The Death of the Holiness Movement 


The Imminent Collapse of Arminianism

By Jeff Paton

I believe the consensus is correct that what we have known to be the Holiness Movement in America is now a subject for the history books. It has ceased to be a “Movement,” and has sunk in the direction of a “Holiness Decline.” It is a positive “Movement” no more.    

What I am about to write will reveal my heart and my mind on the matter before us. We live in an age where there is plenty of latitudinarianism exists under the umbrella, which is called “Arminianism.” Arminianism has always allowed a great deal of latitude, but has suffered when the boundaries of what is “Arminian” has not been defended and defined. The tendency to have a “big tent” has weakened Arminianism to the extent that it means nothing at all besides a description of someone who does not believe in the error of fatalistic Calvinism. But what Arminianism isn’t, does not define what Arminianism “is.” My call to a recovery of true Arminianism in our day is going to place me in jeopardy with many of my closest friends and advocates. I do not proceed to emphasize the errors and differences of others to just be critical, but to express where I believe the Holiness Movement went wrong, and why modern “Arminianism” is not the “Reformation” or restoration of the original it claims to be.

     When any Church or Movement dies, something must take its place. In the case of the Holiness Churches as, The Church of the Nazarene, Wesleyan Church , Free Methodist Church , Church of God (Anderson), and the Salvation Army, something must take the place of the doctrines that have been abandoned. As I observed the demise of the Holiness Church Movement, I witnessed many things which I believe have contributed to its death. I have also watched vigilantly as to where these denominations are going. If they have distanced themselves from their past, where are they going? I have watched as the wavering within these denominations as their future direction is being decided. I believe that I am seeing the solidification of where they are going to hang their doctrinal hats based upon a recent united front of criticism of the areas that I hold in common with the Holiness Movement doctrines.

     Before I discuss what I believe is going to be the inadequate, dishonest, and ineffective modern doctrine that is showing evidence of replacing Holiness theology, allow me to explain what I see as the contributing factors of why and where we are in this position today. What I am about to write will no doubt make me unpopular with many who have been supporters of this ministry. I do not do so to divide, but to honestly evaluate what I see as the root causes of the spiritual problems that have brought down the Holiness Movement, and potentially Arminianism today.  

First, allow me to state that I have some fundamental differences with the Holiness Movement itself. While I am greatly indebted to Holiness Theology for much of my thinking, I am fundamentally more in line with primitive Methodist thinking concerning the timing to the reception of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I do not accept or adhere to the Holiness view of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as being the defining mark of the event of sanctification. This however, does not exclude me from believing that sanctification is related to a definite work of the Spirit, or that it is a second work of grace. I side with John Wesley and the early Methodists that the New Birth is the event of that spiritual baptism.    

Secondly, the doctrine in which I differ with the Holiness Movement is the very cause of its own weakening as far as I can see.

     I do not see the doctrine of sanctification being equated with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to be a Biblical position. One error inevitably breeds more error; that is the nature of connecting one doctrine with another.

    In 1900, a Methodist minister named Charles Parham sought to promote spirituality by seeking this “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Unfortunately, he “sought” an experience, not more of God. When he and his followers failed to experience entire sanctification, and what they thought would be the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, he re-evaluated what the “evidence” would be if one were so “Baptized.” In doing so, he noted that in the early Church, as recorded in the book of Acts, often mentioned that people spoke in “tongues” after they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. So, in essence, he and his followers ceased to seek more of God and Entire Sanctification, and proceeded to seek this sign of tongues. Just as today, many Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches “teach” people the same method of seeking, believing, and surrendering one’s intellect and will to learn how to open oneself up to this “gift.”

    Now it should not be any surprise that as a traditional Methodist in theology as I am, I would not accept such a gift as evidence of anything spiritual. I say this not to offend, but there are Biblical, doctrinal, historical, and experiential reasons why I am not a Pentecostal.

