A Personal Note from Natalie (Mayo) Edmonson
Natalie Edmonson is the executive director and founder of Berean Holiness. She is a graduate of Free Gospel Bible Institute (2017) and Hobe Sound Bible College (2019, BA in Christian Counseling). She holds a Master’s degree in Biblical Exposition from Liberty University and is passionate about serving the Church by cross-examining harmful theology and providing resources for those who are disentangling and rebuilding faith.
I’m Natalie, the founder and general editor of Berean Holiness. I was raised in independent, Pentecostal, Holiness churches, 5 to be exact. My father was an adult Sunday School teacher, my grandparents were Holiness pastors for around 30 years, my Uncle is currently a Holiness pastor. I also have dozens of Holiness aunts, uncles and cousins. I grew up surrounded by this culture, and as a homeschooler, I knew little else.
As a little girl, “Holiness standard” pamphlets were kept handily zipped into my Bible, bringing security and confidence. At 7, I heard a non-KJV version read in VBS. When my teacher explained that KJV is hard for little kids to understand. I boldly confronted her, showing that while her version used the word “resurrected” in our memory verse, mine only said, “raised”. “Which is easier?”, little me asked. Two years later, I specifically remember evangelizing to a lost person at around 9 years old. I went through just about everything from makeup to pants to TV. I really thought I’d convicted the lady when I explained wedding rings were wrong because “Aaron made the golden calf out of jewelry”.
As I launched into my teen years, I continued studying my beliefs. Apologetics was a huge interest; I loved studying out the arguments for God’s existence and proof of Christ’s resurrection. I emerged strongly convinced that Christianity was true beyond reasonable doubt. However, the more I studied doctrines unique to or rare outside my movement, the more questions I had. Why did we sell unisex T-shirts at camp while condemning women’s pants for being similar to men’s pants? Why did we call jewelry sin and not wearing clothes when the same sentence that says not to let our beauty come from jewelry also says for it to not come from “the putting on of apparel”? Why did we say every believer has to speak in tongues to have the Holy Spirit when 1 Corinthians 12 is very clear that the gift of tongues is not for every Christian? I did what any rational 14 year old would do, I started asking my questions. Unfortunately, I was rarely answered. One person informed me that a devil was trying to possess me, and in a different incident I was told that my questions would disqualify me from a ministry position.
At age 17, I moved to PA to attend Free Gospel Bible Institute. By this time, I’d already decided that my Christian friends wearing pants and purity rings were no less Christian than myself. Scripture certainly left them that liberty. As I grew closer to the Lord and continued studying over my 3 years, my focus increasingly turned towards evangelism. If I was going to wear skirts even though the Bible never states to do so, then I definitely must share the gospel because that command is blatantly clear. I became overwhelmed by the fact that nearly every child I spoke to in the Bible School’s local community had never heard the gospel, and yet, there was no plan in place to change that. If we couldn’t reach our Jerusalem, why talk about winning the world? I loved the school, I loved my time there, I loved the teaching I received; but at the end of the day I wasn’t satisfied. Love is the greatest commandment; where was our love for our lost community? Where was our love for local churches?
During my senior year, I decided to forfeit my Christian liberties, even though I knew they existed, in order to serve and minister among holiness churches. I honestly couldn’t have cared less whether or not I ever wore a necklace or brushed on mascara. Looks have never been my strength, nor my focus, so I was happy to stay the same way I always had been in order to obtain more influence, respect, and opportunities within holiness circles. I continued to place large efforts into spearheading youth outreaches. The going was tough, and it was soon apparent that in order to be able to lead and teach outreach successfully I was going to need to train under Christians who had done so themselves.
I moved to Albania to serve a couple who were some of the first missionaries in after communism. When they arrived, they only found four Christians remaining. Twenty-some years later, that 4 had grown to ~1500 Albanian Christians; Christians who not only professed Christ, but who had pioneered ~15 churches, were running a street kids center, an elderly home, a girl’s safe-house, and plethora of other outreaches. During my time in Europe, I visited 13 other nations and had personal conversations with Christian ministers in over half of them. I witnessed incredible unity among denominations, and attended firsthand inter-denominational outreaches and prayer-meetings. I also saw an amazing emphasis on outreach, not at one or two churches, but at every single one! I saw them share in the streets, preach by the Amsterdam red-light district, ride college buses to witness to international students, open evangelically-purposed bookstores and thrift stores, teach free English classes, visit the mentally ill and orphanages-all in order to spread the gospel. Many churches had weekly evangelism days, on top of weekly prayer meetings, and home-fellowships. I cannot think of a single church I encountered which did not have a weekly Bible study.
