Entire Sanctification: the Doctrine the Holiness Movement Discarded

PhoebePalmer

The Pentecostal Holiness Movement prides itself on its firm maintenance of tradition. Despite the constant admonition to keep to the “old paths,” the Holiness Movement has almost completely abandoned its core, foundational doctrine. This doctrine was once a fairly clear teaching, but has since become so vague that few, if any can explain what it means at all, much less justify their explanation with any biblical evidence. 

This doctrine, originally called the “Holiness Blessing,” is where the Holiness movement derived its name and identity. Today, it is better recognized as the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. “Entire” or “Perfect” Sanctification teaches that at some point in your life, whether after a single experience or after a process of time, you will be sanctified completely. It’s unclear how easy it is to lose your sanctification (is it after one error or only after some pattern of sin?), but one assumes you can.

This doctrine has been generally rejected by the broader church, in favor of “Progressive Sanctification.” This is the understanding that sanctification is not something that finishes at any point on earth but is ongoing until death.  

 

What is Entire Sanctification?

When Holiness people say, “I’ve been saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost,” what do they mean? Let’s look at the proposed evidence and definitions the Holiness movement uses for all three conditions (setting aside the biblical justification for the moment).

Status Definition Evidence
Saved Your sins are forgiven A specific experience of sincere repentance
Filled with the Holy Ghost You have the power of the Spirit An experience of speaking in unknown tongues
Sanctified You never sin again?

You are no longer tempted?

You have the capacity to never sin again, but do anyways?

You sin 37% less than you would have otherwise?

You are tempted 82% less than normal?

You feel like you are sanctified?

You had an altar experience where you felt like you were sanctified? 

You observe that you sin less than normal? 

You observe that you have stopped sinning?

 

These conditions are quite different in their clarity. It is easy to know whether you are saved and filled with the Holy Ghost in Holiness doctrine, and it is relatively easy to understand the definition (although I point out elsewhere that the implications of post-salvation receiving of the Holy Ghost are actually not that clear). However, with sanctification, there is no clear evidence of its completion and no verbalized, much less agreed upon, definition of what it means.  

Sanctification can get confusing fast. So, allow me to try to define some camps with this series of questions.

1) Is sanctification a state that we can attain (perfect/ entire) or a process that ends when we die (progressive)?

2) If it is a state, is it attained through an single experience or a process?

3) If it is a state, what are the implications of existing in that state (what does it mean in regular life)?

This doctrine has also evolved and softened over time. Let’s trace the modern origin of this doctrine and see how it has become a less tightly held and less meaningfully defined belief over time. 

 

The Evolution of the “Holiness Blessing”

Like all doctrines, believers in Entire Sanctification attempt to justify their belief biblically and assume that church has always held it. However, the fact is that there is no unbroken linage of this doctrine prior to the 1700’s when the doctrine was either revived or originated in the teachings of John Wesley. In Wesley’s mind, entire sanctification was primarily about the fruits of the Spirit, particularly love, becoming completely prevalent in a person’s life. In Wesley’s view, this was a state that could be achieved through a process, but one also had to actively maintain it. Many misunderstandings surround Wesley’s views, so here’s his own explanation in a question and answer format:

 “Q. When does inward sanctification begin? A. In the moment a man is justified. (Yet sin remains in him, yea, the seed of all sin, till he is sanctified throughout.) From that time a believer gradually dies to sin, and grows in grace.

Q. Is this ordinarily given till a little before death? A. It is not, to those who expect it no sooner.

Q. But may we expect it sooner? A. Why not? For, although we grant, (1.) That the generality of believers, whom we have hitherto known, were not so sanctified till near death; (2.) That few of those to Whom St. Paul wrote his Epistles were so at that time; (3.) nor, he himself at the time of writing his former Epistles; yet all this does not prove, that we may not be so to-day…

Q. What is Christian perfection? A. The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions, are governed by pure love.

Q. Do you affirm, that this perfection excludes all infirmities, ignorance, and mistake? A. I continually affirm quite the contrary, and always have done so…we cannot avoid sometimes thinking wrong, till this corruptible shall have put on incorruption.”  – John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection [1]

John Wesley’s teachings were foundational for Methodists, and it was out of Methodism that the Holiness Movement was born. 

