Fire-Baptized Holiness Church
The Fire-Baptized Holiness Church was a radical holiness Christian denomination in North America and was involved in the early formation of Pentecostalism. Founded in 1895, it merged with the Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1911, forming a new denomination now known as the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Prior to the merger the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church was an interracial body. In 1908, most of the African-American members withdrew to form their own church, the Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas.
The church was founded by Rev. Benjamin Hardin Irwin of Lincoln, Nebraska. Irwin was educated as a lawyer but entered ordained ministry after he was converted in a Baptist church. After coming into contact with members of the Iowa Holiness Association, Irwin accepted holiness beliefs and claimed to experience sanctification in 1891. He was a student of the writings of John Wesley and John William Fletcher and eventually joined the Wesleyan Methodist Church.
Irwin became convinced that there was an experience beyond sanctification called the "baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire" or simply "the fire". After receiving this experience in October 1895, he began to preach this "third blessing" among holiness adherents in the Midwest, particularly among Wesleyan Methodists and Brethren in Christ. His services were highly emotional with participants often getting the "jerks", shouting, speaking in tongues, and holy dancing and laughing. Thousands attended his meetings and his teaching was circulated widely within the holiness movement, with its greatest strength in the Midwest and South. His message was largely rejected, however, and was denounced as a "third blessing heresy".
Because of opposition Irwin formed his own organization in 1895 called the Iowa Fire-Baptized Holiness Association at Olmitz, Iowa. As he traveled throughout the nation, he established associations to promote his message. By the time these associations were organized into one denomination in 1898, there were churches in eight American states and two Canadian provinces. An organizational convention was held in Anderson, South Carolina. William E. Fuller, an African-American minister who had left the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was elected to the church's general board and became the overseer of the black churches. By 1900, Fuller had organized 50 black Fire-Baptized churches and a convention.
In 1900, Irwin confessed to "open and gross sin" which brought "great reproach" to the church. He resigned as general overseer and was replaced by Joseph H. King, a 31 year old former Methodist from Georgia. The revelation of Irwin's failure greatly affected the church; several state associations collapsed.
By 1906, King led the church into third-blessing Pentecostalism, taking the line that the baptism in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues had been the "baptism of fire" the church had been seeking. After 1908, the denomination split on racial lines when Fuller left, with the blessing of the white leadership, and started what would become the Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas. In 1911, the church merged with the Pentecostal Holiness Church and took the latter organization’s name even though the Fire-Baptized church was larger. The body resulting from the merger would be renamed the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1975.
The church's beliefs were largely consistent with the Holiness movement; however, there were distinct doctrinal positions. Irwin taught of a third blessing that came after salvation and entire sanctification called the "baptism of fire." While speaking in tongues was not unheard of among the Fire-Baptized Holiness, it was not understood as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism. This idea was formulated by Charles Parham and only began to influence the Fire-Baptized Church as news of the Azusa Street Revival spread after 1906. By 1900, Irwin also taught there were additional "baptisms of fire" he called baptisms of "dynamite", "lyddite", and "oxidite". This "chemical jargon" never took root within the church and was abandoned by Irwin's successors.
Other doctrines held by Irwin were also rejected after his departure. He, like other holiness Christians, was against women wearing "needless ornamentation". However, he also applied this prohibition to men, making it a sin to wear neckties. He also said it was a sin to eat anything forbidden by the dietary laws of the Old Testament. As a result, the church was sometimes called "the no ties, no hog-meat people."
At the First General Council in Anderson, South Carolina, the church was organized with authority centralized in the General Overseer who held office for life. The General Overseer appointed Ruling Elders to oversee the churches in each state, and he could also make pastoral appointments.
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- "The Pentecostal Holiness Church". Retrieved 2009-02-15.
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- Hunter, Harold D. (2007). "Year:1879 Iowa Holiness Association Formed". Retrieved 2009-03-18.