Church of the Nazarene

The Church of the Nazarene is a Christian evangelical denomination which had 1.63 million members in 18,700 congregations worldwide in 2006. The largest concentration of membership is in the United States with 640,000. There are 56 Nazerene educational institutions around the world. The Nazarene church holds revivals and is highly active in missionary work like other evangelical denominations do. It is a member of the World Methodist Council and the National Association of Evangelicals. Headquarters for the Church of the Nazarene and
the Nazarene Publishing House are in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

The name of the denomination comes from the biblical description of Jesus and His followers as "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). The name was chosen by Dr. J.P. Widney, a former president of the University of Southern California and influential figure in the early days of the Church of the Nazarene. He said that the name had come to him after spending the night in 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, Volume I). The denomination started as a mission that served the homeless and poor, and wanted to keep that attitude of ministering to "lower classes" of society.

The spiritual vision of early Nazarenes was derived from the doctrinal core of John Wesley's preaching and the holiness movement (the Methodists). The affirmations of the church include justification by grace through faith, sanctification by grace through faith, entire sanctification as an inheritance available to every Christian, and the witness of the Spirit to God's work in human lives..

Early History
The Church of the Nazarene, founded in 1895, is the result of many mergers between various other 'Holiness churches' and denominations throughout the 20th century. The most prominent of these mergers took place at the First and Second General Assemblies, held at Chicago, Illinois, and Pilot Point, Texas in 1907 and 1908, respectively. The First General Assembly brought together the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, a denomination formed in 1896 through the merger of two older bodies that existed principally in the northeastern United States, and the Church of the Nazarene from the West Coast of the United States, founded in 1895 in Los Angeles, California by Phineas F. Bresee, a Methodist Episcopal Church minister, and J. P. Widney, a Methodist layman and former President of the University of Southern California. The name of the united body adopted at the First General Assembly was Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
Phineas Bresee sought to return to John Wesley's original goals of preaching the good news of the gospel to the poor and underprivileged. The following year, at the Second General Assembly, the Holiness Church of Christ, located in the southern United States, merged with the Pentecostal Nazarenes. The Holiness Church of Christ in the South, like the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America in the east, was also the result of an earlier merger between two older denominations. Between the First and Second General Assemblies, there were major accessions of members from the Holiness Association of Texas and the merger in September 1908 of the Pennsylvania Conference of the Holiness Christian Church.

The term "Pentecostal" in the original name soon proved problematic. In the Wesleyan-holiness movement, the word was used widely and simply meant "holiness." However, the rise of 20th century Pentecostalism, especially after 1906, gave new meanings and associations to the term - meanings that the Pentecostal Nazarenes rejected. In 1919, the name was shortened to avoid any confusion about the church's place on the theological spectrum. Other independent bodies joined at later dates, including the Pentecostal Church of Scotland and Pentecostal Mission, both in 1915. At this point, the Church of the Nazarene now embraced seven previous denominations and significant parts of two other groups. In time, the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church would emerge as the two major denominations to gather in the smaller bodies of the 19th century Wesleyan-holiness movement. The mergers continued: In the 1920s, there were major accessions from the Laymen's Holiness Association located in the Dakotas, USA. In the 1950s, there were mergers with the International Holiness Mission and the Calvary Holiness Church (which had earlier absorbed some Apostolic Faith congregations), both in the United Kingdom; the Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association in Iowa; the Gospel Workers Church of Canada, and an indigenous Church of the Nazarene in Nigeria.


International growth
By 1908, there were congregations in USA, Canada, India, Cape Verde, and Japan; soon followed central Africa, Mexico, and China. The 1915 mergers added congregations in the British Isles, Cuba, Central America, and South America. There were congregations in Syria and Palestine by 1922. General Superintendent Reynolds advocated "a mission to the world," and support for world evangelization became a distinguishing characteristic of Nazarene life. The church began producing the 'Showers of Blessing' radio program in the 1940s (the name of this program taken from the Apostolic Faith Church's publication of the same name and clearly a result of the absorption of Apostolics earlier in its history). Other broadcasts followed in many languages, the Spanish broadcast La Hora Nazarena perhaps the most well known. More churches from other countries continued to join the denomination. Current missionary work is worldwide, evangelical and takes place in areas of crisis.

As the church grew culturally and linguistically diverse, it committed itself to a deliberate policy of internationalization in 1980 -  being one church of congregations and districts worldwide, rather than splitting into national churches like earlier Protestant denominations. By the 2001 General Assembly, 42 percent of delegates present and voting were not native English speakers. Today over 60 percent of Nazarenes and 80 percent of the church's 425 districts are outside the United States. Since the Church of the Nazarene's general meeting, the General Assembly, is based on district representation, it is probably the most racially and linguistically diverse general meeting of any religious body that originated on American soil.


Doctrine and belief
The Church of the Nazarene remains committed to Christian holiness. Nazarene beliefs include: one eternal self-existent God manifest in a three-fold nature; the divinity of Jesus; baptism by either immersion or sprinkling or pouring; the Lord's Supper for all believers; entire sanctification; and the return of Jesus Christ to raise the dead.

