Our Wesleyan-Holiness Heritage
The Church of the Nazarene confesses itself to be a branch of Christ’s “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church, embracing as its own the history of God’s people recorded in the Old and New Testaments and by God’s people through the ages, in whatever expression of Christ’s church they are found. It receives the ecumenical creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith.
It identifies with the historic church in preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, maintaining a ministry of apostolic faith and practice, and instilling the disciplines of Christlike living and service. It joins the saints in heeding the biblical call to holy living and entire devotion to God, which it proclaims through the theology of entire sanctification.
Our Christian heritage was mediated through the 16th-century English Reformation and 18thcentury Wesleyan revival. Through the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, people throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales turned from sin and were empowered for Christian service.
This revival was characterized by lay preaching, testimonies, discipline, and circles of earnest disciples known as “societies,” “classes,” and “bands.” The Wesleyan revival’s theological landmarks included: justification by grace through faith; sanctification, or Christian perfection, likewise by grace through faith; and the witness of the Spirit to the assurance of grace.
John Wesley’s distinctive contributions included an emphasis on entire sanctification as God’s gracious provision for the Christian life. His emphases were disseminated worldwide. In North America, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784 “to reform the Continent, and to spread scriptural Holiness over these Lands.”
A renewed emphasis on Christian holiness developed in the mid-19th century. Timothy Merritt of Boston, Massachusetts, spurred interest as editor of the Guide to Christian Perfection. Phoebe Palmer of New York City led the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness and became a sought-after speaker, author, and editor. In 1867 Methodist preachers J. A. Wood, John Inskip, and others, at Vineland, New Jersey, initiated the first in a long series of holiness camp meetings that renewed the Wesleyan quest for holiness around the world.
Christian holiness was emphasized by Wesleyan Methodists, Free Methodists, the Salvation Army, and certain Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers. Evangelists carried this movement to Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, India, and Australia. New holiness churches arose, including the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). Holiness churches, urban missions, and missionary associations grew from this endeavor. The Church of the Nazarene was born from the impulse to unite many of these into one holiness church.
Unity In Holiness
Fred Hillery organized the People’s Evangelical Church (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1887. The Mission Church (Lynn, Massachusetts) followed in 1888. In 1890 they and eight other New
England congregations formed the Central Evangelical Holiness Association. Anna S. Hanscome, ordained in 1892, was the first ordained female minister in the Nazarene lineage.
In 1894-95, William Howard Hoople organized three holiness congregations in Brooklyn, New York, which formed the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America. “Pentecostal” was a synonym for “holiness” to these and other Nazarene founders. Hillery and Hoople’s groups merged in 1896, established work in India (1899) and Cape Verde (1901). Missions executive Hiram Reynolds organized congregations in Canada (1902). The group reached from Nova Scotia to Iowa by 1907.
Robert Lee Harris organized the New Testament Church of Christ (Milan, Tennessee) in 1894. Mary Lee Cagle, his widow, spread it into west Texas in 1895. C. B. Jernigan organized the first Independent Holiness Church (Van Alstyne, Texas) in 1901. These churches merged at Rising
Star, Texas (1904), forming the Holiness Church of Christ. By 1908, it stretched from Georgia to New Mexico, ministering to outcasts and the needy, supporting orphans and unwed mothers, and connecting with workers in India and Japan.
Phineas F. Bresee and Joseph P. Widney, with about 100 others, organized the Church of the Nazarene at Los Angeles in 1895. They held that Christians sanctified by faith should follow Christ’s example and preach the gospel to the poor. They believed that their time and money should be given to Christlike ministries for the salvation of souls and the relief of the needy. The Church of the Nazarene spread chiefly along the West Coast of the United States, with some congregations as far east as Illinois. They supported an indigenous mission in Calcutta, India.
In October 1907, the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America and the Church of the Nazarene jointly convened in Chicago, Illinois, to fashion a church government that balanced superintendency with congregational rights. Superintendents were to foster and care for established churches, organize and encourage new churches, but not interfere with the independent actions of a fully organized church. Holiness Church of Christ delegates participated. The First General Assembly adopted a name drawn from both organizations: Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. Bresee and Reynolds were elected general superintendents.
In September 1908, the Pennsylvania Conference of the Holiness Christian Church, under H. G. Trumbaur, united with the Pentecostal Nazarenes. On October 13, the Second General Assembly convened at Pilot Point, Texas, with the General Council of the Holiness Church of Christ to unite the two churches.
Led by J. O. McClurkan, the Pentecostal Mission formed in Nashville in 1898, uniting holiness people from Tennessee and adjacent states. They sent pastors and teachers to Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, and India. In 1906 George Sharpe was ejected from Parkhead Congregational Church in Glasgow, Scotland, for preaching the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian holiness. The Parkhead Pentecostal Church was formed, other congregations organized, and the Pentecostal Church of Scotland was founded in 1909. The Pentecostal Mission and Pentecostal Church of Scotland united with the Pentecostal Nazarenes in 1915.
The Fifth General Assembly (1919) changed the denomination’s official name to Church of the Nazarene. The word “Pentecostal” was no longer synonymous with the doctrine of holiness as it had been in the late 19th century when the founders originally adopted the name of the church. The young denomination remained true to its original mission of preaching the gospel of full salvation.
