The Church of the Nazarene emerged from the 19th century Wesleyan-holiness revival after three regional bodies in the North America united in 1908: the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, stretching from Nova Scotia to Iowa; the Church of the Nazarene extending from the West Coast to Illinois; and the Holiness Church of Christ, reaching from Georgia to New Mexico. Two were products of earlier mergers. The united church’s original name – Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene-was shortened in 1919 after the term “Pentecostal” (a synonym, to the founders, of “holiness”) had acquired new meanings.
The Pentecostal Mission (U.S.) and the Pentecostal Church of Scotland united with the Nazarenes in 1915. Later accessions included the Layman’s Holiness Association (U.S.), the Gospel Workers of Canada, the Calvary Holiness Church (Great Britain), and an indigenous Nigerian body also bearing the name Church of the Nazarene.
The church’s doctrine is Wesleyan. Nazarene’s affirm the reality of original sin but emphasize Christ’s universal atonement and prevenient grace; justification by grace through faith; sanctification likewise by faith; entire sanctification as God’s gracious opportunity for believers; and the witness of the Spirit. The church practices the sacraments of baptism (by sprinkling, pouring or immersion) and the Lord’s Supper. Parents may request infant baptism, but believers’ baptism predominates. Members admitted by profession of faith agree to observe the general and special rules of the church, which include refraining from tobacco and alcoholic beverages.
Nazarene policy blends congregational, presbyterian and episcopal elements. From American Methodism the church derives its concepts of general and district superintendency, the quadrennial general meeting, and its book of discipline (called the Manual). Nazarene ordination practices also reflect Methodist roots: elders are elected to orders by peers and ordained by a general superintendent, who is joined by other elders in the laying on of hands. A congregational element is reflected, however, in the local church’s right to call its own pastor, while a presbyterian element appears in the district’s right to elect its own superintendent.
The Nazarene district assembly meets annually, electing its superintendent, receiving reports from churches, electing candidates to elder’s orders, and periodically electing equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates to General Assembly.
The General Assembly elects the general superintendents (who serve until the next General Assembly) and the members of various boards. It enacts legislation binding on churches and districts throughout the denomination.
It also elects the General Board, which meets annually and supervises, with the Board of General Superintendents, the church’s World Mission, USA/Canada Mission, Evangelism, and Sunday School agencies and the International Board of Education.
Internationalization shapes contemporary Nazarene life. The church exists in local, district, and general (international) levels, not at the national level except for certain legal purposes. The 12,598 Nazarene churches worldwide are grouped into 386 districts, one fourth of these in North America, where about half the church’s 1.4 million members live. The church is presently organized in 138 world areas. There are 13,203 ordained elders, 436 permanent deacons, 5,881 licensed ministers, and 747 missionaries.
Bible and liberal arts colleges are supported on every continent, and graduate schools of theology are located in Kansas City and Manila. The Nazarene Publishing House has operated in Kansas City since 1912 and is helping establish regional publishing houses in other world areas.