Holiness as Perceived by Pentecostal Pioneers in the Twentieth Century

Holiness as Perceived by Pentecostal Pioneers in the Twentieth Century
By: J.L. Hall

If a Pentecostal were asked why he adheres to strict ethical standards of dress and in social activities, he would probably point to a verse of Scripture as an explanation. Then he would testify that the lifestyle he follows is not burdensome since the Holy Ghost has replaced his old life of sin with a new life.

Standards are not meant to restrict but to guide and to strengthen the Christian’s devotion and commitment to Jesus Christ and to the mission of the church. A Pentecostal does not, as some may suppose, experience an inner turmoil of guilt, nor does an outward lifestyle of holiness create conflict with his inner feelings. The Pentecostal, consciously aware that he has been set free from sin and condemnation, finds life a joyful experience in the Spirit. He does not view the personal and social restrictions on his life as a legal code but as an expression of his transformed inner life.

But this does not mean that the Pentecostal always understands the code he lives by, nor does it mean that his application of scriptural principles is always sound. Some confusion may surface when he observes differences in the holiness code among his fellow Pentecostals. Often he merely accepts what he does not understand, submitting to the Word of God, the Spirit in his life, and the teaching of his pastor.

An awesome responsibility is placed on the shoulder’s of the minister.  He is a teacher of the Word-and he is charged with the duty of teaching those under him what is clean and unclean, holy and unholy. His teaching can either guide and guard or derail and destroy. He must not follow his carnal reasoning or yield to any prejudices; the creeds and beliefs of men are of no value unless they harmonize with the Word of God.

Today the Pentecostal movement is divided into at least four theological groups: the people who hold to holiness or sanctification as a second work of grace, the trinitarian “Finished Work” churches, the Oneness or Jesus Name Pentecostals, and the Neo-Pentecostals.  These groups emerged historically in the above order, and the first three had immediate roots in the revival under Charles F. Parham and William J. Seymour, who are recognized as the founders of the modern Pentecostal movement.

During the first four decades of this century, the holiness standards of the main Pentecostal groups were similar in matters of dress, social activities and behavior. During the years of World War 11, trends away from holiness standards became noticeable among the trinitarian “Finished Work” Pentecostals, and in more recent years there has occurred a relaxing of standards among the “sanctification” group.  Only the Oneness Pentecostals still follow, as a group, the holiness standards that were more or less adopted from the Holiness movement of the late nineteenth century.

Indeed, the United Pentecostal Church felt it necessary in 1955 to expand the holiness statement in its Articles of Faith by listing specifically those activities it disapproves. This action may simply indicate a desire for greater unity in these matters, but it may also reflect a fear that some holiness standards may be lost in our shifting society. Whatever the interpretation, holiness standards still predominate the lifestyle of Oneness Pentecostals.

An Overview

Emerging out of the soil of the Holiness revival of the late nineteenth century, the Pentecostal movement promoted the Baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking with tongues as the enduement of power for service and as the seal of Christians until the day of redemption) For the first decade of this century, until William H. Durham preached his “Finished Work” messages in 1910-1911, the Pentecostal revival accepted the theology of the Wesleyan-holiness movement, and still today about forty percent of the classical Pentecostals in America considers themselves as standing in this tradition.2

With the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1943, several Pentecostal denominations ended their religious isolation by becoming members.3 By the time the Pentecostal revival spread into the mainline Protestant churches in the late 1950s and into the Catholic churches in the middle 1960s most Pentecostal denominations had found acceptance in society.

Concurrent with these developments was a shift in many Pentecostal denominations from the traditional standards of holiness. Members of these churches soon departed from the rigorist ethics they had lived by.4

Whether their association with non-Pentecostals in the National Association of Evangelicals or whether the contact with Neo-
Pentecostals has contributed to the change in ethical standards of some Pentecostals is left for others to explore. Such influences as the rise in social status of Pentecostals must also be considered.5 Walter Hollenweger notes that “the Assemblies of God began by making rigorist demands upon its members. Make-up, the theatre, the cinema, and even secondary schools (high schools) and universities lay outside the social horizons of its founders and religious taboo was therefore placed upon’ them. This changed in time …. many Pentecostal women and pastors’ wives use make-up, while members of the youth groups, in spite of their ministers’ protests, visit the cinema and are rock-and-roll fans.”6

