THE HOLINESS MOVEMENT
Wesley, it should be recalled, was generally favorable to emotional and experiential
reactions among his followers as genuine evidence of spiritual regeneration and
sanctification. Due to his enormous influence on evangelical Protestantism during the
nineteenth century, this generally favorable attitude on his part may have been taken by
his spiritual followers as an unconditional acceptance of such emotional manifestations.
However, despite such an attitude, it would be erroneous to ascribe to the person of John
Wesley responsibility for the more extravagant claims which were subsequently to be made
in the name of "salvation and sanctification" and eventually to the
"Baptism of the Holy Spirit" in a Pentecostal/Charismatic sense. Wesley tended
to view such manifestations and spasmodic behavior more from the standpoint of
"conviction of sin, or wounding of the conscience" which would lead the believer
to repentance and conversion, wherein the believer would be led to cooperate freely in his
or her own sanctification. Such concepts would be perfectly consonant with Wesley's
Arminianism. On the other hand, further developments and distortions of the Wesleyan
doctrine, via the Holiness Movement, would place such hyper-emotional phenomena in a
category all their own, as "empowerment in the Spirit", or as evidence of a
"Latter day outpouring of the Spirit". It was of the hyper-spiritualism of the
Holiness Movement which the incipient Pentecostalism drank deeply, and which it would
eventually come to overshadow, assuming it's place as the most flourishing and vigorous of
all the Protestant sects and movements:
"Since Pentecostalism began primarily among American holiness people, it would be difficult to understand the movement without some basic knowledge of the milieu in which it was born. Indeed, for the first decade practically all Pentecostals, both in America and around the world, had been active in holiness churches or camp meetings. Most of them were either Methodists, former Methodists, or people from kindred movements that had adopted the Methodist view of the second blessing. They were overwhelmingl y Arminian in their basic theology and were strongly perfectionistic in their spirituality and lifestyle.
In the years immediately preceding 1900, American Methodism experienced a major
holiness revival in a crusade that originated in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
following the Civil War. Begun in Vineland, N.J in 1867 as the "National Holiness
Camp Meeting Association," the holiness movement drew large crowds to its camp
meetings, with some services attracting over 20,000 persons. Thousands claimed to receive
the second blessing of sanctification in these meetings. Leaders in this movement were
Methodists such as Phoebe Palmer, (also a leading advocate of womens' right to minister);
John Inskip, a pastor from New York City, and Alfred Cookman a pastor from New
Jersey." (Vinson Synan, Origins of the Pentecostal Movement,
No doubt many strict Wesleyan Methodists were disturbed by the exaggerations and doctrinal aberrations of the incipient Holiness Movement-such as the recurring heretical concept of "the Church" as a spiritual communion of the sanctified and saved, as opposed to the true and traditional teaching of the Church as a visible institution; some of the bolder members of the Holiness Movement went so far as to posit the idea of two parallel churches, an esoteric "Church of the sanctified and elect" and an exoteric and institutional church for the neophytes and the unregenerate:
"Both parties, as good Methodists, believed in the doctrine of personal holiness, but the more aggressive members of the holiness movement went a step further, and insisted on a holy church. The holiness movement was pressing Methodist concepts of the church toward the revivalistic patterns common to most evangelical churches in America at midcentury. The church was to be primarily a company of recruits committed and equipped for Christian witness and warfare, not a school for the uninitiated or partially committed. The one could remain a relatively open community of some diversity of faith In the holiness movement the professed belief in holiness by a crisis of evangelical faith constituted the ideal for Christian community; commitment to a disciplined homogenous group of believers either experiencing or seeking the fullness of the blessing was to be both goal and governor of the whole." (Melvin E. Dieter , The Post Civil War Holiness Revival: The Rise of the Camp Meeting Churches, chapter 4, in Reformers and Revivalists: History of the Wesleyan Church, Wayne E. Caldwell, editor, Wesley Press, Indianapolis, IN 1992 pp. 157-158)
Another point of contention between the Wesleyan Methodists and the early holiness movement was the considerable number of preachers involved in the latter who were freemasons. The strict Wesleyans had been in the forefront of the anti-masonic crusade which had played such a significant role in American electoral politics in the first half of the nineteenth century:
"The Wesleyan Methodists were not as greatly involved with the National Holiness Association in the early years as might have been expected. This appears to have been due to the heavy involvement of ministers and members from the major northern and southern branches of Methodism, many of whom were lodge members and therefore persons with whom Wesleyans refused fellowship." (Lee M. Haines, A Grander, Nobler Work, Wesleyan Methodism's Transition 1867-1901, in ibid, pp. 126-127)
This is a significant fact. Freemasonry, as should be well known to any professing Christian, is both in its' beliefs and aims fundamentally opposed to true Christianity. It accepts no religious doctrine as universally true, save its' own skeletized version of natural religion and "tolerance"-it accepts all religions as equally worthy, and therefore, as equally worthless. Such indifferentism is bound to be a breeding ground for all sorts of doctrinal and spiritual aberrations; if there is no higher arbiter of truth than a man's "inner illumination", or his search for an undefined Masonic "light", is it any surprise that a mason or those whom he influences would exalt the subjective "spiritual" experience, and deprecate the dogmatic expression of truth?
