154 A Century of Holiness Theology

 

 

 

                Everyone interested in the “cardinal doctrine” of The Church of the Nazarene must read Mark R. Quanstrom’s A Century of Holiness Theology:  The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene, 1905 to 2004 (Kansas City:  Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, c. 2004).  Written as a Ph.D. dissertation, it meticulously documents the denomination’s story without special pleading for the author’s personal position, which is not particularly evident.  Written by an active pastor (22 years in Belleville, IL), it presents the evidence in a readable manner that also bears witness to the author’s concern for and commitment to his church’s distinctive doctrine. 

                Quanstrom begins his study by linking the Church of the Nazarene’s emergence with the “American Ideal” at the beginning of the 20th century.  It was an optimistic era when progressive–and often utopian–aspirations filled the air.  Progressive politicians like Woodrow Wilson envisioned and worked for a perfect world.  Utopian novels, especially Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, touted a world-to-come without scarcity or injustice, wherein social and technological developments guaranteed comfort for all.    Christian socialists and advocates of the “Social Gospel” like Washing Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch, called for the immediate establishment of the Kingdom of God, free of war and economic inequities.  The first generation of Nazarenes, while rejecting the theological liberalism of Social Gospel devotees, entertained many of the same utopian aspirations.  They thought the world could be transformed, in socio-political as well as personal ways, through the proclamation of Christian holiness.

                Then came World War I.  Sobriety set in.  Utopian visions dissipated amidst the mustard gas of trench warfare.  So, as early as 1919, some doctrinal retrenchments began in Nazarene circles.  It was decided that entire sanctification should be promoted as a personal transformation, a deliverance from the power of sin, rather than a means whereby the Kingdom of God would come into being.  Following decades witnessed significant reductions in the claims made for the work of entire sanctification, even within an individual’s heart.  Consequently, within a century of the church’s founding, “entire sanctification would not be taught so much as an instantaneous change in the heart of the believer appropriated by consecration and faith, but rather more as an unremarkable event in the progress of growth, if taught at all.  The ‘eradication of the sinful nature’ would be terminology that many Nazarenes would eschew, even though the words would remain in the Articles of Faith” (p. 23).  Consequently, the “early Nazarenes’ hopes for the propagation and preservation of the doctrine as they understood it have not been realized” (p. 24).

                Filling in this story, Quanstrom first explores the Church of the Nazarene’s 19th century doctrinal roots.  The holiness theology of Pheobe Palmer (who emphasized consecration and faith), holiness camp meetings, and eminent Methodist preachers (such as John Allen Wood and Daniel Steele), established the position on “Christian perfection” the church adopted.  A.M. Hills, one of the most influential early Nazarene theologians, summed it up in Holiness and Power, a book which was part of the Ministerial Course of Study from 1911-1964.  Hills especially emphasized the “instantaneous” nature of the “second work of grace” whereby a believer was entirely sanctified.  Seekers were urged to “believe and receive” the experience, to accept by faith the effectual working of God in their heart if they only surrendered their all to Him. 

Alongside Hills’ book, Possibilities of Grace, a treatise by a Methodist writer, Asbury Lowery, was included in the course of study in 1911, where it remained until 1956.  “Lowrey,” Quanstrom says, “was as optimistic as any in the holiness movement concerning what would happen if the church received this blessing.  He believed that holiness was the reason for every great reformation in the history of the church” (p. 45).  Following the lead of Phoebe Palmer, Lowrey urged believers to consecrate themselves completely to God, the “place their all upon the altar,” and take God at His Word by believing that the “altar sanctifies the gift.”  Truly sanctified, they need not even consider themselves actually in need of confessing “forgive us our trespasses” when reciting the Lord’s Prayer. 

