Saturday, July 18, 2015

"Holy Jumpers" Batman!

Keith Drury and Bob Black are reading a book right now called Holy Jumpers, by Bill Kostlevy. Bill was librarian at Asbury when I was a student there. You might remember that Keith and Bob wrote a history of the Wesleyan Church, so this book is right up their alley.

1. This book is about "evangelicals and radicals in Progressive Era America," which was around the turn of the century 1900. Kostlevy seems especially to be tracing the story of a group called the Metropolitan Church Association (MCA), a radical holiness group that was in Chicago at that time. Their magazine was The Burning Bush. The group intersected heavily with the founders of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, one of the parent bodies of the Wesleyan Church, although they parted ways as the MCA got crazier.

2. So what are we talking about here? For one, we are talking about "demonstrative" preaching and worship, where there was shouting and jumping and crying. Martin Wells Knapp was the founder of God's Bible School, the starter of the magazine, God's Revivalist, and (without knowing it) co-founder of the Pilgrim Holiness Church. He once said that God would not tolerate fireless preachers. He died in 1901, before tongues came into the picture, but he approached having a sense that if you did not have some dramatic, demonstrable, loud experience, you simply were not really sanctified.

I grew up on the tail end of some of the aisle running at various camp meetings. But I haven't seen much of it for years now. The last time I had a taste was at my uncle Maurice's funeral, where there was both some shouting and a little holy laughter.

3. These were "against" people. At first they were not "comeouters," and then they were. Knapp described the Revivalist in negative terms: "In every age the true gospel-herald must 'root out' error, 'pull down' formality, worldliness, and sham religion, 'destroy' the works of the devil and 'throw down' all that persists in the way of revival truth" (27).

What did he have in mind? It included fancy dress, jewelry, and such. The original Free Methodists didn't wear ties. The MCA had problems with wedding rings and silk. They were "sabbatarians" who took a Scottish approach to things you couldn't do on Sundays. They debated whether you should take the train in to camp meeting on a Sunday. They were of course against liquor and the "evil" Catholic immigrant influence.

Ironically, some of what Seth Rees, co-founder of the Pilgrims, would have preached against included values that I consider the best of the Wesleyan tradition: "This sweet, sickish, sentimental gush about 'love and unity' which composes the stock and trade of a great many religious 'tongue-waggers' is producing a race of cringing, sensitive, puny, delicate Christians who wilt and curl under a hot sun" (29) The love of God for him included assault on worldliness.

4. One of the most interesting features is that many of them had a "communal" dimension to their thinking. One of the founders of the MCA, a wealthy businessman named E. L. Harvey, didn't get entirely sanctified until he submitted to give the Lord all his money except for what he needed to subsist on. He and his wife felt guilty about fancy clothes, wedding rings, and nice houses.

In other words, these early radical holiness had a socialist element to their thinking. They had many of the same goals as the socialist "Industrial Workers of the World" and competed for the same people. They just weren't violent like the IWW. They believed that Christians should share their possessions in common like Acts 2 and just keep enough to live on simply.

They had much in common with the social gospel movement in Chicago, although Kostlevy points out a very important difference: "The social gospel was never successful in either the socioeconomic integration of Christian communities or the establishment of churches among the poor. In abandoning, or more commonly minimizing, the evangelical message of personal salvation, Chicago Methodists were unintentionally replacing an experiential basis for unity, which allowed for a degree of cultural diversity, with a cultural and political understanding of Christian mission that saw the recipients as objects of charity and not brothers and sisters in Christ" (48).

5. We are also talking about a radical premillennarianism that seized this radical wing of the holiness movement in the 1890s. Prior to the 1890s, most holiness people--as most Christians in general--were postmillennial. It was in the last decade of the nineteenth century that there was a mass conversion of the radical holiness preachers to a "Left Behind" style eschatology.

These lines from W. B. Godbey in 1898 were fun: "What a wonderful flood of light on this subject is inundating the world! Only two years ago brother Carradine got light on it, and preached it, and Dr. Watson preached his first sermon on it, and there has been a regular revelation on the subject in the last few years. You do not find one sanctified man in a thousand who is not looking for the speedy coming of the lord" (26).

Of course that was well over 100 years ago, so apparently Godbey was off a little on his timing. But premillennialism was part and parcel of the Pilgrim Holiness Church, and most Wesleyans remain premillennial today. One of the debates at the merger of the Wesleyan Church was whether it would have a statement requiring belief in pre-millennialism, which thankfully didn't happen.

Today, we would consider Daniel Steele a much more appropriate holiness model from that era, along with the National Holiness Association (NHA). These were more balanced holiness people. They were not liberals or followers of the social gospel. Yet they were targets of Knapp's vitriol. They weren't radical enough for him. If he had continued living, the MCA probably would have become too radical for him.

When Daniel Steele pointed out to Knapp that premillennialism wasn't in the Apostle's Creed, Knapp more or less replied that the Apostle's Creed was just a man made document.

6. Divine healing was also very important to these more demonstrative strands of the holiness movement. You can see Melvin Dieter's thesis here that the holiness movement of the turn of the century and the Pentecostal movement of that time both grew out of the same fertile soil.

Wesleyans still believe in divine healing today, although we don't emphasize it the way they did 100 years ago. A. B. Simpson was founder of the CMA church about this time, who emphasized a four-fold gospel with which the founders of the Pilgrim church agreed 1) Christ as savior, 2) Christ as sanctifier, 3) Christ as healer, and 4) Christ as coming king.

There is an outline of their preaching. They preached for people to come forward to the altar to get saved and sanctified. They preached healing. And they preached a speedy second coming.

7. There's a little taste of the introduction and first two chapters. Stay tuned for more...

1 comment:

Christopher C. Schrock said...

Does the book mention whether the MCA associated with Alexander Dowie (father of healing revivalism in America)? Dowie founded the Christian Catholic Church (1896) and established a City of Zion on the north side of Chicago (1900)? There seems to be some serious overlap between the two groups, and it is very interesting that both were centered in Chicago.