Posts tagged ‘Phoebe Palmer’

My Favorite Five

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the final day of 2011. Another year has passed, and it’s been a great year for this little blog of mine. I am blown away by the growth in visitors in just one year, and grateful for the growing number of people who find enough worth in what I’ve been doing here to actually subscribe. I thought I would take a moment to look back and reflect on my personal favorite posts of the past year. These are my favorite five, in chronological order of their original postings.

1. Corporate Prayer. Almost a year later, I continue to devote lots of thought to how congregations can move beyond being local bodies full of people with individual prayer lives to being a body with a communal prayer life.

2. Phoebe Palmer and Entire Sanctification. This is perhaps my favorite post of 2011, because it represented my entrance into a new level of theological pondering on my part considering the holiness movement in America. That it turn led to a major paper written for one of my graduate courses at Trevecca Nazarene University. I later modified that paper and turned it into a series of posts, which can be found at the page titled Altar Theology or Altered Theology? Whether you’ve visited A Heart That Burns previously and never read these, or are visiting for the first time, please peruse these for my thoughts on the identity crisis I believe the Church of the Nazarene has faced for some time, and what I see as the solution.

3. Serving or Surviving? This post sparked a meaningful discussion on the question of whether the life of Nazarene churches are oriented towards the service of those outside the doors of the church, or oriented towards the survival of the church (and by extension — with an insight that has come since the original post — the specific traditions and sacred cows of a particular church).

4. God Never Gives Up on People … Should We? There are some things I write that the most human and selfish part of me resists every step of the way, because of how vulnerable and exposed they make my heart. This one burned — and still burns! — like battery acid. Although I stand by what I wrote here, oh how I wish that things could be otherwise when it comes to broken relationships.

5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Success. Although this wasn’t the lengthiest of posts in the past year, it just might be the one that has caused me to return over and over to consider the question I myself raised: am I achieving success by God’s standards?

BONUS POSTS: This year I had two guest posts,  both of them by pastor friends of mine. These were fantastic posts that addressed important topics.

1. About Banners by Herb Halstead. Herb addressed the unity that occurs when churches chooses to focus on the mission God has given the Body of Christ, and to set aside the banner of a particular denomination or doctrine.

2. Zombie Land by Jeff Skinner. Leave it to my friend Jeff Skinner — a truly creative preacher and church planter — to come up with perhaps the most unusual post on this blog all year. Don’t let the title of the post fool you … this one had some depth to it.

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Four

Why is it that I believe that a solution to the identity crisis of the Holiness movement lies within liturgy?

When correct usage of liturgy is employed, the rules that liturgy employs provide a means of not just solidifying identity but of critiquing and examining the behaviors of the church. This has long been described by the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi or “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” This is ignored at some peril, and Steve Hoskins has argued that this is precisely what the Holiness movement has done. Rather than lex orandi, lex credendi, Hoskins has made the case that the Holiness movement has instead operated by lex orandi, lex oblivisci or “the rule of prayer, the rule ignored.” In other words, as the Holiness movement has ignored its roots within the liturgy of the Christian church, it has lost its sense of identity and subsequently its core beliefs.

Charles Hohenstein notes that the “notion of liturgy as an authoritative source for theology is a congenial one for many in the Wesleyan tradition who have attached such significance to the sermons and hymns of the Wesleys that these have served not only as grist for theological reflection, but as a doctrinal standard.” This reinforces the argument that a return to liturgy is a solution to the crisis that has resulted from the tension between a Holiness movement self-defined by a Wesleyan theological model versus self-definition by the alterations of theology that plague a Palmerian model. Liturgy allows individuals to be active participants in the recovery of memory of the developmental events of the Christian faith and of the principles of holiness.

Paul Bradshaw has written as to the relevance of such memory, in which remembrance does not seek the past for its own sake but because of some contemporary interest. Recollection on the part of the community therefore takes place in order to comprehend the present day. Bradshaw was writing specifically in regards to celebration of the Eucharist, yet the principle he is getting at is one that can be broadly applied. Liturgical participation is an act in which Holiness people will be able not only to re-member their lineage as part of the greater Christian church, but also re-member – to draw together as members of a distinct community within the Church. Hoskins cautions, “Such a remembering is dependent on a liturgy which is theologically and historically well-defined and defining, with rubrics and rules and acts which have proved to be appropriate expressions of the faith.”

