Growing up Holiness

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. – Isaiah 35:8 (NIV)

The small Holiness church I grew up in had cement block walls lined with single-pane windows along each side, two plain wooden doors at the front, and a modest parsonage at the rear. Inside, bare bulbs dangled over harsh wooden pews and a cement floor that was often moist with condensation. A sturdy lectern stood in the middle of a small stage at the front of the sanctuary, and a long altar for kneeling and praying stretched across the space between the stage and the pews. I’m not sure which was more plain – the building or the people it inhabited.

Our church was founded when some members left a local Pentecostal Holiness church to begin their own. Our new church would be known as Free Holiness Church, although the word Free was later removed because the pastor didn’t want our church associated with hippies and their Free Love movement.

As a child, I wasn’t allowed to wear short sleeves, short pants, or any form of jewelry. Men weren’t allowed to grow beards; women weren’t allowed to cut their hair. Some ladies took the admonishment about cutting hair to the extreme, even refusing to shave their legs and underarms. Some took the disapproval of male beards to the extreme, even removing the large painting of Christ that hung at the front of our church because he was depicted with facial hair.

We weren’t supposed to have a television, although there were a couple of times my father kept one in a bedroom when he wasn’t attending church regularly. Radios were okay, but only Christian music was allowed. Drinking and tobacco were strictly off-limits – even during communion when grape juice was substituted for wine. Cursing of any kind, including using crude words to describe bodily functions, wasn’t allowed. Sex before marriage was a huge no-no. Dancing, sports, and board games were discouraged. Some of the most faithful even avoided doctors, relying on God for healing of any infirmities.

Although most of these beliefs might seem extreme to even the most devout Christian, there were Bible verses to back up all of them. Verses about idle words, not setting anything evil before your eyes, long hair being a woman’s glory, etc. Nothing seemed far-fetched when it could be backed up with the Good Book.

Having been out of that particular faith and church for many years, I have had some recent interest in reading about the roots of the denomination. Although we were raised under the assumption that our particular way of faith was the Only Way, the Straight and Narrow Way, a quick search of Wikipedia shows that the early Holiness movement actually started around the middle of the 19th century by way of the Methodists and Evangelicals. Pentecostals (those who believe in speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, etc.) emerged around the beginning of the 20th century during a multi-year revival in Los Angeles.

What is really interesting to me is that although our church identified as Holiness, many who called themselves Holiness in the early 1900’s strongly objected to the growing movement of Pentecostalism because of speaking in tongues. Seeing how our church believed in baptism of the Holy Ghost, our church would have clearly been categorized as Pentecostal Holiness.

Because church history was never taught and rarely discussed, I grew up believing Pentecostalism was the predecessor to the Holiness movement. It seems the opposite is true.

I drove by my old church this afternoon. The building hasn’t changed much since the days when I stood and played my tambourine as music and praise roared around me. I hear the congregation is much smaller now, with only a handful attending on a regular basis.

It has been almost two years since I wrote that I will always be a Pentecostal in my heart. I’m sure my mother would be delighted to know I said that, even though I no longer attend services or live the lifestyle I knew as a child. I may no longer hold some of the beliefs I grew up with, but I do hold a special place in my heart for the people and their way of life.


Author: Brian

Blogger. Bookworm. Michael Jackson fanatic. Lives in Kentucky with partner of 12 years and three fabulous felines.

9 thoughts on “Growing up Holiness”

  1. I am just now becoming familiar with Holiness church movement and the people, after nearly 10 years of truly coming to Know the Lord. I’ve studied many Christian denominations, but had not heard of this one. Yes, some of the restrictions seem un-necessary, and even squelching. But your story is endearing and you, yourself, seem to be a sweet spirit. The “Father of the Lights” and the Maker of the Universe, is an Awesome, Powerful, Yet Loving and Tender, Merciful God. And His Goodness and Love show in your heart and your story. May God Bless you and Keep you. “Grace, and Peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” and may this salutation from Paul bless your heart.

  2. Very interesting history you wrote. I am a Free Holiness Church pastor. Where is this church located that you wrote of? I know the beliefs that you speak of and some of those are still held among our movement in our area. We have alot of Holiness churches in the Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and even extend into Fla and Indiana. Know that there are more than just these states but this is the ones that i fellowship with. Again would love to know of the area you speak of.
    Pastor Jimmy

  3. Brian, I think that it is great that you still hold on to a part of this. I was raised the same way, and it’s hard to deny the truth when we have seen miracles and his word proved to be true. The start of this way started on the day of Pentacost. People have been living this religion ever since. Now, the articles you read may have been about the Great Revival. However, there are numerous scholarly articles available if you visit your local library (main branch) or local college library. I could email you a couple of links if you like, however you will need a subscription (that a college or library will have) to access them for free. These articles will take you from the day of Pentacost to modern day. I hope this helps. I didn’t want you to think that Holiness is a new religion that someone invented in the 1900’s. People in different countries use different languages, people in different regions use different dilects, and people in relatively close proximatey may have slightly different traditions.

  4. Brian, thanks for this article. For many year I attended the Bible Church of God , Knoxville, Tenn. Bro. Pappy Beaver, Pastor. What a blessing from Jesus. Thank you again. Steve

  5. I have been in pentacostal holiness for ten years and I have to say it has changed dramatically internet short skirts makeup amusements parks are aloud preacers are preaching down instead of up what used to be sin isn’t anymore confused either it is or isn’t either it is gods word or it isn’t we are backslid now because I don’t know what is real and what isn’t anymre they taught these things being sin now it is ok it can be a tool or u have to be careful what u look at or go around or this one if u don’t like the change in the church find another one how about that we have lost a lot of good people because of this need direction

    1. Our church in Wolfe County ky. Is still preaching strong clean holiness living and I love it.We preach the Holy Ghost is needful along with a sanctified rightous life style even though some have left the church to live a life of rebellious attitude.God is first in my life.

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