                As the young denomination took form, following World War I, clarifying (for example) the difference between Pentecostals and Nazarenes, a “fundamentalist leavening” began.  Whereas mainline denominations, such as the Presbyterians and Methodists, had divided into modernist and fundamentalist factions, the General Superintendents declared, at the 1928 General Assembly, that “there will be no discussion of modernism or fundamentalism.  We are all fundamentalists, we believe the Bible, we all believe in Christ, that He is truly the Son of God” (56).  They declared that the scripture is “infallible,” for “the Bible is the Word of God.  We believe it from Genesis to Revelation.”  Still more:  “The church must stand first, last and all the time for the whole Bible, the inspired, infallible, revealed Word of God” (p. 56).  Subsequently, delegates to the General Assembly expanded the denomination’s article of belief to read:  “We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures by which we understand the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith” (p. 57, italics Quanstrom’s).     

                During the 1930s, H. Orton Wiley, the architect of the above statement regarding scripture, began work on an official theology for the church, pursuant to a request by J. B. Chapman.  A.M. Hills, at times a colleague of Wiley’s at Pasadena College and clearly an “elder statesman” of the movement, was disappointed that he wasn’t assigned the task.  But he published, with an independent publisher, his Fundamental Christian Theology, which was added to the Ministerial Course of Study and widely utilized during that decade.  Hills espoused post-millennialism, confident that Christ will return when His disciples have perfected His commission.  He also espoused a lofty view of human freedom, rather typical of the pre-WWI progressives, that was ratified by the 1928 General Assembly’s declared confidence in man’s “godlike ability of freedom” (p. 72).  So his explanation of entire sanctification was naturally optimistic.  If we simply will to will God’s will we will be holy. 

                H. Orton Wiley’s magisterial, three-volume Systematic Theology appeared during the early ’40s and was instantly recognized as the official theology of the Church of the Nazarene.   Thorough scholarship rooted his work in the classical, orthodox mainstream of the Christian Faith, but he primarily engaged 19th century theologians such as Miley who had worked within the Wesleyan tradition.  Though Wiley never openly differed with A.M. Hills, he subtlety and firmly shifted the focus of salvation from man’s “free will” to God’s “free grace,” giving preeminence to God alone in all aspects of salvation.  Emphasizing “prevenient grace,” he embraced both the Protestant notion of moral depravity without denying the reality of free will, thereby distancing himself from the rather radical “moral freedom” espoused by Hills.   

                Wiley fully endorsed the article on entire sanctification as set forth (in 1928) in the Articles of Faith for the Church of the Nazarene:  “We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect.  It is wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.  Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.  This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as ‘Christian Perfection,’ ‘Perfect Love,’ ‘Heart Purity,’ ‘The Baptism with the Holy Spirit,’ ‘The Fullness of the Blessing,’ and ‘Christian holiness.'”

                Wiley especially emphasized the instantaneous nature of the second work of grace.  He stressed the aorist tense of New Testament words describing God’s sanctifying work in the heart, embracing fundamentalism’s commitment to the words of Scripture, and he tried to make sure that Nazarenes would tenaciously proclaim it.  Methodist theologians in the 19th century had failed to defend this position and gradually emphasized “‘growth and development, rather than upon the crises which marked the different stages in personal experience'” (p. 81).  But the great promise to believers, is “‘that God has promised a cleansing from all sin through the blood of Jesus.  He lays hold of the promises of God, and in a moment, the Holy Spirit purifies his heart by faith.  In that instant he lives the full life of love.  In him love is made perfect . . .  The law of God is written upon his heart'” (p. 84). 

                Definitively defended by Wiley, the doctrine of entire sanctification was promoted by Nazarene preachers and teachers in the post-WWII era, albeit with less triumphant optimism than earlier.  Tending to share the somber realism of Reinhold Niebuhr, Americans in general rather discounted the perfectibility of man.   Revealing this were some of the books added to the ministerial course of study, such as A Right Conception of Sin, by Richard Taylor; The Terminology of Holiness, by J.B. Chapman; Conflicting Concepts of Holiness, by W.T. Purkiser.  “These were works,” says Quanstrom, “which were clinically precise in their definition concerning exactly what it was that was eradicated by the grace of entire sanctification and they were not making the claims that earlier holiness works had” (98).  The doctrine was still clearly declared, though its scope had narrowed.  Rejecting Lowrey’s perfectionism, Purkiser, for example, insisted that sanctified believers certainly should pray that God “forgives us our trespasses,” noting that we pray for others as well as ourselves and (even if cleansed from sin) remain aware of our past sins.