This concept of appropriate expressions of faith is important to comprehend in terms of how liturgy can resolve the question of identity, particularly when the goal is a return to a pure Wesleyan identity. John Wesley’s teachings on holiness were formed within the crucible of the Anglican Church; as such, concepts of holiness were set in a particular context. This context included not just Scripture, but time-honored traditions of the Church calendar, life-cycle events that defined how one’s faith was to be lived, and the historic creeds and confessions of the Church. All these aspects of liturgy were considered fundamental and indispensable expressions of faith that formed an identity, which placed one clearly in the community of God’s people. For the Holiness movement to re-orient itself into such a context – albeit one that acknowledges that it is not the 18th century, and makes accommodation for the age in which the movement exists – will allow for the establishment of clearly defined theological boundaries while still permitting for spontaneous expressions of faith that are uniquely part of a Holiness heritage.

It should be obvious that what I am arguing for here is not simply that the Holiness movement return to liturgy as a cure for problems with identity, but that it return to liturgy as a means of recovering a specifically Wesleyan Holiness identity. This does not preclude acknowledgement of other influences on the identity of the movement – it would be utter foolishness to deny that Phoebe Palmer and her theology greatly shaped the movement – but allows for those influences to be evaluated through the lens of Wesleyan identity. Examination of these other influences in such a manner permits those within the movement to appraise the merits of such influences in regards to such a Wesleyan identity.

While there may be historical and theological objections to be raised to this choice, the fact remains that a Wesleyan identity intrinsically seeks self-definition (at least in part) through liturgy. The means of grace that Wesley so urged the early Methodists to partake of – such as searching Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, and participation in the life of the Church – found their expression in liturgy, and as Henry Knight observes, “functioned to portray the identity of God and the resulting identity of the Christian.” Knight also cogently notes that while the liturgical tradition was key to John Wesley’s ideas of the growth of holiness in the individual, Wesley was particular in the parts of that tradition he emphasized, especially in regards to theology. One has only to give attention to the material in Wesley’s famous Christian Library and take note of the abridgement of some of the works to realize that Wesley was presenting only the parts of those works that dovetailed with his vision of holiness of heart and life.

In this as well, the choice to concentrate on a Wesleyan genesis can only assist the contemporary Holiness movement in moving towards resolving a crisis of identity via  liturgical renewal. Wesley drew upon a great diversity of sources both ancient and contemporary for his time in order to devise an expression of faith that would be true to the historical faith and life of the Church, and yet address the needs of his own day. The Holiness movement has the opportunity to do the same today. The movement must commit itself to seeking expressions of faith that draw upon the rich and profound treasures represented by the liturgical traditions of the Church universal.

These liturgical traditions must be allowed to establish the boundaries of identity that place the Holiness movement within the long line of Christian faith, while still allowing for a singular expression of the doctrines that make Holiness people a peculiar people within the greater community of God’s people. While not without its difficulties, this is a task made easier by what has been one of the great strengths of the Holiness movement: the unwillingness of most groups of holiness people to castigate other holiness people over differences in theology or doctrine. If we in the Holiness movement can continue to seek such a unity even as we explore liturgical renewal, then there is hope that our movement may become one marked by a well-defined identity rooted in the wealth of the Christian past and truly moving into the future towards the fulfillment of a Wesleyan goal of spreading holiness throughout the land.

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Three

It is reasonable at this point to question whether the conflict between Wesleyan and Palmerian definitions of entire sanctification is enough to be considered a point of crisis for the Holiness movement. After all, the movement has endured for a very long time in relative unity. Melvin Dieter certainly seems to have felt that the question of identity was reaching a crisis point as far back as 1985, in a paper titled, “The Development of Nineteenth Century Holiness Theology.” He believed that the movement must choose between the two identities or risk being assimilated into a more general context within the Church. While Dieter was in favor of the choice of a Palmerian identity, other voices within the movement would argue instead for allowing the Holiness movement to move to the selection of an exclusively Wesleyan character. This leads to other questions, such as should the Holiness movement prefer one aspect of its formative past over the other, and why should it examine the past as a solution to a current lack of growth both in numbers and social impact?

The answer to the former question is that it has been a lack of accuracy about the true distinctiveness of the movement that has caused the crisis that Dieter and others have been addressing for over 20 years. In terms of an identity that concerns itself with accuracy, there is no question that the Wesleyan model would present itself as superior. A Wesleyan model would by its nature incorporate logic and reason as part of its identity. John Wesley left capacious writings to indicate that the experience of holiness must be examined theologically to ensure that it did not conflict with Scripture. A Palmerian model, by contrast, would be concerned primarily with the experience of holiness itself. Phoebe Palmer’s writings indicate a primary commitment that is centered on leading the individual Christian to the experience. Some might accuse Palmer of being completely unconcerned with theology; this is not disdain, but simply a belief that the exactness of the theology behind sanctification is simply not as important as achievement of the experience.

