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What is the Church of the Nazarene?

By Paul Woods
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Church of the Nazarene is an international Christian denomination in the Protestant tradition. An outgrowth of the Wesleyan Holiness Movement from the mid-1800s in North America, the church grew from about 10,000 members at what is considered its official founding in the early 1900s to worldwide membership of almost 2 million in the early 21st century. Doctrinally, it draws on the Arminian tradition of grace and the Wesleyan tradition of holiness.

To understand this denomination, it is beneficial to examine it from three perspectives: history, doctrines, and organization. The Holiness Movement of the 19th century offers important historical context. John Wesley, who was instrumental in founding the Methodist movement, preached the doctrine of entire sanctification, which meant for the believer in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit could give the ability to live free of the corrupting influence of sin. This movement gained wide popularity in North America and gave rise to many churches and church groups.

The church grew out of a combination of these groups. A seminal point in it's history was the 1907 coming together of the original Church of the Nazarene, which was a large group of churches in the western United States, and the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, the group's counterpoint in the eastern US and Canada. The combined group was called the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. A year later, with the addition of several smaller groups in Texas and the Midwest, the merged units took the current name.

Doctrines of the church center on 16 Articles of Faith, which are reviewed and reprinted every four years by the church’s General Assembly in a book called Manual: The Church of the Nazarene. In general, the denomination believes in a trinitarian God, three-fold grace, entire sanctification, healing, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Three-fold grace includes prevenient grace, the general grace of God that allows all humans to seek him; justifying grace, which grants the atonement for both a sin nature and personal sins to those who believe in Jesus; and sanctifying grace, which allows for the entire sanctification described above.

Organizationally, the church is both congregational and episcopal, which means that is there are elements of local and denominational control. Women and men can be ordained to serve as pastors. Individual churches are grouped into districts, districts into regions, and regions in a worldwide General Assembly. The three words used to describe the denomination's principal values are Christian, missional, holiness. Under this organization and with those values, the church is involved around the world in evangelist missions, social welfare missions, education, publishing, youth ministry, and discipleship.

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