Holiness movement

From Academic Kids

The holiness movement is composed of people who believe and propagate the belief that the "carnal nature" of man can be cleansed through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit if one has had his sins forgiven through faith in Jesus. The benefits professed include "spiritual power" and an ability to maintain purity of heart (that is, thoughts and motives that are uncorrupted by sin). The doctrine is typically referred to in Holiness churches as "entire sanctification," though it is more widely known as "Christian perfection."



The roots of the Holiness Movement are as follows:

Key Concepts

In general the Holiness Movement sought to promote a Christianity that was personal, practical, and life-changing. Three key concepts of the Holiness Movement are (1) regeneration by grace through faith, (2) Christian sanctification, also by grace through faith, and (3) the assurance of salvation by the witness of the Spirit. Of course, the first concept is the key doctrine of Protestant Evangelical Christianity as a whole. The other two are unique to the Holiness Movement.

In the context of the Holiness Movement, the first concept tends to take on a more personal and emotional, that is, more mystical quality than in other segments of Christianity. Many participants in the Holiness Movement were devout churchgoers who felt that they had never had a personal “salvation experience” and believed that they needed to do so..

The second concept refers to a personal experience, after one has already been regenerated, in which one dedicates oneself fully to God and is given the ability to lead a more holy life. Some Holiness groups teach that one can lead a sinless life, but others teach that one becomes gradually more holy after this second spiritual experience. It has been called a “second touch,” a “second blessing,” a “filling with the Holy Spirit,” and other terms by various proponents and groups.

The third concept refers to an innate knowledge within people who have been regenerated that it has indeed happened. This is described as “assurance of salvation.”


A renewed interest in Christian Holiness began among Methodists in the 19th Century. They rediscovered John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection.

In 1836 a Methodist woman, Sarah Worrall Lankford, started the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness in New York City. Then in 1837, Methodist Timothy Merritt founded a journal called the Guide to Christian Perfection to propagate and promote the Wesleyan idea that a Christian can live without committing serious sin.

In 1837 Sarah Lankford’s sister, Phoebe Palmer experienced what she called “entire sanctification.” She began leading the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness. At first only women attended these meetings, but eventually Methodist bishops and other clergy members began to attend them also. Palmer eventually became the editor of Merritt’s journal, which was now called the Guide to Holiness. In 1859 she published The Promise of the Father, in which she argued in favor of women in ministry. This book would later influence Catherine Booth, cofounder of the Salvation Army. The practice of ministry by women is common but not universal within the Holiness Movement and its outgrowths.

At Palmer’s Tuesday Meetings, Methodists enjoyed fellowship with non-Methodists, such as the Congregationalist Thomas Upham. Upham was the first man to attend the meetings, and his participation in them led him to study mystical experience, looking to find precursors of holiness teaching in people like German Pietist Johann Arndt and Catholic mystic Madame Guyon.

Other non-Methodists also contributed to the Holiness Movement. During the same era two men affiliated with Oberlin College, Asa Mahan, the president, and Charles Grandison Finney, an evangelist, promoted the idea of Christian Holiness. In 1836 Mahan experienced what he called a baptism with the Holy Ghost. Mahan believed that this experience had cleansed him from the desire and inclination to sin. Finney believed that this experience could provide a solution to a problem he observed during his evangelistic revivals. Many people were claiming to experience conversion but then slipping back into their old ways of living. He believed that a filling with the Holy Spirit could help these converts to continue steadfastly in their Christian life.

Presbyterian William Boardman also promoted the idea of Holiness, through his evangelistic campaigns and through his book The Higher Christian Life, which was published in 1858.

It was also in 1858 that Hannah Whitall Smith, a Friend, had a personal conversion experience. Sometime in the 1860’s she found what she called the “secret” of the Christian life—devoting one’s life wholly to God and God’s simultaneous transformation of one’s soul. Her husband, Robert Pearsall Smith, had a similar experience at the first Holiness Camp Meeting in Vineland, New Jersey in 1867. The Holiness Camp Meeting was begun in by John A. Wood and John Iskip, Methodist ministers, along with other people. They founded the National Camp Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness, commonly known as the National Holiness Association (now called the Christian Holiness Association). After Robert Pearsall Smith’s receiving of the “blessing” at the first Holiness Camp Meeting, he and his wife became lay leaders in the organization. At such Camp Meetings, people were encouraged to repent of their sins, accept Christ as their Savior, and commit their lives to holy living. As many as 20,000 people at a time participated in these meetings.

In 1871 the American evangelist Dwight L. Moody had what he called an “endowment with power,” as a result of some soul-searching and the prayers of two Methodist women who attended one of his meetings. He was not exactly a part of the Holiness Movement, as such, but certainly advanced some of its ideas and even voiced his approval of it on at least one occasion.

In the 1870’s the Holiness Movement spread to the British Isles, where it was usually called the Higher Life movement, after the title of William Boardman’s book The Higher Life. Higher Life conferences were held at Broadlands and Oxford in 1874 and in Brighton and Keswick in 1875. The Keswick Convention soon became the British headquarters for the movement. The Faith Mission in Scotland was one consequence of the British Holiness Movement. Another was a flow of influence from Britain back to the United States.

In 1874 Albert Benjamin Simpson read Boardman’s Higher Life and felt the need for such a life himself. He went on to found the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

See also:


The Holiness Movement led to the formation of the following Christian groups:

  1. the Wesleyan Church
  2. the Free Methodist Church
  3. the Church of the Nazarene
  4. the Salvation Army
  5. the Christian and Missionary Alliance
  6. the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), and
  7. the Church of God (Holiness).

In addition, the Pentecostal movement traces its origins to the Holiness Movement.


  • Boardman, William E. The Higher Christian Life, (Boston: Henry Hoyt, 1858).
  • Dieter, Melvin E. The Holiness Revival of the Nineteenth Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996).
  • Grider, J. Kenneth. A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, 1994 (ISBN 0834115123).
  • Kostlevy, William C., ed. Historical Dictionary of the Holiness Movement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).
  • McDonald, William and John E. Searles. The Life of Rev. John S. Inskip, President of the National Association for the Promotion of Holiness (Chicago: The Christian Witness Co., 1885).
  • Smith, Hannah Whitall. The Unselfishness of God, and How I Discovered It: A Spiritual Autobiography (New York: Fleming H. Resell Co., 1903).
  • Smith, Logan Pearsall, ed. Philadelphia Quaker: The Letters of Hannah Whitall Smith (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1950).
  • Smith, Timothy L. Called Unto Holiness: The Story of the Nazarenes—The Formative Years, (Nazarene Publishing House, 1962).
  • White, Charles Edward. The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (Zondervan/Francis Asbury Press, 1986).

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