Our Global Church
The Church of the Nazarene’s essential character was shaped by the parent churches that had united by 1915. There was an international dimension to this character. The denomination already supported fully organized churches in the United States, India, Cape Verde, Cuba, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Japan, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Swaziland, China, and Peru. By 1930, it also reached into South Africa, Syria, Palestine, Mozambique, Barbados, and Trinidad. National leaders were essential to this process, such as district superintendents V. G. Santin (Mexico), Hiroshi Kitagawa (Japan), and Samuel Bhujbal (India). This international character was reinforced further by new accessions.
In 1922, J. G. Morrison led many Layman’s Holiness Association workers and over 1,000 members in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana into the church. Churches in Australia under A. A. E. Berg united in 1945. Alfredo del Rosso led Italian churches into the denomination in 1948. The Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association’s South African work and its center in Tabor, Iowa, united with the Nazarenes around 1950.
The International Holiness Mission, founded in London by David Thomas in 1907, developed extensive work in southern Africa under David Jones. In 1952, its churches in England under J. B. Maclagan and work in Africa united with the Nazarenes. Maynard James and Jack Ford formed the Calvary Holiness Church in Britain in 1934 and united with the Nazarenes in 1955.
Workers Church, organized by Frank Goff in Ontario, Canada, in 1918, joined the Church of the Nazarene in 1958. Nigerians formed an indigenous Church of the Nazarene in the 1940s and, under Jeremiah U. Ekaidem, united with the international body in 1988. These various accessions strengthened the Church of the Nazarene’s international character.
In light of those developments, Nazarenes consciously developed a model of church that differs from the Protestant norm. In 1976 a study commission was raised to examine the denomination’s future shape. Reporting in 1980, it recommended that the General Assembly deliberately adopt a policy of internationalization based on two principles.
First, it recognized that Nazarene churches and districts globally constituted a “worldwide fellowship of believers in which there exists full acceptance within their cultural contexts.” Second, it identified a common commitment to “the distinctive mission of the Church of the Nazarene,” namely “to spread scriptural holiness . . . [as] the key element in a core of non-negotiables which represent the Nazarene identity.”
The 1980 General Assembly embraced “international theological uniformity” around the Articles of Faith, affirmed the importance of theological training for all ministers, and called for adequate support of theological education institutions in each world area. It summoned Nazarenes toward maturity as an international holiness community within a single connectional framework in which the colonial mentality that evaluated peoples and nations in terms of “strong and weak, donor and recipient” gives way to “one that assumes an entirely new way of looking at the world: one recognizing the strengths and equality of all partners.”1
The Church of the Nazarene has subsequently had a unique growth pattern among Protestants. By 1998, half of Nazarenes no longer lived in the United States and Canada, and 41 percent of delegates at the 2001 General Assembly spoke English as their second language or did not speak it at all. An African, Eugenio Duarte of Cape Verde, was elected one of the church’s general superintendents in 2009.
Distinctives of International Ministry
Nazarene strategic ministries have centered historically around evangelism, social ministry, and education. They flourish through the mutual cooperation of cross-cultural missionaries and thousands of pastors and lay workers who have indigenized Wesleyan principles within their respective cultures.
Hiram F. Reynolds was strategic in establishing Nazarene cross-cultural ministries and developing a denominational concept of world evangelization. During a quarter-century as general superintendent, his constant advocacy helped raise missions to a denominational priority. Since 1915, Nazarene Missions International (originally the Woman’s Missionary Society) has raised funds and promoted mission education in congregations around the world.
Early Nazarenes were a compassionate people and witnessed to God’s grace by supporting famine relief in India, and establishing orphanages, maternity homes for unwed girls and women, and urban missions that ministered to addicts and the homeless. In the 1920s, the church’s social ministry priorities shifted to medicine, as hospitals were built in China and Swaziland, and later in India and Papua New Guinea. Nazarene medical professionals cared for the sick, performed surgeries, trained nurses, and sponsored mobile field clinics among some of the world’s poorest people.
Specialized clinics were established, such as a leprosy clinic in Africa. The creation of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in the 1980s permitted a wider range of social ministries that endure today, including child sponsorship, disaster relief, AIDS education, orphan support, water projects, and food distribution.
Nazarene Sunday Schools and Bible studies have always been part of congregational life and play significant roles in forming Christlike disciples. The church has invested in basic education and literacy since the early years of Hope School for Girls in Calcutta, founded in 1905. Nazarene schools prepare people around the world for fuller participation in social, economic, and religious life. Most early Nazarene colleges in the United States had grade schools and high schools attached to them until the mid-20th century.
The Nazarene founders invested significantly in higher education, believing it essential for training pastors and other Christian workers and for shaping the laity. The International Board of Education lists Nazarene institutions of higher education around the world, including liberal arts colleges and universities in Africa, Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean, Korea, and the United States, plus Bible colleges and institutes, schools of nursing in India and Papua New Guinea, and graduate schools of theology in Australia, Costa Rica, England, the Philippines, and the United States.
The Church of the Nazarene has moved over time from a church with an international presence toward a global community of believers. Grounded in the Wesleyan tradition, Nazarenes understand themselves to be a people who are Christian, holiness, and missional, and they have embraced the mission statement: “To make Christlike disciples in the nations.”