Historical Statement

Archive Banner
Display Title



From the 2023 Manual of the Church of the Nazarene

Español   Português


      The Church of the Nazarene confesses itself to be a branch of Christ’s “one, holy, universal, and apostolic” church, embracing as its own the history of God’s people recorded in the Old and New Testaments and God’s people through the ages, in all expressions of Christ’s church. Our denomination receives the creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith. We identify with the historic church in preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, maintaining a ministry of apostolic faith and practice, and inculcating the disciplines of Christlike living and service. Our denomination heeds the Biblical call to holy living and entire devotion to God, which we proclaim through the theology of entire sanctification.


      Our Christian heritage was mediated through the 16th-century English Reformation and 18th-century Wesleyan revival. Through the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, people throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales turned from sin and were empowered for Christian service. This revival was characterized by lay preaching, testimony, discipline, and circles of earnest disciples known as “societies,” “classes,” and “bands.” The Wesleyan revival’s theological landmarks were: justification by grace through faith; sanctification, or Christian perfection, likewise by grace through faith; and the witness of the Spirit to the assurance of grace. John Wesley’s distinctive contributions included an emphasis on entire sanctification as God’s gracious provision for the Christian life. These emphases were disseminated worldwide. In North America, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784 “to reform the Continent, and to spread scriptural Holiness over these Lands.”


      A renewed emphasis on Christian holiness developed in the mid-19th century. Timothy Merritt of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, spurred interest as editor of the Guide to Christian Perfection. Phoebe Palmer of New York City, New York, USA, led the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness and became a sought-after speaker, author, and editor. In 1867, Methodist preachers J. A. Wood, John Inskip and others, at Vineland, New Jersey, USA, initiated the first in a long series of holiness camp meetings that renewed the Wesleyan quest for holiness around the world. Wesleyan Methodists, Free Methodists, the Salvation Army, and certain Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers all emphasized Christian holiness. Evangelists carried this movement to Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, India, and Australia. New holiness churches arose, including the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana, USA). Holiness churches, urban missions, and missionary associations grew from this endeavor. The Church of the Nazarene was born from the impulse to unite many of these into one holiness church.


Unity in Holiness

      Fred Hillery organized the People’s Evangelical Church (Providence, Rhode Island, USA) in 1887. The Mission Church (Lynn, Massachusetts, USA) followed in 1888. In 1890, they and eight other New England congregations formed the Central Evangelical Holiness Association. Anna S. Hanscome was ordained in 1892, the first ordained female minister in the Nazarene lineage. In 1894-1895, William Howard Hoople organized three holiness congregations in Brooklyn, New York, USA, which formed the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America. “Pentecostal” was a synonym for “Holiness” to these and other Nazarene founders. Hillery and Hoople’s groups merged in 1896, established ministry in India (1899) and Cape Verde (1901), and missions executive Hiram Reynolds organized congregations in Canada (1902). The group reached from Nova Scotia, Canada to Iowa, USA by 1907.

      Robert Lee Harris organized the New Testament Church of Christ at Milan, Tennessee, USA in 1894. Mary Lee Cagle, his widow, spread it into west Texas, USA, in 1895. C. B. Jernigan organized the first Independent Holiness Church at Van Alstyne, Texas, USA, in 1901. These churches merged at Rising Star, Texas, USA (1904), forming the Holiness Church of Christ. By 1908, it stretched from Georgia, USA, to New Mexico, USA, ministering to outcasts and the needy, supporting orphans and unwed mothers, and with workers in India and Japan.

Phineas F. Bresee and Joseph P. Widney, with about 100 others, organized the Church of the Nazarene at Los Angeles, California, USA in 1895. They held that Christians sanctified by faith should follow Christ’s example and preach the gospel to the poor. They believed that their time and money should be given to Christlike ministries for the salvation of souls and the relief of the needy. The Church of the Nazarene spread chiefly along America’s west coast, with some congregations east of the Rocky Mountains as far as Illinois, USA. They supported an indigenous mission in Calcutta, India.

      In October 1907, the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America and the Church of the Nazarene jointly convened in Chicago, Illinois, USA, to fashion a church government that balanced superintendency with congregational rights. Superintendents were to foster and care for established churches, organize and encourage new churches, but not interfere with the independent actions of a fully organized church. Holiness Church of Christ delegates participated. The First General Assembly adopted a name drawn from both organizations: Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. Bresee and Reynolds were elected general superintendents.


