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By Dr. Vinson Synan

The Pentecostal Holiness Church

The Pentecostal Holiness was organized as a Holiness denomination several years before the Pentecostal movement began in the United States. Its roots lie in the National Holiness Association movement which began in Vineland, New Jersey, in 1867 just after the end of the Civil War. The present church represents the merger of three bodies which were products of that movement.

Founded by Abner Blackman Crumpler, a Methodist Holiness preacher from North Carolina, the church was organized in 1896 as the North Carolina Holiness Association. The name was changed to the Pentecostal Holiness Church when the first congregation was formed in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1898.

The other major group that flowed into the present denomination was the Fire- Baptized Holiness Church founded in Iowa in 1895 by Benjamin H. Irwin, a former Baptist preacher. This group taught a third blessing after sanctification called the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire. By 1898, this group had organized a national denomination with churches in eight states and two Canadian provinces.

The Fire-Baptized movement almost disappeared in 1900 after Irwin backslid and abandoned the church. Before this he had taught several more baptisms including the baptisms of "dynamite," "liddite," and "oxidite."

The Churches Become Pentecostal

The 1906 annual conference of the Pentecostal Holiness Church of North Carolina was notable for the absence of Gaston B. Cashwell, one of the leading evangelists and pastors in the new denomination since he left Methodism to join the new church in 1903. Crumpler, the leader of the conference, read a letter from Cashwell that greatly interested the delegates. In it he asked forgiveness from anyone he had offended and announced that he was going to Los Angeles "to seek for the baptism of the Holy Ghost."

For several months there had been great interest in the Azusa Street revival throughout the South because of the glowing eyewitness accounts by Frank Bartleman in the Way of Faith, a regional Holiness magazine. Cashwell was the only minister venturesome enough to take action. He decided to make the long journey to Los Angeles to find out for himself if this was indeed the new Pentecost they had been praying for and expecting for years. Trusting God to supply his needs, he bought a one-way train ticket to Los Angeles and traveled in the only suit he owned.

Once in Los Angeles, Cashwell went directly to the Azusa Street Mission. He was dismayed at what he saw. The pastor, William J. Seymour, was a black man, as were most of his worshippers. When blacks laid hands upon him to receive the baptism, he abruptly left the meeting confused and disappointed. That night, however, God dealt with his racial prejudices and gave him a love for blacks and a renewed hunger to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The next night, at Cashwell's request, Seymour and several young blacks laid hands again on this Southern gentlemen, who was baptized in the Spirit and, according to his own account, spoke perfect German. Before Cashwell returned to North Carolina, Seymour and the Azusa faithful took up an offering and presented him with a new suit and enough money for the return journey.

The Flame Spreads

Upon arriving in his hometown on Dunn, North Carolina, in December 1906, Cashwell immediately preached Pentecost in the local Holiness church. Interest was so great that in the first week of January 1907 he rented a three-story tobacco warehouse near the railroad tracks in Dunn for a month-long Pentecost crusade, which became for the East Coast another Azusa Street.

Most of the ministers in the three largest Holiness movements in the area came by the scores hungry to receive their own "personal Pentecost." These churches included the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church and the Holiness Freewill Baptist Churches of the area. Overnight most of the ministers and churches in these groups were swept "lock, stock and barrel" into the Pentecostal movement.

A month later, the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church general overseer Joseph H. King invited Cashwell to preach at his church in Toccoa, Georgia. Although King had heard of the new baptism accompanied by glossolalia, he was not fully convinced of its validity. Upon hearing one message from Cashwell, he knelt at the altar and received the baptism "in a quiet but powerful manifestation of tongues."

In the next six months Cashwell completed a whirlwind preaching tour of the Southern states which established him as the "apostle of Pentecost to the South." On a trip to Birmingham, Alabama, in the summer of 1907, he brought the message of Pentecost to A.J. Tomlinson, general overseer of the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, and to H.G. Rodgers and M.M. Pinson, later founders of the Assemblies of God.