The source of Hollenweger’s observation, The Pentecostal Evangel, is dated 1961. He also refers to another study in 1942 that indicates that the trend away from strict standards had begun earlier among ministers in conjunction with their rise in social standing.  Hollenweger writes: “Walter Goldschmidt had already noted twenty years earlier that pastors of the Assemblies of God were losing contact with the lower social groups. They played golf with people of social standing and no longer preached against make-up and cinema going, ‘letting too much of the world creep in.’7

The Pentecostal revival in mainstream Protestantism has been of concern to their denominations. While Neo-Pentecostals have received encouragement from denominational leaders to remain in their churches, their presence has raised theological questions and ethical concerns.  One denominational report on the charismatic element in its churches captures the trauma felt by many: “Lutheran churches throughout the world have been confronted both by the phenomenal growth and missionary power of the Pentecostal churches without and by the often painful rise of charismatic movements within.”8

This report also expresses the concern of Protestant leaders that the Charismatic movement will bring holiness theology and cultural ethics into their churches. Consequently, the Lutheran leaders recommended that “theological and exegetical suggestions … [be] directed against the introduction of the ‘cultural baggage and the exegetical tradition of classical Pentecostalism!” 9

Ethical Standards in the Holiness Movement

Not only did the early Pentecostals adopt the theology of Wesleyan sanctification from the Holiness movement, but they also accepted the rigorist ethics practiced by them. According to Holiness theology, a person is justified by faith, which takes care of his personal sins. But he needs a subsequent experience called sanctification to conquer or eradicate the sinful nature he inherited from the Fall. This experience of sanctification changes his hostility toward God to one of grace and obedience. When sanctification is complete, which may come in a crisis experience, the person can live free from his old life of sin and grow in his new life in Christ.

Wesley’s view of salvation contrasts with Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. While Wesley accepted the Reformed theology of justification, he viewed it as the gateway to sanctification, an experience that removes the nature of sin and makes the person like God. But Luther’s “theology of the cross” views God’s relationship with man as the attractions of unlikes. God, who is holy, descended in Christ to the level of the human to save sinners. In Luther’s theology, the only relationship man has with God is that of a sinner confronted by the demands of a holy God. For man to attempt to ascent to be like God would be a futile struggle to achieve his own salvation. Therefore, in his view, God deals with sinners on the basis of their sin, and not on the basis of their achievement or inner change.

To Luther, salvation is what God did for man at Calvary not what God does in man as a result of the Cross. In this sense, salvation is effected outside of man in the unfailing promises of God, not inside a person. There is no inner witness except faith. What enables a person to live as righteous while in fact he is still a sinner is his willingness to accept God’s provision in the Cross. Thus, in Luther’s theology, a Christian’s position is “at the same time both a sinner and a righteous man; a sinner in fact, but a righteous man by the sure imputation and promise of God.”10

In contrast to Luther’s “theology of the cross,” Wesley taught an inward cleansing and transformation that frees a person from his nature of sin and makes him holy. He can become in his nature like God.  Entire sanctification restores man to his original righteousness-to a state of holiness.”

While Holiness theology places emphasis upon the inner transformation, outward behavior also becomes of great concern. If a person has inward holiness, then it should be manifest in his outward appearance and
action. For this reason, ethical rigorism characterizes both the Holiness movement and its offspring, the Pentecostal movement.

The American Holiness revival was one of the many protest movements which “permeated the social and intellectual life of the nation from the Civil War to the First World War.”12 The Holiness people protested the trend toward the formalism, ritualism, and modernism they saw coming into the Methodist Church. They condemned the introduction of organs and robed choirs, and they were shocked by the fashionable mode of dress that they observed among church leaders.13

The thrust of the Holiness movement was advanced when some Methodist ministers such as Warren Candler, who pastored the fashionable St. John’s Methodist Church in Augusta, Georgia, joined them in denouncing such practices as drinking, dancing, going to theaters, card playing, and swearing.14 In 1885, John P. Brooks, for many years the editor of the Methodist periodical, The Banner of Holiness, left his church in protest over church parties, festivals, dramatic presentations, and the building of “gorgeous and costly temples to gratify its pride.”15 The Holiness people and later the Pentecostals rejected their society as an evil influence. In one group or another and at one time or another, they taught on the evil effects of the theater, ball games, movies, dancing, lipstick, make-up, beauty parlors, “needless ornamentation,” rings, bracelets, earbobs, flashy breast pins, showy colors in dress, attractive hosiery, short sleeves, low necklines, neckties, extravagant dress, Coca Cola, chewing gum, sweets, meats (especially pork), doctors, medicine, life insurance, county fairs, church bazaars, lodges, political parties, labor unions, and public swimming.16 Some Holiness preachers went to extremes, teaching “sinless perfection,” freedom from death, and “marital purity.”17