      In September 1908, the Pennsylvania Conference of the Holiness Christian Church, under H. G. Trumbaur, united with the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.

      In October, the Second General Assembly convened at Pilot Point, Texas, USA, with the General Council of the Holiness Church of Christ. On Tuesday morning, 13 October, R. B. Mitchum moved and C. W. Ruth seconded the proposition: “That the union of the two churches be now consummated.” Bresee exerted continual effort toward this outcome, and at 10:40 a.m., amid great enthusiasm, the motion to unite was adopted by a unanimous rising vote.

      Led by J. O. McClurkan, the Pentecostal Mission formed in Nashville, Tennessee, USA in 1898, uniting holiness people from Tennessee and adjacent states in the USA. They sent pastors and teachers to Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, and India. In 1906, George Sharpe was ejected from Parkhead Congregational Church in Glasgow, Scotland, for preaching the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian holiness. The Parkhead Pentecostal Church was formed, other congregations were organized, and the Pentecostal Church of Scotland was founded in 1909. The Pentecostal Mission and Pentecostal Church of Scotland united with the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene in 1915.

      The Fifth General Assembly (1919) changed the denomination’s official name to Church of the Nazarene because new meanings had become associated with the word “Pentecostal.”



A Global Church

      The Church of the Nazarene’s essential character was shaped by the parent churches that had united by 1915. There was an international dimension to this character. The denomination supported fully organized churches in the United States of America, India, Cape Verde, Cuba, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Japan, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Eswatini, China, and Peru. By 1930, it reached into South Africa, Syria, Palestine, Mozambique, Barbados, and Trinidad. National leaders were essential to this process, like district superintendents V. G. Santin (Mexico), Hiroshi Kitagawa (Japan), and Samuel Bhujbal (India). This international character was reinforced further by new accessions.


      In 1922, J. G. Morrison led many Layman’s Holiness Association workers and over 1,000 members in the Dakotas, USA, Minnesota, USA, and Montana, USA, into the church. Churches in Australia under A. A. E. Berg united in 1945. Alfredo del Rosso led Italian churches into the denomination in 1948. The Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association’s South African ministry and its center in Tabor, Iowa, USA, united with the Nazarenes around 1950.


      The International Holiness Mission, founded in London, England, by David Thomas in 1907, developed extensive ministry in southern Africa under David Jones. Holiness congregations in Korea were formally organized in 1948 under the superintendency of evangelist Chung Nam Soo. In 1952, its churches in England under J. B. Maclagan and ministry in Africa united with the Nazarenes. Maynard James and Jack Ford formed the Calvary Holiness Church in Britain in 1934 and united with the Nazarenes in 1955. The Gospel Workers Church, organized by Frank Goff in Ontario, Canada, in 1918, joined the Church of the Nazarene in 1958. Nigerians formed an indigenous Church of the Nazarene in the 1940s and, under Jeremiah U. Ekaidem, united with the international body in 1988.


      Nazarenes have consciously developed a model of church that differs from the Protestant norm. In 1976, a study commission was raised to examine the denomination’s future shape. Reporting in 1980, it recommended internationalization based on two principles. First, it recognized that Nazarene churches and districts globally constituted a “worldwide fellowship of believers in which there exists full acceptance within their cultural contexts.” Second, it identified a common commitment to “the distinctive mission of the Church of the Nazarene,” namely “to spread scriptural holiness . . . [as] the key element in a core of nonnegotiables which represent the Nazarene identity.”


      The 1980 General Assembly embraced “international theological uniformity” around the Articles of Faith, affirmed the importance of theological training for all ministers, and called for adequate support of institutions of theological education in each world area. It summoned Nazarenes toward maturity as an international holiness communion within a single connectional framework in which the colonial mentality that evaluated peoples and nations in terms of “strong and weak, donor and recipient” gave way to “one that assumes an entirely new way of looking at the world: one recognizing the strengths and equality of all partners.”
NOTE: Journal of the 20th General Assembly, Church of the Nazarene, (1980): 232. Franklin Cook, The International Dimension (1984): 49.