                Concerned that Nazarene preachers have a seminary supporting the church’s doctrines, Nazarene Theological Seminary opened in 1945.  The first professor of theology was Stephen S. White, who upheld  the doctrine of entire sanctification, stressing that it is a distinctively second, instantaneous work of grace, freeing the believer from inbred sin as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  He especially emphasized (and was supported therein by NTS’s first president and future general superintendent, Hugh Benner) the importance of sin’s “eradication.”  But others, such as Richard Taylor, qualified such claims, distinguishing between sin and infirmity, exempting from cleansing various flaws of personality and temperament. 

Asbury Lowrey’s Possibilities of Grace disappeared from the ministerial course of study in 1960, and The Spirit of Holiness, by Everett Lewis Cattell, the president of Malone College, was added in 1964.  Cattell urged holiness theologians to get back to Wesley, whose A Plain Account of Christian Perfection had been added, for the first time, in 1954.  Reading Wesley revealed his rather “gradual growth” understanding of holiness, as well as his wariness of claiming it as a personal experience.  What Nazarenes like Richard Taylor labeled “infirmities” John Wesley had called “sins.”  Consequently, the 1976 General Assembly added two new paragraphs to the Articles of Faith, indicating the importance of gradual growth as well as crisis experience.  The 1985 General Assembly featured a vigorous discussion concerning the denomination’s article of faith on Original Sin, responding to a commission’s proposals that it be significantly revised to remove the possibility of its “eradication.”  The delegates ultimately decided to add paragraphs in accord with the commission’s proposal, resulting in a softening of the possibility of sinless sanctity.   

This move reflected the growing influence of Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, whose 1973 treatise, A Theology of Love, sparked one of the most significant shifts in the denomination’s history.  Paul Orjala labeled it “one of the most important books ever published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City . . . for here is the first modern theology of holiness” (p. 141).  Though it was not added to the course of study until 1986, it early exerted influence throughout the church.  Wynkoop emphasized the “credibility gap” between what had been taught and what was actually lived by most Nazarenes, and she proposed a thorough “restructuring of the conceptual framework within which holiness theologians had worked” (p. 143).  Rather openly rejecting the holiness theology of earlier thinkers, she insisted on a “Wesleyan hermeneutic” with a new definition of human nature and sin.  A person is not, she suggested, by nature sinful, and sin is not a “thing” to be removed.  Rather, when the relationship with God is broken we do sinful things. 

Restoring that relationship, therefore, solves the sin problem.  Nothing particularly changes within

one’s soul, but a healthy relationship with God develops.  Holiness is interpersonal love–nothing more, nothing less.  Though she tried to distance herself from Pelagianism, she nevertheless insisted that we’re not locked into sin’s bondage by birth.  Denying the reality of inbred sin, she had no need for a second work of grace.  With nothing to cleanse, there’s no need for the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” apart from His role in regeneration.  In truth, we’re free to love or not to love, and the decision is largely ours, ironically reviving   A.M. Hills’ focus on the will.  “Specifically, Wynkoop defined a pure heart as a heart that, as Kierkegaard had written, willed one thing” (p. 146).  In the final analysis, says Quanstrom, she discounted the efficacious power of grace and emphasized “the purity of a person’s consecration which would lead to unhindered communion with God” (p. 146).   Thus, however much she may have endeavored to provide a better way to understand entire sanctification, “her definitions tended to undermine the doctrine’s distinctiveness” (p. 150). 

