I Like Old-Fashioned Holiness People


I grew up in an old-fashioned holiness church—one with ‘Holiness unto the Lord” painted across the front of the church. We kids never danced went to movies got to go bowling, and the girls never wore jewelry or lipstick. When I explain my teen years to my students they think I was raised with the Amish or something—they don’t believe me and think I am stretching the truth. Most of my peers have moved far beyond those days we now lightly dismiss as an “era of legalism.” But there are still people around like the people I grew up with—they call themselves the “Conservative Holiness movement” now. Some are still in my denomination in certain regions though many have left to form their own denominations or connections of independent churches. They still meet every week, and gather once a year for a giant convention in Ohio. Sometimes I sneak into these conventions incognito just to keep my eye on this branch of my family tree. I have caught heat for doing this from some of my “liberated” denominational leaders, but quite frankly I like these folk. Here’s why I like old fashioned holiness people:


1. They are really serious about religion.

Since I have given my life to prompting serious religion, I like it that these folk take religion so seriously. To be honest, I get weary of liberal holiness folk who treat religion flippantly. Old fashioned holiness folk think religion is deadly serious. I think they are right and admire them for it.


2. They preach holiness.

While (explicit) holiness preaching is waning among the “mainline holiness denominations” these old-fashioned holiness preachers make “preaching holiness” a central task. I don’t always agree with them on all the implications of holiness, but I agree 100% that holiness preaching needs greater attention. I like it that they give it the attention it deserves. They don’t call themselves “evangelicals”—they are “holiness folk.”  I like that.


3. They understand holiness involves lifestyle

Living a holy life is just that—a lifestyle, something to live. Religious experience is not just a change of status before God, as our Calvinist friends like to emphasize, it is a change of who we are and how we live. Old-fashioned holiness people understand this and I applaud them for it. While I may not always agree with their application of separateness on matters of TV, jewelry, amusements, or clothing I agree 100% that Christians should be essentially different from the world. I tire of the “liberated” holiness folk who have made being worldly a virtue. As to their practical standard of holiness, it is more realistic and achievable than what I hear from the refugees of their movement, and I like that.


4. They are willing to be different.

Old-fashioned holiness folk are like the Amish—they are willing to be different from the world and care little what the world thinks of their dress or habits. While many the mainline holiness churches retort, “Yeah, different—maybe weird is a better word.”  Yet Christians are called to be different from secular society. We are called to be a “peculiar people.” While we may dismiss the external differences in dress, hair-length and plainness, many of us who have walked away from this conservative upbringing have yet to prove the dramatic difference we’ve made in the world by being more like the world. I respect the old-fashioned holiness folk for being willing to be set apart and surrendered to a “called out life.”


5. Many are aggressive, some progressive.

Lots of old fashioned holiness folk get unbelievers “gloriously saved” on a regular basis. Sure, some of their churches are languishing like ours are. But many reach out and show love and draw people in to a loving-caring community and these folk are transformed by God and they adopt a totally new lifestyle. If I were a out-and-out sinner I’d bet on feeling greater love and acceptance in some churches in southern Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and upstate New York  (where conservative holiness folk are especially strong) than I’d count on in some so-called “grace based” former holiness churches. I know one such conservative holiness church in Indiana that is simply booming with people—they provide IWU with a myriad of wonderful godly people who serve on our staff. To be conservative does not mean a church is unprogressive and not oriented to outreach.


6. They are less judgmental than we think.

Refugees from the conservative holiness tradition in my own denomination like to tell horror stories about how judgmental conservative holiness folk are. Sure, some have been this way, but generally speaking, I have found them less judgmental than the holiness liberals. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to wear a wedding ring and a sleeveless dress and show up at one of their churches, maybe even attend their big Interchurch Holiness Convention. See how they receive you. Then go speak at one of your own denomination’s “liberated” districts and wear a suit and tie. See which one tries to correct how you dress. Everyone is judgmental when it comes to dress, I find the old fashioned folk are a bit less so to outsiders.


7. They seriously study the Bible.

If you care about serious knowledge and application of the Bible these folk are your dream members. Sure, you may not agree with their interpretations all the time, but I’d rather deal with a bunch of folk who read and study the Bible constantly with misunderstanding than people who treat the Bible with a lackadaisical who-cares attitude. Teach a class to these folk and they will read and study and even argue with you. Teach a class to nominal Christians and they nod, look at their watches and say “whatever.” I like it that these folk treat the Bible so seriously.


8. They produce great kids.

The kids from many of these homes keep the core values even if they abandon some of the “bathwater” strict standards. They still value having revival meetings, going to prayer meeting, reading the Bible, attending Sunday school, holding VBSs for kids every summer, and taking their religion seriously. The kids from conservative holiness families run many of the more liberal holiness denominations and institutions. Some of the top leaders in the holiness denominations are adults who were raised by “old-fashioned holiness people.” They went on for Doctoral degrees and are now college professors, college presidents and denominational leaders. I’m grateful for this contribution from these old fashioned holiness people.


9. They are good readers.

If I want to read the holiness classics where do I go—I go to the conservative holiness movement.  I go to Schmul Publishing company who reprints a bezillion holiness classics from Wesley through Phoebe Palmer. And, conservative holiness folk buy these books too (full disclosure including my own book, Holiness for Ordinary people, which they regularly purchase.)  While folk in the mainline holiness movement chase after Rick warren, Donald Miller, and Rob Bell, these conservative holiness folk are consuming books by John Wesley, J. B. Chapman, and Amanda Smith. And if I want holiness books electronically I can still get them at Holiness Data Ministries where Duane & Dorothea Maxey made their life’s work putting these books into electronic form and giving them away free. (Also a pile of the Maxey’s work are at the NNU site). I like that about the conservative holiness people—their laity read more theology books than some ministers I have met.


10. They serve the best food.

Maybe this is socio-economic or maybe it is regional but I’ve observed that the conservative holiness people serve the very best food when they gather. While most fleshly desires are muffled among the old-fashioned holiness folk, this one is celebrated!  Mmmmmmm I can smell the food now!



Sure, there are things I don’t like about this movement (or any other movement) but this “I like” series focuses on what I admire about some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some might inveigh against the movement in the responses, and that’s fair, but I like these folk and consider them a part of my family. Frankly, I wish they’d never left my denomination; their leaving us cut us loose from our roots and let is sail away too easily. I‘m glad we have a Bunch of old fashioned holiness folk around IWU—they remind me where I came from.


So, what do you think?

Click here to comment or read comments for the first few weeks after this posting


Keith Drury February 26, 2008


Keith Drury is Associate Professor of Religion at Indiana Wesleyan University




Links to the Conservative Holiness Movement


Schmul Publishing company


Wikipedia: Conservative Holiness Movement


Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection of Churches

Bible Missionary Church - See Wiki, Bible Missionary Church

Church of God (Holiness)

God's Missionary Church

Independent Conservative Holiness Churches

International Conservative Holiness Association (ICHA)

Pilgrim Holiness Church of New York

Pilgrim Nazarene Church


Union Bible College (Westfield, IN) —even live streaming video of chapel services

Allegheny Wesleyan College (Salem, OH) —Bob England’s school

God's Bible School (Cincinnati, OH)—where the Pilgrim Holiness Church was founded

Hobe Sound Bible College (Hobe Sound, FL) —including online courses

Penn View Bible Institute (Penns Creek, PA)

Bible Missionary Institute (Rock Island, IL)