- Holy Jumpers: Evangelicals and Radicals in Progressive Era America
Holy Jumpers offers a well-crafted account of the small but influential Metropolitan Church Association (MCA), a communitarian Wesleyan Holiness group that made a colorful splash onto the American religious scene at the turn of the twentieth century. With roots in the Methodist church and parallels to the rise of other radical social and political movements, the MCA challenges modern assumptions about theological and social uniformity among evangelicals.
The MCA was founded in the 1890s in Chicago, emerging from urban working-class culture. Founded by two successful businessmen, the group rejected private property and was one of at least a dozen Holiness communal societies at the time. The group relocated in 1906 to Waukesha, Wisconsin, and started a number of missions in the United States and abroad, most notably a thriving project in India. By 1901, the group had adopted two controversial [End Page 859] practices that distinguished it from other Holiness groups: holy jumping (the MCA's jumping worshipers were widely caricatured in religious and secular newspapers); and the expectation that truly sanctified Christians would sell their personal possessions and live communally.
The MCA was popularly known by the title of its caustic periodical, the Burning Bush, which imitated the muckraking journalism of the day and ridiculed more moderate Holiness leaders. "Burning Bushers," also known as "holy jumpers," served, variously, as an inspiration, irritant, or a source of humor to a generation of radical evangelicals.
Holy Jumpers enriches the understanding of the development of other Holiness groups such as the Salvation Army, the Free Methodist Church, and the Church of the Nazarene, which share overlapping histories with the MCA. The MCA influenced key Holiness leaders, including Seth C. Rees, Alma White, and Bud Robinson.
Importantly, the MCA was a catalyst in the emergence of Pentecostalism. MCA leaders excoriated the "tongues movement," rejecting it as based on ethical and doctrinal irregularities. Although the MCA objected to the Pentecostal identification of glossolalia as evidence of Spirit-baptism, the MCA had its own evidence—jumping. Kostlevy points out that the MCA contributed many members and leaders to the Azusa Street Revival (1906-09) in Los Angeles, California, which was a focal point of the young Pentecostal movement. MCA leader A. G. Garr folded his Los Angeles congregation into the Azusa Street mission and, in 1906, became the first missionary commissioned at Azusa Street. Oneness Pentecostal pioneer Glenn Cook also came from the MCA. Curiously, Kostlevy did not mention that Church of God in Christ cofounder and publisher D. J. Young also had roots in the MCA.
Kostlevy, a noted bibliographer of the Holiness movement, based his research on the MCA's extensive archives (now housed at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California), which were previously inaccessible. This important study of the MCA, which Kostlevy calls the "anarchists of the Holiness Movement" (p. 10), is a lively account of how one group at the margins left its mark on the broader Christian tradition. Holy Jumpers sheds light on currents and fissures in evangelicalism usually neglected in the standard church histories and will be warmly welcomed by those interested in the history of American religion, the Holiness movement, and Pentecostalism. [End Page 860]