Although not established on any ecclesiastical basis until 1867, formal elements of the movement's theology could be said to have originated with Phoebe Palmer, whom Synan refers to above. Indeed, Palmer can, in a sense, be considered the "founding mother of the Holiness Movement."
"The holiness movement had begun in the 1830's with the establishment of the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness in 1835 by Phoebe Palmer and her sister, Sarah Lankford Phoebe Palmer had a surprising impact, for a nineteenth century lay-woman, on the theology of the holiness movement. She taught that once consecration was complete the believer should then exercise faith, and without any sensible evidence, lay claim to entire sanctification. One of her favorite texts was 'The altar sanctifieth the gift' " (Matt. 23:19; cf. Exod. 29:37). This led to the development of what was termed "altar terminology" or "altar theology." While some opposed her view as encouraging a claim of entire sanctification before it was actually experienced, the majority of holiness advocates adopted both her view and her terminology" (ibid., pp. 126, 129)
Palmer was going the Wesleyan experientalists one better- she was subsituting, under the aegis of her "altar theology", a presumptuous faith in "faith" which was in essence a bypassing of the Wesleyan experience of sanctification. It is perhaps at this point that we can begin to discern the seeds of the "name it and claim it" wishful thinking faith of the present day "word of faith movement"-not to say that Palmer would have gone that far, but every distortion in doctrine, however slight, will ultimately begin a process of divergence from the truth, much like the geometrical lines not quite parallel with one another. One can glimpse here the logical development of the Wesleyan concept of salvation and sanctification qua experience combined with the vitiated concept of faith inherited from the Reformers- in place of the theological and infused virtue of supernatural faith, which in order to be efficacious is inextricably linked to the higher virtue of charity, we have in its place a mere emotional "trust" in the imputation of Christ's merits to our totally sinful and hopeless nature. This will eventually become, in extremist circles, a presumptuous "claim" to salvation, and the "second blessing" of sanctification, and subsequently of "healing", "empowerment in the Spirit", etc.
In light of the foregoing, it is not difficult for one to imagine how the holiness churches would be subsequently characterized by being a group of believers united around a common personal experience such as the "fullness of the blessing," rather than around a common magisterium, a common liturgical life, and a unity in doctrine and sacrament which characterizes all of the historical Christian denominations, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox. While such groups, in the beginning, were not likely to depart in a doctrinal sense from the essentials of the historical christian faith, little by little, as the charismatic elements and appeals to experiential religion begin to hold sway, errors will inevitably follow, one after the other. Such was the case with the modalistic, even pantheistic language which was adopted by many holiness preachers to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, expressing concepts far removed from the Church's traditional theology with regards to the loving indwelling of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity:
"Inexorably mingled with the movements' chief concern for the experience of entire sanctification and perfect love was a corollary proclamation of God's readiness to demonstrate his Spirit's presence and power in the world by a renewal of signs and wonders. Evangelists and pastors increasingly raised the theme that the powers released at Pentecost would be demonstrated anew in the church, which would put itself under the full command of the Holy Spirit." (Dieter, cited, pge. 154)
So we are faced once again with the Joachimist concept of an "age" or church led exclusively by the Spirit, in contradistinction to the previous church, a benighted, legalistic and pharisaic institution , a rationalistic cadaver, as it were. Another factor of such "power seeking" which I have failed to mention up to this point is that whenever men seek the "power of the Spirit"- the generation looking for a sign-they expose themselves to the deadly powers of the age old adversary, the evil one. Seeking the "power" as some kind of a shortcut to spiritual maturity and holiness, is the quintessential filling of the old skins with new wine. There are bound to be disastrous consequences. As we shall see later on, St. John of the Cross is most adamant in his discouraging of any wish or desire for extraordinary manifestations of God's power- since the devil, adept at his art as Simio Dei, is more than happy to oblige the lust for power, signs and wonders. One should first know the identity of the giver before one accepts the gift. God can choose to work miracles through a donkey if he so desires- but a deep personal communion with the Third Person of the Divine Trinity should be sought for by anybody who desires the true fruitfulness of his or her faith. True miracles are only a shadow of the true wonder which is sanctifying grace. To possess the truth in the fullness of charity is greater by far than even the greatest of miracles. So it is no wonder that in their misguided search for "the power of the Spirit" that many adherents of the Holiness movement would begin to employ language which is frankly modalistic, if not pantheistic with regards to the Holy Spirit. Such language is little different than that which the Tantrists employ when speaking of the Serpent Power or Kundalini,that of the Mesmerists with regards to the "animal spirits" or than that of the Jehovah's Witnesses who speak of the Holy Spirit as the "active power of God":
"The leaders of the revival expected God to respond to the miracles and power which science and technology were demonstrating with a display of His own signs and wonders of new supernatural power. Electricity, dynamite, telephones and railroads would be used again and again as analogies for the miraculous power which the new "age of the Spirit" was bringing to the church in its mission to save the world." (ibid, pge. 155)
There was even a book published around this time called something like, Spiritual Shocks from Pentecostal Batteries. Terms like electricity, dynamite, with regards to the putative presence of the Holy Spirit are still in use today among modern-day charismatics -even among Catholic theologians, who appear unwilling to contradict any of the modern "anointed prophets" of the false "spirit" of today's signs and wonders movement. One such example, cited by renowned Catholic journalist John Vennari, has the head of a prestigious Catholic educational institution employing equally crude conceptual language to describe the "power of the 'spirit'":
"In this speech, Father Scanlon spoke of his "three conversions" the third "conversion" was his entry into Pentecostalism in 1973. He explained that he felt it his duty, as Rector of 170 Franciscan seminarians, to make his men holy, and was perplexed on how to achieve this. A Carmelite nun told him "You need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit." A week later, one priest and two laymen laid hands on him. He claims that there he received "A R-R-RUSH OF THE SPIRIT". He recounted, "after that, my preaching changed, people started getting healed in the confessional. People started flying in to go to confession." He gave accounts of spiritual and bodily healings he had been involved with. He also shouted, "I EXPERIENCE A GREATER POWER OF THE SPIRIT, A GREATER RUSH TODAY THAN I DID THEN" (in 1973). (John Vennari, op. Cit.)