When I arrived in Europe, I thought the first few churches I found must be some incredible anomaly. After 5-6 months, 14 nations, and dozens of conversations, I began to realize I was the anomaly; my church was the odd one out. It was hard for these Christians, from various denominations across Russia, Belgium, England, the Netherlands, Ireland, Hungary, Serbia, Poland, Spain, and more-to even fathom a church that hadn’t seen strangers come to Christ in up to ten years. Yet, this was the norm in the churches I grew up in. Something was off kilter…
I considered not returning to Holiness churches once stateside, but when I received an offer to work at a Holiness outreach ministry, I decided to give Holiness another try. I loved working at the outreach, I loved the underprivileged that I served, and I loved attending a church where winning the lost was a priority. In my four months, I never heard a “holiness standard” preached. Women who had been saved for years, and who even sang and testified in service, still wore pants, jewelry, makeup, and cut their hair. I thought I’d found a holiness church that understood spiritual maturity apart from dress-code. One day, I mentioned to an authority that even though I looked “Holiness” I didn’t believe that such a dress-code was biblically mandated. Their response shook me, “At this outreach, we are 100% holiness, from the top of our heads to the soles of our feet…If you don’t believe Holiness [dresscode] is necessary you’re not holiness in your heart…if you’re not holiness you’re not working for us, you’re working against us…if you’re struggling with your convictions, you don’t need to be ministering…There are people who send us money and if they knew someone working with us didn’t believe holiness, what would they think?” And just like that, I was out: out a church, out a place to sleep, out of fellowship, and out of ministry.
Soon afterwards, I was informed that I’d been taking advantage of the holiness movement. Hadn’t I accepted the money they’d given me for missions work? How manipulative! Slowly it dawned on me that what I’d been doing in order to avoid offending my holiness friends (dressing like them) had actually left them feeling deceived. It was at this point that I decided the most ethical, honest course of action would be to make it publicly known that I could not identity with the all the teachings of the holiness movement, and from then on, dress in a way that was true to my personal style and pleasing to Christ, instead of striving for religious approval.
I still love the Christians in the Holiness movement. They’re my brothers and sisters in Christ, as much as any other Bible-believing church, and my heart’s desire is to see them thrive. I crave to see them become churches who are known for their love, just as Jesus said His disciples would be known (John 13:35). I long to see them passionately working to turn their communities upside down for Christ, just as the early church did (Acts 17:6). I’d love little more than to see them unify with their fellow believers, just Christ prayed for in Gethsemane (John 17:20-23). The holiness people I grew up with are some of the most wonderfully, doggedly-dedicated Christians I’ve ever met. They’re willing to sacrifice greatly to do what they believe scripture teaches. I love that.
I don’t look down at Holiness Christians, I look across to them; for as many flaws as I see in another believer, I’m sure to have as many myself in different areas. That’s the beauty of the members of Christ’s body coming together; we’re able to be sword sharpening sword-pointing each other to the Sword of God’s Word. It’s through the scripture that God Himself speaks to us, convicts us, teaches us, and conforms us to His perfect holiness. This is why I am so passionate to see the Scriptures taught as accurately and thoroughly as is humanly possible. Personal convictions are completely within the liberty of the New Testament, and should be taken seriously. However, God’s Word is perfect, and teaching personal convictions or church tradition as scripture will never enhance the biblical teachings of holiness. Reading into scripture will only serve to distract us, divide us, and hinder us from the perfect, powerful message that Christ has already spoken.
With love in Christ,
A Personal Note from Nathan Mayo (Natalie’s Brother)
Nathan currently serves as the Network Director for True Charity Initiative in Joplin, Missouri where he lives with his wife Abigail. Previously, they worked as missionaries to Haiti, and Nathan served for five years as a reconnaissance officer in the US Army, helping deter Russian aggression with the forward stationed 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany. His writing has been published by CNN Business, The Washington Examiner, Real Clear Policy, World Magazine, and more.
The nature of this site is such that it is designed to get people to think about things that hadn’t already occurred to them. Given that somewhat controversial task, I would like to take a moment to explain my personal story and the heart behind the things I have written.
I was raised in a pentecostal, independent Holiness home. My parents did a lot of things right in my upbringing, for which I respect them and have tried to honor them as I can. They raised me to be a thinker, and I have been. There are a lot of things I like about the Holiness movement. The emphasis on the power of prayer, without going so far as the “name it and claim it” crowd is admirable. The emphasis on being willing to be different from non-believers is also a good thing – depending on the form it takes. However, it was the superiority complex, inadequate logic, and lack of love in Holiness that ultimately led me to distance myself from the movement.