     The seeking of gifts and the association of their reception of them as being the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit displaced sanctification as its sign. In most Pentecostal Churches, the doctrine of entire sanctification is relegated to a “third work” of grace at best. What usually occurs is that once “tongues” are received, people view that as assurance of their salvation, and Holiness sanctification ceases to be sought, crisis sanctification is subtly denied in practice, and Calvinistic “progressive” sanctification takes its place. While many Pentecostal Churches “officially” have Entire Sanctification as a crisis as their doctrine, we find that in most of these Churches tongues and other gifts cloud the initiative of their people to the degree that the doctrine of crisis sanctification is no longer embraced by the people as a serious matter.

     As we approached the 1960’s and 70’s, the Tongues Movement came of age. What was viewed as a fringe “whacko” Movement by most traditional Church members became accepted as Mainstream. People embraced it as spiritual, and instead of just affiliating with a denomination that taught their doctrine, many sought to convert others from within non-Pentecostal Churches. This upset and brought down many Churches. What was intended to bless these Churches ended up dividing and destroying many of them! I know of some whom even today, infiltrate their Churches, and through the same subtlety as the devil himself, subvert the very teachings of the local Body they are in, in order to give their doctrine a foothold.  

     Now before my statement sinks in and offends my Arminian brothers and sisters who are sympathetic to Pentecostalism, let me say that as I accept you as true Christians and not enemies. Please treat my difference of opinion with equal understanding. You see, under the big tent of Arminianism, I am usually expected to be quiet and tolerant of Pentecostalism. The fact is, if I agreed with it I would be a Pentecostal; but I am not. While you may be convinced that I am wrong, you are welcome to your view, but I am equally convinced that tongues and the seeking of gifts gets in the way of true spirituality, and does not enhance it.

      I note our differences, not to attack Pentecostals, but to show what I see as a contributing factor in the disintegration of the Holiness Movement from within. Doctrinally speaking, they brought it on themselves with the introduction of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as an event that was subsequent to the New Birth. One erroneous doctrine has led to yet another. The general acceptance of tongues by many tolerant “Holiness” people has ultimately led to doubting or lowering the importance of Entire Sanctification, resulting in the deterioration of their doctrinal foundations. I see the Doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as subsequent to salvation to have contributed to their self-destruction.

     Death was slow in coming when the doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was moved from sanctification to emotional evidence of speaking in tongues. It has been a creeping pace of death since it had infected the Movement, and rigermortice has finally set in! The Holiness Movement is not alone as the Pentecostal infiltration into all denominations would eventually affect the minds and hearts of the people through its popularity, but it is especially destructive to the Holiness Church doctrine because it displaces its central motive. Pentecostalism thrives because people believe that through all of the stir and emotion that they experience spiritual “life” in their Church, where those set on being accurate in doctrine tend to reject these claims of  “gifts” as being evidence of spirituality, but lean on inward holiness of the heart as the true evidence of spirituality. As most Pentecostals believe that "doctrine" would stifle their spiritual life, the Holiness believer would usually see the inclusion of these "gifts" as interfering and distracting from what really matters in spirituality. I believe that both are correct in pointing out that a mixture of the two would lead to the weakening or tearing down of the other. 

Another factor that has driven in the final nail of the coffin was the advent of the permissive loose living of the 1960’s and 1970’s. This "softened up" the doctrinal standards of many Holiness Churches with the excuse of "reaching out" to be relevant in modern society. They needed members and money to keep the doors open, and pensions flowing! 

In the 1980's we saw the advent of a new worldview complete its transition to Post-Modernism. It denies that any moral absolutes can be known, which is death to any concept of holiness. In the early 1990’s we saw the new “Tolerance” Movement and political correctness that made it wrong to speak out plainly about sin. It promoted tolerance of homosexuality, abortion on demand, and viewing premarital sex as inevitable and normal. Though the Holiness churches generally did not accept Post-Modernism and the New Tolerance, widespread private acceptance of these beliefs within the ranks could only result in disaster for holiness, and the Holiness Movement itself!

