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A couple of weeks ago, news appeared in the blogosphere that the well-known Baptist pastor John Piper and the Roman Catholic Lectio Divina proponent Beth Moore appeared recently at the Passion 2012 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. (H/T: Anna Wood)

The Revd Ken Silva from Apprising Ministries carries the story (emphases mine):

It’s an incontrovertible fact that right from its hatching in hell corrupt Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism (CSM), such as that taught by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster along with his spiritual twin and Southern Baptist minister Dallas Willard, was a core doctrine

It’s also giving rise to a rebirth of Pietism; this isn’t surprising when you consider that CSM flowered in the antibiblical monastic traditions of apostate Roman Catholicism. As the evangelical fad of CSM expands there’s a decided charismania also developing, which is producing a syncretism where Word Faith heretics like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are essentially considered mainstream now. With all of this has come more and more people claiming to have direct experience with God

Hosted by Louis Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Passion featured an interesting lineup of speakers such Francis Chan, Beth Moore and New Calvinist mentor John Piper. Not surpisingly the conference had a distinctive charismatic and even contemplative flair; e.g. prayer walking. After one session the crowd was urged to break into “love groups” and go out to pray and “take back the city of Atlanta.”

One can certainly point a finger at the Roman Catholic Church, but, as I wrote in the comments on Anna’s site, what has occurred at Passion 2012 is more symptomatic of 17th century Lutheran/Moravian pietism in general and of the Holiness movement which dates back to 19th century Methodism and advanced in the following century through the many Holiness denominations. Ultimately, this led to our current charismatic services and Pentecostal churches.

John Wesley borrowed heavily from Moravian pietists whose acquaintance he made on the journey from England to America. After his return to Europe, he even studied at their HQ in Herrnhut, Germany.

Although pietism has its most ancient beginnings in the earliest days of the Church, it was later revived when Germans and Scandinavians became disillusioned with ‘staid’ state churches and wanted something more.

Today, however, I am sorry to read that Dr Piper — a confessional, or Particular, Baptist — has fallen for more pietistic holiness (Rick Warren being the foremost example), hallmarks of which include contemplative prayer, Quaker quietism (‘let go and let God’ — wait until you get a ‘sign’ of some sort), small groups, personal accountability, public confession, overt sentimentality, strong emotional worship, receiving ‘divine messages’ and personal testimony over doctrine (or the Bible).

Yet, these activities are everywhere. Even Church of England vicars encourage them — contemplative prayer, especially. A number of Anglican churches offer days or mornings of ‘silent prayer’, which is the same thing.

Pietism is known for its ecumenism, so it’s no surprise that Passion 2012 featured speakers from a variety of Christian denominations.  Unfortunately, those denominations which practice pietism — holiness churches, in particular — will be affected by these cross-currents.  The Church of the Nazarene has experienced an onslaught of Fuller Seminary and Roman Catholic influence: The Reformed Nazarene blog chronicles them in detail. I empathise with Nazarenes who wish to keep their denomination pure, but, ultimately, this is the outcome of pietism and the holiness movement.  The Nazarenes emerged from the Wesleyan holiness movement in the 19th century.

Pietism is experiential, emotional and introspective. It seeks to transform denominations, if not the Church as a whole, in order to bring about personal and moral change.

Bob DeWaay, who has been in discernment ministry most of his life, admits to having fallen prey to pietism:

My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering[1]) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.[2]The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t.

My dissatisfaction with the Christianity taught in Bible College[3] led me to join a Christian commune some months after graduation. That group’s founder taught that all ordinary churches and Bible Colleges were caught up in “religious Babylon.” He taught that the kingdom of God was to be found by quitting one’s job, selling one’s possessions, giving the money to the commune, and moving in together to be devoted to the “kingdom” twenty four hours a day. So in my search to become an extraordinary Christian I did what he said and joined …

By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …

Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings

These appear to most poorly taught Christians to be what the Lord wants. They reason, “Of course God is happier with a person who sells all and moves into a convent where he takes an oath of poverty than He is with someone who goes to work forty hours a week and uses some of the money to buy things.” Is He? When I was a pietist, if someone told me he prayed two hours a day, then I had to pray three hours to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I reasoned, “Of course God is happier with a Christian who prays three hours than one who prays two.” Is He? When I was a pietist I would work on cranking up my desire for holiness because I reasoned that holiness is found through something in the person rather than through God’s grace. Based on sermons I’d heard I reasoned, “Christians are not experiencing a higher degree of holiness because they do not desire it enough.” Is that true? No, none of these pietistic statements are true. Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

I, along with confessional Lutherans, would disagree with DeWaay when he goes on to say that Spener was not a pietist but only reacting against a State Church. Spener’s theology was deeply pietist in that he promoted small groups (conventicles), agonised repentance and giving up worldly entertainments. He promoted justification by works through holiness and self-deprivation.

