For the last three weeks I've been reading through Black and Drury's, The Story of the Wesleyan Church So far:
Chaps 1-2 About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4 About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)
Chaps 5-6 The post-Civil War let down, when the best and brightest returned to the Methodists
Today, I'm looking at chapter 7, which brought the Wesleyan Methodists to the end of the 1800s and chapter 8, the birth of what would snowball into the Pilgrim Holiness Church.
End of the Century Wesleyan Methodism
Three elements in this chapter seem to point to the most important events just before the turn of the century within the WM Church. The first is that they finally called it a "church" instead of a "connection" in 1891. The second was the founding of Houghton College, the first college venture that really stuck within the denomination. The third was the beginning of significant missions, in particular the sending of the Johnston's to Sierra Leone, West Africa in 1889. Father and son would die within five years.
Of great interest was also the founding of African-American conferences that were separate from the white conferences. This was not forced on these Wesleyans--they wanted to have their own districts--but it seems a defeat and that is how Black and Drury take it. Surely there was another way to allow them to have their own connection while being full members of integrated districts.
Also of interest in this chapter is the move toward "pre-millennialism." At the turn of the century, dispensationalism was becoming a strong force in America with its sense of a rapture, tribulation, and anti-Christ. Up to that point, Black and Drury argue, Wesleyan Methodism had been "post-millennial," optimistic about the possibility of changing the world. Enter the gloom of impending crisis, where things would get worse and worse until the second coming.
By the way, they were all wrong, weren't they? Over a hundred years ago the Left Behind types were preaching it was all going to happen ASAP and it didn't. SO STOP IT! Dispensationalism has only survived because of short term memory.
Birth of the Pilgrim Holiness Church
Well, not exactly. There were a number of holiness associations that rose in the late 1800s, several of which would later snowball into the Pilgrim Holiness Church. But the one later Pilgrims have always pointed to is the formation of the International Holiness Union and Prayer League that took place in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1897 in the home of Martin Wells Knapp. That location would become God's Bible School. Both the school and the paper he founded, The Revivalist, are still going strong. Knapp would die before he realized he had founded a church.
His co-founder was Seth C. Rees. Rees was a Quaker, and I have occasionally mentioned elements of Quaker thought that I consider strengths of the Pilgrim heritage of the Wesleyan Church. Holiness was the key basis for the new group. This is the doctrine of a second experience that empowers a person not only to do the right thing but to do so gladly and easily. They were, in short, Pentecostals before tongues got mixed into the equation.
They were fiery preachers. They were entrepreneurial with a very loose organizational structure. "For decades, Pilgrims were more like a ragtag band than an orderly denomination" (104). Their motto was "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." Of course they saw a lot of non-essential things as essential, no doubt.
One thing they didn't know was the later wall fundamentalism created between social ministry and evangelism. They preached getting saved, getting sanctified, the possibility of healing, and the soon return of Christ (the "fourfold gospel")... and they ministered in the slums, in prisons, started city missions, went to hospitals... Like the Salvation Army, the Pilgrims were full blown "social" alongside their full blown "gospel."