As the Holiness Movement has collapsed, those within have sought to move their denominations in one of several directions:  

    1. Towards Pentecostalism as a substitute, where they believe “life” is to be found for a dead Church.
    2. Pelagianism, a growing humanistic approach to Christianity which on the surface appears to be similar or the same as Arminian theology. This I do not see as a viable or acceptable substitute, for it cheapens God’s grace and replaces it with an achievable act of man to activate self-salvation. Instead of true grace which is God reaching out to a sinner who cannot respond without God's influence, "grace" becomes merely being exposed to a better education about one's need for atonement.
    3. A “Neo” Arminianism that passes itself off as a “Reformed” Arminianism, claiming a restoration of Arminian principles appears to be making strong headway as the replacement for the failed Holiness Movement. By their name of "Reformed," they infer that they have recovered what is essential to Arminianism, and have removed the centuries of doctrinal baggage that hindered it. We will see that that is not really true and that they frequently disagree with the judgment of Arminius more than traditional Wesleyan-Arminianism ever has. 
    4. The holdouts, which desperately cling to the glories of the past, holed up in their little private cloisters with like-minded believers, having little of no impact in society or the further prevention of  the demise of the Holiness Movement around them.


a). Many have abandoned their Holiness roots and have run to Pentecostalism. Many have helped to reform their Churches so that they have become an ecumenical mess. Believing that they are taking the spiritual high road, they accept anything and everything, while standing for nothing but a commonality of "gifts"! This is the state of many of the previous Holiness Churches. There is no longer any “doctrinal distinctive” that makes them critically different from any other Church. Accept all, Believe all, Accomplish nothing for Christ! It is the Pentecostal view added to the Post-Modern view, resulting in a religion that fears doctrine, yet believes that in avoiding it they achieve something spiritual! Holding hands with apostates and false teachers on the basis of the "evidence of speaking in tongues" is not a Biblical basis for Christian unity!

b). Pelagianism is the second route that many have taken. Pelagianism is often confused with Arminianism because they both strongly reject fatalistic Calvinism. Yet agreeing with a Pelagian that Calvinism is wrong ultimately does not make one agree with their “gospel” of humanism!

     Arminians are close to Calvinists in that they believe that God is the Author of salvation, and God must initiate belief and the ability to repent in a person. The Pelagian reduces God’s grace down to the mechanics of preaching and teaching, and the self-salvation of the will. If you hear or read the Gospel, that is “grace.” If you hear the Gospel, you can "will" yourself to repent and believe; no further aid of God is required. It is an act of your will, not the gift of God that you believe. They deny inherited depravity believing that they are rescuing God from an injustice, while they conveniently ignore the problems that their humanism places on the Bible. Though they incessantly throw out a strawman that a belief in Inherited Depravity would make God to force men to sin, which would mean that man is not responsible for their sin, they brush off that Arminianism never teaches what they accuse them of, and ignore that we teach that Inherited Depravity forces no one to sin! I do not place much stock in a system that must misrepresent another position in order to defeat it. Such is dishonesty through silence, and false guilt by inference! 

     I have noted a disturbing trend towards Pelagianism within the Pentecostalism of the past ten years; many Pentecostals have taken a strong shift towards this spiritually fatal error. The Pelagian scheme of a works-based salvation is also what many former Holiness people have shamefully gravitated towards as being the viable alternative to their former theology. It is like witnessing an evil gravity, or quicksand, as one embraces the most subtle forms of this doctrine, and in time is slowly sucked down. Finneyism is a common starting point, and most of the people I know who started here have eventually come to embrace and defended the person of Pelagius and doctrinal Pelagianism. Such a departure from grace, as doctrinal Pelagianism is, is ultimately a departure from the Scriptural Gospel of Christ for a form of self-salvation.  

      There is virtually no difference between a Pelagian and a Semi-Pelagian except that the “Semi” claims that “grace” is necessary to saving a person. The problem is with their version of “grace” is that it is reduced to merely hearing or reading the Gospel. This makes salvation out to be nothing more than a better education and a better personal decision on how to act, and is really no grace at all! It is not supernatural grace, but a matter of right information and the mere decisions of the intellect. It is determining oneself to "turn over a new leaf" and be saved. It is not the "Gospel" grace of the Bible, it is humanism disguised in spiritual language! While God uses the Gospel preached and Gospel read as a means of grace, there is nothing within sinful man that would lead him to repent apart from a direct intervention of God to convict and convince him of the truth that God has offered the grace of salvation in that moment! A person can reject the gracious offer of God, but it is much more than man hearing and deciding for himself to be saved!

