The History of the Church of the Nazarene
Historic Christianity and the Wesleyan-Holiness Heritage
One Holy Faith.
The Church of the Nazarene, from its beginnings,has confessed itself to be a
branch of the “one, holy,universal, and apostolic” church and has sought to be
faithful to it. It confesses as its own the history of the people of God recorded
in the Old and New Testaments, and that same history as it has extended from
the days of the apostles to our own. As its own people, it embraces the people
of God through the ages, those redeemed through Jesus Christin whatever
expression of the one church they may be found. It receives the ecumenical
creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith.
While the Church of the Nazarene has responded to its special calling to
proclaim the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification, it has taken care
to retain and nurture identification with the historic church in its preaching of
the Word, its administration of the sacraments, its concern to raise up and
maintain a ministry that is truly apostolic in faith and practice, and its
inculcating of disciplines for Christlike living and service to others.
The Wesleyan Revival.
This Christian faith has been mediated to Nazarenes through historical
religious currents and particularly through the Wesleyan revival of the 18th
century. In the 1730s the broader Evangelical Revival arose in Britain,
directed chiefly by John Wesley, his brother Charles, and George Whitefield,
clergymen in the Church of England. Through their instrumentality, many other
men and women turned from sin and were empowered for the service of God.
This movement was characterized by lay preaching, testimony, discipline, and
circles of earnest disciples known as “societies”, “classes,” and “bands.” As a
movement of spiritual life, its antecedents included German Pietism, typified
by Philip Jacob Spener; 17th-century English Puritanism; and a spiritual
awakening in New England described by the pastor theologian Jonathan
The Wesleyan phase of the great revival was characterized by three
theological landmarks: regeneration by grace through faith; Christian
perfection, or sanctification, likewise by grace through faith; and the witness of
the Spirit to the assurance of grace. Among John Wesley’s distinctive
contributions was an emphasis on entire sanctification in this life as God’s
gracious provision for the Christian. British Methodism’s early missionary
enterprises began disseminating these theological emphases worldwide. In
North America, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784. Its
stated purpose was “to reform the Continent, and to spread scriptural
Holiness over these Lands.” The Holiness Movement of the 19th Century. In
the 19th century a renewed emphasis on Christian holiness began in the
Eastern United States and spread throughout the nation. Timothy Merritt,
Methodist clergyman and founding editor of the Guide to Christian Perfection,
was among the leaders of the holiness revival. The central figure of the
movement was Phoebe Palmer of New York City, leader of the Tuesday
Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness, at which Methodist bishops,
educators, and other clergy joined the original group of women in seeking
holiness. During four decades, Mrs. Palmer promoted the Methodist phase of
the holiness movement through public speaking, writing, and as editor of the
influential Guide to Holiness.
The holiness revival spilled outside the bounds of Methodism. Charles G.
Finney and Asa Mahan, both of Oberlin College, led the renewed emphasis
on holiness in Presbyterian and Congregationalist circles, as did revivalist
William Boardman. Baptist evangelist A. B. Earle was among the leaders of
the holiness movement within his denomination. Hannah Whitall Smith, a
Quaker and popular holiness revivalist, published The Christian’s Secret of a
Happy Life (1875), a classic text in Christian spirituality.
In 1867 Methodist ministers John A. Wood, John Inskip, and others began at
Vineland, New Jersey, the first of a long series of national camp meetings.
They also organized at that time the National Camp Meeting Association for
the Promotion of Holiness, commonly known as the National Holiness
Association (now the Christian Holiness Partnership). Until the early years of
the 20th century, this organization sponsored holiness camp meetings
throughout the United States. Local and regional holiness associations also
appeared, and a vital holiness press published many periodicals and books.
The witness to Christian holiness played roles of varying significance in the
founding of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (1843), the Free Methodist
Church (1860), and, in England, the Salvation Army (1865). In the 1880s new
distinctively holiness churches sprang into existence, including the Church of
God (Anderson, Indiana) and the Church of God (Holiness). Several older
religious traditions were also influenced by the holiness movement, including
certain groups of Mennonites, Brethren, and Friends that adopted the
Wesleyan-holiness view of entire sanctification. The Brethren in Christ
Church and the Evangelical Friends Alliance are examples of this blending
of spiritual traditions.
Uniting of Holiness Groups
In the 1890s a new wave of independent holiness entities came into being.
These included independent churches, urban missions, rescue homes, and
missionary and evangelistic associations. Some of the people involved in
these organizations yearned for union into a national holiness church. Out of
that impulse the present-day Church of the Nazarene was born.
The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America.
