Sanctification in Early Pentecostal Thought: Part 1

Introduction

Within the past couple of years, Christians have been subject to heated debates with regard to sanctification; specifically what part the believer plays in the process of growth in holiness, as well as the proper motivation for progressive sanctification and other related issues. While some may see this dust up over the doctrine as a rather recent occurrence, a quick glance over church history will inform one that this is not the first time, nor probably the final time believers will disagree over core doctrines of the faith. As recently as the turn of the twentieth-century this exact doctrine, sanctification, led to the division of the burgeoning Pentecostal movement in the United States.

Sanctification in Early Pentecostalism

In its infancy, Pentecostalism went through some internal conflicts regarding certain theological positions. One of the areas of dispute was the exact nature of sanctification. There were two camps that argued back and forth on this issue: (1) finished work advocates, who believed one was both justified and sanctified at conversion, that there was continually growth in holiness, and that one was baptized in the Holy Spirit as a second definite work of grace; and (2) second blessing advocates, who believed one was justified at conversion, sanctified as a second definite post conversion work, and baptized in the Holy Spirit as a third definite work of grace. According to Jacobsen, the “most articulate early spokesperson for each of these two divergent pentecostal subtraditions” were William H. Durham (d. 1912), representing the finished work position, and Joseph Hillary King (d. 1946), representing the second blessing position.[i]

These essays do not critique the theology of either Durham or King, but offer a brief overview of each author’s understanding of the doctrine of sanctification. What follows is more or less interested in providing a descriptive historical theology of diverging thoughts on sanctification from early Pentecostal theologians, rather than an analysis and evaluation of each position.

Finished Work Pentecostalism (William H. Durham)

William H. Durham grew up Baptist, but was influenced by holiness teaching, and later received his own personal Pentecost while visiting the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in 1907.[ii] From that time forward he was a proponent of Pentecostalism and its message, and preached it throughout the Midwest and West Coast of the United States. Some years later he began to wrestle with second blessing teaching that was popular in the holiness movement, including Pentecostalism. After searching the scriptures, he became convinced that second blessing advocates were wrong, and that Scripture clearly taught the “finished work of Christ on Calvary.”[iii] He would spend the rest of his life teaching this truth and boldly opposing second blessing teaching.[iv]

Durham never compiled his teaching of Christian doctrine into a formal systematic treatise. What one may know of Durham’s thoughts on sanctification, and other doctrines, must be pieced together from numerous articles he wrote. What follows is a provisional attempt to map out Durham’s theological vision of sanctification.

The Need for Sanctification

According to Durham, “When Adam fell the old creation was dragged down with him.”[v] Durham did not go into great depth discussing how exactly creation, human beings included, were “dragged down with him.” He did not state whether Adam was a representative of the human race in any sense. However, this does not mean that he did not think that humanity was affected by Adam’s fall. Elsewhere Durham noted that human beings were sinners from birth, “born under the curse.”[vi] Apart from Christ one will continue to live in this state. Thus, one needs to be converted.

A New Nature

Conversion for Durham was a change in both one’s “state and nature.”[vii] With regard to one’s state, one was changed “from a state of sin to a state of righteousness.”[viii] When God saved someone, that person was cleansed from sin and its penalty, since Christ bore this as one’s substitute.[ix] With regard to one’s nature, Durham along with other Pentecostals believed that one’s sin nature was removed when converted, because it “is crucified with Christ.”[x] When one was saved, one’s fallen nature was replaced with a new nature. As Durham stated, this means “that old things pass away and that all things become new.”[xi] Just as the old nature was crucified with Christ, so one received a new nature as a result of one’s union with Christ. Durham appeared to have alluded to such when he stated, “When Christ arose from the dead, the new creation came up with Him.”[xii] It would seem that for Durham the believer possessed but one nature, a new nature, as a result of one’s union with Christ, the Christian’s substitute.

Defining Sanctification

Durham’s understanding of sanctification was largely in line with the Reformed theological tradition.[xiii] He understood the sanctification word group to refer to three things. First, it was something that happened at conversion. Christ is both one’s Savior and sanctifier. Thus, when one is converted, one is saved and sanctified. This aspect of sanctification has “to do with [one’s] cleansing and purification [from sin],” as well as being “separated unto God in Christ and set apart in Him.”[xiv] Thus, positional sanctification for Durham appears to be both a setting apart and a cleansing from sin, so that one may be truly holy.