     Yes, I readily admit that the Holiness Movement emphasized the human element in salvation. God no more repents for us than He believes for us! But God is not in heaven wringing His hands saying, “I hope that Joe will decide to change his life and believe in Me!” God acts first in Arminianism; man responds in kind as he is enabled.

c). I must comment on the third alternative which is called “Reformed Arminianism.” Under the big tent attitude, this has gained a lot of ground, and I believe this is what the majority of former Holiness Movement Churches are turning into. As this doctrine gains popularity, those that hold to it have gained confidence! With this confidence, some have now gone on the attack to question those that still hold to a Wesleyan-Arminian theology! Basically, they have become critical and arrogant towards Holiness theology.  

     I have generally held to the “big tent” idea, and have not responded in kind to the attacks, but because it looks like this is the future of things to come, I will be plain about my sentiments. First let me express again that if I agreed with so-called “Reformed Arminianism” I would teach it! So, it is only fair to say that I am not obligated to agree with their view anymore than they are to agree with mine.

     Generally, “Reformed Arminianism” is nothing more than failed Free-Will Baptist theology which has never done much for Christ as far as Church history testifies (it has never had even a vague portion of the influence that Wesleyan-Methodism has produced, and has never had the strength to rise to the level of a "Movement"). It seeks to replace the most successful and effective form of Arminianism with that which is not associated with a long history of large-scale success and revival! I see little sense in such a poor exchange of doctrine and emphasis! While those with this doctrine may have many Churches that agree with them, I see little noteworthy impact from their existence in history. The chief differences between Reformed Arminianism and the Holiness Movement is that the Reformed Arminian crowd believes in OLAL (Once Lost Always Lost), whereas, the Wesleyan-Arminian generally (but not all) believes that while there is a place to where God gives up on somebody, not all falling away from the faith is final. It is not the falling away that makes it final, but the refusal to repent again that seals the deal. In all of Scripture, God never turns away the truly repentant believer. Generally, the Reformed Arminian believes in the Penal Satisfaction theory of the atonement which was invented to support the determinism of fatalistic Calvinism. They do not see that the Penal Satisfaction theory demands Calvinism as its inevitable result. They tend to be Immersionists (which shows their connection to Free-Will Baptist theology).

      Now, I tend to be tolerant and silent about many of these differences, except many inside the "Reformed Arminian" camp have started to feel free to attack the positions that I hold as a Wesleyan-Arminian. These differences have been in debate within the Arminian fold for years and are nothing new. What I find problematic is that they attempt to claim the moral high-ground by using the term “Reformed” as if they are the true Arminians, and others are imposters. The, idea of claiming to be "Reformed" suggests that other Arminians have missed the original and true path of Arminianism. The fact is, they are not “Reformed” Arminians at all! Their false claim to have revived the doctrine of Arminius by adding the word “Reformed” in front of their name, is nothing but a marketing ploy and a shallow deception! This is like posting that you belong to a “ Full Gospel Church,” which implies that everyone else only has a “Partial Gospel” Church! It is misguided and arrogant to the core!

     First, there is no proof that Arminius taught or was committed to the idea of Penal Satisfaction! I will admit that he most likely did, only because he was a student of Beza who invented it! Arminius never states a commitment to Penal Substitution in his "Works," but "Reformed" Arminians force the idea where Arminius never did. Where Arminius uses the language of punishment, he never follows the conclusions to their logical and inevitable end. One may use the language that implies Penal Substitution and not believe in Penal Substitution or where it always leads! “Reformed” Arminians themselves are proof of that! It however does not make using that theory right, nor does it justify their criticism of those that would hold to a more Biblical view of atonement that is consistent with the core of what the Bible and Arminius taught, and not blindly clinging to one that was created to support fatalism!

