The Holiness Movement
Just as Pietism arose in Germany as a reaction against the dead orthodoxy of the Lutheran Church, Methodism arose in England as a reaction against the formal deadness of the Church of England. The Methodist emphasis on sanctification was both the strength and weakness of Methodism. It was the strength of Methodism in that it brought religious fervor and a vital current of godliness into the church. It was sorely needed in those days of fox-hunting parsons. Like a John the Baptist, Wesley called for holiness of life —"fruits meet for repentance"
Yet Wesley's emphasis on sanctification was also the weakness of Methodism. The Pauline and Reformation truth of justification tended to be subordinated to sanctification, which, as Reinhold Neibuhr points out, is the beginning of the Catholic error. John Wesley developed a doctrine of entire sanctification (or perfection) in which he taught that at some time subsequent to conversion and a process of progressive sanctification, God would suddenly cleanse the heart from all inbred sin and then the believer would feel nothing but perfect love and no sinful promptings. To the everlasting credit of Wesley, he frankly confessed that he never attained the experience himself. Yet he saw real value in urging the Methodists on toward seeking his "second blessing," "any hour, any moment." In fact he declared that if this doctrine of perfection were not preached, the message would lack power. And his message did go with mighty power. Did God allow the error as a sort of stimulus in the same way that he allowed the Advent body to think that Jesus would come in 1844? The disciples erroneously thought Jesus was about to set up His throne at Jerusalem. In their immaturity, would the disciples or the Methodists or the Adventists have been as enthusiastic if they had known the full story? (Can we not draw the lesson?)
Some of Wesley's converts professed to have attained the experience that the evangelist was urging them to seek. That was when the real trouble started—pretenders, fanatics and deluded enthusiasts put a dampening effect on Wesley's perfectionism. Although he never gave it up, Providence arranged matters so that Wesley had to be continually preaching justification to convert the sinners. This helped to keep Wesley in better balance, although he always claimed that his doctrine of perfection was the "grand depositum" of Methodism, the very cause for which God had raised the movement up. Wesley was never more mistaken.
John Wesley is regarded by friends and critics alike to be the father of the "holiness movement" which arose among the Anglo-Americans in the nineteenth century. To begin with, "this movement was almost exclusively a Methodist phenomenon.," —Clark, Small Sects, p. 72. This movement revived Wesley's doctrine of "the second blessing." There were different variations of it among the " holiness" people, but its unifying thrust was its overwhelming emphasis on the subjective experience (see W. E. Boardman, The Higher Christian Life, Victorious Life Books; Hanna W. Smith, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life and such like). Writers and teachers such as R. A. Torrey, Andrew Murray and A. B. Simpson, popularized the "holiness" emphasis. And in this century the "holiness movement" has spawned the Pentecostal movement.2 This historical development from Wesley to the "holiness movement" to the modern Pentecost movement, is clearly established and widely acknowledged by Christian researchers and historians.
The best Catholic and Protestant theologians have recognized that the "holiness movement" and emphasis are a definite shift from the Reformation emphasis toward the Roman Catholic emphasis. This is because the "holiness movement" places its great emphasis on the indwelling righteousness of Christ. It very definitely subordinates justification to sanctification, and makes the attainment of a satisfying Christian experience the dynamic of its thrust. In all this, it is related to Romanism. Pentecostalism today is simply the "holiness movement" on fire. (What fire? [see Rev. 13:13].) It has now developed as the greatest ecumenical force in the world today. It has finally penetrated the Catholic Church with great impact. That is where it belongs!
The Weakness of "Holiness" Teaching
Above everything else, "holiness" teaching is subjective. In this it tends to be sentimental, even effeminate. The Reformation doctrine was objective, and as someone has said, "It had hair on its chest."
"Holiness" teaching fails to give the true Bible picture of the Christian life. In stressing the needful place of victory over sin, it utterly fails to look squarely at the other side of the paradox—the sinfulness of the best saints. Like Catholicism, "holiness" teaching is weak on the reality of "original sin" in the Christian man. Look at any "holiness" book, and it will interpret the man of Romans 7:14-25 as the experience of a man who has not yet attained to "the higher Christian life." "Get out of Romans 7 into Romans 8," is the punch line of the "holiness" teachers. They fail to grasp the Reformation insight that the sinner of Romans 7 is the victorious saint of Romans 8. He is victorious for the very reason that he bitterly confesses the sinfulness of his nature and finds, as Paul says in another place, that "when I am weak, then am I strong." "Holiness" people try to escape from the continual, heart-breaking awareness of their sin into the ecstasy of the "Spirit-filled" life where all is "prayer and praise" (see Acts of the Apostles, pp. 560-565).
"Holiness" doctrine fails to grasp the paradox. But truth can only be expressed by two statements which appear opposite. On one hand the inspired writers speak of the necessity for victorious living. On the other hand they. also teach: "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." Eccl. 7:20. "When I would do good, evil is present with me." Rom. 7:21. As Luther said, "Sin is left in the spiritual man for the exercise of grace, for the humiliation of pride, and for the restraint of presumptuousness." —Luther, Commentary on Romans.
The Reformation movement sometimes erred in that it leaned too much on the side of "ye cannot do the things that ye would." Too much focus on "original sin" in the Christian can also lead to a distortion. It tends toward "let us continue in sin, that grace may abound." The "holiness movement" presents the opposite distortion. In this, people are led to an unrealistic view of the Christian life, and when they find the power of sin still strong within them, they will either get discouraged or devise some method of blinding themselves to the awful reality that, for all their trying, sin still dwells within them.
2 The Pentecostal historian, Charles Conn, says: "The Pentecostal movement is an extension of the holiness revival that occurred during the last half of the nineteenth century. Most of those who received the Holy Ghost baptism during the earliest years were either connected with the holiness revival or held holiness views." - Pillars of Pentecost, p. 27.