This does not mean that one is perfected in righteousness in this life.[xv] This leads to the next way Durham understood sanctification, as progressive growth in holiness. Durham used the analogy of human development to explain the progressive aspect of sanctification in the believer’s life. In answering the critique that the finished work teaching did not leave room for growth in holiness, Durham retorted:

We believe then, as now, that when God saves a man He fully saves him. We believe He cleanses him from all sin. We believe, however, that this only brings one into a state of spiritual babyhood, and that the whole Christian life with its variety of experiences lies before him. We further believe that the personal conduct of such a one will have a great deal to do with what he develops into, or is chosen for in his Christian life.[xvi]

It would seem that one’s growth in holiness is a matter of exerting enough effort. This progress in holiness is not easy; neither is it completed in this life. Durham believed that the Christian life was a constant struggle “from conversion to glorification.”[xvii] The process of sanctification is only complete when one is in the presence of the Lord.[xviii]

The final way Durham understood the usage of the term sanctification was in relationship to God. One was sanctified in the sense that one is “set apart” for a particular “office or work.”[xix] This may be similar to what some have referred to as “calling” or “vocation.” All in all, Durham’s doctrine of sanctification is very much in keeping with Reformed Christian doctrine.

Continual Growth in Holiness: Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Despite essentially teaching the Reformed doctrine of sanctification, Durham should not be confused with being a Calvinist. He was a Pentecostal, and as such taught a second work of divine grace, appropriated by faith, the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Durham believed that baptism in the Holy Spirit was a second definite post conversion work of the Spirit, the evidence of which was speaking in tongues.[xx] Although distinct from it, it should follow soon after conversion. When one receives the gift of the Spirit, which was another way he referred to Spirit baptism, the Holy Spirit would indwell the Christian.[xxi] It would seem that for Durham, the Spirit did not indwell a believer prior to the believer’s being baptized in the Spirit. Growth in holiness was enabled, not by the inner strengthening of the Spirit, but by the new nature one received upon receiving Christ at salvation. Only after receiving the Spirit would one continue to “live the sanctified life in the power of the Holy Ghost.”[xxii]

Durham believed the baptism in the Holy Spirit was essential for “entrance into the Spirit-filled life.”[xxiii] This experience was not the end or goal of one’s Christian walk. It was necessary to continue to “grow and develop in the Christian life.”[xxiv] Such growth came through continually feeding on Scripture and continuing in prayer.[xxv]


[i] Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003), 136.

[ii] R. M. Riss, “Durham, William H.,” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, edited by Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Mass (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 594.

[iii] William H. Durham, “The Finished Work of Calvary—It Makes Plain the Great Work of Redemption,” Pentecostal Testimony 2.3 (1912): 5.

[iv] William H. Durham, “An Open Letter to My Brother Ministers in and out of the Pentecostal Movement: A Strong Appeal,” Pentecostal Testimony 1.8 (1911): 13.

[v] Durham, “The Finished Work of Calvary—It Makes Plain the Great Work of Redemption,” 6.

[vi] William H. Durham, “The Two Great Experiences or Gifts,” Pentecostal Testimony 1.8 (1911): 5.

[vii] Ibid., 6.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] William H. Durham, “The Gospel of Christ,” Pentecostal Testimony 2.2 (1912): 9.

[x] Durham, “The Finished Work of Calvary,” 5.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid., 6.

[xiii] For an example of Reformed thought on sanctification see Robert Dabney’s definition: “Sanctification, in the gospel sense, means then, not only cleansing from guilt, though it presupposes this, nor only consecration, though it includes this, nor only reformation of morals and life, though it produces this; but, essentially, the moral purification of the soul” [Lectures in Systematic Theology, reprint ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 661]. Dabney’s systematic theology was originally published in 1878.

[xiv] William H. Durham, “Some Other Phases of Sanctification,” Pentecostal Testimony 2.3 (1912): 9.

[xv] Ibid., 10.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] William H. Durham, “Sanctification: The Bible Does Not Teach that It Is a Second Definite Work of Grace,” Pentecostal Testimony 1.8 (1911): 2.

[xviii] William H. Durham, “The Second Work of Grace People Answered,” Pentecostal Testimony 1.8 (1911): 8.

[xix] Durham, “Some Other Phases of Sanctification,” 10.

[xx] Durham, “The Two Great Experiences or Gifts,” 6.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Durham, “An Open Letter to My Brother Ministers in and out of the Pentecostal Movement: A Strong Appeal,” 13.

[xxiii] William H. Durham, “The Great Need of the Hour,” Pentecostal Testimony 2.2 (1912): 10.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

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