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:
In general the Holiness Movement sought to promote a Christianity that was personal, practical, life-changing, and thoroughly revivalistic. Four key concepts of the Holiness Movement are (1) regeneration by grace through faith; (2) entire sanctification as a second definite work of grace, received by by faith, through grace, and accomplished by the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit;(3) the assurance of salvation by the witness of the Spirit; (4) living a holy life.
In the context of the Holiness Movement, the first concept may take on a personal, and sometimes more emotional quality than in other segments of Christianity. Some participants in the Holiness revival were devout church goers who felt that they had never had a personal salvation experience."
The second concept refers to a personal experience after regeneration, in which one dedicates oneself fully to God, and is empowered by the Holy SPirit to lead a more holy life. Some Holiness groups teach that one can lead a sinless life, properly defined, 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, the "baptism with the Holy Spirit," and other terms by various proponents and groups.
The third concept refers to an innate knowledge within the individual who has been regenerated or sanctified, that the spiritual grace has indeed taken place. This is sometimes described as assurance of salvation.
The fourth concept is that of living a holy life. Most Holiness people interpret this in a similar way as Pentecostal adherents, with women wearing long skirts and long hair and men in slacks. Sleeveless attire, jewelry, and make-up is discouraged as vanity. Moreover, alcohol and tobacco in any form is forbidden, as is any kind of buying or selling on Sunday. However, despite similarities with Pentecostalism, Holiness people do not practice speaking in tongues or other "charismatic" characteristics.
The Methodists of the nineteenth century continued the interest in Christian Holiness that had been started by their founder, John Wesley. They continued to publish Wesley's works and tracts, including the famous PLAIN ACCOUNT OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION. Furthermore, numerous persons in early American Methodism professed the experience of entire sanctification, including Bishop Francis Asbury.
In 1836 a Methodist woman, Sarah Worrall Lankford, started the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness in New York City. A year later, Methodist minister Timothy Merritt founded a journal called the "Guide to Christian Perfection" to promote the Wesleyan message of Christian holiness.
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. The Palmers eventually purchased the Guide, and Mrs. Palmer became the editor of the periodical, then 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 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.
At the Tuesday Meetings, Methodists soon enjoyed fellowship with Christians of different denominations, such as Congregationalist, Thomas Upham. Upham was the first man to attend the meetings, and his participation in them led him to study mystical experiences, looking to find precursors of holiness teaching in the writings of persons like German Pietist Johann Arndt, and Roman 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 might provide a solution to a problem he observed during his evangelistic revivals. Some people claimed to experience conversion, but then slipped back into their old ways of living. Finney believed that the filling with the Holy Spirit could help these converts to continue steadfast 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.
Also in 1858 Hannah Whitall Smith, of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quaker), experienced a profound personal conversion. 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 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 on the Sabbath. 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. Today this organization is commonly known as the National Holiness Association, although the official name is 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 upon the people. The third National Camp Meeting met at Round Lake, New York, and by 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.
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 did not join the Holiness Movement, 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 sometimes 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 CHRISTIAN LIFE and felt the need for such a life himself. He went on to found the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
In the 1950's and 1960's, several small groups of people left the mainstream holiness movement to form what is known as the Conservative Holiness Movement.