In 1843, a woman named Phoebe Palmer, later known as the “Mother of the Holiness Movement,” wrote a book called The Way of Holiness. This book riffed on Wesley’s teachings and created the basis of the Holiness movement. Wesley thought that entire sanctification could be attained and maintained only through constant spiritual striving. Palmer countered that there is “a shorter way.” Essentially, she understood sanctification or “the blessing” to be achieved by an experience similar to conversion. By seeking an singular experience of sanctification, you could attain righteousness on earth through what she called “the shorter, the one and the only way.”

Palmer knew this was a new doctrine. She claims to have discovered it herself and says that God told her “if you would retain the blessing… you will be called to profess this blessing before thousands. Can you do it?” This sanctification experience led to “the Way of Holiness,” whereby the Holiness movement received its name. According to Palmer, the attribute of holiness was a result of a specific and dramatic experience of sanctification – not a result of “growing in grace,” salvation, or of any Pentecostal experience. It was this special, one-time experience that enabled them to “live above sin,” when others could not.

Here’s how Palmer explained her holiness-blessing/sanctification experience, which she believes was a supernatural encounter – complete with full conversations with both the Holy Spirit and the Devil (written in third person):

Phoebe Worrall Palmer

Phoebe Palmer (also pictured in header)

“Immediately the Spirit suggested, ‘If God has enabled you to bring it [your surrendered life], will he not, now that you bring it and lay it on His altar, accept it at your hands?’ She now, indeed, began to feel that all things were ready and, in thrilling anticipation, began to say, ‘Thou wilt receive me! Yes, Thou wilt receive me!” And still she felt that something was wanting. ‘But when and how shall I know that Thou dost receive me?’ said the importunate language of her heart. The Spirit presented the declaration of the written word in reply, “Now is the accepted time.” Still her insatiable desires were unsatisfied; and she continued to wait with unutterable desire and long expectation looking upward for the coming of the Lord; while the Spirit continued to urge the scriptural declaration, ‘Now is the accepted time, I will receive you. only believe!’… She saw that she must relinquish the expression before indulged in, as promising something in the future, ‘Thou wilt receive me,’ for the yet more confident expression, implying present assurance ‘Thou dost receive!” It is, perhaps, almost needless to say that the enemy who had hitherto endeavored to withstand her at every step of the Spirit’s leadings, now confronted her with much greater energy. The suggestion that it was strangely presumptuous to believe in such a way, was presented to her mind with a plausibility which only Satanic subtly could invent. But the resolution to believe was fixed; and then the Spirit most inspiringly said to her heart, ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.’ (Matt. 11:12) And now, realizing she was engaged in a transaction eternal it its consequences, she here, in the strength and as in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and those spirits that minister to the heirs of salvation, said, “O Lord, I call heaven and earth to witness that I now lay body, soul, and spirit, with all these redeemed powers, upon Thine altar, to be forever THINE! TIS DONE! Thou hast promised to receive me! Thou canst not be unfaithful! Thou doest receive me now! From this time henceforth I am Thine, wholly Thine!” The enemy suggested, “Tis but a work of your own understanding, the effort of your own will.” But the Spirit of the Lord raised up on a standard which Satan, with his combined forces, could not overthrow…” – Pheobe Palmer, The Way of Holiness [2]

In the minds of the early Holiness teachers, the sanctification that Palmer described became the critical doctrine which separated them from other church movements. After having their experiences, they saw themselves as separate, special, and holy, because they had received the Spirit which enabled them to live in perfection, whereas other Christians had not. “In 1896, Crumpler [Holiness authority in N.C.] boasted that he had not sinned since his 1890, ‘second blessing,’ giving him six years of sinless perfection. The Quaker Evangelist Amos Kenworthy had even Crumpler bested. By 1891 he counted twenty-one years without sin.” [5]

Entire Sanctification and the Conservative Holiness Movement

People still hold to this teaching in the way that Palmer originated it. The best explanation I could find of this view in modern times was from the Conservative Holiness Movement. This movement traces its roots back to these early days and rejected the Pentecostal Holiness Movement which broke off from their ranks in the early 1900’s.

Here are some relevant statements from their flagship website HolinessMovement.org (emphasis added).