The danger of standards is the tendency toward legalism-the reliance upon ethical behavior as necessary rules for salvation. It appears that many members in the Holiness movement had become its victim.  Bartleman stated, “The Holiness people are loaded down to the water’s edge with a spirit of prejudice and Pharisaism.”18 Glenn A. Cook, a former Holiness minister and an early Pentecostal evangelist from Azusa Street Mission, reported in 1907 that he had to deal with the spirit of legalism in a Holiness group in Lamont, Oklahoma, before they could receive the Holy Ghost. He wrote: “Quite a number were tarrying and waiting for Pentecost when I arrived, but much had to be done before God could pour out His Spirit. The people had been in much bondage.  Eating pork, wearing neckties, drinking coffee, and wearing a moustache were taught to be very sinful, and except you were circumcised to these you were lost.”19

Even the Apostolic Faith, published in Los Angeles in 1906 to 1908, commented on the legalistic attitude found among the Holiness movement.  Using the parable of the prodigal son, the writer skillfully and subtly illustrated the spirit of legalism. In response to the father’s entreaty for the elder son to join his younger brother in the feast, the elder son replied that he “has not worn gold nor costly array, neither has a feather been seen in his hat, ‘lo, these many years,’ yet he has no fatted calf killed for him. He does not drink tea, nor coffee, nor eat hog meat, neither does a necktie adorn his shirt front.”20

Holiness Standards Among Early Pentecostals

Although the early Pentecostal publications focused upon the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, and the spread of the revival, the ethical comments in them indicate that as a whole the Pentecostals adopted a rigid but not extreme ethical code. Tension over what was wrong or right existed, however. For example, Odell Cagle, a Oneness pioneer preacher, was somewhat apprehensive over the purchase of a radio. He wrote, I also purchased our first radio, although many preachers preached against them. I was always under heavy fire at preachers’ meetings; however, they did not disfellowship me.”21

The Statement of Faith, which appears in most issues of the Apostolic Faith from Azusa Street Mission, contains the Wesleyan view of sanctification as “the second work of grace and the last work of grace.” Sanctification is defined as “that act of God’s free grace by which He makes us holy,” and is identified as the cleansing of the soul in preparation for the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.

The Statement of Faith also rejects formality on the one hand and fanaticism on the other: “We are not fighting men or churches, but seeking to displace dead forms and creeds and wild fanaticisms with living, practical Christianity.”

Fanaticism to them was “marked by harshness toward those who do not fall in line with them.”22 The Pentecostals at Azusa Street Mission taught “temperance in all things, in eating, drinking, and wearing clothes,”23 and criticized those who created contention: “When people run out of the love of God, they get to preaching something else, preaching dress, and meats, and doctrines of men, and preaching against churches.”24

It should not be supposed, however, that the Pentecostals at Azusa Street Mission were willing to compromise with sin. They wrote, “We are not to preach that people can be saved with just a little sin in their hearts, but teach that they must live pure and holy lives free from cheating, backbiting, and all the catalogue of sins.”25 Wearing jewelry and fancy pins in hats, gold watches and rings were mentioned as unnecessary. Using tobacco, listening to worldly music, going to theaters, parties, horse races, and dances, participating in gambling, playing cards, and drinking whiskey or beer were all considered ” sinful or devilish.”26 Moreover, William J. Seymour, the leader of the mission, denounced as sin “fornication and adultery, two wives, two husbands, not paying the grocery bills, water bills, furniture bills, coal bills, gas bills, and all honest debts.”27

Apparently a fringe group taught that in marriage it was “a sin for them to live as husband and wife,” but this was firmly refuted.28 The Pentecostals bluntly denounced the practice of free love: “Free loveism and everything of that kind is from the pit of hell.”29 They also condemned wives who left husbands to do mission work.30

In matters of divorce and remarriage, Seymour embraced an inflexible rule: remarriage was strictly forbidden as long as both companions were living, and there were no exceptions-even for the innocent person in a divorce for fornication. Seymour wrote, “if the innocent party marries, they are living in adultery.”31 Moreover, he taught that if a person was living with a second wife or husband, upon coming to God, he or she must separate.32 Some Pentecostal denominations adopted Seymour’s view, but most of them believed that second marriages should stay together if they came to God after their marriage, and that the innocent person in a divorce for adultery could marry again.

Most Pentecostal denominations at first rejected combat military service, but this has been modified in recent years to allow each individual to decide for himself.33

There needs to be some explanation of the comment on the matter of dress in The Winds of God by Ethel E. Goss, the wife of Howard A. Goss.  The complete comment is quoted here since it has been the subject of some discussion.

