Holiness Movement and the Foundations of Pentecostalism


John Wesley preaching outside a church. He traveled across Great Britain and Ireland preaching in any location he could gather followers.

The theological roots of Pentecostalism come out of the Holiness movement. This was a division within Methodism that was championed by John Wesley, who had founded Methodism. He called for Christian perfection, a state of sanctification where an individual is free from outward sin as well as evil thoughts and tempers, thus attaining a level of holiness. A large number of holiness evangelists also felt mainline churches had become overly concerned with social status and respectability. Many new holiness groups emerged from across Christian denominations. Some operated within their denominational structure as a sub-group and some left their church to form new Holiness churches.

Vinson Synan suggests that the break of the holiness movement from Methodism “was part of a growing populist protest against the Eastern establishment that had associated with big business ‘monopolies.’ The financial struggles of the 1890s made the masses distrustful of any perceived hierarchy, whether secular or religious.” (Hayford and Moore 38). There was a growing desire amongst especially the working class to exert their independence.

John Fletcher, Wesley’s successor, introduced the idea that the second blessing was a baptism of the Holy Spirit. This language would be taken up by members of multiple faith traditions. Some of these holiness sects "became Pentecostal during the first decade of the twentieth century by virtue of accepting the Pentecostal doctrine of a separate experience of Holy Spirit baptism evidenced by glossolalia" (Goff 6).


Engraving of a Methodist camp meeting.


Early Apostolic Faith service of Charles Parham

Charles Parham and the Holiness Movement

Many of the early Pentecostals originated from the Holiness movement, and to this day many "classical Pentecostals" maintain much of Holiness doctrine and many of its devotional practices. Charles Parham was exposed to Holiness churches as a teen and was familiar with their theology. This directly influenced his own religious teachings. As it developed into its own movement, Pentecostalism was distinguished from Holiness teachings by its belief in speaking in tongues. Initially, many Holiness believers saw speaking in tongues as demonic. Today many contemporary Holiness churches now believe in the legitimacy of speaking in unknown tongues, but not as a sign of entire sanctification as classical Pentecostals still teach.

Once Pentecostalism began to develop with Parham, even those Pentecostals who downplayed or even rejected speaking in tongues still saw themselves as distinct from the Holiness movement. Despite having almost identical theology members of the Holiness movement and those who identified as Pentecostal viewed themselves as having separate belief systems.

Goff, James R. Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.

Hayford, Jack W., and David S. Moore. The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival. New York: Warner Faith, 2006.

Kansas at the Turn of the Century
Holiness Movement and the Foundations of Pentecostalism