Why I am Nazarene, Part Two: Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go

When I say I am Nazarene, I am saying I am a Protestant Evangelical Christian within a Wesleyan-holiness denomination.

To know who we are, we must know where we have come. My high school history teacher told us not learning about history is like walking in on the middle of a movie. We must understand what has happened before we entered the picture. After all, it didn’t start with us. We didn’t start the fire. (We did, however, convince that same teacher to let us listen to Billy Joel’s song on repeat because of its many historical references.)

It shouldn’t take too long to catch up on our history; after all, the history of the Church of the Nazarene is not as long as other denominations. With a birthday of 1908, we are relatively young.

Our lineage comes from the Reformation, the spread of Methodism, and the 19th Century Holiness Movement.

“To describe it in its broadest historical context, the Church of the Nazarene is Christian and Protestant. The church’s Manual declares that it understands itself to be part of ‘one, holy, universal, and apostolic’ Church. As such, the Church of the Nazarene seeks to be faithful to the central doctrines and practices that have defined the Christian Church across the centuries and around the world” (Our Watchword and Song, 2009, p. 9).

Our Merger

The Church of the Nazarene formed through merging together various holiness churches. Therefore, we should realize we have a history of inclusion rather than just exclusion. When we came together in Pilot Point, Texas in 1908, we were unified by our message of holiness. There were different groups whose beliefs differed in various areas of theology, but they believed it was more important and more beneficial to be united than separated. We merged, and we expanded.

“By the uniting assembly of 1908, Nazarenes served and witnessed not only in the United States and Canada, but also as missionaries in the Cape Verde Islands, India, Japan, Mexico, and South Africa—living testimony to the impact of the 19th-century missions movement upon the religious bodies that formed the present-day Church of the Nazarene” (Manual, p. 22).

We are a global Church empowered by the Holy Spirit. Obviously, there is a lot more in-depth history since the merge, and there are lots of people and places we could get into. We could even make flashcards, do skits, and puppet shows, but that would be a lot. If you are really interested, I invite you to read the same books I will be reading for my Nazarene Heritage class: Our Watchword and Song and Here We Stand. Like all histories, parts are more exciting than others, so I also invite you to get caffeinated. I do believe our history is interesting, and I believe it is important to know about enough to have a conversation about it.

Our Name

Though we are undoubtedly Wesleyan and our founder is Phineas F. Bresee, we do not call ourselves Breseenans. First because I am not even sure how you would pronounce that, but second because we want to be more identified with Jesus than anyone else. Jesus was raised in the village of Nazareth, so he was known as a “Nazarene.” In Acts 24:5, we read followers of Jesus were called “Nazarenes.”

Many names were suggested, but Dr. Widney explained the name came to him after a night of prayer. The word “Nazarene” symbolized “the toiling, lowly mission of Christ. It was the name that Christ used of Himself, the name which was used in derision of Him by His enemies, the name which above all others linked Him to the great toiling, struggling, sorrowing heart of the world. It is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth to whom the world in its misery and despair turns, that it may have hope” (Called Unto Holiness, Vol. 1, p. 111).

Originally we were known as the “Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene,” because at the time, Pentecostal implied holiness. Since the meaning of Pentecostal was starting to shift to charismatic gifts like speaking in tongues, it became problematic and controversial to keep it in our name, so we dropped it like it was hot in 1919.

Our Focus

We are committed to Christian holiness. Holiness is so much more than the joke we often say: “We don’t drink, we don’t smoke, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with boys/girls who do.” We are known as a denomination that doesn’t go to movies, drink, or dance. I really like what Brooklyn Lindsey writes in her article about holiness. We merged with a focus on entire sanctification.

“[Nazarenes] saw themselves as returning to the primitive character of Wesleyanism. The Nazarenes’ cardinal doctrine was salvation by grace through faith; its distinguishing doctrine, entire sanctification as cleansing and empowering spiritual even subsequent to conversion. Nazarenes believed their doctrines and preaching to be fully biblical. Their impulse was to go to all the world with the gospel and with the message of holiness. Education was for both laity and clergy. Worship services were lively, with a sense of God’s presence. Nazarenes desired out of love to help those in deepest need. Nazarenes remained broad-minded on practices and theological emphases nonessential to holiness” (Our Watchword and Song, 2009, p. 10).

At our origin, we were focused on justice. Phineas Bresee is quoted to have said: “Let the Church of the Nazarene be true to its commission; not great and elegant buildings; but to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and wipe away the tears of sorrowing, and gather jewels for His diadem.” (And, in case you no longer use the word “diadem” in your daily language and slept through your English lesson on context clues, it means “crown”.) We started as a denomination that ministered to the homeless and poor. Our emphasis on social justice has fluctuated throughout our history.

Our Values

We will be digging a little digger into our beliefs as we continue this journey, but in order to provide a brief synopsis, let’s look at our three core values, as outlined on our website:

  • We are a Christian People

We proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord. We believe in the Trinity. Our Wesleyan-Holiness heritage and understand the faith as it relates to Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.

  • We are a Holiness People

God is holy, and we are called to be holy. We believe the Holy Spirit seeks to cleanse us from sin. We believe we can be renewed in the image of God, and we are able to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are moving toward Christlikeness through loving God and loving our neighbors.

  • We are a Missional People

We believe we are a sent people. We believe our mission is to make “Christlike disciples in the nations.” With churches in 159 different world areas, it is clear this is highly valued.

Our Future

I believe the future of the Church of the Nazarene is filled with hope. I am hopeful because books like Dan Boone’s A Charitable Discourse and Shawna and Timothy Gaines’ A Seat at the Table are being published. I am hopeful because we are much stronger together than we are apart. I am hopeful because while attending M11 in Louisville, Kentucky, I worshiped alongside Nazarenes of all ages. I heard stories of churches who are loving God and loving their neighbors. I am hopeful because while attending Third Wave 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand, I stood alongside people from nearly 50 countries and we all sang “Amazing Grace” in our native tongue—it was unifying and beautiful. I’m still a little weirded out that there are bobble heads of John Wesley, Phineas Bresee, Uncle Buddy Robinson, and Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, but I am hopeful nonetheless. I am hopeful because there are voices saying things like this:

“If the Nazarene Church truly seeks to be ‘Wesleyan,’ open dialogue between friends is a must. This talk will not destroy the truth of the gospel. The identity of the Nazarene Church will remain intact. If God desires change, we will change. Most importantly, dialogue is a talk among family. Across the table, board room, blog, or phone line, are our brothers and sisters; not evil personified, but those we love the most. Come, and let’s sit at the table” (“Talking Like Wesley,” Travis Lee).

I am hopeful to be pulling out a chair. I am hopeful to continue my ordination track, to be a part of Global Conventions and General Assembly, to be attending Nazarene Theological Seminary in the fall, to be seeking how I can make Christlike disciples in the nations.

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