“The two works of grace [the first being Salvation] are clearly distinguished in James 4:8 – 1st work: “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners;” 2nd work: “and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” This remedy for the double-minded condition enables the believer to live out the injunction, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). This cleansing from inherited sin is known as entire sanctification

To be entirely sanctified, one must first know that they are saved … Second, one must confess their need … Third, the believer must surrender the carnal self to be crucified, … This involves one abandoning themself in full consecration to God as a life which from now forward is at God’s disposal …Finally, one must exercise faith in God to sanctify the consecrated life, for, as with the first work of grace, entire sanctification is a work of God’s grace: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). Indeed, sanctification is effected by the Holy Spirit, who as the promise of the Father empowers the Christian for victorious life and effective service (see Acts 1:4, 8).”

In general, while this site offers much scriptural support for their position about the life God calls us to, I would counter that all their scripture is in reference to salvation and the ongoing process of surrendering to God (i.e. progressive sanctification) that it opens. I do not see how James 4:8 “clearly distinguishes” two works of grace any more than James 4:9 clearly distinguishes two separate judgements for sin. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness.” The Bible uses repetition as a common way to emphasize a single point. 

However, the purpose of my piece isn’t to rebut this view thoroughly, merely to show how it has evolved and largely been abandoned by the Pentecostal brand of Holiness. It’s worth noting that the Conservative Holiness Movement, in keeping with the teachings of Palmer and others, associated this sanctification blessing with the filling of the Holy Spirit/Ghost.

 

Entire Sanctification and Receiving the Holy Ghost

Prior to the Azusa Street revival, the Holiness movement dubbed the entire sanctification Palmer taught as receiving “the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” [3]  Meaning, sanctification and receiving the Spirit were one in the same, a single, second work that occurred after salvation. This new wave of thinking was possibly the first time that receiving the Spirit was separated from receiving salvation in church history. At the turn of the 20th century, Charles Parham began teaching that the Holy Ghost (which was still thought of as synonymous with sanctification) was received with the evidence of tongues at the Topeka, Kansas Bible School. The students became confused. Many were from the Holiness movement and believed they’d already received the Spirit when they had experienced what Palmer described – yet Palmer’s experience didn’t include speaking in tongues. Parham came up with a solution and here’s how it is summed up in the Apostolic Faith, a newspaper published by William Seymour, 

Pentecostal tongues newpaper 1901

St. Louis Post, Jan 27,1901, Page 32

“Most of the students had been religious workers and said they had received the baptism with the Holy Ghost a number of years ago. Bro. Parham became convinced that there was no religious school that tallied up with the second chapter of Acts… On New Year’s night, Miss Agnes N. Ozman, one who had had for years “the anointing that abideth,” which she mistook for the baptism, was convinced of the need of a personal Pentecost. A few minutes before midnight, she desired hands laid on her that she might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. During prayer and invocation of hands, she was filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance.” [3]

In other words, in order to convince his students that, yes, receiving the Spirit was separate from salvation, but no, their baptism wasn’t legitimate, Parham had to create yet another label for the experience Palmer taught. He called it, “the anointing that abideth.” (What exactly that means and entails we’re not sure; this label was quickly dropped.) No one at that time denied that Parham’s doctrines were new, even the Apostolic Faith article above which opened like this, “All along the ages men have been preaching a partial Gospel. A part of the Gospel remained when the world went into the dark ages… Now He is bringing back the Pentecostal Baptism to the church. ” [3]

It’s worth noting that Agnes Ozman later recanted Parham’s doctrine of evidence, writing, 

“Some time ago I tried but failed to have an article printed which I wrote calling attention to what am sure God showed me was error. The article [I intended to publish] maintained that tongues was not the only evidence of the Spirit’s Baptism. When that article was refused I was much tempted by Satan, but God again graciously showed me He had revealed it to me, and satisfied my heart in praying that He might reveal this truth to others who would spread it abroad. For awhile after the baptism I got into spiritual darkness, because I did as I see so many others are doing in these days, rested and reveled in tongues and other demonstrations instead of resting aIone in God.” [4]

Despite testimonies like these, Charles Parham’s doctrine quickly spread. He had successfully added a third work of grace to Holiness doctrine, “Baptism of the Holy Ghost (with tongues).”  Around this time, Benjamin Irwin claimed his own incredible experience and added a fourth work “Baptism with Fire,” and then came baptisms of “dynamite,” “selenite,” and “oxynite.” [5]  Various permutations of two, three, four, and even more works of grace split the Holiness movement into subcamps that gave us the modern movements, (along with many denominations which disbanded). But it all started with the original “additional work of grace” – entire sanctification.