I was taught that Holiness was the best of the best. Maybe we weren’t perfect, but we were 95% of what God wanted the universal Church to be, and the runners up were 30% at best. Then I started to see beliefs that had no root in scripture. The Biblical justifications offered against interracial marriage were the first thing that I challenged. There is zip nada Biblical case for that, and the same people who were concerned about whites marrying blacks were equally proud of their alleged Cherokee roots – it made no sense to me, even as a 12 year old. Then I started to realize that the King James Version … wasn’t in the Bible. No seriously, it isn’t. We can have a long conversation about that, but none of the justifications for the King James will come from Scripture itself. But people are just as sure about it as they are that “in the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth” (that is in Scripture, just to be clear). Then I started to notice the bitterness, infighting, and backbiting in the Holiness church (multiple churches, not just one) – which eventually contributed significantly to the destruction of my parent’s marriage of 20 years. Then when I started to interact with non-Holiness, Bible-believing Christians, I found that I just liked them more. They had more interest in evangelism and impacting the culture. They convicted me. They wanted to be scientists, officers, and entrepreneurs while my good ole’ boy Holiness peers just wanted to have a nice car and some guns.
So I decided that I wanted to impact the world for Christ. I applied for the US Military Academy at West Point and was accepted into the Class of 2013. I got out of Holiness on a technicality. Here I was not attending a Holiness church, I was wearing shorts for physical training (which I despised, because my legs were the whitest on campus) and no one in Holiness said anything but congratulations. This of course, was because they were Southern, and Southerners love the military. I attended the cadet chapel, which I didn’t love, and I wasn’t sure what Holiness beliefs were biblically justified. I studied the Bible as I could, but cadet life was not optimized for discretionary time. Mostly, I was challenged by some of the other believers I met. They were, by Holiness standards, “not separated from the world.” They watched some movies (with discernment), they listened to Christian music with “sinful” beats, and they didn’t see a problem with wedding rings.
But you know what else they did? They loved Jesus and they loved me. I mean really loved. They challenged me when I was wrong, they cared about me when I was down, they invested in me. They convicted me. By this, I knew that they were His disciples. They loved one another. Not merely as much as the Holiness people I knew – far more. It was also around this time that I started to listen to modern Christian music that had previously been verboten; it was very encouraging. I started to go to Bible studies; they were very enlightening. I started to meet with an accountability partner; it helped me solve problems I could never have solved on my own. I started meeting with a mentor and discussing Holiness standards; he had a lot of Biblical arguments I had never thought of.
And at this point, I had more to lose by associating with the Holiness church than by leaving it. Going back to Holiness would mean giving up the most spiritual growth I had ever experienced, and telling the people I looked up to the most that I thought they were beneath me. It just didn’t make any sense, so I left.
Fast forward to 2018, when I left the Army to become a missionary to Haiti, along with my wife. When it came time to raise financial support, my decision to leave Holiness was vindicated once and for all. The attitude of my non-Holiness friends and family was “That’s amazing! We’re so proud of you! How can we support you?” The attitude of much (though not quite all) of the Holiness family and acquaintances was pretty much “Why would you want to go work with those people?” We raised around $3,000 of monthly support in just a couple of months, it was an amazing outpouring of the grace of God and the love of his disciples. Not a dollar of it was from a Holiness person. And that’s not because I didn’t ask.
I didn’t leave Holiness with a bang. I never defended my beliefs to anyone in Holiness, though I was willing to if I thought someone was interested. Although it didn’t feel great to be judged, I was content to believe what I saw in Scripture, and let them follow God how they saw fit. As long as people have the essentials of the faith right (faith in Christ for salvation by grace, etc.), then I was content to live and let live.
I also didn’t go “wild.” I’m still a very conservative Christian. I don’t own a TV, I don’t have any tattoos, I don’t drink, and I rarely listen to secular music. Not that I think these things are necessarily sinful, but I certainly didn’t leave Holiness to partake of them. And given that I’ve written most of these articles in my spare time as I’m looking out my window on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, l pretty clearly didn’t leave Holiness to take the “easy way.” I even retained some beliefs that would fall in line with a Holiness tradition, though I have since learned that those beliefs are not unique to Holiness. For instance I believe that the Bible teaches that under extreme circumstances, we can “fall away” from our relationship with Christ and that the Bible teaches against remarriage after divorce. I also believe that the gifts of the Spirit, have their place in the modern era. My beliefs are not handed to me by any one denomination or faith tradition. Most, though I would not say all, of my beliefs have been carefully thought through. As I am only 28, I still have some thinking yet to do.
Over time though, I have started to question my laissez-faire attitude towards the Holiness movement. I have started to see that the theological shallowness that Holiness dogma is planted in has some nasty side effects. Around half of the Holiness young people I grew up with ended up leaving God altogether. The “believe it because the preacher said that’s what God meant” argument turns out to not be a reasonable defense for the hope that lies within us. And so Holiness people leave God. And those who stay don’t do much for the lost except insult them. And I am troubled.