Such terminology represents the age old confusion of a certain euphoric or emotional response, with a concomitant actual sensation or tingling of the body with something like an electric charge or a wave of energy with the presence of the Holy Spirit. The overwhelming consensus of Catholic tradition, as well as that of most traditional Orthodox theologians and conservative Protestants, has been to disregard such sensations, if not to openly discourage them. Most great mystical writers and doctors, especially St. John of the Cross, consider such "spiritual highs" as means whereby the devil may take advantage of the spiritual pride felt by the individual in such cases, and strictly enjoin the faithful to avoid them.
One important step in the development of the Holiness teachings which eventually led to Pentecostalism were the Keswick conventions. These conventions were to a great degree responsible for infusing Calvinism into the Holiness movement. The movement had until now been characterized by an Arminian doctrine of free cooperation in sanctification. Wesley himself had favored the Arminian doctrine of free grace and the universal call to salvation, which approximates, to a certain degree, the Catholic teaching on such points. Arminianism generally held the freedom of the human will in cooperating in salvation and sanctification, whereas the Calvinist denied free grace, the universal call to salvation, and the freedom of the will, and preached the total depravity of human nature. Consequently, the Keswick spirituality expressed more emphasis on a "higher life of endued power of the Spirit":
" the Keswick Conventions. Keswick became Britain's annual hub for Holiness teachings of a mostly non-Wesleyan kind. At Keswick, they spoke of being given victorious power by the Spirit over inward sin, where a Wesleyan might talk of Christ's gradual 'eradicating' it (removing it, root and all). Keswick viewed baptism as an anointing more than a cleansing. Any later spiritual experience did not make for inner perfection but for perfection (or at least, near-perfection) of what one does and how one lives. US teachers had an influence on Keswick (especially Robert and Hannah Smith), and Keswick had influence in the US, especially in the Alliance (C&MA) churches and at the Moody Institute; also in Foursquare and Open Bible/Gospel Lighthouse churches. Keswick's influence is still felt today on the British charismatic scene." (A Proto-Pentecostal Timeline, Cit.)
Therefore, we see once again the emphasis on "power" as evidence of sanctification , as opposed to the ancient ascetic road of Catholic tradition, deemed so indispensable by the great St. Paul, not to mention the great fathers, doctors and mystics of the Catholic Church. Whatever its doctrinal and mystical deviations, Wesleyism, with its doctrine of entire sanctification, in a moral and ascetic sense, was at least a step in the right direction. The Keswick conventions were to mute the Wesleyan emphasis on entire sanctification, and essentially replace it in the foreground of the movement with the automatism of neo-Calvinism and its emphasis on power, signs and wonders as the evidence of being among the "predestined":
"The Keswick understanding of the experience of holiness and life in the Spirit represents a reshaping of the American Methodist holiness revival's emphasis of entire sanctification The first Keswick Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness grew out of the American lay holiness evangelist, Robert Pearsall Smith and his noted wife, Anna Whitehall Smith. Anglicans continued the Keswick Convention after the American leadership faltered because of rumors which surfaced about Smith's doctrinal and moral integrity." (Dieter, op. Cit., pge. 173)
As is noted by Dieter in the work just cited, the particular nature of the accusations against Pearsall Smith had to do with his concept of "spiritual wifery" whereby he drew rather graphic sexual metaphors to describe the relationship of his women followers to Christ. It is important to note that Pearsall Smith eventually lost the Christian faith completely:
"The bitter failure of his ministry eventually contributd to his complete loss of faith. Hannah Whitehall, his wife and coworker, remained stalwart in her faith until her death in 1911." (ibid, note 33, pge 184)
We saw above that the Keswick Conventions were largely responsible for the infusion of certain Calvinist notions with regards to human nature and free will into the Holiness Movement. This, in turn, paved the way for creating a spiritual milieu were a sort of a mitigated "possession spirituality" (control by the "Spirit") would take the place of the gradual Wesleyan-Arminian eradication of sin, the "entire sanctification":
"The consequent reformulation of the holiness message of victory over sin and the victorious Christian life and witness under the Keswick banner allowed holiness teaching to penetrate the non-Methodist churches of America more broadly than had been possible under the original revival movement with its heavy Methodist perfectionist flavor. The experiences of daily victory over sin was the promise of both theologies. The Calvinistic Keswickians, however, would claim only that in the fully consecrated believers life, the power of the old nature of sin was countered and overcome by the presence of the indwelling Spirit; it was not cleansed away as commonly maintained by their Wesleyan compatriots. Keswick spirituality, strongly tinged with Wesleyan understanding and experience, still colors the self-understanding, or even forms the basis of the prevailing ethos, of many of contemporary evangelicalism's institutions and movments, such as Campus Life, Moody Bible Institute The Assemblies of God denomination and even significant elements within the Southern Baptist Convention." (ibid, pge 175)