The Church Officially Becomes Pentecostal

Though the Pentecostal experience was sweeping his church, Crumpler was one of the few who refused to countenance the theory of "initial evidence." Although he accepted the validity of tongues, he did not believe that everyone had to speak in tongues to experience a genuine baptism in the Holy Spirit. For several months Crumpler and the Pentecostal party led by Cashwell and his converts struggled over the issue.

The issue came to head in the annual conference which met in Dunn, North Carolina, in November 1908. About ninety percent of the ministers and laity had experienced tongues by this time. On the first day of the convention, delegates re-elected Crumpler as president, but the "initial evidence" battle had come to a head. The next day he left forever the convention and the church he had founded. The Pentecostals had won.

The convention immediately added a Pentecostal article to the Statement of Faith which accepted tongues as the initial evidence. As far as is known, this was the first church body to adopt a Pentecostal statement as the official doctrine of the denomination.

Delegates also selected The Bridegroom's Messenger, a magazine published by Cashwell, as the official periodical of the church. A final action was taken in 1909 when the word Pentecostal was once again added to the name of the church. It had been dropped in 1903 in an attempt to identify the church further with the Holiness movement.

Another citadel to accept Pentecostalism was the Bible college in Greenville, South Carolina, founded in 1898 by Nickles J. Holmes as a Holiness school. In 1907, Holmes and most of his faculty had received the Pentecostal experience and had spoken in tongues under Cashwell's influence. By 1909, Holmes accepted Pentecostalism and subsequently his school became an early theological and educational center for the movement. Once related to the Pentecostal Holiness Church, Holmes College of the Bible still stands as the oldest continuing Pentecostal educational institution in the world.


By the end of 1908, much of the Southern Holiness movement had entered the Pentecostal fold. In the following months, a feeling emerged that those of "like precious faith" should unite to promote the Pentecost message more effectively. This led to a merger of the Pentecostal Holiness Church with the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church in 1911 in the camp meeting village of Falcon, North Carolina. The same ecumenical feeling led to the merger of the churches affiliated with the college in 1915. These congregations were located mostly in South Carolina and had roots in the Presbyterian Church.

The Theology of the Church

Pentecostal Holiness doctrine has roots in the original teachings of the Azusa Street revival. Already a Holiness church before 1906, it taught the Wesleyan theology of instant second-blessing sanctification. After Azusa Street, the church simply added the baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by tongues as a third blessing. This was in harmony with the teachings of Irwin and the Fire-Baptized branch of the church.

Since 1908, the Pentecostal Holiness Church has taught what are known as five cardinal doctrines: justification by faith, entire sanctification, the baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, Christ's atonement providing for divine healing, and the imminent, premillennial second coming of Christ.

Influential books in forming this theology were G.F. Taylor's 1907 book, The Spirit and the Bride, and J.H. King's 1911 volume, From Passover to Pentecost.

Over the years the church has gained a reputation for its defense of what its leaders consider the original Pentecostal message. In the "finished work" controversy over sanctification after 1910, the church roundly defended the second work of entire sanctification against the teachings of William Durham. Those who accepted Durham's teachings eventually formed the Assemblies of God in 1914.

The only schism in the church's history came in 1920 when a division came over divine healing and the use of medicine. Some Georgia pastors defended the right of Christians to use medicine and doctors, while most of the church leaders taught that one should trust God for healing without recourse to medicine. Those who advocated the use of medicine withdrew from the denomination to form the Congregational Holiness Church in 1921.

Growing Pains

In the post-World War II era, the Pentecostal Holiness Church along with other American Pentecostal bodies experienced tremendous growth. Much of this came during the era of the "divine healing" crusades of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Leading this movement was Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal Holiness evangelist from Oklahoma. At first immensely popular with most Pentecostal laymen and church leaders, Roberts' ministry became increasingly controversial after 1953.

For a decade, the church was torn by pro- and anti-Roberts factions with some anti-Roberts ministers calling for a schism in the church. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the threat of division passed. In time, leading churchmen such as R.O. Corvin and Bishop Oscar Moore worked with Roberts in his evangelistic association and his new university.