On July 21, 1887, the People’s Evangelical Church was organized with 51
members at Providence, Rhode Island, with Fred A. Hillery as pastor. The
following year the Mission Church at Lynn, Massachusetts, was organized
with C. Howard Davis as pastor. On March 13 and 14, 1890, representatives
from these and other independent holiness congregations met at Rock,
Massachusetts, and organized the Central Evangelical Holiness Association
with churches in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. In 1892,
the Central Evangelical Holiness Association ordained Anna S. Hanscombe,
believed to be the first of many women ordained to the Christian ministry in the
parent bodies of the Church of the Nazarene.
In January 1894, businessman William Howard Hoople founded a Brooklyn
mission, reorganized the following May as Utica Avenue Pentecostal
Tabernacle. By the end of the following year, Bedford Avenue Pentecostal
Church and Emmanuel Pentecostal Tabernacle were also organized. In
December 1895, delegates from these three congregations adopted a
constitution, a summary of doctrines, and bylaws, forming the Association of
Pentecostal Churches of America.
On November 12, 1896, a joint committee of the Central Evangelical
Holiness Association and the Association of Pentecostal Churches of
America met in Brooklyn and framed a plan of union, retaining the name of the
latter for the united body. Prominent workers in this denomination were Hiram
F. Reynolds, H. B. Hosley, C. Howard Davis,William Howard Hoople, and,
later, E. E. Angell. Some of these were originally lay preachers who were later
ordained as ministers by their congregations. This church was decidedly
missionary, and under the leadership of Hiram F. Reynolds, missionary
secretary, embarked upon an ambitious program of Christian witness to the
Cape Verde Islands, India, and other places. The Beulah Christian was
published as its official paper.
The Holiness Church of Christ.
In July 1894, R. L. Harris organized the New Testament Church of Christ at
Milan, Tennessee, shortly before his death. Mary Lee Cagle, widow of R. L.
Harris, continued the work and became its most prominent early leader. This
church, strictly congregational in polity, spread throughout Arkansas and
western Texas, with scattered congregations in Alabama and Missouri. Mary
Cagle and a coworker, Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, were ordained in 1899 in the first
class of ordinands.
Beginning in 1888, a handful of congregations bearing the name The
Holiness Church were organized in Texas by ministers Thomas and Dennis
Rogers, who came from California. In 1901 the first congregation of the
Independent Holiness Church was formed at Van Alstyne, Texas, by Charles
B. Jernigan. At an early date, James B. Chapman affiliated with this
denomination, which prospered and grew rapidly. In time, the congregations
led by Dennis Rogers affiliated with the Independent Holiness Church.
In November 1904, representatives of the New Testament Church of Christ
and the Independent Holiness Church met at Rising Star, Texas, where they
agreed upon principles of union, adopted a Manual, and chose the name
Holiness Church of Christ. This union was finalized the following year at a
delegated general council held at Pilot Point, Texas. The Holiness Evangel
was the church’s official paper. Its other leading ministers included William E.
Fisher, J. D. Scott, and J. T. Upchurch. Among its key lay leaders were
Edwin H. Sheeks, R. B. Mitchum, and Mrs. Donie Mitchum. Several leaders of
this church were active in the Holiness Association of Texas, a vital
interdenominational body that sponsored a college at Peniel, near Greenville,
Texas. The association also sponsored the Pentecostal Advocate, the
Southwest’s leading holiness paper, which became a Nazarene organ in
1910. E. C. DeJernett, a minister, and C. A. McConnell, a layman, were
prominent workers in this organization.
The Church of the Nazarene.
In October 1895, Phineas F. Bresee, D.D., and Joseph P. Widney, M.D., with
about 100 others, including Alice P. Baldwin, Leslie F. Gay, W. S. and
Lucy P. Knott, C. E. McKee, and members of the Bresee and Widney
families, organized the Church of the Nazarene at Los Angeles. At the outset
they saw this church as the first of a denomination that preached the reality of
entire sanctification received through faith in Christ. They held that Christians
sanctified by faith should follow Christ’s example and preach the Gospel to the
poor. They felt called especially to this work. They believed that unnecessary
elegance and adornment of houses of worship did not represent the spirit of
Christ but the spirit of the world, and that their expenditures of time and money
should be given to Christlike ministries for the salvation of souls and the relief
of the needy. They organized the church accordingly. They adopted general
rules, a statement of belief, a polity based on a limited superintendency,
procedures for the consecration of deaconesses and the ordination of elders,
and a ritual. These were published as a Manual beginning in 1898. They
published a paper known as The Nazarene and then The Nazarene
Messenger. The Church of the Nazarene spread chiefly along the West
Coast, with scattered congregations east of the Rocky Mountains as far as
Illinois. Among the ministers who cast their lot with the new church were H. D.