 

The Abandonment of the Experience of Sanctification

In the Pentecostal Holiness Movement, sanctification as it is understood now is a mere shell of its former self. As I pointed out in the beginning, it’s not clear what people mean when they refer to sanctification. I’ve even heard some Holiness people say that they felt like sanctification was an ongoing, life-long process. That is a biblically defensible position, but that is not the doctrine of entire sanctification. This is no different than when a Catholic classmate of mine once said “I believe in transubstantiation, but I understand it figuratively.”

A Holiness scholar (original Holiness, not the Pentecostal subcamp) from 20 years ago proclaimed that Holiness Movement was on a sure path to ruin because, “Many—perhaps most—in holiness churches no longer really believe that there is an instantaneous, supernatural, second work of divine grace.” 

I couldn’t find any articles on Pentecostal Holiness sites addressing sanctification in depth, but I did manage to find a defense of the doctrine published a decade ago in the Holiness Messenger. Here are some highlights from a gentleman named W.H. Wyatt who recollected the older version of this belief and realized it was on the verge of being entirely forgotten (emphasis added).

“SANTIFICATION This is a word not heard often in today’s church. I came into this world in 1925 so I date from an early day in the last day Pentecostal outpouring. In the 1930’s when a saint stood to testify they almost always said, I’m saved and Sanctified and baptized with the Holy Ghost. This would be repeated by a host of other testimonies. Sanctification was firmly preached, sought for and experienced

You will soon find after that wonderful experience at the altar [salvation], that some things don’t give up so easy and the main culprit is the Adamic Nature you were born with. Ephesians 4:22 speaks of this old man (Adam’s nature). I hear some say, wait Brother Wyatt, I done that when I got saved. Did you? I remind you that Ephesians was talking to Christians. Eph. 1:1 says to saints which are in Ephesus. Paul addressed this book to Christians and in 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” So then why this charge to the Ephesians in 4:22, to put off the old man… What must we do with the Old Man, the Adamic Nature? We must put it to death.

I know in my case that I was saved in May of 1946, and then sought diligently for sanctification. I would fast sometimes from Sunday night to Wednesday prayer meeting without food or water in my desire from sanctification. Finally after about six months in November of 1946 I reached my goal and was ready to seek for the Holy Ghost which came in the following May…

In conclusion may I say, I fear we have a vast number of unsanctified souls in our Holiness Churches today and they may even be Sunday School teachers or even in higher offices. Our churches need a revival of Sanctification before we become as unsanctified as our neighboring Charismatic churches.”

Clearly, Wyatt views sanctification as an experience of putting off the adamic nature, which he believes that many people have yet to receive. In his world, there are some Christians who have a sin nature and some who don’t (those who were sanctified). But most in the Pentecostal Holiness movement disagree with him – the experiential second work of grace upon which the old-time Holiness movement built its power to live a holy life has been scrubbed out of Pentecostal Holiness doctrine.

 

Does Entire Sanctification Mean Anything?

Let’s put aside the issue of how entire sanctification comes about (at an altar or over a course of time). Many Holiness people have some sense that one can end up entirely sanctified – even if it takes a process to get there. People say they have been “saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost.” People joke that a misbehaving child almost made them “lose their sanctification.”

So, when someone is sanctified, what does it mean? Especially now that experiential sanctification has been abandoned it is very tricky to tell who is sanctified. If a church had to make a roster of all the saved people in the church, it could do that fairly accurately. If a Holiness church had to make a roster of all the Holy Ghost filled people in the church, it could do that fairly accurately. If a Holiness church had to make a list of all of the sanctified people in the church … where would they even start?