The answer to the latter question, why the Holiness movement should turn to the past for a solution to present-day woes, is that embracing either model could well mean a return to the successes that were previously associated with that identity. Certainly within the context of the American Holiness movement, it is unarguable that Phoebe Palmer and her followers enjoyed the fruit of numerical growth and widespread social impact fully as much as John Wesley and Methodism did during the Revival in an English context. A decision for either model would seem to hold the hope of return to such successes and while the argument against Palmer’s lack of theological correctness is quite valid, it is fair to note that Wesleyan model does contain problems of theological exactitude as well.

Chief among these troubles is an inconsistency in Wesley’s own teachings, which Randy Maddox demonstrated to be products of three chronological periods of Wesley’s life. There is little disagreement with Wesley’s own positions during the earlier two periods, yet much disagreement in the third and latest period. Mainly at issue would be the subject of Biblical inerrancy, a position to which for much of his life Wesley did not subscribe; only in the third period, according to Maddox, does Wesley proclaim that the Bible contains no error.

Nevertheless, the Wesleyan model seems to offer a clearer path for the Holiness movement to avoid the ambiguity caused by two differing theological identities. Yet if both the Wesleyan and Palmerian identity present difficulties, what solution can be offered? One can argue that the answer to the dilemma lies in a return to liturgy. Why liturgy? Because it can be proposed that one of the causes of the recent predicament of the Holiness movement lies in insufficient attention being paid within the movement to the critical importance of spiritual formation and practices. The historical liturgies of the broader Christian church provide a means for denominations in the Holiness movement to maintain connection to their past lineage within the Church. This loss of a link to that lineage can have very damaging results; Keith Drury, in his infamous address The Holiness Movement Is Dead, identified one of these results as the adoption of “church-growth thinking without theological thinking.” When holiness denominations become severed from their pedigree, they risk ceasing to be a part of what Steven Hoskins has labeled, “the ancient procession of those who have trod the path of Christian faith that has followed the way of holiness.”

In Part Four, the final part of this series, I will explain why I believe that liturgy is a solution to the identity crisis within the holiness movement, which I believe was caused (at least the majority of it) by Phoebe Palmer’s theology of entire sanctification.

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part Two

Theological differences become apparent swiftly when the teachings of Phoebe Palmer on entire sanctification are contrasted with John Wesley’s own. In stark contrast to Wesley’s vision of a lengthy, often difficult effort concluding with sanctification, Palmer expressed sanctification as a state of being that all believers could achieve in an instant. This was a viewpoint that Wesley had specifically warned against, as can be seen in the Minutes of the Methodist Conference (1771). Charles White has identified six primary areas in which Palmer departs from Wesleyan views of entire sanctification.

The first of these is that she equates entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Second, Palmer equated holiness with power. Palmer saw entire sanctification as a means by which the sanctified Christian was given power for a life of service in behalf of God and others.

Third, she focused on the instantaneousness of entire sanctification, having little or nothing to say about any progressive growth in grace either before or after sanctification. Palmer’s reasoning was that “whatever my former deficiencies may have been, God requires that I should now be holy … God requires present holiness.” Palmer’s logic was that this “shorter way” was not just possible but a reality, because God would not withhold something that he had required of the individual Christian. In her outlook, Palmer seems to have followed Charles G. Finney, whom Ivan Howard notes “held that entire sanctification could be received at any time, whenever one appropriated Christ by faith.”

The fourth way in which Palmer deviated from Wesley was that she taught sanctification as the beginning of the Christian life, not the goal of it as Wesley had done. Mark Mann notes that Palmer “came to view full holiness as the duty of all Christians, thereby substantially deflating the importance of justification and the new birth (against which Wesley himself had warned). Related to this, Palmer came to emphasize Christian perfection as a grace normally available early in one’s spiritual growth, even as early as a couple hours after one’s conversion.” Such a view of holiness inevitably would lead one to the conclusion that to doubt in entire sanctification would be amiss to sin, and Palmer certainly articulated such to her followers.

“What you need, in order to bring you into this state, is an offering up of yourself through this purifying medium. Now do you still ask, How soon may I expect to arrive at this state of perfection? Just so soon as you come believingly, and make the required sacrifice, it will be done unto you according to your faith….When the Savior said, “It is finished!” then this full salvation was wrought out for you. All that remains is for you to come complying with the conditions, and claim it…it is already yours. If you do not now receive it, the delay will not be on the part of God, but wholly with yourself. … And now my dear K, if you will resolve to let faith depend on the word of God, and not upon your uncertain feelings, your difficulties will all be at an end.”

The fifth difference which White identifies is Palmer’s promulgation of what became labeled as “altar theology,” a concept she drew from Exodus 29:37.