However, DeWaay rightly cites John Wesley as being a pietist:

Wesley’s Methodism and perfectionism were themselves pietistic. Wesley is an example of a much less extreme pietism. But the idea that some humanly discovered and implemented method can lead to the achievement of a better Christian life than through the ordinary means of grace is nevertheless pietism.

He is careful to draw a line between Wesley and Charles Finney, pre-eminent during the Second Great Awakening in the United States:

Wesley at least held to prevenient grace so as to avoid Pelagianism.[20] Finney was fully Pelagian in his approach to both salvation and sanctification.[21] And his innovations permanently changed much of American Evangelicalism. After Finney other perfectionist movements arose. The Holiness movement, for example, came not long after Finney. Both the Holiness movement and the subsequent Pentecostal movement held to second blessing doctrines that by nature are pietist because they create an elite category of Christians who have had a special experience that ordinary Christians lack.

DeWaay calls our attention to the Emergent Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church as the most recent examples of pietism:

Today the largest new pietist movement is the Emergent Church. As I pointed out earlier, pietism often arises in response to the perception (sometimes warranted) that the church has become too worldly and it seems true once again today. Some now assume that since ordinary Christianity is compromised, they must discover an extraordinary way to become better Christians. One Emergent leader has even entitled one of his works, “A New Kind of Christian.”[22] But this movement really isn’t all that new. It draws on teachings and practices found in other pietist movements in church history. In fact, a recent Emergent book includes essays by those experimenting with communal living, something I tried in my pietist days![23]

Furthermore, the Purpose Driven movement is also a pietistic movement. Rick Warren claims there are world class Christians that are in a better category than ordinary Christians. He had his followers take a long oath at a baseball field to pledge themselves to serving his new reformation. I already mentioned the apostles and prophets movement that is pietistic. So ironically, three huge movements in American evangelicalism (Purpose Driven, Emergent, and C. Peter Wagner’s latter day apostles) are all based on pietism. The three movements seem radically diverse, but each one claims to be a new reformation and each offers a higher status than that of ordinary Christians.

He cautions us against movements preaching against ‘dead orthodoxy’ and notes that the Charismatics are also pietist in this regard.

He also notes that the problem is not with orthodoxy but with church members, who are often spiritually dead:

Pietism misdiagnoses the problem and creates a false solution. It sees a compromised church that is apparently caught in dead orthodoxy. The real problem is not dead orthodoxy but spiritually dead sinners who give mental assent to orthodox truth but show no signs of regeneration. If indeed such a church existed (if truth really is there God has His remnant there as well), that church would be characterized by worldliness and sin. This is the case because dead sinners do not bear spiritual fruit. There was a church in Revelation that Jesus called “dead.” Pietism that holds to the true gospel but goes beyond it imagining that the dead sinners who are church members are Christians. When some of them become regenerate through the efforts of the pietists, they assume they have now entered a higher class of Christianity. They posit two types of Christian: “carnal” Christians and “spiritual” Christians. But in reality there are only Christians and dead sinners. 

DeWaay writes that pietists end up ignoring the Gospel message in favour of works righteousness:

When I was a pietist I thought salvation was an interesting first step a person took, but mostly lost interest in the topic unless I ran across someone who needed to pray the sinners prayer, which I imagined was the first step. The gospel of Christ was only of marginal interest to me as I sought the “deeper things.” The more I tried to be a very special type of Christian, the further my mind wandered from the cross. I was guilty of the very thing for which Paul rebuked the Corinthians.

It seems that people fall for pietism in its various guises because it gives them a sense of reassurance — misguided though it is. Charismatics and Pentecostalists enjoy the heady experiences of being ‘born again’ — speaking in tongues, for instance — something they can do and feel.  Others believe that dressing differently sets them ‘apart’ from the world as does abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and certain foodstuffs. Hence, some desire to join faith communes, which is radical pietism. Then, there are the ‘mystics’ who follow Lectio Divina and believe they are channelling a ‘higher consciousness’, who are most likely Christian refugees from the New Age movement.  This leads to a Gnosticism of sorts — a supposed special, secret knowledge or spiritual attainment that other people lack.

Sadly, this desire to ‘experience’ Christianity can lead people down the paths of error: Pelagianism and Gnosticism are heresies.  The rest of us would do well to pray for these people and hope that God’s grace leads them to a true confessional denomination.

Over the past several years, a number of Christians have taken to wearing attire which sets them apart from the rest of Western society.

