Holiness Churches

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Primarily founded by Phoebe Palmer – born a Methodist, began to earnestly seek God for direction in her life after losing her husband at a young age. She felt directed to live a life of “holiness” as the Scriptures instructed. She was a very early pioneer for women in ministry even as teachers and leaders. She also built on John Wesley’s teaching of “Christian Perfectionism” whereby she began to proclaim that sanctification (the process by which a Christian becomes more holy and therefore, more like Christ) is possible to occur in a believer’s life in an instant as an event which would become known as a “second work of grace” by faith in similar fashion to the salvation event. This was in stark contrast to orthodox Christian belief regarding sanctification which states that this necessary “process” of becoming holy in living like Christ is a lifelong endeavor and not a single event.


The Holiness movement embraced the “camp meeting” style preaching of Charles G. Finney in 1867 (a major influence on Phoebe Palmer), this was a Methodist “revival” to return to the Wesleyan sanctification process of “holiness” or “love”. It was comprised mostly of groups of believers that rallied around holy living, scorning the pleasures of the world that might render a believer as “unholy”: smoking, drinking, theater, etc. The Holiness churches soon became an entity unto themselves, moving beyond the “Methodist Movement” by which they had previously been defined. They were (and still are) Arminianist in theology, rejecting the predestination position of Calvinists altogether and were great proponents of abolition, anti-slavery, and equal rights for women issues.

The Holiness Movement further spread overseas as Robert and Hannah Whitall Smith (Hannah being the greater minister of the two) took Phoebe Palmer’s teachings and written works to the UK (and later DL Moody and Phoebe Palmer herself would visit as well) the UK version of this movement is known as the “Keswick Holiness Movement” and is still a force for Christianity today through a yearly Keswick convention.

The Holiness Movement was the forerunner for the last great movement of the reformation: the Pentecostal Movement. Many great denominations came from Holiness churches: Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church, Church of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Foursquare International. Contrary to popular myth Holiness Churches are still in operation today and tend to be more traditional evangelical in doctrine and liturgy and are not necessarily “Pentecostal” in practice. c.f. Pentecostal-Holiness churches.

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