Holiness Churches

A. C. Belue, Jr.
Portage, Indiana

An expressive and rather numerous groups of churches in America come under the heading of "Holiness," applied to them due to the emphasis they place upon the need for a holy life. It is not within the scope of the present article to give a detailed history of the movement, but a remark or two concerning the birth of some parts of it are in order.


Five distinct groups, all known by the term "Church of God," have their headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee. Though now possessing distinct differences, they can all be traced to the work of one man, A. J. Tomlinson Mr. Tomlinson was the founder of the parent group, and its general overseer from 1903 to 1923. Evidences of unrest which were seen even before his death degenerated into a three-way split over the question of his successor' and these three groups later further splintered into the present five. These groups hold in common that believers today experience Holy Spirit baptism that miraculous divine healing is still to be practiced, and that speaking in tongues is experienced as an evidence of Spirit baptism.

A more radical offshoot of the Holiness movement, the United Pentecostal Church, had its doctrinal origin in 1914, in Kansas City, Missouri when a group claimed a revelation concerning the "absolute deity of Christ," and began to teach that there is only one person in the Godhead. The point of teaching continued to enthrall many, and in 1944 several splinter groups united to form the United Pentecostal Church, Inc. This group maintains the same position on Holy Spirit baptism, miracles, and tongues as that held by the more orthodox Holiness churches.



One of the ideas basic to Holiness teaching is that believers today still experience Holy Spirit baptism, and as a fundamental tenet, it deserves our notices. Passages such as John 16:13; 14:26; 15:26; Mt. 3:10; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8, etc., indicate that God intended for some men to experience this overwhelming of the Spirit. Confusion exists as to those upon whom it would fall, why it was given, what results it produced, and how long it would be provided for man.

In Acts 2, we learn that Peter and the eleven, in fulfillment of these promises, were overwhelmed with the spirit. About a decade later, this same measure of the Spirit fell upon the household of Cornelius, and even at that relatively early date, evoked the singular explanation from Peter: "The Holy Ghost fell upon them as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). In both cases mentioned above, the purpose of the experience is included in the accounts of its occurrence:

  1. In the case of the apostles, it was "to guide them into all truth" (Jno 16:13); to remind them of Christ's words (Jno 14:26); to impart to them "power from on high" (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8); and to bear witness to their message (Heb. 2: 3, 4).
  2. Its recurrence in the case of Cornelius was a peculiarity suggesting to Peter his own baptismal experience "at the beginning," and was used by God to indicate the inclusion of the Gentiles in the New Covenant (Acts 11:15-18).

The baptismal measure of the Spirit was never commanded, but was a promise of the Lordand there is no "command" for us to receive it now! It involved no human intermediary (as does water baptism, the baptism of the New CovenantMt 28:18-20), but was administered by Christ (Mt. 3:10; Acts 1: 5). Its function was never to save, but accomplished the results stated above. By the time Paul's letter to the Ephesians was written, it was a thing of the past, and Paul was able to say: "There is one baptism" (Eph 4:5). With an inconsistent theology which reason cannot reconcile, Holiness teaching includes both water and spirit baptism (TWO, instead of ONE), negating whatever meaningful message "There is one baptism" could convey.


  1. Matt. 3:10"One cometh after me... he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire . . ." This, they say, is assurance of its present existence, and includes all believersHoly Spirit and fire baptized people.
  2. NOTE: In reality the context shows the "baptism of fire" to be a punishment for the wickednote verse 12. In addition, Acts 1:5 reveals the apostles as the "you" in Matt. 3:10 who would receive Holy Spirit baptism. Christ's reference to the promise there, and Peter's repetition of it in Acts 11:16, in the only other occurrence of it, scripturally settle the identity of the "you." All those who heard did not receive Holy Ghost baptism, and all did not receive fire baptismjust those who fit the classes intended.

  3. 1 Cor. 12:13"By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . ."
  4. To one of the Holiness persuasion, this teaches that the Spirit is the element into which one is immersed, and that all are to be so immersed.

    NOTE: The truth is, Paul is pointing out that through the teaching of the Spirit, we are led to be baptized into one body. Compare Eph. 5:25, where the church is said to be sanctified "by the washing of water (baptismACB) by the word (of the spirit ACB) "; and John 3: 5"Except a man be born of water (baptismACB) and of the Spirit (begotten through His teaching  ACB) he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It is easy to see that the "one baptism" of Eph. 4:5 is baptism in water which is required by the teaching of the Spirit, but hard to believe that God intends both water baptism and Spirit baptism, then says "there is one baptism."

  5. "Filled with the Spirit" is the same as "baptize with the Holy Spirit." With few exceptions, the New Testament passages that mention being filled with the Spirit are understood by Holiness people to mean being baptized in the Spirit chiefly because they refuse to recognize different measures of the Spirit.

NOTE: (1) Concerning the question of measures of the Spirit, it is said of Christ that God "giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him . . ."a clear implication that to others he does do so. The apostles themselves possessed a measure of the Spirit that enabled them to bestow miraculous gifts upon others (Acts 8:18), and thus evidenced a greater degree of Spiritual powers than those upon whom they bestowed gifts.

(2) With respect to the identity of "filled" with "baptized," we point out that Holiness teaching does not recognize Holy Spirit baptism before Pentecostyet men were "filled with the Spirit" before that time! Lk. 1:15 shows that John the Baptist was to be filled with the Spirit from his birth.