     Secondly, Arminius never developed his theology to state an emphatic conclusion that Once Lost Always Lost. That is a modern invention! Arminius actually appears to vacillate between a Calvinist form of Perseverance (Eternal Security) and being able to lose one’s salvation. Anyone who claims that they have reformed his view by declaring that he taught OLAL is lying to you! My main objection to Reformed Arminianism is its weak view of sin. In order to avoid having people lost seconds after they are saved due to sin, they must lessen the effect of sin so it no longer damns the believer unless they forsake the faith completely. The very same sins that would send an unbeliever to Hell are permitted by God and in a sense “sanctified” by God according to their view of how God deals with the believer's sin! God is not what the Scriptures say, He becomes a respecter of persons; winking at some people’s sin while damning others for the very same ones! It is nothing more than Calvinian Perseverance of the Saints, or Eternal Security packaged with an Arminian endorsement!      

     The wages of sin is death! God says so! The “Reformed” Arminian (Neo-Arminian) says that sin does not bring death! This is nothing less than the Once saved Always Saved (OSAS) distortion of salvation! They are suggesting, indirectly, that we are not converted from sin in the atonement, but God actually converts the sins of believers so that they do not have any damning power! Sin is converted, which is an absurd notion that is nowhere corroborated in the Holy Scriptures! God says that the soul that sinneth shall surely die… Neo-Arminianism defies God and says that that is not true unless they totally fall away! Essentially, it is OSAS with only one condition.., utter and total apostasy from the faith, which would then result in Once Lost Always Lost (OLAL). It is the same old Calvinian scheme of making God a respecter of persons who winks at the believer's sins, (which God converted on the Cross to no longer damn if they are committed), and expects us to embrace such philosophical balderdash as Scriptural Arminianism! 

"Reformed" Arminianism is weak on sin, weak on Scripture, and surprisingly weak on Arminius himself! Who will you believe? 

     Thirdly, Arminius was never an Immersionist! He sprinkled and poured! So, tell me, how can you claim to have “Reformed” Arminianism when you openly oppose Arminius on so many points?

     “Reformed’ Arminianism is a sham! It is nothing more than a Neo-Arminianism! I will not dignify anyone by calling them a “Reformed Arminian” unless their doctrine proved them to actually be what it claims! I will call those that are not, what they are.., Neo-Arminians. They go against the history of the majority of Arminians which have been of Wesleyan sentiments. I see no reason to discard or ignore the importance of the Wesleyan-Arminian view when the critics have not even made an effort to leap over Wesleyan history to honestly seek a truly reformed Arminianism!

     Many will object to my use of “Neo Arminian” and say, “Well, isn’t Wesleyan-Arminianism also Neo-Arminianism?” I answer, "Absolutely it is! I never said that it wasn’t!" The big difference is, which form Arminianism is newer, and which one is closer to original Arminianism? Wesley's Arminianism, or so-called "Reformed" Arminianism? Wesley’s view is closer to Arminius on the atonement, baptism, and the effect of sin in the believer. So, Wesley's form of Arminianism is definitely historically and doctrinally closer to the teachings of Arminius, and the so-called "Reformed View" is definitely further away from Arminius, both doctrinally and and historically! So isn’t the falsely claimed “Reformed” Arminianism truly the newly invented "Neo"-Arminianism, historically speaking? If you object to my use of "Neo"-Arminianism in reference to "Reformed" Arminianism, my only other choice of names for it would be “Inconsistent Arminiansm,” for that is what it really is! Wesleyan-Arminianism is more consistent with itself, and with the teachings of Arminius. 

     Failed Holiness Churches appear to be gravitating and settling on the Neo-Arminian theology. They preach the Penal Theory of the atonement, water baptism by immersion only, and OLAL; a poor trade for the truth!