The Church of the Nazarene stands in the Arminian tradition of free grace for all and human freedom to choose that grace. The Church distinguishes itself from many other Protestant churches because of its belief that God's Holy Spirit empowers Christians to be constantly obedient to Him. The Church does not believe that a Christian inevitably sins each day, rather, the Church teaches that sin should be the rare exception in the life of a Christian. The Church believes in the doctrine of entire sanctification, which states that a person can have a relationship of entire devotion to God in which they are no longer under the influence of original sin. This means that through the power of the Holy Spirit, people can be changed so as to be able to live a holy life for the glory of God. This is interpreted on different levels: as with any denomination, some believers interpret the theology rigidly and others less so. The concept of entire sanctification stems from John Wesley's concept of spiritual perfection. Both doctrines are held less rigidly by most church members, viewing spiritual perfection as something to strive toward, believers being already sanctified and forgiven for their sins by the sacrifice of Christ. Some in the denomination have understood the movement's distinctive theological doctrine - entire sanctification - as love. Love is the core understanding of holiness and sanctification found in the Bible: Christians are called to love when in relation to God and others.

The Church of the Nazarene maintains total abstinence from alcohol and any other intoxicant, including tobacco. This continues to be debated, but while the church does not consider alcohol itself to be the cause of sin for all people, it teaches that intoxication is a 'danger' to people, both physically and spiritually. A person who is meant to serve others should avoid them, so as not cause others to stray from their 'walk with God,' which is considered a sin for both parties.

Regarding human sexuality, the Church's Board of General Superintendents has issued this official statement:
"The Church of the Nazarene believes that every man or woman should be treated with dignity, grace, and holy love, whatever their sexual orientation. However, we continue to firmly hold the position that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful and is contrary to the Scriptures. We further wish to reemphasize our call to Nazarenes around the globe to recommit themselves to a life of holiness, characterized by holy love and expressed through the most rigorous and consistent lifestyle of sexual purity. We stand firmly on the belief that the biblical concept of marriage, always between one man and one woman in a committed, lifelong relationship, is the only relationship within which the gift of sexual intimacy is properly expressed."


Worship
Nazarene churches typically hold worship services three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. The Sunday and Wednesday evening services in some Nazarene churches have changed from worship services to discipleship training or other activities. Worship consists of singing hymns or contemporary "praise choruses," prayer, special music, reading of Scripture,  a sermon, and offering. If the sermon is evangelistic in nature, a service may end with "an altar call." Worship styles vary widely from traditional Protestant services to contemporary worship with modern Christian music. An increasing number of Nazarene churches have utilized contemporary worship as their predominant worship style. They use modern instruments, projectors or video screen and computers. In some worship services, particularly the traditional Wednesday night prayer meeting, members are often encouraged to "testify," or give an account of some aspect of their spiritual journey. A testimony may describe a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit or speak to a particular event in a person's Christian life. Prayers offered during services are most often communal and led by a single person. Annual "revival" meetings have been a traditional part of Nazarene life,but there is less emphasis on these today than once was. Many Nazarene districts sponsor an annual camp meeting for adults and their families as well as separate camps for both "teens" and children.

While Nazarenes believe that the ill should utilize all appropriate medical agencies, they also affirm divine healing and pastors may "lay hands" upon the ill in prayer, either at the hospital or in a worship service. A prayer for divine healing does not exclude medical services and agencies.


Sacraments
The Church of the Nazarene recognizes two sacraments: Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper, or communion. Nazarenes permit believer's baptism and infant baptism alike. In recent times infant baptism has given way to more frequent infant "dedication" ceremonies, reserving baptism until the child can make a conscious decision to follow Christ. Every Nazarene church is required to administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper at least four times a year. Some congregations offer Communion at least once a month. The Nazarene Manual also includes rituals for the reception of new church members, weddings, funerals, the installation of new officers, and church dedications.


Church leaders and Ministers
The Church of the Nazarene has two orders of ordained ministry: the ordained elder and the ordained deacon. The ordained elder can be male or female, who has been set apart for a ministry of "Word and Sacrament." Their primary assignment is to preach the Word, administer the Sacraments, and lead the local church. The ordained deacon is a man or woman who has been set apart for full-time ministry in a role other than "Word and Sacrament." Those eligible to be ordained as deacons include those who are called to a full-time ministry of music, Christian social ministry, or director of Christian education, or another ministry that does not typically involve leading a congregation. The church also has district licensed ministers. A licensed minister may, in some cases, be the pastor of a church. 

Organization
The Church of the Nazarene is divided geographically into regions and districts. Local churches are members of a district, which in turn make up a region. This hierarchy influences financial matters, event planning, and one of the most important values of the Nazarene Church: higher education. A district is comprised of several zones, a smaller grouping of local churches within a district. Officials that function on the district level are known as District Superintendants. Several Nazarene districts make up a region. Regions are tied to church funds, as local churches pay budgets on a district level, and districts on to the regional level. A portion of this budget is allocated for Nazarene higher education, and subsidizes the cost of each region's respective institution. The Church of the Nazarene owns and operates 11 liberal arts institutions in Africa, Canada, Korea, and the United States, as well as 3 graduate seminaries, 37 undergraduate Bible/theological colleges, 3 nurses training colleges, 1 junior college, and 1 education college worldwide. These are overseen by the Nazarene International Education Association (NIEA). 


Links
International Headquarters
Church of the Nazerene in the Philippines
Church of the Nazarene UK
Bramley Nazarene a typical UK church
Ephrata Nazarene a typical US church
Holyness Today Nazarene Publication
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