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A Century of Holiness Theology:

The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene: 1905 to 2004.


Mark R. Quanstrom

(Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2004). 231 pages.



When the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene was formed through a series of mergers culminating in 1908, they believed at the time that the entire holiness movement would come under their organization. They were optimistic that they would see national revival which would bring in the millennium. Their distinctive doctrine was the American holiness movement’s understanding of entire sanctification. Entire sanctification was taught as

  • an instantaneous second work of grace

  • through the baptism of the Holy Spirit

  • which eradicated the sin nature

  • received through “appropriating faith”

  • resulting in a society free from sin

In 1919 Wiley was asked to write a Nazarene theology because the older Methodist theologies then in use did not stress the instantaneous nature of sanctification, did not stress eradication, and did not use Pentecost as the paradigm. It took Wiley 20 years to complete the task. When Wiley’s theology finally came out, he took a position different from the theologies of John Miley and A. M. Hills, which had been in use and thus began the Nazarene shift in their understanding of entire sanctification. Wiley taught that salvation was dependent on free grace, not free will. He carefully argued for prevenient grace. Nor did he base his doctrine of entire sanctification on Pentecost. Instead he taught it as instantaneous because of the use of the aorist tense. He therefore taught the progressive nature of salvation was the progression of instantaneous acts of God in the life of the believer. Wiley also backed off of the extravagant claims made by some earlier holiness writers, who were more interested in proclaiming the wonderful possibilities of this experience which resulted in almost a glorified state. With Wiley this began to change as he distinguished between purity and maturity, sin and infirmities, and the possibility of temptation.

By 1940–1950 the Nazarene Church had tempered their expectations, producing many books during this era which distinguished between being blameless and faultless and willful transgressions and mistakes. Quanstrom wrote that there were two agendas at work within the Nazarenes by this time: traditionalism and realism. William Deal wrote Problems of the Spirit-filled Life. An earlier generation felt that to be Spirit-filled would end most problems. Deal distinguished between thoughts of evil and evil thoughts, carnality and humanity-humanity. Deal and Richard S. Taylor in Life in the Spirit wrote about nervous or sensitive temperaments, saying entire sanctification would not change this. Nor did it do away with all irritability.

In 1976 the Articles of Faith on entire sanctification was modified for the first time in fifty years, adding two qualifying paragraphs. “So much attention had been given to proclaiming the instantaneous nature of entire sanctification that the gradual nature of the grace had been all but abandoned.”

While some earlier holiness writers did not think there would be any need to pray “Forgive us our debts” if sin had been eradicated, later writers felt there were at least infirmities which were appropriate for the sanctified to confess. While conceding that Wesley never used the term eradication, they still argued for it, as in Stephen S. White’s book Eradication. Quanstrom concluded, “Entire sanctification eradicated sin in its entirety, but sin in its entirety was understood quite particularly.”

Then in 1958 Zondervan reprinted The Works of John Wesley, providing his writings for the first time in over a century. The problem, however was that Wesley’s writings were not entirely consistent with the holiness writings that the Church of the Nazarene had recommended. Wesley did not emphasize instantaneous sanctification, instead using “sanctification” to describe the whole salvation process. Leo Cox, founder of the Wesleyan Theological Society, was also pivotal with his book on John Wesley’s Concept of Perfection. Nor did Wesley equate the baptism of the Holy Spirit or Pentecost with entire sanctification. In 1985 there was even a move in the General Assembly to replace the phrases “baptism with the Holy Spirit” and “eradication” in the Nazarene Articles of Faith. While the move was defeated at that time, it reflected a shift in understanding. The word “eradicated” was dropped by the Nazarene General Assembly from their Articles of Faith in 1997.

Mildred Bangs Wynkoop wrote A Theology of Love in 1973. She questioned the terminology of a “second work of grace.” She taught sin was not a substance to be eradicated, but a wrong relationship with God. Wynkoop taught the decisive moment of salvation was justification and that believers received the Holy Spirit at that time. She did not connect the baptism of the Spirit with entire sanctification.

