietist movement and, in some situations, can trump what the Bible says.  What is important is what the person feels and what he does. Therefore, it is no surprise that Lutherans, Calvinists and orthodox Anglicans condemn it as works-based righteousness. These works are not necessarily spontaneous but carefully engineered by oneself and monitored by others.  Many of the ‘holy’ behaviours are manmade diktats, based on a leader’s personal likes and dislikes.

However, one of the greatest perils of semi-Pelagianism is that Nature abhors a vacuum. And Satan enters in quite easily, constantly tempting people.

This is why a Christian who believes an orthodox confession of faith will be able to better resist temptation as he prays for more grace to guide him spontaneously in the direction of holiness in obedience to Christ’s commandments.  Christ and the Apostles never said that faith was an ethereal experience or a lengthy to-do list.

That said, we come to the subject of Methodism and pietism as it developed in the 19th century to the present day. Emphases below are mine.

John Wesley’s legacy

Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, died in 1791 at the age of 87. His

call to personal and social holiness continues to challenge Christians who attempt to discern what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God.

Denominations which Methodism influenced include not only the Methodist churches around the world, but also the Methodist Episcopal churches, Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Charismatic and Pentecostal denominations also have their origins in Wesleyan holiness movements.

Wesley’s circuit riders helped to spread Methodism in the United States as did Anglicans emigrating from England who considered themselves more Methodist than Anglican. At the end of the 18th century, Methodists had their own chapels but without their own clergy, still received the sacraments in the Anglican church.

Wesley ‘laid hands’ on an Anglican priestThomas Coke — for his role as Superintendent of Methodists in the United States. He also ordained two presbyters who would accompany Coke on his journey.  However, Wesley was loth to offend the Church of England by ordaining any more Methodist clergymen.  Wesley and his brother died in the Church of England.

Francis Asbury joined Coke as co-Superintendent. Together, they founded the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. The name implied that a Methodists would meet in chapel and receive the sacraments in the Episcopal Church. Later, the word ‘Episcopal’ would refer to its church government of bishops.

The Methodist Episcopal Church relied on modestly-paid circuit riders, unsalaried local ministers, stewards who were administrators and

class leaders who conducted weekly small groups where members were mutually accountable for their practice of Christian piety

The earliest Episcopal Methodists in North America were often drawn from the middle-class trades, women were more numerous among members than men, and adherents outnumbered official members by as many as five-to-one. Adherents, unlike members, were not publicly accountable for their Christian life and therefore did not usually attend weekly class meetings. Meetings and services were often characterized by extremely emotional and demonstrative styles of worship that were often condemned by contemporary Congregationalists and Presbyterians. It was also very common for exhortations — testimonials and personal conversion narratives distinguishable from sermons because exhorters did not “take a text” from the Bible — to be publicly delivered by both women and slaves. Some of the earliest class leaders were also women.

Note the pietist characteristics of behaviour monitoring, small groups and emotional worship.

The founding of the AME Churches

On a positive note, Methodism was egalitarian in welcoming active participation and leadership from women and slaves.  It was also very much at the forefront of the abolition movement.  A number of Methodists participated in the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves to freedom.

However, not all black freemen in the North felt welcome in Methodist congregations and formed their own:

– In 1799, Francis Asbury ordained freeman Richard Allen. The congregation to which he was assigned, St George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, allowed him and another minister Absalom Jones to preach only to black congregations. Blacks could also only sit in specific galleries in the church. Consequently, Allen, Jones and others founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1816.

– A similar situation took place in New York City at John Street Methodist Church in 1800. Blacks were told to leave worship.  Blacks left to form their own congregation, the name of which was Zion. By 1820, other Zion congregations had grown from the original church. In 1821, elder James Varick was named the first General Superintendent of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and became its bishop the following year.

Both AME churches exist today. The AME Church has become increasingly involved in liberation theology. After the Civil War the AME Zion Church expanded into the American South and today has many missions in the Caribbean and Africa.