Most of these rules concern women’s clothes, jewellery and hair. They generally pertain to members of Holiness and Pentecostal churches — pietist denominations.

However, pietist women did not always dress in a way which resembles a badly-styled Little House on the Prairie.

In fact, they dressed quite conventionally and were indistinguishable from other women.  A case in point is a portrait of the Lundquist family (p.3 in the PDF).  They are members of the Baptist General Conference, a pietist denomination comprised mainly of Americans whose ancestors emigrated from Sweden in the 19th century.  Dr Lundquist, incidentally, is a former president of Bethel College and Seminary.

This photo most likely dates from the late 1960s. Note that the women’s hemlines are at the knee and that sleeves are short or nonexistent (the youngest daughter excepted). Their hair is also short.  The women look stylish yet modest.  They are presentable and fit in with the fashion norms of the time.

So, how is it that today’s Christian pietist female population in America has to look frumpy or homesteader-like?  How many converts are they bringing to the faith?

Or is it that they — or church leaders — believe that they must be visibly set apart from other women and attract unnecessary attention?

As such, would that not be verging on a sin of pride?

Dressing modestly in a classic style to fit in with the rest of the population would win far more souls for Christ, it would seem.  Worth considering, isn’t it?

My last post on pietism and the Wesleyan holiness movement briefly discussed the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, created in 1895, now known as the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.

This entry will examine how the holiness movement viewed the term ‘pentecostal’, why today’s holiness churches consider themselves separate from Pentecostalism and how Pentecostalism later developed.

Members of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church sometimes spoke in tongues — glossolalia, theologically speaking. However, at the end of the 19th century, no one held it to be evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Repudiating the ‘Pentecostal’ label

Another holiness denomination, now called Pillar of Fire International, was incorporated in 1901 as the Pentecostal Union.

Like the members of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, its followers were also known as ‘holy rollers’ and ‘holy jumpers’ for their supposed Spirit-led gyrations during worship.

Therefore, the physical movements, noise and glossolalia were originally part of the holiness churches.

However, after the Azusa Street Revival (described below), the Pentecostal Union’s founder Bishop Alma White changed the name to Pillar of Fire. It appears that she did this partly for social reasons, as the Azusa Street Revival involved too much mixing of blacks and whites during services.

However, there is a deeper theological aspect here. Pentecostals believe that one can only be baptised in the Spirit by giving evidence of it through speaking in tongues. Holiness churches, on the other hand, do not believe that glossolalia is a given for baptism in the Spirit.

Pentecostal borrowing from holiness churches

Members of holiness churches became the first Pentecostalists at the beginning of the 20th century. As such, they brought their Wesleyan holiness standards with them and (emphases mine):

to this day many “classical Pentecostals” maintain much of holiness doctrine and many of its devotional practices. (Oneness Pentecostals, such as the United Pentecostal Church, still largely adhere to these “standards.”) Additionally, the terms Pentecostal and apostolic, now used by adherents to Pentecostal and charismatic doctrine, were once widely used by holiness churches in connection with the consecrated lifestyle described in the New Testament.

Looking at the Wikipedia page for the United Pentecostal Church International, we read that this denomination

puts an emphasis upon Holiness living in all aspects of one’s life.

‘Holiness living’ involves:

Inward holiness, such as demonstration of the fruits of the Spirit in the Christian’s life, is accompanied by outward signs of holiness, according to the UPCI. These include a belief that women should not cut their hair; in addition, they should wear dresses or skirts rather than pants, in accordance with the scriptural mandate to “not wear that which pertaineth to a man”.[10] Skirt lengths are generally expected to reach below the knee. Woman and men alike are encouraged to “adorn [themselves] in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety”,[11] and are discouraged from wearing cosmetics or jewelry, biblically defined as “gold, or pearls, or costly array”.[11] The precise strictness to which these standards are adhered to often varies, however …

Other controversial issues include: men wearing shorts, attendance at movie theatres, dancing, and mixed bathing.

How it is that outward ‘holiness’ is a sign of inward holiness is unclear. It sounds like semi-Pelagian style over substance.

Yet, when it comes to worship:

Worship at the UPCI is often described as lively, with members jumping, dancing, singing, shouting, and clapping, as in all Pentecostal churches. Some people run through the church aisles, dance in the spirit, roll in the floor, which coined the term “holy rollers”. They have even been known, mostly in the earlier days of Pentecostalism, to walk across the top of pews or jump over pews in an act of fervent worship … Excessive control of worship activities is often referred to as “quenching the spirit”, a scriptural term taken from I Thessolonians 5:19, which states, “Quench not the Spirit.” There has often been controversy over how much worship should be controlled and how much a congregational leader should “let the Spirit move.”