Usually, we just tack it on as a bonus with Holy Ghost filling – that’s the only way we “know” you’re sanctified. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m saved and sanctified but not filled with the Holy Ghost?” It may happen, but it’s rare. Of course, there is no biblical explanation I have ever heard as to why sanctification would have to precede the filling of the Spirit.  The Bible makes it clear that we have no power to overcome sin without “living in the Spirit” (Galatians 5). So how is it that we are supposed to attain complete righteousness (i.e. entire sanctification) without the indwelling of the Spirit? 

But let’s not worry about this little theological soft spot. Let’s roll with the theory that everyone who speaks in tongues is sanctified and they attained that sanctification at some point prior to their Pentecostal experience. This leads us to the gooiest part of this doctrine. You’re sanctified entirely. What does that mean?

 

Does it mean you are empowered to sin less?

It cannot mean that you are merely empowered through vigilance and the power of God to sin less. Well – it could mean that, but this would essentially be the doctrine of progressive sanctification with a delayed starting point – not entire sanctification. Or if it meant that you achieve perfect righteousness, but then you occasionally sin and mess it up. Then you would be in a perpetual process of re-sanctification. This would also be indistinct from the idea of progressive but not perfect sanctification – only the terms would be changed. If entire sanctification means you only sin less, it is only semantically different from the orthodox view and would hardly be worth forming a splinter group over.

 

Does is mean you lose your inclination to sin?

It could mean, as Brother Wyatt understood it, that when you are sanctified you lose your “adamic” or sin nature. This would be very convenient; it would stand to reason that if you had no sin nature, you would have no more temptation, except perhaps from demonic forces. 

Don’t get me wrong, the Bible does talk about dying to yourself and your “flesh” or sin nature. However, Jesus says that this is a daily thing “take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Paul agrees when he says, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) and “Always [constantly] bearing about in the body the dying [ongoing] of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you…For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-16). 

Wyatt’s own citation emphasizes this when he points out that Paul tells Christians in Ephesus to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man [put off your old self], which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Why would Paul tell Christians this if it wasn’t something he expected them to have to do on an ongoing basis? If he was only speaking to the “unsanctified” Christians in Ephesus, why didn’t he give the slightest implication that his message wasn’t addressed to everyone there?

But let’s say Brother Wyatt is right. He lost his fleshly desires in 1946. Does that mean he had a half-century of essentially no temptation to ever do the wrong thing? He always felt like prayer and scripture reading? He never had an inclination to say an unkind word to his wife or withhold a kind word? This seems unlikely to me. If you’re “sanctified,” is this your experience? No temptation? Because if you simply shift the source of the temptation from your flesh to the devil, the doctrine is once again meaningless in practice and is mere semantics. From my experience with allegedly entirely sanctified people versus Christians in other movements, I have not detected any difference in the level of temptation they experience or succumb to.

 

Does it mean you stop sinning altogether?

What’s the other option? If sanctification doesn’t mean we’re not tempted significantly anymore, it could mean that we cease to sin altogether. We know Paul didn’t when he says in Romans 7:19 “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do,” but maybe Paul wasn’t sanctified at the point he wrote this (which is what John Wesley assumed). It seems that Paul still wasn’t perfect when he wrote in in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Perhaps Paul is being humble here, but he definitely refers to himself as a someone who sins in the present tense.

Paul notwithstanding, who will raise their hand and say the following? “I don’t sin anymore. I committed my last sin on January 3rd, 14 years ago and it is not likely that I will sin again until the day I die. I never omit to do that which I should do, and I never do that which I should not. Every thought I entertain is pure and kind. Every word that I exchange is thoughtful and true.” 

Clearly, if these non-sinners are walking among us, they must be in every way superior to those in other churches and in their own congregations who do not claim this blessing. Their love and kindness must be without bounds, their hospitality above reproach, their witness without hesitation. Their financial generosity and hospitality must be jaw-dropping. Their work ethic must be superb. Since they are without sins of omission, and they always pray, study, and meditate when they should, they must be far closer to God than any of the rest of us. Given the pipeline that sinless perfection and perfect prioritization would naturally open with God, their Facebook postings must be veritable fountains of divine wisdom.