Mergers in the 19th century and German immigrants

At the end of the 18th century, other splits in Methodism were already occurring. In 1793, the preacher James O’Kelly rebelled against going where his bishop assigned him. He and other preachers who wanted the right to refuse a church assignment formed the Christian Church — Christian Connection — which later merged with the United Church of Christ.

There were also Methodist congregations which catered to German settlers in Pennsylvania. In 1767, Philip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm formed the United Brethren in Christ congregations, a branch of which is now part of the United Methodist Church. In 1800, German immigrant Jacob Albright (originally Albrecht) founded the Evangelical Association — the Albright Brethren — for German immigrants. Most of the group’s members became part of the United Methodist Church in 1968, however, a small group still exists as the Evangelical Church of North America:

probably in protest against perceived theological and social liberalism in American Methodism.

The German churches were heavily influenced by pietism not only from Methodism but also that from the Moravian and Mennonite communities.  Albright placed a good deal of emphasis on his personal religious journey, brought about by adverse family circumstances during which he rejected the Lutheranism of his youth. He was known to preach in a moving, emotional style.

Otterbein was ordained a German Reformed (Calvinist) minister in Herborn in 1749 and was assigned to a church in Pennsylvania, where he met Boehm.  Boehm was born in Pennsylvania into a Mennonite family and became a preacher.  The two men developed a close friendship which resulted in Boehm’s excommunication from the Mennonites. Otterbein, like Wesley, remained in the denomination into which he was ordained although he, with Boehm, began organising the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.  The two men were the first bishops of the new denomination.

The desire for holiness

Whilst most Methodist Episcopal Church members gradually merged into what is today’s United Methodist Church, a number of the offshoots of the Methodist Episcopal Church during the 19th century involved a quest for holiness and greater purity.

The Wesleyan Church was formed in 1843 in Utica, New York, and still exists today. Its members wanted a stronger abolitionist stance from the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1848, the Wesleyan Church also began its strong support of women’s rights and ordained its first female minister, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, in 1856.

However, revivals were sweeping across the United States and Canada in the 1850s, and the Wesleyan preachers, particularly the Revd James Caughey

brought in the converts by the score, most notably in the revivals in Canada West 1851-53. His technique combined restrained emotionalism with a clear call for personal commitment, coupled with followup action to organize support from converts. It was a time when the Holiness Movement caught fire, with the revitalized interest of men and women in Christian perfection. Caughey successfully bridged the gap between the style of earlier camp meetings and the needs of more sophisticated Methodist congregations in the emerging cities.[4]

In the 20th century:

the denomination merged with the Alliance of Reformed Baptists of Canada and 1968 with the Pilgrim Holiness Church. It spread through revivals emphasizing a deepening experience with God called holiness or sanctification. Heart purity was a central theme. During this period of time, many small churches developed through revivals and the emphasis of sanctification (taught by John Wesley, but not emphasized by many Methodists). As many as 25 or 30 small denominations were formed and eventually merged with other groups to enlarge the church. The church was strong in missionary and revival emphasis. The merger took place in 1968 at Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana.[5]

The Free Methodist Church was founded in Pekin, New York, in 1860, after disagreements with the Methodist Episcopal Church over a perceived lack of emphasis on holiness:

The name “Methodist” was retained for the newly organized church because the founders felt that their misfortunes (expulsion from the Methodist Episcopal Church) had come to them because of their adherence to doctrines and standards of Methodism. The word “Free” was suggested and adopted because the new church was to be an anti-slavery church (slavery was an issue in those days), because pews in the churches were to be free to all rather than sold or rented (as was common), and because the new church hoped for the freedom of the Holy Spirit in the services rather than a stifling formality.[5] However, according to World Book Encyclopedia, the third principle was “freedom” from secret and oathbound societies (in particular the Freemasons).