Again, this worship style refers back to the 19th century holiness churches in the United States and England (Primitive Methodists).

Another example can be found in Oneness Pentecostalism, so called because they reject the Holy Trinity and baptise only in the name of Jesus Christ. (Heresy alert: Modalism and Arianism). The popular American evangelist, the Revd T D Jakes, is a Oneness Pentecostal, incidentally.

Oneness Pentecostals also follow standards of behaviour derived from the holiness movement:

Practical or outward holiness for Oneness believers involves certain “holiness standards” that dictate, among other things, modest apparel and gender distinction. Some Oneness organizations, considering current social trends in fashion and dress to be immoral, have established “dress codes” for their members. These guidelines are similar to those used by all Pentecostal denominations for much of the first half of the 20th century.[1] Generally, women wear long sleeves & skirts are expected not to wear pants, makeup, jewellery or to cut their hair; men are enjoined to be clean-shaven, short-haired,no jewellery and are expected to wear long sleeve shirts, long-legged pants, as opposed to shorts.[44] Oneness Pentecostals believe wholeheartedly in dressing modestly (with restraints and limits) and NOT moderately which by definition means “not in excess”. They believe that there is a distinct deference in Modesty (being aware of one’s limitations, or shunning indecency,) and Moderation (avoiding excesses or extremes while suggesting more than usual). Modesty carries the connotation of something being off-limits. They justify this belief by using the Biblical scripture in 1 Timothy 2:9 “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel…” Additionally, many Oneness organizations proscribe their members from watching secular movies or television. Many of these views on “standards” have roots in the larger Holiness movement. However, the precise degree to which these standards are enforced varies from church to church and even from individual to individual within the movement.

Due to the comparative strictness of their “standards”, Oneness Pentecostals are ofttimes accused of “legalism” by other Christians.[45] Oneness believers respond by saying that holiness is commanded by God,[46] and that it follows salvation, rather than causes it.[43] “Holiness living”, for Oneness Pentecostals, proceeds from love rather than duty, and is motivated by the holy nature inparted by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.[43] While the Christian life is indeed one of liberty from rules and laws, that liberty does not negate one’s responsibility to follow scriptural teachings on moral issues,[43] many of which were established by the Apostles themselves.[47]

Once more, adhering to a ticklist of things to do is no sign of inner holiness.

Charles Fox Parham —  a founder of Pentecostalism

Charles Fox Parham was the preacher and evangelist who devised the idea of glossolalia being the evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Not surprisingly, he came from a Wesley-influenced home. His stepmother was a devout Methodist, and her father had been a circuit rider.  When she married Parham’s father, the couple opened up their home for religious meetings — small groups — a characteristic of pietism.

Four things stand out about Parham’s early life:

– He was steeped in Methodism and attended a Methodist college before becoming a supply pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

He married the daughter of a Quaker — a pietist — in a Friends Meeting House.

– He left the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1895, complaining that it did not allow enough scope to preach by ‘direct inspiration’ — another pietist characteristic.

– He started his own itinerant ministry — more evidence of pietism, as he rejected the formal church.

Parham and his infant son both fell ill at the same time; he attributed their recovery to ‘divine intervention’ and decided to make ‘divine healing’ part of his ministry.  At his new base in Topeka, Kansas, he opened the Bethel Healing Home.

In 1900, he became interested in the Bible and the ‘later day movements’, namely, what the Holy Spirit was trying to tell Christians. After studying with evangelist Frank Sandford in Maine and in Ontario, Parham opened his own Bible school. Although he charged no tuition, by instructing applicants to sell what they had, the implication was that they were to pay their way at the Bethel Bible School.

Parham knew from Sandford that at least one person had spoken in tongues. He also believed that there was more significance to Baptism than Christians had believed through the centuries.  Parham was looking for an outward sign and wonder connected with the sacrament. In other words, Baptism on its own did not suffice for Parham.

During a New Year’s vigil and worship from December 31, 1900 through January 1, 1901, a group of Parham’s Bible school students gathered.  It was during the worship service on New Year’s Day that one of them, Agnes Ozman, asked to be prayed for in order that she might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Immediately afterward, she began to speak in tongues.

One would have thought that this event would have catapulted his ministry to nationwide acclaim, but it was not to be — yet. Parham’s ministry had failed, so he decided to make an evangelistic tour of nearby resorts. In 1903, a socialite from Galena, Kansas — Mary Arthur — claimed that Parham had healed her. She and her husband invited Parham to conduct a service at a large venue in Galena over the New Year period of 1903-1904. The News Herald of Joplin, Missouri, picked up the event and reported that 1,000 people had been healed and 800 claimed conversion.  Parham’s ministry was finally on the up.

