O Glory! I Feel the Fire! The Fire Baptist Holiness Church Part 2

The Founding of the Fire Baptized Holiness Association

In 1898, he held camp meetings in Royston Georgia. Here, J. H. King, who later succeeded Irwin as leader of the FBHA, first met up with Irwin. King had just finished his degree from U. S. Grant University School of Theology and was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. King believed in the doctrine of holiness (third blessing) and pursued it for seven years. He thought that he had received it several times, but each time he felt like his sin grew more. At last during Irwin’s revival in Royston, he received the third blessing which stuck with him the rest of his life.[1]

After the 1898 meetings in Royston, Irwin formed a Fire-Baptized Holiness Association (FBHA) to continue his work and then he left for Williston Florida to hold more meetings. He continued to travel, preach, and form state associations wherever he went, each independent from the other. By the end of the summer in 1898, there were FBHAs in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ontario, and Manitoba. Irwin wanted to combine all the state associations into one. So, he called a general council of all the associations to meet in Anderson SC on July 28, 1898. There, the national FBHA was formed and Irwin was elected General Overseer for life with no limits on his authority. He wrote up a Discipline for the association which contained his views on fire baptism.[2]

The council met again in 1899 in Royston Georgia. Here, Irwin raised enough money to start a newspaper for the organization, and he called it Live Coals of Fire. King also attended the council and participated in the daily business. He recalled that much of the Discipline was changed regarding doctrine and policy, but no one limited Irwin’s authority in the association. Also, no records were kept during that time, so many of the changes were forgotten in less than twenty years.[3]

This new founded organization was built on Irwin’s third-blessing theology. As King recalled later, the organization “stood for the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire as an experience to be received subsequent to sanctification. This was something new to the Christian world.”[4] But Irwin and others took this theology farther than what King was comfortable with. They claimed that fire baptism and Spirit baptism where two separate events.[5] A Christian can be justified, sanctified, Spirit baptized, and fire baptized. And as if this were not enough, Irwin expanded his theology to include the baptisms of dynamite, lyddite, selenite and oxynite.[6] Many people began to express disapproval of Irwin as he grew more fanatical, but he seemed unstoppable.

Irwin’s Apostacy

Despite receiving so many levels of sanctification, Irwin soon fell from his unstoppable position brought down by his own base desires. It came out that his life was filled with immorality for years. King recalled that even at the Anderson Council, there were some apprehensions about his character. In 1899, his sins grew more evident to those around him. Then it came to light that “his life for many years alternater [sic] between the pulpit and the harlots house. He would go from the pulpit to wallow with harlots the rest of the night.” By October 2nd, 1900, the story broke that Irwin had been caught “drunk and smoking a cigar.”[7] He confessed publicly of this “open and gross” sin, and he stepped down from the office of General Overseer.[8]

J.H. King: The Man who Cleaned up after Irwin

When this disaster struck, J. H. King was the assistant editor of Live Coals of Fire. According to the Discipline, King was required to call the General Council in order to elect the new General Overseer. After much prayer, the council elected King to the position which he accepted. His job was to keep the organization from falling apart.

King moved quickly to shore up many of the doctrinal and organizational deficiencies of the church. In 1900, he moved that all the pastors and evangelists were to have their character examined in accordance with Scripture. This examination apparently had not been done. In 1902, he changed the name from the Fire Baptized Holiness Association to the Fire Baptized Holiness Church.[9] In the General Councils from 1900-1906, he sought to take the administrative power from the General Overseer and place it into the church. In 1904, King successfully resisted attempts to place into the Discipline a statement about divorce and remarriage. And in 1906 and 1908, King led the council to openly renounce Irwin’s addition of fire baptism, dynamite baptism, etc. limiting the blessing count to three: justification, sanctification, and baptism of the Spirit.[10]

Splits and Mergers

During J. H. King’s tenure as General Overseer, there was a significant division in the church along racial lines. There was tension between the Caucasian and the African American members of the FBHC. In 1908, W. E. Fuller, the only representative of the African American group, split off from the FBHC to form the Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God. In 1926, the name was changed to the Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas. For their doctrinal positions, they adopted the Basis of Union as given by the FBHC.[11] This church remains separated from the IPHC today.

On the other hand, the FBHC had a good relationship with the Holiness Church (in 1909 it was renamed the Pentecostal Holiness Church). The main theological difference between the groups was the fourth-blessing, as taught by Irwin. Another difference was the PHC was not as strict regarding fashionable dress, eating pork, smoking, and drinking. But with the reforms of King, the two assemblies grew closer together in their doctrine.

By 1909, the two groups were considering a merger. The PHC and the FBHC put together a committee to work out the differences between the two churches. In a series of meetings in 1910, they adopted verbatim the Basis of Union from the FBHC Discipline and voted to retain the name of the PHC. They however greatly disagreed on other matters in the Discipline (such as lifestyle and divorce) but they were able to work through their differences. By 1911 the official merger was complete.[12] While the FBHC officially ended, its influence continued through the Basis of Union which was adopted by PHC and by the FBHCGA.

To be continued…

[1]. J. H. King, “History of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church: Chapter II,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Royston, GA, March 31, 1921), 10.

[2]. Ibid. The Discipline is the Methodist/Holiness term for Constitution of the Church. It contains doctrinal fundamentals, polity of the church, and practical living requirements for its members.

[3]. Ibid., 11.

[4]. J. H. King, “Unity,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Royston, GA, August 3, 1922), sec. Our Weekly Sermon, 4.

[5]. G. F. Taylor, “Doctrinal Differences!,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Franklin Springs, GA, May 22, 1930), sec. Editorial, 1. Passages cited were Matthew 3:11, Revelation 15:2, 1 Corinthians 3:13, Acts 2:1-4, Hebrews 12:29, Psalm 104:4, Ezekiel 1:4-14; 10:2-7, and Isaiah 6:6-7; 33:14. These references display that they had already reached there theological conclusion before they consulted the scriptures.

[6] B. H. Irwin, “The Dynamite,” Live Coals of Fire (Lincoln, NE, November 10, 1899); found in b. h., “B. H. Irwin: The Fire Baptized Revolt 1895 to 1911,” Seeking4truth, last modified 2009, accessed March 6, 2019, http://www.seeking4truth.com/bh_irwin.htm.

[7]. “Emotion in Religion,” The Progressive Farmer (Winston, NC, October 10, 1900), 5.

[8]. King, “Unity,” 5. This is where his story stops as far as the FBHA goes. For more information regarding his tragic life after this event, read the book by Schechter, The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder That Shook the Nation.

[9]. G. F. Taylor, “Why and How?,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Royston, GA, May 1, 1930), sec. Editorial, 8.

[10]. J. H. King, “History of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church: Chapter III,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Royston, GA, April 7, 1921); and also, J. H. King, “History of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church: Chapter IV,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Royston, GA, April 14, 1921).

[11]. T. F. Murphy, ed., Religious Bodies: 1936, vol. 2 (Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1941), 695–696.

[12]. For the history: G. F. Taylor, “Who Are We?” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Royston, GA, October 11, 1917), sec. Basis of Union; For full legal documentation: G. F. Taylor, “The Charter of the Pentecostal Holiness Church,” The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (Franklin Springs, GA, August 2, 1923).

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