The quotation above is important in light of the fact that the Assemblies of God are the chief " trinitarian-Pentecostal" denomination in the world today, and that the Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The Keswickian terminology has passed into the mainstream of the Charismatic movement as well, with all their claims of "victory over sin" (a presumptious claim, see I Corinthians 9:27) and the theologically erroneous notion that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit somehow "supresses" human nature, this being totally corrupt. Such notions veer periously close to the ancient heresy of the Messalians, (see above, chapter 2) since it has never been a teaching of the Catholic Church that God "suppressed" or abolished human nature in effecting the sanctification of individuals. As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, God does not abolish nature, He perfects nature. He perfects our nature by means of sanctifying grace, in which the faithful become, through an ever increasing perfection of charity, ever more fitting and decorous temples of the Holy Spirit. In this way, His Divine Presence in them is increased without measure. The Holy Spirit is not some kind of dog trainer who holds human nature on a leash, or who muzzles and enchains his charges. He is the Spirit of Truth Who testifies to the Truth, and Advocate and Guide of those who seek to do His will, united to the one Body of Christ, the Church, through sanctifying grace. His presence is loving, abiding and gracious providing His faithful children with a ceaseless and divine dialogue, in which He exhorts those indwelt by His presence to cooperate in His divine "mission" of sanctification. He instructs, encourages, nourishes (through the sacramental graces) chastens as a loving parent is wont, and inspires all that is worthy, holy and noble, so that the nature He has created may bear fruit to eternal life. How different from the concept of the supressing of human nature, or of a triumphalistic "victory over sin" which is in essence nothing else but automatism! Yet this is a very common notion today, especially in the more Protestantized versions of the Charismatic Renewal. At some "Life in the Spirit Seminars" (the Charismatic initiation course), even within a "Catholic" context, the speakers will harangue the audience as "sinful worms" in need of total supression of their human nature, thereby leading them into erroneous, Calvinistic concepts of nature and grace.
B. H. IRWIN AND THE "BAPTISM OF FIRE, OR OF THE HOLY SPIRIT"
During the nearly two millenia which preceded the Holiness Movement, historical Christianity had acknowledged but one baptism-the new birth referred to by Our Lord Himself in His encounter with Nicodemus-the begetting from above, of water and the Spirit. (St. John 3:5) These words of Our Lord have been interpreted by the Church infallibly and definitively to refer exclusively to the first sacrament of Christian initiation, whereby one is incorporated into the body of Christ, the Church, whether by means of immersion, infusion, or aspersion with the pronouncing of the valid Trinitarian formula-"I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." St. Paul himself recognized that there is but, "one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism." (Ephesians 4:5) Whatever controversies regarding the one baptism which arose during the Donatist and Novatianist heresies, or subsequent to the rise of the Reformers, with regards to the rebaptism of adults had nothing to do with a "second baptism" or with the idea that there were multiple baptisms to be undergone in the course of a believer's life. The concept of Baptism in the Holy Spirit, or of the Holy Spirit, was actually put forth for the first time by an associate of John Wesley named John Fletcher during the former's lifetime. This can, however, be regarded merely as a neologism to describe the Wesleyan experience of the "second blessing" of sanctification, and had little to do with the notions subsequently developed of an "enduement of spiritual power" or a granting of miraculous powers. The idea of a "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" did not capture the popular Protestant imagination until the publication of a book by Holiness Preacher Asa Mahan in 1870 entitled, "Baptism of the Holy Ghost." Again, I must add that although the terminology employed by Mahan undoubtedly had great influence on the subsequent development of the Holiness doctrine of spiritual empowerment, Mahan no doubt chiefly had in mind merely the Wesleyan "second blessing of sanctification" and not necessarily any extraordinary manifestations or paroxysms, except those which Wesleyan experimentalism would consider as "conviction of sin" or a "wounding of the conscience." It was with the birth of the idea of yet a "third work" of spiritual experience, distinct from Wesley's salvation and sanctification (first and second blessings) which, in my view, ultimately gave rise to the phenomenon we now know as the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit." During the 1880's this novelty became quite defined:
"The Western Kansas Ministerial Association discussed sanctification, and some of its members thought that there were three works: regeneration, sanctification, and the baptism of the Spirit. W.H. Kennedy, later to serve as general mission secretary, distinguished at one time between entire sanctification on the one hand, and the baptism with the Holy Ghost on the other, saying they were distinct experiences which might or might not occur at the same time; he declared this baptism to be a special impartition of power, repeatable many times." (Haines, op. .cit. , pge. 136)
At this point we encounter the birth pangs of what can be considered Pentecostalism proper. Contrary to many of the Charismatic propagandists, the movement did not spring forth all of a sudden on the morning of Jan. 1, 1901 in Topeka Kansas. As we can see, there was a gradual erosion of Christian concepts, like sanctification, baptism, salvation etc. which occurred within certain Holiness Churches, taking these denominations further and further out of the pale of orthodox Christianity. Such developments were by no means welcome within all the Holiness Churches themselves, whose leaders must have recognized that such notions were leading many adherents and into the realm of cult theology, of novelties with respect to Biblical teaching and traditional doctrine:
"The most damaging aspect of the "third work" teaching for Wesleyan Methodists was in the form of the baptism of fire. This teaching apparently originated with Benjamin Hardin Irwin of Lincoln, Nebraska, a former Baptist minister who became a member of the Iowa Holiness Association. He became convinced that there was a distinction between the baptism of the Holy Spirit at entire sanctification, and the baptism of fire which subsequently brought down power to the believer. He sought, and claimed to receive such a baptism...It was in Anderson, South Carolina, that Irwin organized the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, which later merged into the Pentecostal Holiness Church." (ibid, pp. 136-137)
Renowned Pentecostal scholar Harold Hunter provides us with an illuminating account of how B. H. Irwin developed his "Baptism of Fire" doctrines, beginning with his becoming acquainted with the writings of Wesley's associate, John Fletcher. (Fletcher, it will be recalled, was the first divine to actually use the phrase, "Baptism in the Holy Spirit.)
