The Lord's Agitators
Orange Scott (1800-1847): Witness against slavery
Orange Scott's heart bled for the slaves. But when he tried to convince his Methodist denomination that abolition was the only answer, they did not thank him for it.
Born in 1800 into a very poor Vermont family, Scott received only 13 months of formal education before becoming a Methodist preacher. When in 1833 he became convinced of the evils of slavery, he sent copies of William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, the Liberator, to 100 Methodist preachers in New England. This made abolitionists of most of them and made Scott famous—or infamous—in the denomination.
At this time, many who opposed slavery refused to call for its immediate end—and many Methodists worried that taking an abolitionist stance would hinder the Gospel in the South. Scott, however, preached conversion, holiness, and the end of slavery as one message.
In 1836, Scott stood up at the Methodist Episcopal Church's General Conference to share his passion for abolition. For his trouble, he was labelled a "reckless incendiary" and stripped of his presiding eldership. Unbowed, he continued agitating against Methodist tolerance of slavery until, in 1842, he tired of the fray and made his exit.
Scott soon joined others who had left the MEC in forming the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America. The Connection barred slaveholders and slavery sympathizers, insisting that slaveholding could not be part of a holy life.
After Scott's death in 1847, the Wesleyans continued to preach sanctification. And when emancipation was finally accomplished, they joined the national holiness revival and turned their attention to saving the souls and purifying the hearts of all Americans.
—Sarah E. Johnson
Benjamin Titus Roberts (1823-1893): Free at last
During the 1850s, all hell—or heaven, depending on perspective—broke loose in the Genesee Conference (western New York) of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A party labelled by its opponents "the Nazarites" arose to take their respectable denomination to task for condoning secret societies, renting out pews for as much as $100 a year, and becoming—as they saw it—stiff and formal in their worship practices.
Leading the dissent was Benjamin Titus Roberts, a man who, like Charles G. Finney, had put aside a promising legal career to plead the cause of Jesus. Roberts saw "the Bible standard of Christianity" John Wesley had upheld going into eclipse and Methodism becoming a rich man's preserve. Particularly odious to Roberts were pew rentals. By auctioning pews to the highest bidder, he charged, Methodist churches were saying, "We want none in our congregation but those who are able to move in fashionable circles."
In 1858, the Genesee Conference expelled Roberts. Two years later, he and his supporters organized a new church committed to free pews and freedom in worship. They called themselves Free Methodists.
Roberts took his commitments to biblical Christianity and the poor into his new denomination. He emphasized entire sanctification as a distinct work of the Spirit after justification. He spoke against slavery and supported a death tax that would prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few.
Though Free Methodists have consistently upheld the doctrine of entire sanctification, some say Roberts's concern for the poor has declined in the denomination. Yet in recent years Free Methodists have begun to reclaim the kind of vision that prompted Roberts to claim, "My special mission is to preach the gospel to the poor."
—Sarah E. Johnson
D. S. Warner (1842-1895): One God, One Church, One Sanctification
On October 1, 1881, Daniel Sidney (D. S.) Warner stepped in front of a group of about 30 people in Beaver Dam, Indiana, to share a vision. Frail, sickly, raised the son of an alcoholic tavern-keeper, Daniel spoke now with all the fiery authority of a prophet.
He attacked the churches of his day with their focus on denominations, sects, creeds, and formal membership. He rejected all "human organization" and painted a picture of a restored New Testament church—a fraternity whose only tests of fellowship were salvation and a holy life.
Then he made a revolutionary move: he announced he was finished with religious groups that divided Christians. Five people agreed with him.
Two weeks later, in Carson City, Michigan, Warner made a second, similar speech. And this time, the Church of God Reformation Movement was born.
Warner was a preacher affiliated with the National Holiness Association. But when his new vision came, he left the Association and became a leader in the "come-outer" holiness exodus from the denominations.
From the beginning, Warner's Church of God—today the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana)—was determined not to be organized like the other churches. Rather than have church buildings, they chose to meet outdoors at campmeetings. They called themselves "the Evening Lighters," because they believed that at the evening time of the Gospel day (Zech. 14:7), God would restore the church to its fullness before Christ returned.
Warner paid a dear price for his vision. In 1884 his wife, Sarah, accepted a doctrine of marital celibacy and super-holiness taught by R. S. Stockwell and left him, denouncing him and his teachings.