By the mid-1960s Roberts had won the support of most of his denomination, including Bishop Joseph A. Synan. Synan, an early Roberts opponent, joined in the dedication of Oral Roberts University in 1967. Despite his acceptance, Roberts joined the Methodist Church in 1968 to the dismay and puzzlement of his many friends in all the Pentecostal denominations.

The Roberts story illustrates a significant fact about the denomination: The Pentecostal Holiness Church is as famous for the ministers who have left the church as for those who have remained. In addition to Roberts, such leaders as Charles Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and C.M. Ward, former Assemblies of God radio preacher, were born and spiritually formed in the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Others in this category are T.L. Lowery of the Church of God and Dan Sheaffer of the Assemblies of God.

Pentecostal Ecumenism

For many decades there was little contact between the various American Pentecostal bodies except by ministers who transferred from one denomination to another. However, there were cases of proselytism and "sheep stealing" that caused unpleasant feelings between the various groups. This began to change during the dark days of World War II when the first steps were taken to bring Pentecostals into fellowship with each other.

The first contacts were made in 1943 in the lobbies of the newly formed National Association of Evangelicals. Several Pentecostal bodies served as charter members of this group which were drawn together by the emergency situation brought about by the war. The Pentecostal Holiness Church was one of these groups.

By 1948, several Pentecostal groups formed the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America in Des Moines, Iowa. Preliminary to this organization was a rally in Washington, D.C., where plans for a constitution were formulated. Leading figures in this meeting were Bishop J. A. Synan, who helped formulate the constitution, and Oral Roberts who preached in the final public rally. From those early days, the Pentecostal Holiness Church has taken a leading role in the PFNA meetings as well as the World Pentecostal Conferences that have met every three years since 1947.

The Church Today

In the 1960s the Pentecostal Holiness Church began to branch out beyond the United States by affiliating with sister Pentecostal bodies in the Third World. This was done in addition to its traditional world missions efforts. In 1967 an affiliation was formed with the Pentecostal Methodist Church of Chile, one of the largest national Pentecostal churches in the world. At the time, the Jotabeche Pentecostal Methodist congregation was the largest church in the world with over 60,000 members. Today, with over 150,000 members, it ranks second to the Full Gospel Central Church in Souel, Korea. The denomination claims no less than 1.7 million adherents.

A similar affiliation was forged in 1985 with the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Brazil. A Neo-Pentecostal body with roots in the Brazilian Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church numbers some 50,000 members and adherents in 1995.

With 151,500 adult baptized members in the United States and Canada and ministry in 74 nations, the Pentecostal Holiness Church in 1995 numbers 2.3 million persons around the world.

Leading the church since 1989 is Bishop Bernard E. Underwood. Underwood is a visionary whose progressive leadership has greatly influenced not only his own denomination, but the entire Pentecostal world.

The largest Pentecostal Holiness churches in the United States include Cathedral of Praise World Outreach Center in Oklahoma City, pastored by Ron Dryden; Northwood Temple in Fayetteville, North Carolina, pastored by John Hedgepeth; Evangelist Temple in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pastored by Dan Beller; Life Christian Center in Oklahoma City, pastored by Dwight Burchett; Christian Heritage Church in Tallahassee, Florida, pastored by Bob Shelley; World Agape Korean Church in Los Angeles, pastored by Jon Kim.

In 1993 and 1994, the church saw the greatest growth in its history. In 1985 a program known as Target 2000 was launched. The goal of this program is for the church to be able to claim one-tenth of one percent of the world population for Jesus Christ by the end of the century. This would mean a church of 6.5 million members by the year 2000. To achieve this goal, new churches are being opened in world-class cities in the United States and other nations each year.

For many decades the Pentecostal Holiness Church was a church that spoke with a Southern accent and was largely a rural denomination ministering in the South and the Midwest. Now the church ministers in 35 states and scores of languages and accents of the world.