"It was through the ministrations of the Iowa Holiness Association that Benjamin Harden Irwin was won to the holiness ranks Irwin then decided to enter the ministry and was ordained by the Baptist Church. In the early 1890's, Irwin came into contact with one of the "Bands" of the Iowa Holiness Association and was convinced about the reality of the second blessing Irwin devoured the works of John Wesley, but became more interested in John Fletcher, Wesley's successor in the English Methodist Societies. Irwin was especially impressed with John Fletcher's Checks to Antinomianism. According to his reading of Fletcher, many early English Methodists testified to an experience beyond salvation and sanctification, which they called "the baptism of burning love." Published in Way of Faith by 1895, Irwin constructed the doctrine of a "third blessing" for those who had already been sanctified. This was the baptism of the Holy Ghost and with fire, or simply the baptism of fire. This would be the enduement of power from on high through the Holy Spirit." (Dr. Harold Hunter, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, published in The Acts of Pentecost, edited by Yung-Chul Han . Seoul: Han Young Theological University, 1998).
One will notice the confluence of trends at work in Irwin's novelty of "fire baptism"-the Keswick doctrines of an "enduement of spiritual power" grafted onto the Wesleyan / Holiness concept of sanctification.
"Setting aside the Way of Faith and The Guide, J.H. King declared that Irwin's 1899 Live Coals of Fire was the first publication in the nation to teach that the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire was subsequent to sanctification. While perhaps not imitating the exact turn of phrase, other North Americans preceded Irwin in this basic concept." (Ibid)
Although, as Dr. Hunter acknowledges, the idea of the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurring after sanctification did not originate entirely with Irwin's "baptism of fire", it was Irwin's ministry which was to bring the teaching to real prominence in the holiness circles- and it was Irwin, after all, who established the first "Fire Baptized Holiness Association" in 1895:
"In 1895, the controversy in Iowa over the new doctrine [Irwin's third blessing] became so heated that Reid and the older leadership of the Iowa Holiness Association invited Irwin and his followers to disassociate themselves from the organization. Irwin then quickly formed a local chapter of Fire Baptized Holiness Associations to counter the negative influence of the older group. The first such organization was effected at Olmitz, Iowa in 1895. " (Ibid)
The "Fire Baptized Holiness Associations" adopted a statement of belief which bore little resemblance to the creeds of historical Christianity, concentrating on the experiences of "sanctification" and "baptism of the Holy Ghost", rather than any statements of dogmatic or doctrinal truth. They thus turned away from any objective basis of faith (such as Sacred Scripture or Tradition) towards the uncharted waters of experientialism:
The following was included in the Constitution:
"We believe also that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is obtainable by a definite act of appropriating faith on the part of the fully cleansed believer. We believe also that the baptism with fire is a definite, scriptural experience, obtainable by faith on the part of the Spirit-filled believers. We do not believe that the baptism with fire is an experience independent of, or disassociated with the Holy Ghost." (Ibid)
As will be seen presently, B.H. Irwin would later cross paths with Azusa Street via the influence of two prominent Pentecostal, A.J. Tomlinson and the putative founder of the movement, Charles F. Parham. It is beyond dispute that the doctrine of "fire baptism" exercised a preeminent influence on the early Pentecostal "Baptism in the Spirit"-perhaps the difference between the two is no more than a change in terminology.