     Former members of the Holiness Churches appear to be all too easily defeated. They now go to Churches that teach all kinds of nonsense as spirituality, and yet declare them to be “good" Churches. They co-exist with doctrines that they know they would never have tolerated in the past in their own Church, yet they have no impact in standing for truth where they are! This is no surprise, they are compromisers! How much authority does a compromiser hold? Others stay where they are and do not try to revive the old truths of the Holiness Movement, but idly and passively allow the Church to change around them. Apparently they never really believed what their Church taught, for they do not put up a fight when the very doctrines they claimed to be the truth of God yesterday, are now untruths in place of something new!

d). Concerning the holdouts of the Holiness Movement, I would have to place myself most closely to that camp. The greatest difficulty I see is that there is no fight left in them. If the doctrines of the Holiness Churches which have been great salt on this earth for the cause of preserving the truth of the Gospel were true 100 years ago, would it not still be true today? But it appears that somewhere around 1994 (as far as I could see) hands went up in surrender instead of in praise to the Lord! It is true that the demise was long in coming, and that it was no surprise. It was the abrupt nature of the death that was so shocking! “Holiness” as a doctrine slipped further and further back in the priority of preaching and teaching. We saw the same thing happen when the Methodist Movement lost all of its strength and momentum when in 1812 they removed “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” from their Discipline. The once great Methodist Movement disintegrated into a dead formalism where people “joined” the Church instead of “being” it! It has become a hotbed of heresy that has done everything it can to destroy Christianity for the past 150 years! It is a disgrace to not only the name of John Wesley, but to God Himself!

1. One thing is clear concerning the state of the Holiness Churches; they can hold out, but they are unlikely to recover. Most dead “Movements” have pockets of the faithful, but they never regain their footing to become great again. Once a Movement dies, another Movement must come along to ignite the people to push forward once again. Some confuse this change as “revival,” but it is rarely a revival of the old that moves them, but the introduction of something new.

2. One exception in history appears to be occurring before us, which gives me great hope. It is the reviving of Calvinism in America! I vehemently oppose the false doctrines called “Calvinism,” but have watched in wonder as their well orchestrated recovery has taken place. They have dominated the internet, publishing houses, and have produced many recent preachers which have gained a great deal of the peoples trust. If they can do it, we can too! In fact, it is possible to do so because the doctrines taught by the Holiness Movement have a rich history of being the antidote to the doctrinal poison of Calvinism! If Calvinism rises, the truth must counter it! When one side grows, it makes sense that the other should also! You know that things are bad when the best hope for your cause are those that you oppose the most, and not with those that should be with you in the fight! 

I believe in unity and the big tent under the umbrella called “Arminianism.” The hard fact is, if you believe in tongues being the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, then by your belief you are claiming that you are right and I am wrong, and by my denial of that doctrine I would be calling you wrong! We can say the same things about any of the issues I brought up, such as atonement, baptism, and so-on. Disagreement on the peripheral issues does not necessarily constitute that we are declaring each other to be lost! It is still a big tent! 

While we may have these differences, I do not expect to give up any ground anymore than those that differ with me have to. The bottom line is that I have not given up on my heritage; what was true yesterday is true today! I have not seen a viable replacement for the Old, Old Story of God’s grace, holiness, and His hand upon the message that the Holiness Movement that was resurrected from neglect. I guess that I will have to remain a holdout for now, for I see the alternatives to be an inadequate and a poor exchange for the truth. 

My greatest fear is that Arminianism itself is being threatened with collapse following the death of the Holiness Movement. It appears that the same factors of diluting the original, or changing its emphasis, may in fact be eroding Arminianism away, and that people are more than happy to embrace a hybrid theology that goes by the familiar name. What appears to be taking its place is not necessarily Arminianism, though it claims the name! Everywhere substitutes are replacing the truth! Pelagian humanism is gaining ground and destroying grace, and many are plastering the smiley sticker of "Arminian" upon it! Some are more honest and call themselves "Pelagian." I appreciate their honesty, for there is no such thing as a Pelagian-Arminian; the two concepts defeat one another. They cannot co-exist without mindlessly accepting a self-defeating contradiction. I am concerned however, at the lack of forethought, and the disregard for historical Arminianism within Churches that should know better today. I find the discernment of those leaders who are shaping the future of Arminianism to be utterly inept and appalling! I find it disturbing that those who claimed to believe something yesterday, are so easily removed from that foundation today!   

I am not yet convinced that any of the alternatives are consistent or Biblical, or even close to being a viable replacement for the theology of Wesleyan-Arminianism. I could easily move on if they were! If there is something better out there, I want it! An unsustainable hybrid will not do! Why accept a half-truth when we have held the whole truth?