                In 1979 the Board of General Superintendents asked H. Ray Dunning to write a replacement text for Wiley’s Systematic Theology.  It would be titled Grace, Faith, and Holiness:  A Wesleyan Systematic Theology, published in 1988, and added to the course of study in 1990.  Like Wynkoop, Dunning was a Trevecca Nazarene College professor, and he basically shared her position–especially her singular reliance upon Wesley–regarding the doctrine of holiness.  “Dunning’s systematic theology was different,” notes Quanstrom.  “He intended it to be” (p. 160).  Departing from the methodology of Wiley et al., he embraced Wynkoop’s “relational model” of holiness.  One’s very being was shaped by his relationship with God, so being born in a state of sin made no sense if since sin is primarily a dismembered bond.  A right relationship with God is restored in justification, minimizing any need for a “second” work of grace that would cleanse one from inbred sin. 

                Dunning’s work broadened the doctrinal breach within the Church of the Nazarene, since theologians like Richard Taylor and Donald Metz strongly opposed the “relational” approach of the Trevecca school.  Taylor, upholding the church’s traditional position, “refuted the relational understanding of sin and salvation, calling it heretical” (p. 167).  Though he naturally denied it, Dunning’s views on sin and salvation were pure Pelagianism, Taylor argued.  Consequently, Quanstrom says, within a century of her founding it was questionable “whether or not the Church of the Nazarene had a coherent and cogent doctrine of holiness at all” (p. 169).  To Richard Taylor, the holiness movement was virtually dead because it had ceased proclaiming the doctrine as crafted by Wiley and White.  This had happened because sinners were offended by it and too few believers were willing to die to self in order to live a holy life.  Still more, in Taylor’s judgment, a corps of “liberal” teachers had taken control of the church’s teaching institutions and were undermining her doctrines.  He particularly pointed to Wynkoop’s A Theology of Love as “‘a major contributing cause of the staggering of holiness ranks'” (p. 172).  Aspiring preachers who followed her forfeited “the message of a clear, knowable experience of entire sanctification which cleansed the carnal mind” (p. 172).  Taylor’s long-term colleague at Nazarene Theological Seminary, J. Kenneth Grider, shared his views and was equally critical of Wynkoop.  His own treatise, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, espoused a very traditional position, stressing:  “This second work of grace is obtained by faith, is subsequent to regeneration, is occasioned by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and constitutes a cleansing away of Adamic depravity and an empowerment for witnessing and for the holy life'” (p. 173). 

                Hoping to reconcile the factions within the church, the General Superintendents issued a “Core Values” mission statement” in 1999, declaring that both crisis and growth, both cleansing and love, are vital parts of living the holy life.  In an insert accompanying the “Core Values” booklet, sent to all pastors in the denomination, a bright future was envisioned.  “‘Many believe that we were raised up, not for the 20th century, but for the 21st century.”  This was due to the church’s “radical optimism of grace.  We believe that human nature, and ultimately society, can be radically and permanently changed by the grace of God.  We have an irrepressible confidence in this message of hope, which flows from the heart of our holy God'” (p. 179). 

                Such optimism, of course, typified the first generation of Nazarenes.  But it is an optimism largely lacking in the post-WWII professors (e.g. Wynkoop and Dunning) who have shaped the denomination’s preachers for the past three decades.  They did their work by redefining the definitions of sin and sanctification to the point that little differentiated a sincere believer and a sanctified saint.  In Quanstrom’s judgment:  “The problem with these re-definitions for the denomination was that they effectively emasculated the promise of entire sanctification, at least as it had been understood at the beginning of the century” (p. 180).  Consequently, as we begin our second century, we have no clear identity as a “holiness denomination.” 

                Quanstrom clearly presents the evidence for the doctrinal shifts within the Church of the Nazarene.  Whether Wiley or Wynkoop was right he does not say.  What seems clear to me, however, is that the position of Mildred Bangs Wynkoop has largely replaced that of H. Orton Wiley. 

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