What exactly was the experience of "fire baptism" to which Irwin and his like minded colleagues gave such critical importance? While it is risky to speculate on the nature of anyone's subjective experiences, I believe that what the first "Fire baptized" believers were undergoing was a phenomenon common in all the world's religious traditions and practices - and among many of the parallel movements which we have examined so far Certainly, Irwin's mention of falling into a "trance" is significant, as it suggests the pseudo-mystical, psychosomatic euphoria which could also be termed the "spiritual high"-though it is not spiritual, and has nothing to do with the heavely heights at all. This experience consists generally of a kind of "spiritual warmth" which spreads throughout the body, causing a feeling of exhiliration and euphoria, of empowerment, an explosion of spiritual energy, somewhere midway between mere auto-suggestion and a true preternatural phenomena. It can be seen being produced by stage hypnotists and among audiences at rock concerts. It takes place quite frequently in the possession cults of the Caribbean, and in the studio audiences of televangelists. Of course, it would be unfair to imply that all of the early Pentecostals or Charismatics had this type of experience. At the same time, however, it does seem rather curious that so many so called mystical states (irregardless of denomination or religious belief) coincide in the matter of their psychophysical concomitants-and that they virtually all talk about a trembling of the body, a sensation of spiritual power tingling in their torso, and of a very convincing feeling of empowerment and of an intense heat. No doubt the first experiences of the "Fire Baptized" and those of the first Pentecostals were extremely similar, as is implied by this personal testimony of a follower of the Azusa Street revival in 1906:
"I now began to go to the altar and earnestly seek for the Lord to have His way
with me. Soon the power of God began to work with me. The Holy Ghost showed me that I must
be clay in the Potter's hands, an empty vessel before the Lord. I laid aside all doctrine,
all pre-conceived ideas and teachings and became absolutely empty. The Holy Ghost now
settled down on me, and I could feel the power going through me like electric needles. The
Spirit taught me that I must not resist the power but give way and become limp as a piece
of cloth. When I did this, I fell under the power, and God began to mold me and teach me
what it meant to be really surrendered to Him. I was laid out under the power five times
before Pentecost really came. Each time I would come out from under the power, I would
feel so sweet and clean, as though I had been run through a washing machine.
I now had come to the place where I was completely submitted to the whole will of God.
I had been seeking about five weeks, and on a Saturday morning I awoke and stretched my
arms toward heaven and asked God to fill me with the Holy Ghost. My arms began to tremble,
and soon I was shaken violently by a great power, and it seemed as though a large pipe was
fitted over my neck, my head apparently being off. I was now filled with the Holy Ghost. I
cannot describe the power I felt. The nearest description that could be given would be the
action of a pump under terrific pressure, filing me with oil. I could feel the filling in
my toes and all parts of my body which seemed to me to swell until I thought I would
burst. I do not know how long this continued but it seemed to me a long time. The ressure
was now removed and my soul and spirit seemed to leave the body and float in the air just
above. My body seemed hard and metallic like iron. This was undoubtedly the baptism into
the death of Christ." (The Apostolic Faith Edition 3, copyright 1999 by Dunamai)
It seems hightly likely that the phrase "Fire baptism" was more than a metaphor; it was a trenchant description of a literally hot and tingly experience.. Perhaps these observations by Father Seraphim Rose, may be enlightening:
"Besides laughter and tears, and often together with them, there are a number of other physical reactions to the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit," including warmth, many kinds of trembling and contortions, and falling to the floor One does not know at what to marvel the more: at the total incongruence of such hysterical feelings and experiences with anything at all spiritual or at the incredible light-mindedness that leads such deceived people to ascribe their contortions to the "Holy Spirit," to "divine inspiration," to the "peace of Christ." These are clearly people in the spiritual and religious realm, are not only totally inexperienced and without guidance, but are absolutely illiterate. The whole history of Orthodox Christianity does not know of any such "ecstatic" experiences produced by the Holy Spirit. It is only foolishness when some "charismatic" apologists presume to compare these childish and hysterical experiences, which are open to absolutely everyone, with the Divine revelations accorded to the greatest Saints, such as to St. Paul on the road to Damascus or to St. John the Evangelist on Patmos. Those Saints fell down before the true God (without contortions, and certainly without laughter), whereas these pseudo-Christians are merely reacting to the presence of an invading spirit, and are worshipping only themselves. The Elder Macarius of Optina wrote to a person in a similar state: "Thinking to find the love of God in consoling feelings, you are seeking not God but yourself, that is, your own consolation, while you avoid the path of sorrows, considering yourself supposedly lost without spiritual consolations" . .. Bishop Ignatius gives several examples of such physical accompaniments of spiritual deception: one, a monk who trembled and made strange sounds, and identified these signs as the "fruits of prayer"; another, a monk whom the bishop met who as a result of his ecstatic method of prayer felt such heat in his body that he needed no warm clothing in winter, and this heat could even be felt by others. As a general principle, Bishop Ignatius writes, the second kind of spiritual deception is accompanied by "a material, passionate warmth of the blood"; "the behavior of the ascetics of Latinism, embraced by deception, has always been ecstatic, by reason of this extraordinary material, passionate warmth" - This material warmth of the blood, a mark of the spiritually deceived, is to be distinguished from the spiritual warmth felt by those such as St. Seraphim of Sarov who genuinely acquired the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is not acquired from ecstatic "charismatic" experiences, but by the long and arduous path of asceticism the "path of sorrows" of which the Elder Macarius spoke, within the Church of Christ." (Extracted from: Father Seraphim Rose, Missionary Leaflet #E90, Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, 2049 Argyle Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90068. Editor: Archimandrite Alexander Mileant)
Although one cannot agree with Father Seraphim on all points-especially not with the disparaging remarks he makes about great saints of the Church like Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola- and about The Imitation of Christ- I do believe that his observations are extremely valuable, coming from a man who is deeply learned in the ways of the eastern monastic tradition, which represents the accumulated wisdom of nearly two thousand years of ascetic struggle. As such, Father Seraphim is certainly familiar with the lives of the saints, and with the criteria employed by the great Catholic Fathers of monasticism. He is well aware that such physical manifestations as intense heat and trembling can proceed either from nature, or from the evil one, and of themselves have no significance one way or the other with relation to true holiness.