This became the position of Rob Staples who was almost refusedtenure at the Seminary because of this. In 1984 the board of General Superintendents ruled that Staples’ teaching was compatible with Nazarene doctrine. In 1979 Ray Dunning was asked by the board of General Superintendents to write a new theology to replace Wiley. Dunning did not identify the baptism of the Spirit with entire sanctification either. Dunning placed more emphasis on the radical nature of the first work than on the second.

Quanstrom concluded, “At the end of the 20th century, there was no substantial agreement in the denomination over what it meant to be ‘entirely sanctified.’ The Church of the Nazarene no longer had a precisely articulated definition of their distinctive doctrine, the doctrine that at one time had been their sole reason for being.”

Essentially all five major components of holiness teaching which the Church of the Nazarene originally emphasized are now questioned by some Nazarene theologians. This has resulted in two contemporary and competing doctrines of holiness. In 2002 a “Global Theology Conference” was held to try to reach a consensus, but there was no consensus reached.

In 1768 John Wesley wrote Charles confessing to be at “wit’s end” with regard to the doctrine of Christian perfection because some of his lay preachers had distorted it. He asked, “Shall we go on in asserting perfection against all the world? Or shall we quietly let it drop?” Whether or not we are affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene, all who are Wesleyan in doctrine are faced with the same question today. At least the Church of the Nazarene, as the largest holiness denomination, has tolerated discussion. Quanstrom, himself, gives an accurate history but takes no position.

Many of us in the Fundamental Wesleyan Society have been ostracized for asking the same questions. We have concluded that a biblical doctrine of holiness begins with a proper concept of original sin and prevenient grace. Ironically the holiness movement has been permeated with the teaching of Charles Finney who rejected the doctrine of original sin or total depravity and the preliminary grace of God in salvation. Yet the same holiness movement emphasized the eradication of a carnal nature which Finney denied. Our emphasis must always be upon free grace and not free will. Man is sinful and cannot will himself into holiness.

Quanstrom wrote, “Interpreting Pentecost as the moment of entire sanctification was fundamental to the Holiness Movement’s argument concerning the nature of the doctrine.” But we believe the Bible teaches the baptism with the Spirit occurs at regeneration. Holiness is begun at the moment of regeneration.

We believe that sanctification is a crisis and a process. While most people are contented to live and die in awakened state, one of the characteristics of those who are truly born again is a desire to be holy. The same Greek word used in Romans 6:13 to describe the surrender of a sinner is used in Romans 12:1 to describe the consecration of a believer. This is not recapitulation; it is a progression. Each person consecrates or yields to the level of light received. There may be many crisis moments, but there is an initial crisis moment when we first are convicted for our transgressions and another initial crisis moment when we are born again.

In contrast we are either justified or not. Justification is an absolute concept. However, when it comes to sanctification or perfection, we can always be more Christlike. If the balance has shifted from all crisis to all process, is it important to recover the balance between crisis and process? Wesley taught that a man may be dying for some time, yet there came a moment in which the person was dead—even if the exact moment of that death is not dramatic or memorable.

The basis for a crisis experience which relies on the Greek aorist tense is inadequate. Holiness exegetes have jumped on the aorist tense believing this proves a crisis experience. This was based on Daniel Steele’s chapter, “The Tense Readings of the Greek New Testament” in Milestone Papers. However, Randy Maddox wrote an article in the Wesleyan Theological Journal entitled, “The Use of the Aorist Tense in Holiness Exegesis” (16:2; Fall 1981). Maddox argued that Steele’s understanding of the aorist tense was inadequate. The aorist tense does not necessarily imply crisis fulfillment; only the context can determine that.

Wynkoop wrote that the crisis moment is not the end, but a means to the end. “There is too much confidence put in the ‘crisis experiences’ to solve all human problems. The means (the crisis) becomes the end (perfection).”