Parham was able to recruit ‘bands’ of assistants to help him spread ‘apostolic faith’ from town to town in Kansas and parts of Missouri. Putting aside the holiness movement’s diktat of modest dress, he encouraged them to dress stylishly in order to show others how attractive the Christian life is. This is worth mentioning, because it is something many televangelists, especially their wives, do to the present day.

In pietist fashion, Parham disliked the word ‘church’, so he opened ‘assemblies’ — another name which would catch on in the Pentecostal world. His first assembly opened in 1904 — a characteristically Pentecostal frame church — in Keelville, Kansas.  More opened in the Galena area.

Parham expanded his ministry, taking it to Houston, where he attracted a number of black holiness church members. By this time, the aforementioned Fire-Baptized Holiness Church had 50 black congregations, led by a former AME Church pastor.  Although they were not the only denomination, holiness and pentecostalism, as the Wesleyans understood it, appealed to black Protestants, many of whom had been exposed to the movement since the days of slavery.

Parham opened a Bible school in Houston in 1906. He soon teamed up with one of his black students, William J Seymour, who would become the other co-founder of the Pentecostal movement through the Azusa Street Revival (see below).

Parham and Seymour preached to blacks in the Houston area. Soon afterward, Seymour, by then holding a licence to preach as a minister in Parham’s Apostolic Faith Movement, moved to Los Angeles to serve as an associate pastor in a holiness mission for a limited time.

Parham did much to bring whites and blacks together in his services.  Today’s younger readers might say that he didn’t do much at all, yet, in a time when slavery had been abolished for only four decades and the American South was divided on clear racial lines, Parham could be considered as having been ahead of his time.

In 1907, Parham was arrested in San Antonio on charges of homosexuality, which was illegal in those days.  Although charges were dropped, orthodox Christians used the episode against the new Pentecostal movement. As we shall see below, on top of the sodomy charges, the transfer of Pentecostal focus to Seymour made Parham even more resentful.

Parham turned his attention towards his Anglo-Saxon belief that the British are direct descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. (British Israelism is still popular today.) In 1928, he returned from a long-awaited trip to Palestine and was scheduled to go on a speaking tour, complete with slides, to show his audience. On January 5, 1929, he collapsed in the middle of one of his appearances. He died on January 29, 1929.

William J Seymour — co-founder of Pentecostalism

Parham’s protege, William J Seymour, was born in Louisiana in 1870 to former slaves and had the use of only one eye.  Seymour, as we read above, became a successful preacher under Parham and left his Houston evangelism for a holiness mission in Los Angeles.

Like Parham, he believed that glossolalia signified evidence that a Christian had been baptised in the Spirit.  This was a highly controversial belief at the time and, even today, the holiness churches do not accept it.  Consequently, the elders of the congregation took little time in locking Seymour out of the church. However, Edward S Lee, a member of the congregation, took Seymour into his own home, where Seymour started a small group of house worship and Bible study.

He then moved on to the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry in Bonnie Brae Street in Los Angeles. His small group became larger, now attracting white holiness church members as well. Together, the group prayed for baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by glossolalia.  On April 9, 1906, Seymour’s first host — Edward S Lee — began speaking in tongues. At the next meeting, six more people spoke in tongues. Then Seymour himself began speaking in tongues, only three days after Lee.

News of the phenomenon spread by word of mouth in Los Angeles neighbourhoods. Latinos joined blacks and whites in front of the Asberry house in Bonnie Brae Street. Speakers appeared on the porch to describe or evangelise to the onlookers outside. Seymour’s first pastor in Los Angeles — Julia Hutchins — whose church locked him out, attended a meeting and also began speaking in tongues.  The crowds grew into a cross section of Los Angelenos of every background.

The numbers of people attending the meetings grew to the point where the porch of 214 Bonnie Brae Street collapsed and a new meeting place had to be found.

The Azusa Street Revival and William J Seymour

The group which had met at Bonnie Brae Street found another place to meet in a black district of Los Angeles. The building at 312 Azusa Street had once been an AME Church which was then converted into a warehouse among other businesses.

The building was in disrepair and required substantial cleaning inside. It had most recently been a horse stable.  Still, the group were able to transform it enough so that the congregation met on the ground floor and the church offices were upstairs, along with accommodation for Seymour and his bride, Jenny.

The main congregation was estimated at 50 or 60 people, but anywhere from 300 to 1,500 people often attended the meetings.

The people who knew about the house in Bonnie Brae Street now flocked to the new church in Azusa Street along with newcomers, including Asians, German immigrants and Yiddish-speaking Jews.  First-hand accounts describe American congregants as speaking in foreign languages to be understood by speakers of those languages near them in the pews. A number of Protestants, including pastors, from other denominations also attended meetings, if only out of curiosity.