Certain apologists for the Charismatic view will inevitably point to great mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila, who reported experiencing certain states which bear a resemblance to those described by the proto Pentecostals and the Charismatcs. However, such experiences were only concomitants to authentic, Church approved, mystical states, under the careful guardianship of holy spiritual directors, men who were well versed in asceticism and the holy life.
And even if we occasionally find, scattered here and there throughout the vast
panegyric literature of the Church certain anomalous phenomena, we must say, with Cardinal
Newman, "one divine does not make a catena." Such phenomena are never accorded
much importance by the saints, and are totally subordinated to the higher faculties of the
human soul, being genuine only in a few extraordinary cases. No saint, doctor, or true
mystic has ever counseled the faithful to seek such states, or, for that matter, to seek
any spiritual power at all. We are only to seek the Lord in an increase of charity. True
miracles and mystic states will come only if they lead to the salvation of souls and the
growth of the Church. Such things are emphatically not to be sought out actively merely to
bolster self-esteem, or as a method of winning a following for oneself.
In the Holiness context, such phenomena were undoubtedly provoked by an attitude of extreme spiritual expectation, maybe of remorse, or fear of hell, accompanied by a repetitive, yet inspiring hymnology, by the cadence of the preacher's sermons, and by the general ambience of spiritual expectation in the crowd. This is merely this universal pseudo- religious experience's Protestant American context. Such things can be observed happening all over the world, in quite distinct circumstances. The nature of such events, both then and now, would from all appearances seem to be identical. This is true whether we are discussing the so called "fire baptism" of Irwin or the so called "stirring of the Spirit" or "rekindling of the Spirit" of the present day Catholic Charismatic theologians- such happenings bear little or no resemblance to the true and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, any more than do the almost identical manifestations among the Kundalini yogis of Hinduism, or those of cult Subud. Just the other day I came across a web page published by a self described "Catholic mystic" which relates that individuals experience of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" after having hands laid on him by a Pentecostal minister. Word for word, the description is indistinguishable from the Kundalini power flowing into the yogic chakras.
The fundamental problem with all these experiences is attributing to the Holy Spirit,
the third person of the Blessed Trinity, actions totally unbecoming the Divine Nature in
which He shares co-equally with the Father and the Son. As we observed earlier, the Holy
Spirit cannot be compared to an electrical current or a "shock" who
"zaps" or "slays" people and whose primary interaction with human
beings is that of an mysterious, channeled physical force acting for the most part in a
corporeal manner. This was the error undoubtedly committed by the "fire
baptized" people like Irwin and the later Pentecostals-and which continues today
among many Charismatics and Pentecostals-the confusion of bodily feelings and emotions
with the true actions of the Holy Spirit. Compare the early "Fire Baptizer's"
and Pentecostal's descriptions of the so called presence of the Holy Spirit, as well as
that of their spiritual descendants, the modern day Charismatics, who openly approve of
any and every tingling, heat, burning, shaking, jumping, dancing, etc. as long as it is
done under the aegis of the "New Pentecost", with the words of the great father
of the Greek Church, St. Basil:
"Now the Spirit is not brought into intimate association with the soul by local approximation. How indeed could there be a corporeal approach to the incorporeal? This association results from the withdrawal of the passions which, coming afterwards gradually on the soul from its friendship to the flesh, have alienated it from its close relationship with God. Only then after a man is purified from the shame whose stain he took through his wickedness, and has come back again to his natural beauty, and as it were cleaning the Royal Image and restoring its ancient form, only thus is it possible for him to draw near to the Paraclete. And He, like the sun, will by the aid of thy purified eye show thee in Himself the image of the invisible, and in the blessed spectacle of the image thou shalt behold the unspeakable beauty of the archetype. Through His aid hearts are lifted up, the weak are held by the hand, and they who are advancing are brought to perfection.
Shining upon those that are cleansed from every spot, He makes them spiritual by fellowship with Himself. Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others.
Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of
what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the
chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and,
highest of all, the being made God. Such, then, to instance a few out of many, are the
conceptions concerning the Holy Spirit, which we have been taught to hold concerning His
greatness, His dignity, and His operations, by the oracles of the Spirit themselves."
(St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, IX, 23)
This great and venerable father of the Church makes it clear that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer has nothing to do with the "circumscribed corporeal presence" claimed by so many Pentecostals and Charismatics (and no doubt by their Fire Baptized forerunners) but His presence is comensurate and increases in us as we grow and increase in holiness, in the virtues which serve as the true channels of His sanctifying presence. The joy which the saint here speaks of has nothing in it of the theatrical and sensualistic "r-r-rush!" of Father Scanlon, or of the "zapping" experienced by the modern day revivalists in Toronto, or Pensacola.
