Pillar of Fire International

A Christian denomination with a rich history, known for its educational and missionary work.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Methodist
Founder: Alma Bridwell White
Founded: 1901
Location: Zarephath, New Jersey, United States
Size: Several thousand members globally
Offshoots: Pillar of Fire Church, Pillar of Fire International Ministries
Website: pillaroffire.org

Pillar of Fire International is a notable Christian denomination within the Methodist tradition, with its headquarters established in Zarephath, New Jersey. Founded in 1901 in Denver, Colorado, by Alma Bridwell White, the organization, initially named the Pentecostal Union, marked its inception during a time of vibrant religious activity in the United States; a period characterized by the emergence of new religious movements that often sought to address perceived deficiencies within the established denominational structures. Pillar of Fire International distinguished itself from the onset by advocating for a return to a more austere and devout form of Christianity, reflecting the Holiness Movement’s principles which emphasized personal piety and a life of sanctification.

Alma Bridwell White, the founder of Pillar of Fire, is a figure of considerable historical significance, not only for establishing the denomination but also for her role as one of the first women to be ordained as a bishop in the United States. Her leadership was marked by a strong advocacy for women’s rights within the religious context, allowing women to occupy any ministerial office within the church. This progressive stance on gender roles within the church contrasted sharply with her other, more controversial positions, particularly her support for the Ku Klux Klan and the advocacy of views that can be described as anti-Catholic, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant​​​​​​.

The church’s association with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s through the 1940s is among the most contentious aspects of its history. During this period, Alma White and Pillar of Fire openly supported the Klan’s principles, which included white supremacy, anti-Catholicism, and nativism. Despite this, the church has since repudiated its former ties to racism and sought forgiveness for its past positions. Today, the church presents a more inclusive face, with its congregations reflecting a diverse demographic composition​​​​.

Pillar of Fire International operates not only as a church but also engages in various educational and media-related activities. It runs radio stations, a printing press, and several educational institutions, including a seminary, reflecting its commitment to spreading its interpretation of Christian doctrine and engaging with the community through various platforms​​.

In terms of doctrine, Pillar of Fire aligns closely with Methodist teachings, emphasizing holiness, sanctification through prayer, and a life lived in accordance with the principles of the Christian faith. The denomination’s historical and theological roots in the Holiness Movement are evident in its continued stress on personal piety and a distinctively Methodist understanding of sanctification and salvation. The church maintains several schools and missions, including international missions in Liberia, highlighting its commitment to education and global evangelical work​​.

From its controversial support for the Ku Klux Klan to its pioneering role in advocating for women’s rights within the church, Pillar of Fire International embodies a complex legacy. Its history reflects the broader dynamics of American religious life in the 20th century, marked by the tension between progressive social stances and alignment with deeply conservative, and at times, intolerant ideologies​​​​​​.

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