Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 7, 1952

The Holiness Sects

Thomas Allen Robertson, Ontario, California

The approach to a study of the "Holiness" sects is a broad and difficult one. If we tried to examine each one of these groups individually, it would take several volumes to cover the subject. The reason for the very great number of these sects is that they are made up for the most part of people who are rather unstable, emotional, and capricious; people who are tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. It would seem that while emotional fervor is high, reflective judgment is usually lacking. Their religious enthusiasm is likely to be expressed in any form from handling snakes in Tennessee to drinking poison in California. And so, every time one of them gets a new idea, because of the unstable emotional balance of the cult, he will have a large following. This accounts in part for the large number of "faith healing," "miracle working" cults which now exist. There are several hundred different brands and degrees of sects under the broad term "Holiness sects," including groups such as the McPhersonites (Four-Square Gospellers), Holy Rollers, Holy Jumpers, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Nazarenes, Apostolics, and Church of God Sanctifieds.

Even though these sects all differ in many points, the underlying doctrines are all the same. Most of them teach original sin, (hence, the direct miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit); miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit baptism; divine miraculous healing, and the signs that accompanied the apostles' labors. Many of them teach also foot-washing. Belief in a literal premillennial reign of Christ on the earth is fairly universal among them. In other points of religion they are mostly, as they state, Methodist or Wesleyan.

Original Sin

Belief in the doctrine of "original sin" is common to almost all of the Holiness sects. This doctrine is that all men, because of Adam's sin, are born into the world in a state of sin. Sometimes the doctrine is expressed as "inherent total depravity," meaning that man is born incapable of a single good thought or good deed; and that he cannot be saved until and unless he is "enlightened" by a direct miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit.

This is a fairly common doctrine, not only among the Holiness sects, but among sectarian and denominational people in general. But if all men are born totally depraved, and the depravity is traced back to Adam, that brings up the question as to where Adam got his depravity? From God? Did God originate sin ? If Adam's guilt is "acquired" (not inherited from God), then it is a known fact that acquired characteristics are not inherited or transmitted. Nearly all those who try to justify the doctrine of original sin will come sooner or later to Psalm 51:5, where David said, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." They try to force that passage to teach something which it does not teach at all and was never intended to teach. David does not declare that he was born "totally depraved." He is speaking of the state of the world into which he was born, not of his own guilt, nor even specifically of his mother's guilt. He was conceived and born into a world in which sin is prevalent. And that is all.

As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that man is born upright, and in a safe condition. His loss and separation from God is brought about by his own sins, not by Adam's sin. Man is a dual being, flesh and spirit, and his spirit comes from God (Eccl. 12:7) God did not give man a depraved spirit. Further, God teaches that each soul shall bear its own sin or iniquity. (Ezek. 18:4) It is his own sin that separates a man from God, not the sin of some distant forbear. (Isa. 59:1, 2) Man is not born in sin, he is born subject to life; and by his own sin he brings himself into condemnation.

Direct Operation Of The Spirit

If all men were born in sin, totally depraved, as the Holiness sects teach, we would be forced to believe in a miracle in conversion. For if a man is born wholly incapable of turning to God in any way, then it would be up to God to perform a miracle on him if he is saved. Indeed, some of the Holiness people teach that a direct operation of the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite to salvation. Others among them teach that one can be saved without this miraculous impact, but that the divine operation of the Spirit is a "second work of Grace" and follows one's salvation or conversion. But regardless of the action they ascribe to it, all of them teach a direct operation, or baptism, of the Holy Spirit.

If one will carefully read the Bible, he will discover that every single blessing which the Holiness sects attribute to a miraculous operation of the Spirit, is actually wrought by the Spirit working through and by means of the word of God. For instance, it is claimed that the Holy Spirit quickens or gives life to the sinner. But David said, "For thy word hath quickeneth me." (Psalm 119:150) Again, it is claimed that the sinner is born, or begotten, of the Holy Spirit. But Peter taught, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God." (1 Pet 1:23) Concerning the claim that direct operation of the Spirit is necessary to produce faith in the heart, one has but to read the words of Paul, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17) If it is claimed that the direct miraculous work of the Spirit is necessary for sanctification, one remembers the word of Christ himself, "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." (Jno. 17:17) If the claim be made that we are "saved" by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, one may compare the words of Paul concerning the gospel as that by which we are saved. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1, 2)

Thus, we see the truth of the matter; the Holy Spirit does indeed function and operate in the conversion and salvation of the sinner. But He operates in and by means of the Word of God—that word which He has inspired.

The Holy Spirit is not promised to any one before his obedience to God. Peter told the people on Pentecost that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after they had heard the gospel. (Acts 2:38) And Paul said, "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:6) The Holy Spirit is active in the salvation of men. But his action is not miraculous. He works through the Word of God, not in some weird, mysterious, incomprehensible manner "better felt than told," as the Holiness sects falsely believe.


Results of sin often outlast repentance for it and its forgiveness. 2 Samuel 12:10. (Isaac)