Where is the "Royal Image"? Is it zapped, or shocked, or knocked to the
ground by an unseen force field? Such pantheistic concepts, little different in essence
from the "force" of the Star Wars series, merely serves to lead true Christians
further away from the traditional teachings of the Church, and into the terra incognita of
dangerous spiritual experimentation. Though this may not have been the intention of most
of the early "Fire Baptists", their erroneous conceptions would ultimately lead
to downright absurdities, such as the one I witnessed the other day while casually channel
surfing. "Word of Faith" preacher Kenneth Copeland and a colleague of his whom I
did not recognize were encouraging the television audience to receive the
"anointing" which, they assured everyone, was literally hanging over the
television studio like fog. They claimed to be able to transmit this "anointing"
through the television sets of their viewers! If this is not occultism of the first
magnitude, then I do not know how such can be defined.
There is no doubt that the "fire baptism" was the direct precursor to the classic "Pentecostal experience" or "Baptism in the Holy Spirit"; it is equally true that this experience has nothing to do with the "revivifying of the sacramental graces" which is spoken of nowadays by Catholic Charismatic theologians who desire a reconciliation between the true Catholic mystical tradition, and the spurious so-called Pentecostal experience.
The constant craving for spiritual experience, as is attested to by all the great
mystics of the Church, is addictive, like a drug. If the experiences are indeed spurious,
they will never ultimately satisfy the soul that hungers after them, and will be required
in stronger and stronger doses. In light of this, it is no surprise that Irwin himself was
no longer content with merely the "Baptism of fire" but went further and further
down the road of absurdity and fanaticism:
"The Fire-Baptized movement almost disappeared in 1900 after Irwin backslid and abandoned the church. Before this he had taught several more baptisms including the baptisms of "dynamite," "liddite," and 'oxidite.'" (Vinson Synan, Whence the Pentecostal Holiness Church?)
"August 1st, 1898, I was pardoned of my sins. On the following Sunday at 11 o'clock, God sanctified me wholly. A few days later I received the Comforter. Later on, in October, God gave me the Baptism of fire. The devil, and all the hosts of hell cannot make me doubt this. When my sister Mattie was married, I fell into a trance and saw a vision. During services a night or so afterwards, God showed me that I needed more power for service; so I made my wants known and prayer being offered my faith took hold of God's promises, and I received the Dynamite. A few nights after this I received the definite experience of Lyddite." (Vinson Synan, The Old-Time Power: A History of the Pentecostal Holiness Church (Franklin Springs: Advocate Press, 1986) 81f. as quoted in Hunter, The Pentecostal Holiness Church, cited)
The trance was an all too common occurrence with regards to the early Pentecostals. In light of the bizarre terminology employed by Irwin, as well as his self confessed trance, it is not unlikely that he may have fallen victim to a preternatural influence. His language is the language of one who is addicted to such experiences, in the same way that a drug addict is addicted to narcotics. When the ordinary "fire baptism" no longer satisfied Irwin's craving for "empowerment", he had to seek ever stronger doses of such experiences, terminating in the absurd and unchristian notion of " Lyddite" baptism.
Among those who fell under his influence, we may include, significantly, the father of Pentecostalism, Charles F. Parham:
"It is documented that Charles Parham met up with Fire-Baptized enthusiasts in Topeka upon arriving in 1898 and encountered Irwin himself at some point before 1901." (Hunter, The Pentecostal Holiness Church, cited)
Not practicing what one preaches is an all too familiar event in the lives of cult figures- there is an all too common tendency among such people to "strain the gnat and swallow the camel" as it were, with regards to their devotees, and certainly Irwin was no exception. It was precisely such hypocritical behavior on his part which led to his general repudiation by the Holiness movement from which he sprang.
I do not wish to be judgmental with regards to Mr. Irwin's conduct, since I have
certainly been guilty of grave sin myself. Leaving doctrinal considerations aside for one
moment, I can only insist on this point- that if the "Fire Baptized Movement"
had been truly inspired, it is not illogical to conclude that God would have had least led
its founder to sincere repentance and a holy lifestyle especially after having received
the "baptism of fire." The movement itself was a definitive and indispensable
link in the chain which leads to the classical "Baptism of the Spirit" practiced
by both Pentecostals and modern day Charismatics. It is generally acknowledged that
subsequent to all his extraordinary claims, Irwin became a public lecher and drunkard and
this (along with all of his false dogmas and occult language) positively excludes the
"Fire Baptized Movement" as a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit:
"The precise nature of Irwin's indiscretion is not often repeated, but C.E. Jones, "Benjamin Hardin Irwin," Dictionary of Christianity in America, 583, passes on the 1900 announcement by H.C. Morrison in his Pentecostal Herald that Irwin had been seen on an Omaha street drunk and smoking a cigar. This was followed by divorce and a marriage to a young woman. J.H. King, "Pentecostal Holiness Church," 23, lamented that an alluring woman had tempted Irwin. But more pointedly, J.H. King, "Unity," Advocate 6:14 (August 3, 1992) p. 5, wrote:
"His [Irwin] life for many years alternated between the pulpit and the harlot house. He would go from the pulpit to wallow with harlots the rest of the night. During this time he was preaching fiercely against wearing neckties, eating pork, and drinking coffee."
(Harold D. Hunter, Director of Archives and Research Center, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, "Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads: Little Noticed Crosscurrents of B.H. Irwin, Charles Fox Parham, Frank Sandford, A.J. Tomlinson note 56" Cyberjournal for Pentecostal Charismatic Research)