Worship included people claiming being ‘slain in the Spirit’, personal testimony and altar calls. Contributions were strictly voluntary, with a receptacle by the door.  Characteristic of holiness churches dedicated to the Holy Spirit were the jumping, rolling around and gyrations.  Songs were in a cappella or in tongues.

Not surprisingly, members of respectable society — including reporters from the Los Angeles Times and Charles Parham — disapproved of the noise, the dirt and racial mixing.  Pastors also criticised the notional worship and warned against extremes of emotion and unbiblical practices.

By 1913, the excitement had gone and the Azusa Street Mission, as it was called, welcomed smaller congregations. Seymour and his wife lived there the rest of their lives. Seymour died of a heart attack in 1922.  Jenny, who died in 1936, led the congregation until 1931, when the church had to give up the premises. The building was razed later on, and a new structure now houses the Japanese-American Cultural Center.

Rapid spread of Pentecostalism

It should come as no surprise that certain holiness movement pastors and missionaries wished to replicate the sensational religious experience of Azusa Street in their own congregations.

In the United States:

The Southeast United States was a particularly prolific area of growth for the movement, since Seymour’s approach gave a useful explanation for a charismatic spiritual climate that had already been taking root in those areas. Other new missions were based on preachers who had charisma and energy. Nearly all of these new churches were founded among immigrants and the poor.[12]

Missions opened for Mexican and Italian immigrants, nationalities which are traditionally Catholic.

Internationally, missionaries took the Azusa Street experience to every continent and a variety of countries around the world.

A century later, the emotionalism, intensity and sentimentality characterising the ‘slain in the Sprit’  Baptism makes the Pentecostal congregations the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world. Pentecostalism claims over 500 million believers today.

Types of Pentecostalism

Earlier in the post, we read about the Oneness Pentecostals.

Two other groups — Wesleyan and Finished Work (quasi-Calvinist) — are also represented:

Wesleyan Pentecostals believe in the experience of entire sanctification, a definite event that occurs after salvation but before Spirit baptism. This experience cleanses the believer, rooting out the sinful, fallen nature … Finished Work Pentecostals reject entire sanctification as a definite event. They believe that one is initially sanctified at the moment of salvation. After conversion, the believer grows in grace through a life-long process … With the exception of Oneness Pentecostals, classical Pentecostal churches share basic beliefs with the rest of evangelical Christianity.

Wesleyan Pentecostals

The Wesleyan Pentecostal churches adhere to the standards of the holiness movement.  One of the main denominations is the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) comprised of primarily black congregations which has an extensive mission network around the world.

Another denomination is the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). It is worth noting that the denomination began with three Tennessee evangelists who had links to the aforementioned  Fire-Baptized Holiness Church preachers who evangelised at a revival in North Carolina.  Some of those attending began to speak in tongues. In 1902 this group organised a church called Holiness Church at Camp Creek, near the site of the revival.

In the early 20th century:

The 1st Assembly decided that foot washing was on the same level as the sacrament of communion and, like other holiness groups, condemned the use of tobacco.


The practice of snake handling briefly became a controversy in the denomination in the 1920s after it was endorsed by George Went Hensley, a Church of God minister.

Finished Work Pentecostals

Two main Finished Work Pentecostal denominations are the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and the Assemblies of God.

I’ll explore the life of founder Aimee Semple McPherson, a Canadian-American, in a later post. Hers is a story in and of itself.

However, her church’s theology is a bit more mainstream with no apparent holiness — strict rules and regulations. The denomination calls for ‘moderation’ and supports many mainstream Protestant teachings, although it does mention the ‘imminent’ return of Christ and ‘divine healing’.  McPherson was the — or one of the — first ‘celebrity’ evangelists of the 20th century. Note that the church’s Angelus Temple is in Los Angeles. There is also an established denomination in Canada. Foursquare Gospel has missions in Nigeria and the Philippines.

The Assemblies of God (AOG) are a larger denomination.  Many who move to mainstream Protestantism become Calvinists. They bring with them huge ‘enthusiasm’ (not a good thing: here, here and here) and, for whatever reason, a number of them wish to transform the churches of which they are now members. Unfortunately, some are ‘Reformed Anglicans’ who are also anti-Catholic and anticipate a return to Cromwellian worship and standards. They not only do a disservice to Anglo-Catholics in our broad church but also to the Reformation heritage.  As one ex-member put it online, ‘I want to win the world for Christ!’ The ardour does not decrease with time.  Future Dominionists, perhaps?

The AOG began in 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a few years after the Azusa Revival.  Enough said about the location, which is — or was (even when I was a child) — not known for all things pious and holy.

