Question: "What is the Nazarene Church, and what do Nazarenes believe?"
Answer: The Church of the Nazarene is a denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. Their roots go back to the teachings of John Wesley, as well as to various elements of the Holiness movement of the 19th century. Today there are about 1.8 million members in the Church of the Nazarene, making it the largest of the Holiness movement denominations.
The full history of the Nazarene Church is woven with threads from many sources, but the primary ones will be identified here. In 1895, Phineas Bresee and others formed a church in Los Angeles, California, which they named the Church of the Nazarene. This church was organized as the “first of a denomination that preached the reality of entire sanctification received through faith in Christ.” Entire sanctification means that the soul of the believer attains such a work of the Spirit that it loses its desire to participate in acts of sin. Most churches within the Methodist movement taught some form of this doctrine, but none had formalized it and made it a distinctive of their organization. In 1907, sensing a need to draw together the various independent groups that were part of the Holiness movement, a general conference was called, which resulted in the merger of the Church of the Nazarene and the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America. The merged body was named the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. In 1908, the Holiness Association of Texas, the Pennsylvania Conference of Holiness Christian Churches, and the Holiness Church of Christ were merged in. The Pentecostal Church of Scotland and the Pentecostal Mission joined in 1915. In 1919, the church dropped the name “Pentecostal” because of the rise of the modern Pentecostal tongues movement.
From the very beginning, the focus of the Nazarene Church has been personal holiness for believers. According to the church website, their goal is that all believers “experience a deeper level of life in which there is victory over sin, power to witness and serve, and a richer fellowship with God, all through the filling of the Holy Spirit.” In contrast to the modern Pentecostal tongues movement, which teaches that the evidence of Spirit baptism is speaking in tongues, the Nazarene Church teaches that the evidence of Spirit baptism is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Following the Arminian doctrine of Wesley, the Nazarene Church believes that a person can renounce or walk away from his/her saving relationship with God, and, therefore, Nazarenes have no assurance of salvation. As a result, there is a real emphasis on working to maintain that right relationship with God. The Church of the Nazarene is an evangelistic, missions-minded body that takes their relationship with God seriously and desires to share that reality with the world around them.
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