After leading behind the teaching of Methodism, William moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and at some point met Martin Wells Knapp that preached entire Sanctification.
What is not known is the reason for the move. It could have been a falling out with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, it could have been struggles with much freer Northern United States or more probable lack of jobs for an African American.
For whatever reason it was, we know that did end up in Cincinnati and he did met Knapp and spend some time about a group called “The Evening Light Saints.” The things that led up to this are unknown.
One of the challenges of Church history has always been to piece together many things with more time than not, many blanks where little is known. William Seymour’s life has more of those than some.
However, to be fair, we have many blanks in the life of Paul as well. We know he went to Iconium and stayed there “a long time.” What we do not know why he stayed or what exactly he was doing there.
History is the highlights on the News so to speak.
What is entire sanctification?
Many hold that the heart of the regenerate (born again) Christian may attain a state of holiness in which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and where there is a total love for God and others wrought by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
We are not sure how radical that Martin Wells Knapp was on the issue but many around this time was teaching that “holiness” was a requirement for salvation. It seems from my studies that believe that coming to Christ was a process and putting faith in Him as Savior was only the first step. (Latter Rains completely rejects this position)
One thing we do know is William Seymour would struggle with believing in the finished Work of the Cross for decades because of his time under Knapp. Much of the legalistic bondages that Seymour wrestled with was due to the teaching that he received in Ohio.
There was a major division in the Church around sanctification too. Some of the movement believes that holiness was needed for salvation. In other words, salvation came as a process. Others hold that it was after salvation but you have to have come to a experience of sanctification. Most teachers believe this.
In the 1800’s, this teaching was very popular because people live very conservatives lives in general. Besides racism, the biggest sin for most American was drunkenness. Most people lived pretty conservative lives. You can know there was no controversy over gay marriage back then.
I am not sure many believe it today, many in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tn) reject it, some in the Church of God of Prophecy reject it, and it seems that even the Nazarene Church is starting to change their views on the issue.
Personal Holiness is important but it is not a salvation issue.
Evening Light Saints and Seymour
Beside learning what teachers of the entire sanctification camp was teaching; he attended the Reformation Church of God.
The Church of God Evening Light believes the following about salvation,
While all have sinned, Jesus Christ died on the cross that the power of sin might be broken in the hearts and lives of mankind. There is power through redemption to enable sin-free living on a daily basis. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). To live acceptably before God and to make Heaven, one must live without sin. There is a definite experience of salvation that all can have when they believe in Christ, repent of committed sin, and walk in newness of life.
It can an assumed that they had this position at least in part in 1900 when William Seymour was a member. It also worked out very well with his growing subscription to entire sanctification.
It would seem that they believed in entire legalism as well. Even today, they hold that holiness can be known by “attitudes, meditations, motivations, actions, where one goes, how one dresses.” It would have only been stronger in 1900.
Another thing that Seymour learned about from the Church of God Evening Light was revival. It was the Evening Light Saints that first told him about a mighty revival at the end of the Church age that would only end with the Rapture of the Church. This is why they became known as the Evening Light Saints.
What this did was create a longing, a desire, a passion in William to see revival sweep the earth and he wanted to see revival first hand. He wanted to be part of it. He wanted a revival of holiness, not a revival of Pentecost at this point. He could only believe for what he understood.
What can we learn from sanctification thinking?
As a rule, Azusa Report hold a Finished Work view of the issue. When Jesus said it is Finished, He meant it is finished. Everything you need, you have at salvation. You are holy by the blood of Christ at salvation.
Alot of the holiness theology leads people into dead works of trying to please God that will get them nowhere. There is nothing more you can do to get God to love you anymore than He does. God is a good mood and He smiles over you. Nothing will change that.
The great end-time harvest is coming but it is not going to be a revival of wearing skirts to the ankles, throwing away televisions, preaching KJV only, quitting the local basketball team and believing the local doctor is a witch doctor from satan himself.
The Great Harvest will come from faith for what the Holy Spirit will do, not returning to legalism from 200 years ago. Legalism is bondage and Jesus came to set us free. Whom the Son has set free is free indeed. When the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!