We did not wear uniforms. The lady workers dressed in the current fashions of the day … silks … satins … jewels or whatever they happened to possess. They were very smartly turned out, so that they made an impressive appearance on the streets where a large part of our work was conducted in the early years.

It was not until long after, when former Holiness preachers had become part of us, that strict plainness of dress began to be taught. Although Entire Sanctification was preached at the beginning of the Movement, it was from a Wesleyan viewpoint, and had in it very little of the later Holiness Movement characteristics. Nothing was ever said about apparel, for everyone was so taken up with the Lord that mode of dress seemingly never occurred to any of US.34

Since this passage uses the plural pronouns we and us, it can be assumed that it did not come from the diary Howard Goss kept, but that it was a later reflection on holiness standards. At the time, Howard Goss was working under the leadership of Parham, who was concerned about attracting the attention of the public. He successfully used the display of various kinds of clothing in a parade through the streets as they went to the auditorium for the crusade.35

Although Parham was a Holiness minister before his experience of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, his conviction as to “strict plainness of dress” may not have been as radical as other Holiness ministers. He wore a moustache, which was taboo in some Pentecostal circles.  Moreover, in her picture in the book of her husband’s life, Sarah Parham wore a fox stole, which was quite fashionable, especially for Pentecostals.

This comment by Goss on dress, however, should be compared with other statements in her book which suggest that holiness standards were considered important. She wrote: “The personal holiness, purity of principles, and motive demanded of each of us was so great, comparatively speaking, that many onlookers believed we were either insane over religion or drunk on some glorious dream.”36 She also lamented that in denominational churches the “godly standards had been lowered until almost any sinner could easily join the church, and be received with open arms.”37

That the “strict plainness of dress” was a later innovation taught by former Holiness preacher is questionable. From its beginning, the Pentecostal movement was primarily drawn from the Holiness ranks.38 In his study of forty-five Pentecostal leaders, all of whom had joined the movement before 1914, Robert M. Anderson found that thirty came directly from the Holiness groups, six from Methodist churches, eight from the Baptist denomination, and one (Howard Goss) from atheism.39 He states that his study indicates that many or all of the fourteen from the Methodist and Baptist churches were also Holiness believers.40

It is also evident that Holiness theology and personal and social ethics predominated in the Pentecostal movement from its inception. Moreover, although there were different views on matter of holiness standards, with perhaps some distinction between the two main Holiness schools of thought, stricter codes would be more characteristic of the Wesleyan faction rather than the Keswick groups, who were influenced with Calvinistic theology.41

Healing for the body was also a central doctrine and practice among early Pentecostals. Parham operated a healing home in Topeka, Kansas, before he opened Bethel Bible College. Writing in the Apostolic Faith, William J. Seymour stated the commonly held view that sanctification affected not only the soul but also brought healing and perfect health for the body. “Not only is the atonement for the sanctification of our souls, but for the sanctification of our bodies from inherited disease.”42

Many Pentecostals believed that “a sanctified body is one in perfect health, through faith in God.”43 In another edition of The Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles) the practice of going to doctors and taking medicine were denounced: “The doctor gives you poison and you die because you dishonor the atonement.”44

Although prayer for healing is still a regular feature in Pentecostal services, the rigid rejection of medical help is found in only some independent fringe churches and practiced by few individuals.


It is recognized that the Holiness movement was the theological and ethical seedbed of the Pentecostal revival that began this century.  Almost all early Pentecostal leaders were former ministers and workers
in Holiness circles, and most of those who joined the movement were Holiness believers. Some entire Holiness organizations, such as the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church and the Church of God (Cleveland),
entered the Pentecostal movement en masse.

That the Pentecostals accepted the rigorist ethical standards of the Holiness movement is evident. Even extreme elements found their way into some Pentecostal groups.

In recent years most of the Pentecostal denominations have relaxed their holiness standards. A notable exception is the United Pentecostal Church. In 1955 this organization added a specific list of activities not approved for its members. The United Pentecostal Church is also the only large Pentecostal denomination that disapproves of its members having a television set in their homes.

The differences in holiness standards in the United Pentecostal Church today is probably no more than in past years. There is still the danger of failing into the snare of legalism on the one side and the threat of becoming worldly on the other side. The tension between these two impulses seem inevitable, but the success over the past forty years provides the assurance that holiness of heart and biblical standards of conduct will continue to characterize the Oneness Pentecostal believers.


1. Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), V (Jan. 1907), p. 2.