The Free Methodist Church has a loose liturgical structure for its worship and professes

the standard beliefs of evangelical, Arminian Protestantism, with distinctive emphasis on the teaching of entire sanctification as held by John Wesley

It supports egalitarianism, however, like the aforementioned Evangelical Church of North America, it draws a line with regard to the social and political activism which characterises the United Methodist Church.

In England in 1865, former Methodist minister William Booth began evangelising in London’s East End, dispensing soup, soap and salvation. His mission work became the Salvation Army and spread internationally:

The Salvation Army’s main converts were at first alcoholics, morphine addicts, prostitutes and other “undesirables” unwelcome in polite Christian society, which helped prompt the Booths to start their own church.[8] The Booths did not include the use of sacraments (mainly baptism and Holy Communion) in the Army’s form of worship, believing that many Christians had come to rely on the outward signs of spiritual grace rather than on grace itself.[9] Other beliefs are that its members should completely refrain from drinking alcohol (Holy Communion is not practised), smoking, taking illegal drugs and gambling.[10]

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the holiness movement was gaining strength. Pietism, quietism (‘let go and let God’ and silent prayer) and Methodism through small meeting houses, Quaker influence, revivals and camp meetings stirred the emotions of many people in towns and cities:

Two major leaders of the holiness revival were Phoebe Palmer and her husband, Dr. Walter Palmer. In 1835, Palmer’s sister, Sarah A. Lankford, had started holding Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness in her New York City home. In 1837, Palmer experienced what she called entire sanctification and had become the leader of the Tuesday Meetings by 1839. At first only women attended these meetings, but eventually Methodist bishops and hundreds of clergy and laymen began to attend as well. At the same time, Methodist minister Timothy Merritt of Boston founded a journal called the Guide to Christian Perfection, later renamed The Guide to Holiness. This was the first American periodical dedicated exclusively to promoting the Wesleyan message of Christian holiness.[5] In 1865, the Palmers purchased The Guide which at its peak had a circulation of 30,000. In 1859, Palmer 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.

Camp meetings attracted large crowds:

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.

The Keswick Convention, founded by an Anglican Canon and a Quaker, still exists today as an ecumenical gathering of evangelical Christians in Cumbria (northwest England).  It is connected with the 19th century Higher Life movement in England which promoted

“entire sanctification,” “the second blessing,” “the second touch,” “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” and various other terms. Higher Life teachers promoted the idea that Christians who had received this blessing from God could live a more holy, that is less sinful or even a sinless, life. The so-called Keswick approach seeks to provide a mediating and biblically balanced solution to the problem of subnormal Christian experience. The “official” teaching has been that every believer in this life is left with the natural proclivity to sin and will do so without the countervailing influence of the Holy Spirit …

Little by little, Methodist churches in the London area became open to the concept of Christian holiness, which was their rightful inheritance from their founder. Robert Pearsall Smith warned them that they would end up falling behind other churches who had embraced the movement, and they began to invite Higher Life teachers to explain the doctrine to them.

Back in the United States in 1871, the famous evangelist Dwight L Moody met with two Free Methodist churchwomen and, although he did not become part of the holiness movement, greatly admired their teachings.

In a quest for holiness, two other new denominations were founded in 1895. One was the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, which Benjamin Hardin Irwin founded. Irwin was a Baptist minister in Lincoln, Nebraska, who met with members of the Iowa Holiness Association. (Iowa is the state east of Nebraska.) He ended up joining the Wesleyan Methodist Church and believed there must be more to faith than sanctification — an additional experience. As such:

After receiving this experience in October 1895, he began to preach this “third blessing” among holiness adherents in the Midwest, particularly among Wesleyan Methodists and Brethren in Christ. His services were highly emotional with participants often getting the “jerks”, shouting, speaking in tongues, and holy dancing and laughing.[2] Thousands attended his meetings and his teaching was circulated widely within the holiness movement, with its greatest strength in the Midwest and South. His message was largely rejected, however, and was denounced as a “third blessing heresy”.[3]