The Holiness confusion with reference to the Spirit is compounded by their contention for the continued existence of miraculous gifts, with special emphasis upon miraculous healing and speaking in tongues. Of course, all the gifts stand or fall together, and they find it difficult to even appear consistent without accepting the possibility of the present existence of them all. Their entire position, of course, stems from a basic misunderstanding as to the nature and purpose of the miraculous gifts when they did exist.

It is a clear teaching of Scripture that these gifts were confirmatory of the divine message, and functioned as miraculous helps until God's will was fully revealed. In Mk. 16:17-20 it is said that their use confirmed the word. In I Cor. 12 and 13 they are classed as helps during the developing stage of the church, and are represented as giving place to a "more excellent way" (I Cor. 12:31). In Ephesians 4:8-14, they were to exist until we "all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man . . ." From the statement in 2 Tim. 3:16,17, we learn the Scriptures will bring us to this perfect man, or show us the perfect way. Jude 3 tells us that this faith has been "once for all delivered unto the saints . . ." Therefore, the message has been given. The signs performed by those who revealed it have confirmed it, and, in the absence of further revelation, have no further place. What the gifts once did for God's people is now amply accomplished through his completed word. And it is noteworthy that neither then nor any other time were these signs performed simply to heal, or destroy they were signs! Christians, even apostles, suffered disease and death during the age they were being used.


1. Miraculous healing is a part of the atonement:

"Divine healing, as we teach and believe, is altogether a product of the atoning merit of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. 'He bare our sicknesses on the tree,' and 'by his stripes we are healed"' (Pentecostal Holiness Discipline1957).

NOTE: The above contention paraphrases Isaiah 53:4,5, and makes an appeal there from to justify this miraculous healing. However, in reality, verses 4 and 5 deal with different aspects of the work of Christ. Verse 4, which says "He hath borne our grieves and carried our sorrows," was fulfilled in the personal miracles performed by the Lord: "He cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses." (Mt. 8:17). Verse 5, "with his stripes we are healed," does not even involve physical sickness, but is a reference to the atonement of Christ as applied to those who are sick of soul. "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body, on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed" (I Pet. 2: 24).

Besides, if healing were a part of the atonement, it would be experienced by all those who profited by the atonementbut such is not the case, even among Holiness people. We see various cases where New Testament disciples were deprived of a part of the atonement (that is, as defined by our Holiness friends): Epaphroditus was "sick nigh unto death" (Phil. 2:27); Paul told Timothy to "use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and shine often infirmities" (I Tim. 5:23).

2. "Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8)

Since he once performed miracles, and empowered his apostles to do so, and never changes, then this must still be so.

NOTE: This position proves far too much even for the Holiness people. Christ once had living apostles in the church. If the fact that he is the same involves everything he has ever done, then he still has living apostles in the church. He once was instrumental in miraculously creating a man from dust; since he never changes, he ought to still be doing it. He once fed his people for forty years with manna from heaven; if he never changes, he ought to still be doing it. The truth is, the statement in Hebrews refers to the nature of Christ. Although his law has changed (Heb. 7: 12), still his attitude toward men, his truthfulness, his powerthese things are an inherent part of him, and do not change.

3. "These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name stroll they cast out devils . . . they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover" (Mk. 16:17)

This passage is supposed to indicate that miraculous healing, etc., still prevails.

NOTE: Without even entering a discussion of this statement as referring only to the apostles (as many scholars believe), suffice it to say that even Holiness people are forced to recognize it is limited. Not every Christian in the New Testament could do such things (I Cor. 12:29,30), and they do not even claim that all Christians can now. It is simply a question of which believers, and the context answers that. Verse 20 says: "They went . . . everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following . . ." Thus, those who revealed the word, and who needed divine confirmation, were the ones that these signs followed.


The Holiness group includes a very vocal and militant element that contends that Jesus Christ is the only person in the Godhead, and that "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit" all refer to him. Their extreme literalization of certain passages, and arbitrary selection of Scripture fragments- for their "proof," is largely self-defeating. Too often the Bible pictures for us the simultaneous existence of all three Persons, or their complementary work. For example, at the baptism of Jesus we have a record of the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:16,17). Paul prays for all Three to work for the benefit of the Christian (2 Cor. 13:14). All three are involved in our salvation (Acts 5:30-32). We are commanded to be baptized into the name of Three (Mt. 28: 18-20).

They reply by saying "There is one God," but we also believe this. The Bible reveals one God in Three persons; one divine essence and substance, consisting of three separate personalities. The proof-texts advanced are numerous, and many have virtually no significance. Perhaps the quickest and easiest road to refutation can be found in a definition of the relation between the Son and the Father.

The Holiness ("Oneness") contend that the Son is not God; God himself says that He is (Heb. 1:8; Col. 2:9; Phil. 2:5-9). They claim that the Eternal Father is the Spirit that dwells in the bodythe Son. The Bible teaches that the Son possesses a Spirit distinct from that of the Father (Lk. 23:46; Heb. 10:5). They teach that the Father and the Son are one in person. The Bible teaches that their oneness is similar to that expected of all believers (Jno. 17: 20-23).

Perhaps other differences deserve some attention, but these certainly represent some basic causes for the distinct existence of Holiness churches, and suggest the need for study and familiarity with fundamentals by us all.

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 1, pp. 22-25 October 1965