Brown, W. E. Shepard, C. W. Ruth, L. B. Kent, Isaiah Reid, J. B. Creighton, C.
E. Cornell, Robert Pierce, and W. C. Wilson. Among the first to be ordained
by the new church were Joseph P. Widney himself, Elsie and
DeLance Wallace, Lucy P. Knott, and E. A. Girvin. Phineas F. Bresee’s 38
years’ experience as a pastor, superintendent, editor, college board member,
and camp meeting preacher in Methodism, and his unique personal
magnetism, entered into the ecclesiastical statesmanship that he brought to
the merging of the several holiness churches into a national body.
The Year of Uniting: 1907-1908.
The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, the Church of the
Nazarene, and the Holiness Church of Christ were brought into association
with one another by C. W. Ruth, assistant general superintendent of the
Church of the Nazarene, who had extensive friendships throughout the
Wesleyan-holiness movement. Delegates of the Association of Pentecostal
Churches of America and the Church of the Nazarene convened in general
assembly at Chicago, from October 10 to 17, 1907. The merging groups
agreed upon a church government that balanced the need for a
superintendency with the independence of local congregations.
Superintendents were to foster and care for churches already established and
were to organize and encourage the organizing of churches everywhere, but
their authority was not to interfere with the independent actions of a fully
organized church. Further, the General Assembly adopted a name for the
united body drawn from both organizations: The Pentecostal Church of the
Nazarene. Phineas F. Bresee and Hiram F. Reynolds were elected general
superintendents. A delegation of observers from the Holiness Church of
Christ was present and participated in the assembly work.
During the following year, two other accessions occurred. In April 1908 P. F.
Bresee organized a congregation of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene
at Peniel, Texas, which brought into the church leading figures in the Holiness
Association of Texas and paved the way for other members to join. In
September, the Pennsylvania Conference of the Holiness Christian Church,
after receiving a release from its General Conference, dissolved itself and
under the leadership of H. G. Trumbaur united with the Pentecostal Church of
The second General Assembly of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene
met in a joint session with the General Council of the Holiness Church of
Christ from October 8 to 14, 1908, at Pilot Point, Texas. The year of uniting
ended on Tuesday morning, October 13, when R. B. Mitchum moved and C.
W. Ruth seconded the proposition: “That the union of the two churches be now
consummated.” Several spoke favorably on the motion. Phineas Bresee had
exerted continual effort toward this proposed outcome. At 10:40 A.M., amid
great enthusiasm, the motion to unite was adopted by a unanimous rising vote.
Denominational Change of Name.
The General Assembly of 1919, in response to memorials from 35 district
assemblies, officially changed the name of the organization to Church of the
Nazarene because of new meanings that had become associated with the
After 1908 various other bodies united with the Church of the Nazarene:
The Pentecostal Mission.
In 1898 J. O. McClurkan, a Cumberland Presbyterian evangelist, led in
forming the Pentecostal Alliance at Nashville, which brought together holiness
people from Tennessee and adjacent states. This body was very missionary
in spirit and sent pastors and teachers to Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, and
India. McClurkan died in 1914. The next year his group, known then as the
Pentecostal Mission, united with the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
Pentecostal Church of Scotland.
In 1906 George Sharpe, of Parkhead Congregational Church, Glasgow, was
evicted from his pulpit for preaching the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian
holiness. Eighty members who left with him immediately formed Parkhead
Pentecostal Church. Other congregations were organized, and in 1909 the
Pentecostal Church of Scotland was formed. That body united with the
Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene in November 1915.
Laymen’s Holiness Association.
The Laymen’s Holiness Association was formed under S. A. Danford in 1917
at Jamestown, North Dakota, to serve the cause of Wesleyan-holiness
revivalism in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana. This group published a
paper, The Holiness Layman. J. G. Morrison was elected president in 1919
and led an organization with over 25 other evangelists and workers. In 1922
Morrison, together with most of the workers and more than 1,000 of the
members, united with the Church of the Nazarene.
Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association.
This missionary body, centered in Tabor, Iowa, organized in 1893 by Elder
George Weavers, subsequently sent over 80 workers to more than a half
dozen countries. Around 1950 the work at Tabor, the South African mission,
and other parts of the organization united with the Church of the Nazarene.
International Holiness Mission.
David Thomas, businessman and lay preacher, founded The Holiness
Mission in London in 1907. Extensive missionary work developed in southern
Africa under the leadership of David Jones, and the church was renamed the
International Holiness Mission in 1917. It united with the Church of the
Nazarene on October 29, 1952, with 28 churches and more than 1,000
constituents in England under the superintendency of J. B. Maclagan, and
work led by 36 missionaries in Africa.