He disapproved of:

women wearing “needless ornamentation”. However, he also applied this prohibition to men, making it a sin to wear neckties. He also said it was a sin to eat anything forbidden by the dietary laws of the Old Testament.[10]

As is the case with pietist clergy, Irwin, too, had trouble with serious temptation:

In 1900, Irwin confessed to “open and gross sin” which brought “great reproach” to the church. He resigned as general overseer and was replaced by Joseph H. King, a 31 year old former Methodist from Georgia.

The Fire-Baptized Holiness Church would help to pave the way for Pentecostalism.Through mergers with the Pentecostal Holiness Church it became the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1975.

The second denomination founded in 1895 is the better known and less emotionally charged Church of the Nazarene. Phineas F Bresee was a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church but joined with a physician, Dr Joseph Pomeroy Widney, and a number of laypeople in the Los Angeles area to form this new church.  Widney thought of the name.  Its focus was to create family-oriented congregations for and of the urban poor.

The Church of the Nazarene took root in San Francisco, then expanded eastward throughout the United States. By 1907, its congregations were dotted all over the country. Church planting was also taking place in Canada.  Both of these developments were thanks to a merger with the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America which marked the denomination’s formal incorporation.

The Nazarenes are deeply committed to higher education and have undergraduate and graduate schools around the world.

They adhere closely to Wesleyan teachings:

A key outgrowth of this theology is the commitment of Nazarenes not only to the Evangelical Gospel of repentance and a personal relationship with God, but also to compassionate ministry to the poor …

Throughout its history, the Church of the Nazarene has maintained a stance supporting total abstinence from alcohol and any other intoxicant, including cigarettes. Primary Nazarene founder Bresee was active in the Prohibition cause. Although this continues to be debated, the position remains in the church. While the church does not consider alcohol itself to be the cause of sin, it recognizes that intoxication and the like, are a ‘danger’ to many people, both physically and spiritually. Historically, the Nazarene Church was founded in order to help the poor. Alcohol, gambling, the like, and their addictions were cited as things that kept people poor. So in order to help the poor, as well as everyone, Nazarenes have traditionally abstained from those things. Also, a person who is meant to serve an example to others should avoid the use of them, in order not to cause others to stray from their ‘walk with God,’ as that is considered a sin for both parties.

Interestingly, in light of the holiness movement’s origins in pietism, faithful Nazarenes are horrified (rightly so) to see their denomination move towards mysticism and contemplative prayer in their denomination. However, a study of pietism reveals that this is not uncommon.  Some of their leaders are also questioning biblical inerrancy, another characteristic of pietistic churches where personal experience overshadows Scripture and doctrine.

Worship includes personal testimony, and camp meetings still take place annually although revivals are less numerous than previously. Also:

A distinct approach to worship, especially in the early days of the Nazarene church, was the belief that ultimately the Holy Spirit should lead the worship. Services that were considered to be palpably evidenced by leadership of the Holy Spirit were marked by what was called “the Glory.” Almost equal to the emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification was the emphasis on these unusual worship experiences. Church leaders were careful to avoid emotional techniques to bring about such services. Ritual and the usual order of services were not abandoned but were held loosely. While some of the services were marked by shouting, others were marked by testimony, weeping, and individuals seeking spiritual help.

Other holiness and Methodist churches

In closing, there are two other Wesley-influenced churches worth mentioning. One is the small group of snake-handling churches in the American South, about which I wrote in 2010. They are an offshoot of the holiness movement.

