John Wesley’s contribution to Protestantism was his writings on sanctification, or “Christian Perfection.” This is living a life of Holiness and how to achieve it. Wesley’s theology created a union between the believer and God. This blog will focus on how this Wesley’s doctrine was transformed with new generations of believers.
Wesley’s influential work, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766): http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/a-plain-account-of-christian-perfection/ taught people to experience Jesus personally. Christian Perfection was a state in which the love of God dwells in a person’s heart, transforming the believer. In this post-conversation experience, the believer can experience perfect love and is free from original sin. It can be a lifelong process, or an instantaneous event. The perfection is in love not sinlessness. The believer chooses not to sin.
By the 1830s in the United States Phoebe Palmer (1807-74) would reinterpret Christian Perfection within the Methodist Church. She reasoned one need not wait a lifetime.
Rather, through a “second work of grace” it was available in an instant post-conversion event. This became known as “entire sanctification,” and continues to be a defining doctrine in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. In this view, the Christian may attain a state of holiness and be free from original sin and depravity. This creates a total love for God and others through the Holy Spirit.
Methodist revivals featuring holiness would sweep the United States and into Ontario during the 1840s through the 1860s. The first distinct Holiness Revival was in New Jersey in 1867. One of the oldest and the largest Holiness denominations is the Church of the Nazarene.
By the 1880s Holiness people would begin to associate their “second blessing” with a baptism of the Holy Spirit. This included speaking in tongues, prophecy and faith healing.
As entire sanctification theology transformed, many of the rising Classical Pentecostal churches would emphasize this baptism of the Holy Spirit as “evidenced” by the gifts. This was especially true of the gift of tongues. The oldest and largest Classical Pentecostal denomination today is the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).
With the Azusa Street Revival (1906) a growing Pentecostalism would bring in believers from outside the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. They did not see the baptism of the Holy Ghost as evidence of salvation, but as a help with Christian service. The largest and most widespread non-Wesleyan Pentecostal denomination is the Assemblies of God, which is today the sixth largest international Christian denomination in the world. Today, most Pentecostals do not see a requirement for salvation other than faith.