Is there any virtue in understanding the salvation process as encompassing two works of grace if there could be many crisis moments? The secondness of entire sanctification is based upon the dual nature of sin and a deeper need. Here Wynkoop may have gone too far in questioning the terminology of a “second work of grace.” Evangelicals hold to one crisis and without some understanding of a secondness, we are nothing more than evangelicals with no distinctive doctrine of entire sanctification. Entire sanctification must be entire in the same sense that total depravity is total. It must be more than the new birth or subsequent growth.

If we understand entire sanctification to be a pure love which loves God and man with our whole heart to the exclusion of everything contrary to that pure love, there is also an initial crisis moment when we first see our inner depravity, although the process of deliverance from it may necessitate many subsequent revelations and cleansings (or as Fletcher says “baptisms”). There can also be an initial crisis moment when this love first displaces all sin. However, the believer who loves perfectly can still find areas in which he can be more completely conformed to the image of Christ. Wesley said, “There is no perfection which does not admit of a continual increase.” The perfect love of the believer is imputed to him for Christian perfection. Thus, instead of Wiley’s concept that the Christian life is a series of crisis experiences (two to be exact), the Christian life is a process in which there are several crisis moments: awakening, justification, deliverance, awakening to a deeper level of sin, death to self-centeredness, perfection of love.

Christian perfection is a derived perfection, is a relative (not absolute) perfection, is an imputed perfection. This perfection is a maintained condition, not a permanent state. According to 1 John 4:18 the love of God casts out or expels fear. This verb is in the present tense indicating an ongoing process. As we trust Christ each moment we are cleansed by his blood and filled with his Spirit. The Holy Spirit develops Christian character and maturity within those who are consistently led by the Spirit. Those who walk closest are the most conscious of their imperfections. Yet they can be cleansed at least from all conscious sin. The fruit of the Spirit can be increased in quality and quantity. They can have a greater delight in God’s law and a greater consistency in keeping it. They may enjoy a greater sense of God’s favor and blessing. They can develop a greater sensitivity and compassion for their neighbor.

Yet this growth in grace will not occur simply by declaring that we have it. The concept of “appropriating faith” amounts to “name it and claim it.” Within the holiness movement the paradigm used was, “I must be filled with the Spirit, I may be filled, I would be, I shall be.” Therefore, it was taught that we are sanctified as an act of our will. Oden saw this teaching of Phoebe Palmer as the link between Methodism and Pentecostals. However, historic Methodism understood true faith as the gift of God. It will not do to appropriate what we do not have.

When Wesley said Methodism was raised up to “spread scriptural holiness” he certainly had far more in mind than one specific doctrine. Yet the primary purpose for the existence of the American holiness movement was the preservation and proclamation of one doctrine. This is too narrow a purpose. True Wesleyan-Arminianism contends for these twelve doctrines:

  • The full inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture.

  • The Fall and sinfulness of man.

  • The universal atonement of Christ.

  • The decree of salvation applies to all who believe on Christ and who persevere in faith and obedience.

  • Prevenient grace which enables us to obey the commands of the Gospel.

  • The resistability of divine grace.

  • Justification by faith alone.

  • Regeneration which produces victory over sin through the indwelling Spirit of God.

  • Direct assurance of the Spirit to and with our spirits that we are accepted by God.

  • The possibility for those who are truly regenerate to fall from grace if they do not persevere in faith.

  • Christian perfection as a maturity in Christ and a conformity to the character of Christ.

  • The expansion and triumph of God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel and revival.

 While the holiness movement began with this postmillennialism, it was the first of the five major components to be discarded. This was due to the influence of the fundamentalist movement and the failure to understand the progressive nature of the kingdom.

May our dialogue on the doctrine of entire sanctification never fail to see the bigger picture. Wesleyan-Arminianism is a complete system of theology. And may God give us such a grasp of entire sanctification that we preach it clearly, that we seek it earnestly, and that we live it consistently. In the next hundred years may we rediscover the light of our Methodist forefathers and may it lead us all the way back to the New Testament. This kind of holiness movement will produce “a Christian world.”