Warner was never comfortable with the label of "founder," insisting that building the church was the Holy Spirit's job alone. But clearly it was his tireless preaching of an open, inclusive New Testament church that energized so many to spread his winsome vision: without labels or limits, they sought to restore the true, holy catholic church founded by Christ, practice personal holiness, and minister help and healing to the world around them.
Henry Clay Morrison (1857-1942): The holiness preacher who wouldn't "come out"
Not all holiness believers came out of their denominations. One who stayed in, and encouraged others to do so, was Henry Clay Morrison. A dynamic orator with a "trumpet voice," a tireless editor, a surprising college and seminary president, and a globe-trotting evangelist most at home in the Kentucky bluegrass, Morrison spent his life preaching the gospel of holiness that had transformed him—from within the Methodist denomination he loved.
Morrison was raised in Southern Kentucky, where he became first a local Methodist pastor and then a traveling evangelist. In 1886 he professed entire sanctification, following a lengthy struggle during which the "blessing" seemed to leave him twice before he was finally willing to testify.
Morrison immediately began to trumpet the holiness message through his evangelistic meetings and his newspaper, The Kentucky Methodist—renamed The Pentecostal Herald in 1897. This brought him the enmity of southern Methodism's theological modernists and the threat of expulsion. With strong support, however, he weathered a mockery of a trial and went on to be elected several times delegate to Methodism's highest law-making body, the General Conference.
When Morrison later assumed the presidency of Asbury College (1910-25, 1933-40), he dedicated himself to carrying on the school's holiness mission, using the Pentecostal Herald to raise money for the institution.
In 1923, Morrison established Asbury Theological Seminary to send out preachers "well trained, with a gracious experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and genuinely true to the Scriptures as interpreted and preached by John Wesley and his co-workers."
When criticized by "come-outer" holiness groups for his commitment to episcopal Methodism, he replied, "I have never heard from [God] any call to change my church relations." His autobiography was not kind to come-outers. "Methodism in her origin," he wrote, "with her history, her doctrines, so broad, so ample, so full, reaching out to all men, and promising salvation from all sin, was ingrained into my very being."
Henry Clay Morrison died as he had lived, preaching holiness at a Methodist church in Tennessee.
—Jennifer Woodruff Tait
Phineas F. Bresee (1838-1915): Identifying with the poorest of the poor
Describing the "Glory Barn," his Church of the Nazarene's first church building in Los Angeles, Phineas F. Bresee said, "We want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest."
Bresee grew up under the ministry of the circuit-riding preachers who criss-crossed his native Catskill Mountains. Entering the ministry at age 18, he took Methodist pastorates first in Iowa and then in Southern California. In 1867, while still in Iowa, He experienced the grace of entire sanctification, but he remained aloof from the holiness movement until his move to California in the early 1880s.
By 1894, Bresee had led all the major Methodist churches in the Los Angeles area. At his last Methodist pastorate, Boyle Heights Methodist Episcopal Church, Los Angeles, he brought in noted black evangelist Amanda Berry Smith (p. 40) to conduct a protracted revival. A respected and skilled preacher, Bresee's best-known holiness sermon, "The Transferred Image," described how the moral image of God is imprinted by grace on human beings.
In his mid-50s, Bresee grew intensely interested in the urban poor. In 1894, he withdrew from Methodism and affiliated with the Peniel Mission, an inner-city holiness ministry to the indigent. J. P. Widney, a physician and the retired president of the University of Southern California, joined Bresee at the mission.
While the mission's directors wanted to focus on the transient population, Bresee and Widney became convinced that the urban poor needed not just missions but strong family-oriented churches. In October 1895 the two men organized a congregation they called the Church of the Nazarene, to communicate their sense that Jesus had identified with "the lowly, toiling masses."
The Church of the Nazarene grew into a regional denomination, then merged with similar regional denominations located in the East and the South in 1907 and 1908, creating the present-day Church of the Nazarene. Today, the Nazarenes number over 1.4 million members worldwide, with over half living outside of North America.
Bresee continued to pastor the Los Angeles church until 1911 and acted as the new denomination's senior general superintendent until his death in 1915. He also founded Pasadena College (now Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego). To the end, his vision was always that of the "Glory Barn": "Let the Church of the Nazarene be true to its commission; not great and elegant buildings, but to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and wipe away the tears of sorrowing, and gather jewels for His diadem."
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History & Biography magazine.
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