Calvary Holiness Church.
In 1934 Maynard James and Jack Ford, who had led itinerant evangelism (or
“trekking”) in the International Holiness Mission, formed the Calvary Holiness
Church. On June 11, 1955, union took place with the Church of the Nazarene,
bringing about 22 churches and more than 600 members into the
denomination. The accession of the International Holiness Mission and the
Calvary Holiness Church came about largely through the vision and efforts of
Nazarene District Superintendent George Frame.
Gospel Workers Church of Canada.
Organized by Frank Goff in Ontario in 1918, this church arose from an earlier
group called the Holiness Workers. It united with the Church of the Nazarene
on September 7, 1958, adding five churches and about 200 members to the
Canada Central District.
Church of the Nazarene (Nigeria).
In the 1940s a Wesleyan-holiness church was organized in Nigeria under
indigenous leadership. It adopted the name Church of the Nazarene, deriving
its doctrinal beliefs and name in part from a Manual of the International
Church of the Nazarene. Under the leadership of Jeremiah U. Ekaidem, it
united with the latter on April 3, 1988. A new district with 39 churches and
6,500 members was created.
Toward a Global Church
The Church of the Nazarene had an international dimension from its
beginning. By the uniting assembly of 1908, Nazarenes served and witnessed
not only in North America but also as missionaries in Mexico, the Cape Verde
Islands, India, Japan, 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. Expansion into new areas of the world
began in Asia in 1898 by the Association of Pentecostal Churches of
America. The Pentecostal Mission was at work in Central America by 1900,
in the Caribbean by 1902, and in South America by 1909. In Africa,
Nazarenes active there in 1907 were recognized as denominational
missionaries at a later date. Subsequent extension into the Australia-South
Pacific area began in 1945 and into continental Europe in 1948. In these
instances, the Church of the Nazarene entered by identifying with local
ministers who already preached and taught the Wesleyan-holiness message:
A. A. E. Berg of Australia and Alfredo del Rosso of Italy.
In developing a global ministry, the Church of the Nazarene has depended
historically on the energies of national workers who have shared with
missionaries the tasks of preaching and teaching the word of grace. In 1918 a
missionary in India noted that his national associates included three
preachers, four teachers, three colporteurs, and five Bible women. By 1936
the ratio of national workers to missionaries throughout the worldwide Church
of the Nazarene was greater than five to one.
The world areas where the church has entered reached a total of 150 by 2005.
Thousands of ministers and lay workers have indigenized the Church of the
Nazarene in their respective cultures, thereby contributing to the mosaic of
national identities that form our international communion.
Distinctives of International Ministry.
Historically, Nazarene global ministry has centered around evangelism,
compassionate ministry, and education. The evangelistic impulse was
exemplified in the lives of H. F. Schmelzenbach, L. S. Tracy, Esther Carson
Winans, Samuel Krikorian, and others whose names symbolize this
dimension of ministry. Around the world, Nazarene churches and districts
continue to reflect a revivalistic and evangelistic character.
The international roots of Nazarene compassionate ministry lie in early
support for famine relief and orphanage work in India. This impulse was
strengthened by the Nazarene Medical Missionary Union, organized in the
early 1920s to build Bresee Memorial Hospital in Tamingfu, China. An
extensive medical work has developed in Swaziland, and other
compassionate ministries have developed around the world. Education is an
aspect of world ministry exemplified early by Hope School for Girls, founded in
Calcutta by Mrs. Sukhoda Banarji in 1905 and adopted the following year by
the Church of the Nazarene. Outside North America, Nazarenes have
established schools for primary education and for specialized ministerial
training. There are graduate seminaries in Costa Rica, the Philippines and the
United States; liberal arts institutions in Africa, Canada, Korea, and the United
States; one junior college in Japan; one education college in Africa; three
nursing schools in Africa, India and Papua New Guinea; and thirty-seven
Bible/theological institutions around the world.
The church has prospered as these components of its mission have
developed. In 2005 the Church of the Nazarene had an international
membership of 1,496,296, distributed in over 13,600 congregations.
As a result of this historical development, the denomination is poised today
with an unfinished agenda of moving from “international presence” to an
“international community” of faith. Recognition of this fact led the 1976 General
Assembly to authorize a Commission on Internationalization, whose report to
the 1980 General Assembly led to the creation of a system of world-region
areas. The number and boundaries of the original world regions have since
changed. The current ones are: the Africa Region, the Asia-Pacific Region,
the Canada Region, the Caribbean Region, the Eurasia Region, the Mexico
and Central America Region, the South America Region, and eight regions in
the United States.*