A number of Anglo-Saxon Pentecostalist groups of the same name around the world united in fellowship during the first half of the 20th century.  Also, before 1967, the AOG was considered a ‘peace church’. Even now, it supports pacifists — a traditional sign of pietism.

The AOG, like other Pentecostal denominations, places a great emphasis on evidence of ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ through speaking in tongues.  Interestingly, a number of its churches in other parts of the world no longer have entries on Wikipedia. One cannot think that this is solely out of persecution, as they were located around the world.  Therefore, we would do well to let the matter rest for now.

Next time: Pietism in other denominations

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

Following on from Sunday’s Forbidden Bible Verses, I said that I would give you more information on the small number of churches with snake handlers.

Appalachia in the eastern United States was settled by the British in the 1700s, mostly of Scots-Irish descent, but some who were from northern England.  The region is in the heart of the Appalachian mountains.  Most families who have settled there have been there as long as America has been independent.  I’ve travelled through it, albeit some time ago, and it is a difficult terrain, one without major highways or rail service.  Consequently, the lifestyle is quite basic and all down to fundamentals.  There are small hamlets and villages, among which are interspersed a few towns.  It’s not somewhere you would move or wish to settle.  It has always been what it is and is unlikely, for geographic and economic reasons, to ever progress much beyond what it is today.  Having said that, people in Appalachia understand the land, know whom to trust and live life as quietly and as best they can.  They don’t play the victim card, they know the difference between right and wrong, they extend hospitality to the stranger and don’t believe in high-falutin’ flim-flam.  They are mountain people and proud of it.

Those who have lived in the Southern part of the United States will have heard of small independent churches — like the ones featured in Sunday’s Forbidden Bible Verses — which have as part of their worship snake handling and poison drinking.  As discussed, this comes from Mark 16:17-18:

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.

These are words that the Risen Christ spoke to His disciples on Easter.  They were meant for the apostolic age of the church, the initial years when the apostles and the other disciples, altogether 70 people, would spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to as much of the world as they could.

Not everyone knows this, however, because either they haven’t grown up with reliable Bible commentary or believe that the Bible can be interpreted literally, a fundamentalist or primitive form of sola Scriptura, one of the tenets of the Reformation.  Looking to the Bible as a source, as many Protestants do, the people (only 2000 North Americans with regard to snake handling) say that if the Bible says something, then we can take that word as written.  Note the use of ‘shall’ in the aforementioned verses from Mark.  When an adherent of one of these churches sees this, he believes that Jesus commands him to do that particular act.  So, if it says ‘they shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing’, i.e. strychnine, some believe that they should do it and that they will be safe.  For them, it is a matter of faith. DO NOT TRY THIS YOURSELF OR WITH ANYONE ELSE!  IT CAN BE FATAL — DEADLY!

The churches with serpent handlers are churches within the Holiness movement, which is part of the larger Pentacostal movement, which stems from Methodism, which stems from Anglicanism, which, in the United States, stems largely from a puritanical Calvinism.  There will be a series of posts here on these movements.  Please note that not all Holiness churches feature serpent handling or poison drinking in their services.  In fact, most do not. 

These particular Holiness churches focus on the signs and wonders emanating from the gifts of the Holy Spirit as exercised through these verses in Mark.  In ‘What Is a Serpent Handler?‘ novelist Vincent Louis Carrella explains:

These [verses] are not metaphors for such believers, but in some cases, controversy over the interpretation of a single word (such as the word shall, in “They shall take up serpents.”) has fractured churches, leading to new movements and new ways of thinking among fundamentalist Christian congregations. Such is the case with serpent handlers who sprang from the Pentecostal Church in the early part of the 20th century…

But the handling of serpents is only one aspect of a rich and complex faith that stems from a focus on the powers and gifts promised by Jesus to the most faithful believers, via what is perhaps the most enigmatic figure in the bible – the Holy Spirit. We cannot understand those who handle serpents without first attempting to understand that concept, because serpent handlers believe it is the Holy Spirit who bestows the gift of protection to those who handle snakes and drink poison

Jesus explicitly mentions this sign in Mark 16, and the fervent belief in its literal truth gave rise to the practice of handling poisonous snakes as an additional demonstration of devotion, purity and faith. Since many, if not most, Pentecostals take the Gospels at their word, it was not much of a leap from speaking in tongues and healing the sick to handling snakes, and though the ending of Mark itself has been called into question (there are those who believe that part of it, including Mark 16, is a late edition forgery, and those who argue over the translation of the Greek word for shall) serpent handling Christians adhere to its efficacy and validity.