2. Donald W. Dayton, “Christian Perfection to the Baptism of TheHoly Ghost: “Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, edited by Vinson Synan (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1975), p. 53.

3. Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in The United States (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 207.

4. Walter F. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), pp. 35, 50.

5. Ibid., p. 405.

6. Ibid., p. 36.

7. Ibid., p. 34.

8. Carter Lindberg, Charismatic Renewal and The Lutheran Tradition (Montreux, Switzerland: Lutheran World Federation, 1985), p. 7.

  1. Ibid., p. 12.

    10. Ibid., pp. 43-48.

    11. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), pp. 1165-1166).

    12. Synan, op. cit., p. 217.

    13. Ibid., pp. 40-41.

    14. Ibid., p. 44.

    15. Ibid., p. 46.

    16. Ibid., pp. 50, 66, 72, 90, 190; Hollenweger, op. cit., pp. 25,401-405.

    17. Synan, op. cit., p. 47.

    18. Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1980), p. 18.

    19. Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), V (Jan. 1907), p. 1.

    20. Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), 11 (Oct. 1906), p. 2.

    21. Odell Cagle, Echoes of the Past (Stockton, CA: Apostolic Press,1981), p. 61.

    22. Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles) 11 (Oct. 1906), p. 2.

    23. Ibid., IV (Dec. 1906), p. 4.

    24. Ibid., V (Jan. 1907), p. 2.

    25. Ibid., VIII (May 1907), p. 3.

    26. Ibid., XII (Jan. 1908), p. 4.

    27. Ibid., XI (Oct.-Jan. 1908), p. 3.

    28. Ibid., V (Jan. 1907), p. 3.

    29. Ibid., X (Sept. 1907), p. 2.

    30. Ibid., V (Jan. 1907), p. 3.

    31. Ibid., X (Sept. 1907), p. 3.

    32. Loc. cit.

    33. Hollenweger, op. cit., p. 51.

    34. Ethel E. Goss, The Winds of God (Hazelwood, Mo.: WordAflame Press, 1958), p. 67.

    35. Sarah E. Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham (Joplin, Mo.:Tri-State Printing Company, 1930), pp. 104-15.

    36. Goss, op. cit., p. 130.

    37. Ibid., p. 156.

    38. Bartleman, op. cit., p. 81.

    39. Robert M. Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited (New York: Ox-ford University Press, 1979), p. 110.

    40. Loc. cit.

    41. Ibid., p. 41.

    42. Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles) I (Sept. 1906), p. 2.

    43. Ibid., V. (Jan. 1907), p. 2.

    44. Ibid., IV (Dec. 1906), p. 1.


    by C. H. Yadon

    The author has covered very well many aspects of the history of the Pentecostal movement and its teaching and practice of holiness. Here are some observations about the paper:

    (1) As the author states, standards are not meant to restrict but to guide and strengthen the Christian’s devotion and commitment to Jesus Christ and to the mission of the church. He also points out a very important truth that the Holy Spirit brings harmony to both the inner and outer lifestyle of sanctified people. This demonstrates that true salvation is not something imposed on life but rather something that
    brings life more abundantly.

(2) Reference is made to the responsibility of the pastor to teach and to lay a good foundation for holy living. God first put this responsibility on the parent. The father and mother should lay the foundation in the heart of their children. Paul said of Timothy, “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scripture.”

(3) It is also pointed out that the Pentecostal movement finds its roots in the holiness movements of the past. Like all religious movements we have passed through change. Time will demonstrate the strength and depth of our real separation, not only from the world, but unto our Lord Jesus Christ.

(4) Sanctification is a progressive work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Redemption, reconciliation and sanctification are the work of Christ.

(5) As stated, certain measures of legalism and holier-than-thou attitudes, which needed to be corrected, existed in the past even as they do today.


(1) Scriptural principles of holiness, modesty, and godly conduct are more important than personal convictions. The Word is above personal convictions.

(2) If we do not have within us that which is above us, we will soon yield to that which is around us.

(3) There are no holiness experts. Time and life demonstrate that we are what we are by the grace of God.

(4) One fact remains in our world outreach. The world needs to meet our Savior before they meet our standards.

(5) A balance in life based on revealed truth, common sense, and Christian principles is the highest honor we can give to God.

  1. H. Yadon is an honorary member of the General Board of the United Pentecostal Church International and a former district superintendent.

    The Above Material Was Published In A Paper Given At The 1986 Oneness Symposium At St. Louis, Mo, By J.L. Hall, Pp. 293-313. This Material May Be Used For Study And Research Purposes Only.