If Holiness people saw the richness and depth of what it means to be a Christian, their lives would be transformed to do all manner of good works. They wouldn’t need to justify their righteousness by judging others. They would join arms with a host of other Christians who are already waging a war to prevail against the gates of Hell – to redeem a lost world with the transformative message of the love of Christ. They wouldn’t sit 500 miles from the front lines of the culture wars arguing about whether the men doing the actual fighting have their boots shined to standard. They would know the peace that comes in security of wearing the robes of Christ’s righteousness instead of trying to bleach their own sin natures to perfection.
If you’re Holiness, and you always will be, then so be it. I hope to shake your hand as my brother or sister in heaven, and neither of us will be going on our own merit. You are welcome to engage with this site, and hopefully we can sharpen each other’s thinking.
If you’re Holiness and you question whether there is more to the Church than what you have seen, then I’m here to tell you you’re right. I’m not here to deconstruct Holiness arguments to leave you in a wilderness of unbelief; I’m here to usher you in to the covenant of grace that Jesus bought with his blood. I’m here to show you that while no one is perfect on earth, perfection is not the standard, love is. There are plenty of Christians out there who are getting solid A’s in love. And changing the world. I want you to join them. Whether you do that from inside or outside of a Holiness church is up to you.
That’s why I’m writing this. Because I love you.
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, here I stand, I can do no other.”
All the best,
A Personal Note from Cole Edmonson (Natalie’s Husband)
Cole currently works in B2B marketing and strategy for a financial services company and previously served as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the Portland pregnancy resource centers in his home state of Oregon. He is an active member of his church and enjoys building award-winning LEGO creations, reading, listening to music, hiking, and spending time with friends, especially his wife Natalie.
I’m Cole, and it’s my great honor and pleasure to serve as graphic designer, website editor, and a contributor for Berean Holiness. (And yes, it’s also my great pleasure and privilege to be married to the website’s lovely editor and founder, Natalie.)
A native Oregonian, I was raised as a conservative Christian homeschooler in several non-denominational, Protestant churches and (through life’s varied circumstances and the Lord’s leading) have visited about a hundred different churches in the Pacific Northwest prior to moving across the country. As I’ve grown in my walk with the Lord, He’s given me multiple opportunities to preach and teach at some of these churches, and I’m increasingly aware of the need for renewed growth and active discipleship in the American Church.
I live in one of the most unchurched states in the country and one of the most politically ‘progressive’; therefore, I have a front-row seat to many of the cultural shifts and trends that people in the rest of the country have yet to fully experience. It is so important that, as Christ’s bride, we wake up to what is happening around us everywhere and thoughtfully apply everything we know about God’s Word. We must put it into practice… as our religious liberties continue to be attacked and we see the complete erosion of society’s basic moral fabric, we as Christians must live like we know Him. We must let our light shine and stand up for what is right, keeping our eyes fixed on Christ and not getting swept away in what the world would call ‘social justice.’
After I graduated summa from Portland State University with a bachelor’s in graphic design and business, the Lord blessed me with a full-time position as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) in Portland, OR for three years. I was pleased and privileged to apply a wide range of creative skills and strategy to the PRCs’ long-term vision… I got to support the greater Church’s fulfilling its God-given role of Gospel-centered transformation and healing, especially in the lives of people who have been hurt by sexual brokenness and abortion in this fallen world. They need our Savior so much… they need us, the Church, to step up and live out His love in touching their lives.
If we don’t all personally, actively, and conscientiously study God’s Word… if we don’t dwell in His presence and let His love guide our churches’ every decision… if we don’t truly bring His light to bear on this broken world but instead just gaze inward… then we will continue to see people drift away from the truth and the darkness around us deepen. We will continue to be stuck, irrelevant, and increasingly useless to our King… hardly a picture of His bright, timeless hope and compassionate love.
However, if we do ponder and probe and apply the active, living Word of God to our lives through the work of the Holy Ghost, and if we do humbly repent of the extrabiblical traditions and burdensome thought-patterns we so often base our churches on, then we will start to see widespread revival and many more people will come to know Christ and actively fellowship in our congregations as we humbly worship God together.
If we belong to Christ, let us adorn ourselves as His bride to please Him… let us study all the more carefully and desire all the more deeply that which reflects His own beauty, His holiness. No matter what backgrounds we come from, what hurt we’ve endured from both inside and outside the Church, and what we’ve seen in this world… may we all grow closer together and look more like Him as we carefully consider and apply His truth to our walk with Him and our work in this world (Ephesians 2:10).
In His grace,