Douglas A. Crossman, “Why the Holiness Movement Died”

, posted by Jon Gossman

In the Spring of 1994 Dr. Keith Drury preached a courageous and widely reported sermon to the Christian Holiness Association called “The Holiness Movement is Dead.” Briefly summarized, his reasons for the decline of the holiness influence were eight fold:

1. The desire for respectability 2. The holiness movement joined mainstream evangelicalism 3. Failure to convince the younger generation of the accuracy and relevance of the message 4. Holiness ceased to be the main issue 5. The lay people were overlooked in favor of professionals 6. The abuses of the past caused them to overreact 7. They adopted church growth strategy instead of biblical concepts 8. They failed to notice when the battle lines shifted.

I think several other considerations could be given to explain why the holiness movement does seem to be in wide disarray at this present time. Here are eight additional observations I have made:

1. The neglect, even abandonment, of Reformation principles:

  • Justification by faith only. Rightly understood, this is, as Martin Luther termed it, the doctrine of a standing or a falling Church. Yet so many in the holiness movement today have virtually no understanding nor experience of this Bible doctrine.
  • The authority of Scripture. Our forefathers in the holiness movement were pre-eminently Bible and doctrinal preachers. Then from the 1930s the whole style shifted from a practical and doctrinal presentation to a subjective and emotional presentation. This had very little of the Holy Spirit in it and must be judged largely as a work of the flesh. The blessings of God were largely withdrawn, although the appearance of liveliness persisted in emotional altar scenes. Many of these altar scenes became a spectacle and were little better than the sordid scene at the foot of the mount, when Israel danced to their shame before the nations around.
  • The priesthood of all believers. This principle was misapplied when believers were encouraged to dominate the meetings with what was thought to be “the freedom of the Spirit.” Instead it was largely the exercise of the flesh. It was even thought to be a good service if singing and testifying and emotions so dominated that no time was left for the preaching of the Word of God.

We need to relearn that the Reformation was a return to Scripture. Holiness can only have life and power when it is Scriptural Holiness.

2. The shift of emphasis from doctrine to experience.

The holiness movement took a nosedive in influence when, especially in the 1930s, the style and content of holiness preaching changed radically. It shifted from the earlier biblical, doctrinal, and theocentric emphasis to a more experiential, illustrative, and anthropocentric emphasis mingled with shallow emotionalism. This position still dominates and has proven to be a jugular slash to true holiness.

Almost all the great founders of the holiness movement, especially those following the 1859 revival, were expositors. Today there is rarely an expositor among us. J. A. Wood’s Perfect Love is a great work, however its monumental weakness is the almost complete lack of any Scripture. Too many meetings are on this plan—testimonies but no Scripture. Too many sermons follow the same plan— too many stories, not enough scripture.

3. The trust in feelings rather than an exercise of faith.

When the position moved from doctrine to experience it easily moved to a state where what one felt was far more satisfying than the complete trust in the reliability of the promises of God as found in His Word. Consequently the “altar” became almost a spiritual counterpart to the psychiatrist’s couch. A time of crying at the altar made the “confessor” feel much better. Repeated visits to the “altar” kept the heart in a good state of feelings. So very rarely now are testimonies full of complete trust in the Word of God, apart from feelings. The older sequence was facts, faith, then feelings—when and as God gave them. Now Christian experience is almost only a matter of feelings.

4. The emphasis on entertainment rather than edification.

Now every service, has to have its “special,” that is, a solo or other musical performance, often followed by a round of applause, on the part of the “audience.” It would surprise many to realize Wesley and Whitfield never used a soloist. All music was an act of worship and adoration addressed to God.

Whole meetings are now handed over as concerts, “sacred” concerts, but concerts none the less. It is common for professional musicians to charge a thousand dollars or more for a performance. This is nothing less than a form of prostitution, a sale of the gifts God has given, which surely must result in a grieving of the Spirit.

We have lost the scriptural position of the primacy of preaching. This present situation makes it difficult for those of us who hold the conviction that only a service where the Word of God is read and expounded, is a truly Christian service. -To Be Continued-


From: Crossman, Douglas A. “Why the Holiness Movement Died.” The Arminian: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, vol. 15, no. 2, 1997. Web.