      The Church of the Nazarene has a unique growth pattern among Protestants. By 1998, half of Nazarenes no longer lived in the United States of America and Canada, and 41% of delegates at the 2001 General Assembly spoke English as their second language or did not speak it at all. An African, Eugénio R. Duarte of Cape Verde, was elected one of the church’s general superintendents in 2009. In 2013, a Central American, Gustavo A. Crocker of Guatemala, was elected general superintendent. In 2017, another African, Filimão M. Chambo, a native of Mozambique, was also elected general superintendent, and, for the first time, more than half the members of the Board of General Superintendents were individuals born and raised outside North America. In 2023, a South American, Christian D. Sarmiento of Colombia, was elected general superintendent. By 2022, across six global regions, the church had 2.6 million members in 501 districts and pioneer areas in 164 world areas.


      From its inception, the Church of the Nazarene has supported the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to all places of ministry leadership, including that of pastor, evangelist, educator, theologian, administrator, district superintendent, and general superintendent. In 2005, Nina G. Gunter, having served as the global director of Nazarene Missions International, became the first female elected general superintendent. In 2017, Carla D. Sunberg, born to pioneer Nazarene missionaries in Germany, and herself a pioneer Nazarene missionary along with her husband to the former Soviet Union, became the second female elected general superintendent.



Distinctives of International Ministry

      Nazarene strategic ministries have centered historically around evangelism, social ministry, and education. They flourish through the mutual cooperation of cross-cultural missionaries and thousands of local ministers and lay workers, who have indigenized Wesleyan principles within their respective cultures.

      Evangelization. Hiram F. Reynolds was a strategic personality in establishing Nazarene cross-cultural ministries. During a quarter-century as general superintendent, his constant advocacy helped raise missions to a denominational priority. Since 1915, Nazarene Missions International (originally the Women’s Missionary Society) has raised funds and promoted mission education in congregations around the world. Home missions were a central part of North American evangelization, while national missionaries John Diaz (Cape Verde), Santos Elizondo (Mexico), Samuel Krikorian (Palestine), J. I. Nagamatsu (Japan), and Chung Nam Soo (Korea) were pioneer leaders. The Mid-Century Crusade for Souls directed new energies toward world evangelization after World War II. Home missions expanded in North America. New fields opened on other continents. Urban evangelism compelled the church to rediscover the city as a primary locus of ministry in the 1970s. New types of urban ministry developed, and the church undertook an international “Thrust to the Cities” emphasis in the 1980s. The church entered Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Nazarenes participate in the East African revival and serve in nations as diverse as Bangladesh, where on 24 March 2010, 193 elders were ordained to the ministry in a single service—a remarkable event in Christian history.


      Compassion. Early Nazarenes witnessed to God’s grace by supporting famine relief in India, and establishing orphanages, maternity homes for unwed girls and women, and urban missions that ministered to addicts and the homeless. In the 1920s, the church’s social ministry priorities shifted to medicine, as hospitals were built in China and Eswatini, and later in India and Papua New Guinea. Nazarene medical professionals cared for the sick, performed surgeries, trained nurses, and sponsored mobile field clinics among some of the world’s poorest people. Specialized clinics were established, such as a leprosy clinic in Africa. The creation of Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in the 1980s permitted a wider range of social ministries that endure today, including child sponsorship, disaster relief, AIDS education, orphan support, water projects, and food distribution.


      Education. Nazarene Sunday schools and Bible studies have always been part of congregational life and play significant roles in forming Christlike disciples. The church has invested in basic education and literacy since the early years of Hope School for Girls in Calcutta, founded 1905. Nazarene schools prepare people around the world for fuller participation in social, economic, and religious life. Most early Nazarene colleges in the United States of America had grade schools and high schools attached to them until the mid-20th century. The Nazarene founders invested significantly in higher education, believing it essential for training pastors and other Christian workers and for shaping the laity. The International Board of Education lists 50 Nazarene institutions in our 6 global regions: 14 liberal arts institutions, 7 graduate seminaries and theological colleges, 18 undergraduate seminaries and theological colleges, 8 certificate and Bible colleges, and 3 specialized training schools for teaching and nursing.


      The Church of the Nazarene has moved over time from a church with a global presence toward a global community of believers. Grounded in the Wesleyan tradition, Nazarenes understand themselves to be a people who are Christian, Holiness, and Missional, and embrace as their mission statement: “To make Christlike disciples in the nations.”