Fire-Baptized Holiness Church
In 1911 King’s branch of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church merged with the Pentecostal Holiness Church at a meeting in Falcon, North Carolina, and took on the Pentecostal Holiness name, signaling its commitment to a Pentecostal identity.
Several different groups have used variations of this name. The initial Fire Baptized Holiness Association was founded in Iowa in 1895 by Benjamin Hardin Irwin. He taught that a Christian could experience salvation, sanctification, and then a “third blessing,” a baptism of the Holy Ghost with fire.
Irwin first toured South Carolina in December 1896, preaching in several communities across the state. His first stop was the Piedmont Wesleyan Methodist Meeting House, pastored by Andrew K. Willis. That preaching tour laid the groundwork for the formation of a statewide Fire Baptized Holiness Association. When Irwin called leaders to South Carolina in 1898 to form a national group, he had already founded eight other state associations and two in Canada. Some 140 delegates met in Anderson from July 28 through August 8, 1898, to organize the Fire Baptized Holiness Association (FBHA). The first ruling elder for South Carolina was W. S. Foxworth.
For a time the denomination was headquartered in Olmitz, Iowa, where Irwin published Live Coals of Fire. Anderson native Joseph Hillary King was assistant editor. The movement faltered after Irwin in 1900 confessed to “open and gross sin.” King became general overseer of the FBHA, and he moved the headquarters and publication in 1902 to Royston, Georgia, a short distance from Anderson where the popular and influential African American FBHA minister William E. Fuller resided.
In 1911 King’s branch of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church merged with the Pentecostal Holiness Church at a meeting in Falcon, North Carolina, and took on the Pentecostal Holiness name, signaling its commitment to a Pentecostal identity. Three years earlier, however, African American members of the FBHA had split off from the parent body at the denomination’s second national conference held in Anderson in May 1898. Under Fuller’s leadership, these churches formed the Colored Fire-Baptized Holiness Church on November 24, 1908. At that time the new group had sixteen ministers, twenty-seven churches, and 925 members and was heavily concentrated in South Carolina and Georgia. To promote educational opportunities for African Americans, the denomination organized the Fuller Normal and Technical Institute in Atlanta in 1912; the school moved to Greenville, South Carolina, in 1923.
In 1922 Fuller’s group changed its name to the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church of God, and Fuller received the title of bishop. The denomination took the name Fire-Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas in 1926. In 1958, when Fuller died and his son William E. Fuller, Jr., assumed leadership, the denomination’s headquarters relocated to Atlanta. Membership figures are uncertain, but estimates for 2000 placed the national total at around 17,500, with the largest clusters still in South Carolina and Georgia.
Fankhauser, Craig Charles. “The Heritage of Faith: An Historical Evaluation of the Holiness Movement in America.” Master’s thesis, Pittsburg State University, 1983.
Jones, Charles E. Black Holiness: A Guide to the Study of Black Participation in Wesleyan Perfectionist and Glossolalic Pentecostal Movements. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1987.
Synan, Vinson. The Old-Time Power. Rev. ed. Franklin Springs, Ga.: Advocate Press, 1986.