The other is the Primitive Methodist Church, whose members were sometimes called ‘ranters’. They had their origins in England during an All Day of Prayer in Mow Cop, Staffordshire, in 1807. Four years later, this group grew to encompass other camp meeting groups.  The mainstream Methodists in England, called the Methodist Connexion at the time, frowned on the noise and unseemly emotions of this group of poorer brethren. Some groups fell into trances, some evangelists talked about the supernatural.  Both evangelists and their audiences were uneducated people. For these reasons, Thomas Coke was very much opposed to the Primitive Methodists. However, mainstream Methodists feared that the Primitives were giving them a bad name, at a time when the Church of England had scant regard for Wesley’s teachings.

Primitive Methodists used child evangelists in their preaching. Their worship music was seen to be undignified, inspired by popular melodies of the day.  By the end of the 19th century, however, they moved closer to mainstream Methodism and discarded their more eccentric denominational characteristics. In the 20th century, both Methodist groups were reconciled to each other.  In 1932, the Primitive Methodist Church became part of the Methodist Union. However, offshoots still exist in the United States and, perhaps, in Australia.

The Temperance Movement

A commonality between mainstream Methodists and the Primitives was their dislike for alcohol:

both the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists wanted to reform popular behaviour. Again the Primitives were more radical than the Wesleyans and less in keeping with bourgeois correctness. [Co-founder Hugh] Bourne was not just in favour of temperance, he disagreed with alcohol altogether and thought of himself as the father of the teetotal movement. The Primitive Methodists were a religion of popular culture. While the Wesleyans attempted to impose elements of middle-class culture on the lower classes, Primitive Methodists offered an alternate popular culture. They timed their activities to coincide with sinful events. For instance, as an alternative to the race week at Preston they organised a Sunday School children’s parade and a “frugal feast”. Both tried to inculcate the doctrine of self-help into the working class. They promoted education through Sunday Schools, though the Primitives distinguished themselves by teaching writing. Through a combination of discipline, preaching and education both Primitive and Wesleyan Methodism sought to reform their members morality.

Of Methodism in the United States, Wikipedia states that John Wesley abhorred alcohol. Similarly:

The temperance movement appealed strongly to the Methodist doctrines of sanctification and Christian perfection … Therefore, those who believe are made new in Christ. The believer’s response to this sanctification then is to uphold God’s word in the world. A large part of this, especially in the late-19th century, was “to be their brother’s keepers, or […] their brother’s brothers.”[38] Because of this sense of duty toward the other members of the church, many Methodists were personally temperate out of a hope that their restraint would give strength to their brothers. The Methodist stance against drinking was strongly stated in the Book of Discipline. Initially, the issue taken was limited to distilled liquors, but quickly, teetotalism became the norm and Methodists were commonly known to abstain from all alcoholic beverages.[30]

In 1880, the general conference included in the Discipline a broad statement which included, “Temperance is a Christian virtue, Scripturally enjoined.”[38] Due to the temperate stance of the church, the practice of Eucharist was altered — to this day, Methodist churches most commonly use grape juice symbolically during Communion rather than wine. The Methodist church distinguished itself from many other denominations in their beliefs about state control of alcohol. Where many other denominations, including Roman Catholics, Protestant Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Unitarians, believed that the ill-effects of liquor should be controlled by self-discipline and individual restraint, Methodists believed that it was the duty of the government to enforce restrictions on the use of alcohol.[38] In 1904, the Board of Temperance was created by the General Conference to help push the Temperance agenda.

The women of the Methodist Church were strongly mobilized by the temperance movement. In 1879, a Methodist woman, Frances E. Willard, was voted to the presidency of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization which was characterized by heavy Methodist participation. To this day, the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Missions holds property across on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, which was built using funds provided by laypeople. Women of the church were responsible for 70% of the $650,000 it cost to construct the building in 1922. The building was intended to serve as the Methodist Church’s social reform presence of the Hill. The Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals was especially prominent within the building.[39]

Apologies for the long post, however, it shows in one place the recurring themes of pietism: small groups, behavioural control, personal religious experience, loose worship styles and less emphasis on doctrine.

Next: Pietism and Pentecostalism

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