“The acceptance of the gift [of entire sanctification] does not depend on the worthiness of the offerer or the greatness of the gift, but upon the sanctity of the altar: Matt. 23:19, “For whether is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” It is by virtue of the altar upon which the offering is laid that the gift is sanctified: Exod. 29:37, “And it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever touches the altar shall be holy.” Christ is the Christian’s altar.”

This altar theology compacted entire sanctification into a process of three steps: an act of entire consecration in which one placed one’s all on the altar, faith in God’s promise of sanctification, and giving public testimony to sanctification. This last step Palmer viewed as a necessity due to the order of God not being fully met until confession was made with the mouth.

The sixth divergence from Wesley’s teachings that is noted by White is that Palmer posited that there was no further evidence needed for the assurance of entire sanctification than Scripture itself. She wrote, “God did not require … anything but what was thoroughly substantiated by the requirements of his written word.” Palmer eschewed any evidence of sanctification in the form of the witness of the Spirit (which Wesley had insisted was vital as an assurance of entire sanctification), writing, “What is the evidence of entire sanctification? … How might an offerer at the Jewish altar arrive at an evidence that his offering was sanctified? In the first place, God had explicitly made known just the sacrifice required, and the manner in which it should be presented. If the offerer had complied with these requirements, he, of course, knew he had done so.”

Although these differences in theology might seem trivial to some, Randy Maddox has demonstrated that John Wesley had spoken quite strongly against each one of the modifications that Phoebe Palmer would make to the doctrine of entire sanctification.  Hardly trivial, Palmer’s alterations in fact caused a theological dissonance in holiness teaching, one that has lasted to the present day and continues to cause serious problems for the Holiness movement. The crux of the problem is that the Holiness movement has since its inception been playing an internal tug-of-war over the matter of its own identity. Is it a Wesleyan identity, or a Palmerian identity? This tension of identity is likely to be one of the reasons for the loss of a laity truly educated in holiness; a problem that Keith Drury has argued has contributed to the death of the Holiness movement as a movement.

In Part Three, I will address the consequences of the identity crisis in the Holiness movement.

Phoebe Palmer and Entire Sanctification

Few people were as instrumental to the growth of the 19th century American Holiness movement as Phoebe Palmer. Phoebe was the wife of a physican and prominent Methodist layman. According to Charles Edwin Jones, author of Perfectionist Persuasion, her sister, Sarah Lankford,

“claimed the second blessing and started a prayer meeting in her home in the interest of encouraging seekers after perfect love.”

When Sarah left the city, Phoebe continued the meetings on her own.

“Mrs. Palmer’s Tuesday Meeting for the Promulgation of Holiness (so popular that it outlived her thirty years) influenced a dedicated core of the Methodist ecclesiastical elite, as well as prominent members of other communions.”

In addition to the Tuesday Meeting for the Promulgation for Holiness, Palmer was also the editor of the Guide to Holiness, a widely circulated religious monthly that had begun life as the Guide to Christian Perfection. The influence of the Tuesday meeting and the Guide contributed to making Phoebe Palmer one of the most significant American Protestant women of the nineteenth century. The Guide had originally been founded by Timothy Merritt (a Methodist Episcopal preacher who was an early and zealous promoter of holiness) in 1839.

The holiness doctrine that Palmer promulgated represented a modification of John Wesley’s teachings on Christian perfection. Randall J. Stephens explains in his book The Fire Spreads,

Phoebe Palmer altered Wesley’s views. The optimistic and utilitarian environment of the post-Puritan North greatly influenced her work. Consequently, her popular doctrine of perfection took a pragmatic turn. Palmer framed holiness as a state immediately attainable by all believers through an act of faith. Gone was the long, anxious struggle Wesley envisioned leading up to sanctification. Palmer’s practical “shorter way” to holiness, as it was called, involved a total devotion of self and possessions to God. Taking Jesus’ words from Matthew 23:19, “the altar that sanctifieth the gift,” Palmer imagined that anyone who offered a full consecration of self would be sanctified completely.”

Melvin Dieter observes that,

“Phoebe Palmer believed that her appeal to Christians to “only believe and receive” in order to be sanctified wholly was the exact parallel of the appeal to sinners to “only believe and receive” to be saved. Therefore, she said, the failure of many people to enter into the experience of Christian perfection is because they are still relying on works and not on faith. She urged Christians to believe in the finished work of Christ, whose blood cleanses the sinful nature as well as the sins that rise from it. Because entire sanctification is given by faith, there is no need to delay. Complete trust in the finished work of Christ calls believers to immediate action, immediate remedy, and the assurance of a clean heart.”

Palmer’s influence on the growth of American holiness is undeniable, but here’s my question: is this the teaching that the Church of the Nazarene holds to today?

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