Conservative holiness movement

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The conservative holiness movement is a loosely defined group of conservative Wesleyan-Holiness Christian denominations that trace their origin back to Methodist roots and the teachings of John Wesley. This movement became distinct from other Wesleyan-Holiness bodies in the mid-20th century amid disagreements over modesty in dress, entertainment and other "old holiness standards." There are an estimated 2,000 congregations in the movement. [1]


The Holiness movement was largely contained within Methodism during the 19th century. By the 1880s a persistent wave of "come-outism" was beginning to gather steam. The come-outers were concerned that Methodism had begun to water-down Holiness teachings and even shun its more outspoken proponents.

Denominations which now comprise the conservative holiness movement such as the Church of God (Holiness), and educational institutions such God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio, joined a growing number of groups which were forced out or which left Methodism to practice Holiness uninhibited (e.g. Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, Churches of Christ in Christian Union, etc.).

The Holiness movement, for the most part, huddled together tightly while Pentecostalism was competing for the hearts and minds of its adherents.

During the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and onward, most Holiness groups found themselves at home in the Fundamentalist camp or allied with them.[2] While many Holiness groups made the jump toward the Evangelical movement in the late 1930s, there were groups that felt their Holiness peers were drifting away from Biblical inerrancy and cultural separation.

By the post-World War II era, a more relaxed attitude toward morality and theological differences caused Holiness conservatives and fundamentalists to guard their flocks more closely[citation needed]. Many conferences, districts and local churches reinforced prohibitions on behavior in their governing documents. The list of prohibitions varied from denomination to denomination, but included the wearing of gold (which included wedding rings), watching television as an extension to previous bans on theater patronage, women cutting their hair, wearing short skirts, etc. These items were often referred to as "old holiness standards."

Not at home with other Fundamentalist alliances (which had a more Calvinistic and non-Holiness tone to them), an Interdenominational Holiness Convention (IHC)[2] was called at a Wesleyan Methodist campground in Fairmont, Indiana, in 1951. Entire sanctification and traditional holiness strictures on dress and entertainment held a prominent place in convention sermons. The swelling divorce rate, the envisioned papal take-over of America, the relentless spread of Communism, and the effects of television on society were also prominent themes.[3] Participants resisted a call to form a new denomination, but became an ally toward a series of institutional secessions to follow.

In 1955 the Bible Missionary Church was formed in Idaho and soon grew nationwide as local congregations left the Church of the Nazarene over "worldliness" issues.

In 1963, the Pilgrim Holiness Church of New York seceded from the Pilgrim Holiness Church to become an independent organization (in 1966-68, the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church proposed a merger to form the Wesleyan Church, which has more in common with the Evangelical Holiness movement churches such as the Nazarene church).

In wake of the Wesleyan Church merger, the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection of Churches, the Bible Methodist Connection of Tennessee (Tennessee Bible Methodists), the Bible Methodist Connection of Alabama (Alabama Bible Methodists), Bible Covenant Church, Pilgrim Holiness Church (Midwest Conference), International Conservative Holiness Association, Pilgrim Nazarene, Wesleyan Nazarene, Emmanuel Missionary Church, Bible Holiness Church, and Wesleyan Holiness Association were organized.

Other constituent bodies include: the aforementioned Church of God (Holiness); the Central Yearly Meeting of Friends which left the Friends Church; and God's Missionary Church, formed by individuals affected by local revival meetings.

Social change constantly confronts Conservative Holiness Christians. The Church of God (Holiness) in 1999 removed a ban on owning televisions, urging charity over “the ownership or use of television, videos, movies, the internet, and such like.”[4]


Denominations and associations of churches aligned with the conservative holiness movement include:

Educational institutions[edit]

Colleges and schools affiliated with the conservative holiness movement include:


A number of mission endeavors exist within the conservative holiness movement with active mission fields in the Philippines, South Africa, Ukraine, Haiti, Peru, Mexico, Asia, Eastern Europe, India, and South Korea. Listed below are a few of the mission organizations affiliated with the conservative holiness movement. Most of the denominations listed above also maintain their own missions boards and departments for both Home and Foreign Missions.

  • Bible Methodist Missions[19]
  • Evangelical Bible Mission
  • Evangelistic Faith Missions[20]
  • Hope International Misions[21]
  • Worldwide Faith Missions
  • Pilgrim Missions
  • Society of Indian Missions
  • ICHA Ministries[22]



External links[edit]