The Church of the Nazarene is a denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. The roots of the Nazarene Church 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 is the idea 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, until the Nazarenes came along, none had formalized it and made it a distinctive of their organization.
In 1907 a general conference was called to draw together the various independent groups that were part of the Holiness movement. The result was 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 more groups joined the merger: the Holiness Association of Texas, the Pennsylvania Conference of Holiness Christian Churches, and the Holiness Church of Christ. 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 tongues movement within Pentecostalism.
From the very beginning, the focus of the Nazarene Church has been personal holiness for believers. According to the Church of the Nazarene website, the goal of the Nazarenes 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 modern Pentecostalism, 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 teaches that a person can renounce his or her salvation and walk away from a saving relationship with Christ. In rejecting eternal security, Nazarenes have no assurance of salvation. As a result, there is a real emphasis on working to maintain a right relationship with God within the Nazarene tradition.
The Church of the Nazarene is an evangelistic, missions-minded body that takes their relationship with God seriously and desires to share the gospel with the world around them.