This particular branch of the Holiness movement started between 1908 and 1910 (accounts differ) by an ex-bootlegger named George Went Hensley in Tennessee.  He was turning his life around following Biblical precepts, when he began meditating on these verses from Mark.  Hensley was also preaching at the Dolley Pond Church of God in Grasshopper Valley, Tennessee.  Accounts vary as to his first encounter with snake handling.  Some say he was in the woods when suddenly a poisonous snake appeared in front of him and he picked it up and handled it, coming to no harm.  Other accounts say that he was preaching at Dolley Pond when a member of the congregation let loose poisonous snakes in front of the pulpit, whereby he safely picked one up and handled it in front of the congregation, preaching all the while. No harm came to him.  Afterward, he added a few words after the church’s name: ‘With Signs Following’.

A church in Sand Hill, Alabama, independently of Hensley, also started handling snakes in 1912.  The practice spread throughout the Churches of God in the South, including Appalachia.  Again, only a few congregations of the many Churches of God that are in the region, allowed it.        

Church Education Resource Ministries (CERM) says:

Snake Handlers located in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia all trace their heritage to George Hensley. However the followers in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and other regions have a different origin.

My opinion says it’s not right, although CERM maintains that the practice is not in error or heretical, explaining:

For if a Snake Handler believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and trusts in Him for his or her salvation, then as the Bible says nothing can separate him or her from their eternal salvation (Rom 8:38-39).

But there is much solid evidence to conclude that Snake Handlers very badly misinterpret the scriptures and are not following God in their practices. But this alone does not make such snake handlers “unsaved” or “unchristian” …

For sign followers to receive the power of the Holy Ghost (described above) it “takes repentance, remission of sins, and a godly life.” Only after these three steps will the Holy Ghost enable the snake handlers to follow the signs. The signs themselves include “speaking in tongues, casting out of demons, handling serpents, drinking deadly things, [and] healing the sick” (Burton 1993, 17-18). Some members will also anoint themselves with oil [as part of healing], “[hold] fire” and “[stick their] fingers into live electrical sockets” while engulfed in the power of the spirit (Covington 1995, 24-26) …

Snake handlers are very big on dependence on the Lord’s ability to heal them. They believe in it so much that they do not believe in receiving medical treatments or medications. Those that visit doctors or receive medications are considered to be lacking in faith and are usually isolated from the church or group. While it is possible that God can heal instantly and without the help of a doctor or medication, it is rare that He does heal in these ways in the Church age. The Spiritual sign gift of healing ceased and is no longer practiced today. For more on this subject refer to CERM’s article on the sign gifts

Their lifestyle is legalistic (strict codes on attire and jewellry) and pietistic (no drinking, no smoking).  As the name of their Christian movement — Holiness — implies, they focus on that which is holy to lead them to salvation.  Theirs is more of a free-will (no predestination), works-based (instead of faith-based election through God’s grace) belief.  We will examine the Holiness movement in more depth in another post.

What happens if they die or lose a finger?  They consider that, at the very least, they obeyed God’s command.  If they die or lose a digit, it was His will.  Mr Hensley died of a church-related bite in 1955. 

These people do not wish to encourage others into their churches to experience this phenomenon.  They do not say it is the only way to Heaven, although they believe it is their way.  Currently, the only state where it is legal to handle venemous snakes in church is West Virginia.  However, in other states or Canadian provinces, the authorities are likely to turn a blind eye to this religious freedom.

Do I personally believe this is error?  Yes, because it is tempting God and asking for ‘signs and wonders’.  AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS — IT IS DANGEROUS AND VERY POSSIBLY DEADLY — FATAL! 

Please note that no harm comes to the snakes, who are not drugged, sedated or killed.  They live full lives, unlike some of the churchgoers who tempt God by handling them.

You can see these particular Churches of God in action here —

‘The Snake Handling’ — full history and practice from the History Channel:

News feature as seen on Fox’s Sean Hannity show:

Snake handling church service in northern Alabama:

For more information, see:

‘Serpent Box — a novel by Vincent Louis Carrella’

‘Snake Handlers’ – CERM

‘Reptile Religion’ from AnimalPlanet TV (ties in with the Hannity feature)

‘In the hands of faith: Serpent handling has deep roots in region’ – Blount County (Tennessee) Daily Times (ties in with the Hannity feature)

‘Snake Handling’ — Encyclopedia of Alabama

‘In the Army of the Lord: Serpent Handlers in West Virginia’ – Dave Peyton for The Huntington Advertiser (West Virginia) and the Alicia Patterson Foundation

‘Another Snake Handling Preacher Dies’Watchman magazine

‘For snake handlers, going to church can prove deadly’ — Rick Ross

‘Snake Kills Evangelist’ — HiddenMysteries

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