I actually did find at least one fellow who was willing to make this claim “I don’t sin anymore because [Jesus] forgave me of all my sins and now he lives in me to keep me from ever sinning again.” The gent went on to claim that he now regularly heals and performs miracles, has written over 150 divinely inspired works and recommend that “The best thing for a sinner is to throw their Bibles away so they can follow God instead of listening to their own interpretations of the scriptures that deceive them.”

Most of us are suspicious of such claims of sinless perfection. It speaks more to a disconnect with reality than a connection to the Godhead. There is more of denial than of divinity about it. Of course, the apostle John would dismiss it along with us. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7-9). It seems to me that the author is saying our righteousness comes from Christ rather than works.

When Jesus said “you who are without sin, throw the first stone” – that’s actually not an invitation to throw a stone. Even the Pharisees understood this.

If we can’t defend the idea that entire sanctification means a life without temptation and we’re unwilling to say that entire sanctification means a life in which no sins are ever committed, then what does it mean?

As it is commonly understood in the Holiness movement I grew up in, entire sanctification means nothing. It is no longer an experience, we cannot tell who has achieved it, and it does not result in either a life free from temptation or sin. In all but semantics, it has become completely indistinguishable from the doctrine of progressive sanctification, or the biblical idea that we ought to “grow in grace.”

 

Were we right to abandon this doctrine?

Were we right to shift away from a second experiential work of grace, which was “discovered” by divine revelation to an isolated lady preacher in the 1840’s?  

Not to oversimplify the issue – but yes. We were right to abandon this. The biblical concept of maturity constantly uses progressive language. We speak of the “path of righteousness” not the “place of righteousness.” We speak of spiritual “infants” and adults (aging is not an instantaneous process, and even adulthood does not signify no additional changes). We speak of “walking with the Spirit,” not “arriving with the Spirit.”

Paul is constantly exhorting the righteous to abound more in righteousness. “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; (2 Thessalonians 1:3).” Paul also exhorts Christians to continually root out and kill sin in their lives. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).” James insists believers ought to “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another (5:16).” 

None of these passages divide between the “sanctified and unsanctified” in the churches. They expect all believers to continually fight sin and pursue God.

 

Why talk about a forgotten doctrine?

More than 90% of the Pentecostal Holiness church has adopted the orthodox Christian view of progressive sanctification – in practice if not in name. However, because they have never officially rejected the old view, its effects linger. Unfortunately, this out-of-focus belief in perfection leads its holders directly into clear sin in two ways.

First, the fuzzy belief that we are somehow holier than any other Christians who do not routinely refer to themselves as “sanctified” results in a significant amount of pride and disunity. This is ironic, of course, because pride and disunity are both sins. However, they prevail in any environment where we unilaterally declare ourselves more righteous than others. This pride prevents working with other Christians to further God’s kingdom, and results in an abandonment of our commission to preach the gospel to all nations – yet another sin driven by a doctrine of perfection.

Second, this ambiguous belief that we are somehow beyond sinning leads to a distinct reduction in transparency and accountability. We feel no need to have accountability groups or partners, because we shouldn’t be sinning, and therefore have nothing about which to hold each other accountable. We defy God’s command to confess our faults to one another, because we assume that we will be judged as inferior Christians for obeying God in this matter. When someone does come forward to confess sin voluntarily, they are often judged as immature and made to regret their honesty. We don’t ask God to “see if there is any wicked way in me,” because we assume that since we’re sanctified, there shouldn’t be. We pray instead, “nothing to see here, God. Move along.” 

The doctrine of entire sanctification is unclear, unbiblical, and largely rejected by the Pentecostal Holiness movement. We would do well to purge our churches of the unorthodox approach to Christian maturity left behind by this modern gospel of self-righteousness. And given that we have already seen fit to abandon the foundational doctrine of the Holiness Movement, maybe we can find a way to reconnect with the branches of the church that never fell into that trap.

Nathan Mayo

 

Sources:

  1. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley, London, England; 1767.
  2. The Way of Holiness, Phoebe Palmer, pages 17-18, 21-22.
  3. Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, Number 2, October 1902, p. 1. 
  4. The First One to Speak in Tongues,” by Agnes Ozman, 1909, published in The Latter Rain Evangel, page 2.
  5.   A. J. Tomlinson: Plain Folk Modernist, by R.G. Robins, Oxford University Press, 2004, 42-44.

 

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