Nazarene Characteristics

Learn about our Nazarene roots

What Makes Us Nazarene.

  At the 2013 General Assembly, the Board of General Superintendents unveiled seven characteristics for the Church of the Nazarene:

1. Meaningful Worship

2. Theological Coherence

3. Passionate Evangelism

4. Intentional Discipleship

5. Church Development

6. Transformational Leadership

7. Purposeful Compassion

          While these descriptors do not take the place of our mission “to make Christlike disciples in the nations” or our core values of “Christian, holiness and missional,” they describe what we believe should characterize every Church of the Nazarene and in large part, should be reflected by Nazarenes everywhere. We urge church leaders to emphasize, and all Nazarenes to embody, these characteristics as we go forward. Let us explore how, over time, they might become realities for the global church.


  Our Wesleyan Heritage

The Church of the Nazarene confesses itself to be a branch of Christ’s “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church, embracing as its own the history of God’s people recorded in the Old and New Testaments and by God’s people through the ages, in whatever expression of Christ’s church they are found. It receives the ecumenical creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith.

It identifies with the historic church in preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, maintaining a ministry of apostolic faith and practice, and instilling the disciplines of Christlike living and service. It joins the saints in heeding the biblical call to holy living and entire devotion to God, which it proclaims through the theology of entire sanctification.

Our Christian heritage was mediated through the 16th-century English Reformation and 18thcentury 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, testimonies, discipline, and circles of earnest disciples known as “societies,” “classes,” and “bands.” The Wesleyan revival’s theological landmarks included: 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. His 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, spurred interest as editor of the Guide to Christian Perfection. Phoebe Palmer of New York City 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, initiated the first in a long series of holiness camp meetings that renewed the Wesleyan quest for holiness around the world.

Christian holiness was emphasized by Wesleyan Methodists, Free Methodists, the Salvation Army, and certain Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers. Evangelists carried this movement to Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, India, and Australia. New holiness churches arose, including the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). 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) in 1887. The Mission Church (Lynn, Massachusetts) followed in 1888. In 1890 they and eight other New England congregations formed the Central Evangelical Holiness Association. Anna S. Hanscome, ordained in 1892, was the first ordained female minister in the Nazarene lineage.

In 1894-95, William Howard Hoople organized three holiness congregations in Brooklyn, New York, 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 work in India (1899) and Cape Verde (1901). Missions executive Hiram Reynolds organized congregations in Canada (1902). The group reached from Nova Scotia to Iowa by 1907.

Robert Lee Harris organized the New Testament Church of Christ (Milan, Tennessee) in 1894. Mary Lee Cagle, his widow, spread it into west Texas in 1895. C. B. Jernigan organized the first Independent Holiness Church (Van Alstyne, Texas) in 1901. These churches merged at Rising Star, Texas (1904), forming the Holiness Church of Christ. By 1908, it stretched from Georgia to New Mexico, ministering to outcasts and the needy, supporting orphans and unwed mothers, and connecting 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 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 the West Coast of the United States, with some congregations as far east as Illinois. 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, 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 Nazarenes. On October 13, the Second General Assembly convened at Pilot Point, Texas, with the General Council of the Holiness Church of Christ to unite the two churches.

Led by J. O. McClurkan, the Pentecostal Mission formed in Nashville in 1898, uniting holiness people from Tennessee and adjacent states. 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 organized, and the Pentecostal Church of Scotland was founded in 1909. The Pentecostal Mission and Pentecostal Church of Scotland united with the Pentecostal Nazarenes in 1915.

The Fifth General Assembly (1919) changed the denomination’s official name to Church of the Nazarene. The word “Pentecostal” was no longer synonymous with the doctrine of holiness as it had been in the late 19th century when the founders originally adopted the name of the church. The young denomination remained true to its original mission of preaching the gospel of full salvation.

For more information, please visit:


Our Wesleyan Theology

What a marvelous thought! And that is but the first line of the hymn. In Jesus, God became incarnate and acted decisively to reconcile the world to himself (John 3:15-16; Romans 1:1-16). While we were still sinners, God offered His own Son “as a sacrifice of atonement” for sin (Romans 3:25). The Lord of all creation took on himself the sin of the world and provided salvation for us all!

In Christ Jesus, the righteousness of God—His salvation—was disclosed (Romans 3:21). Were it not for this action, all humankind would be hopelessly alienated from God (Ephesians 1:5-2:10). As it is, all the powers that would separate us from God have been defeated (Colossians 2:15). Now, “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22), we are set free (Romans 8:2)!

The New Testament forms one continuous hymn of praise to the God who lavishes His riches upon us (Ephesians 1:6-10). In Christ all the fullness of God dwelt bodily, and those who receive Christ will come to fullness in Him (Colossians 2:8-15). After examining the benefits of God’s grace, Paul exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). Some of those riches can be identified: forgiveness of sin, the Spirit dwelling in us, formation in Christ’s image, eternal life, peace with God, sanctification, the fellowship of the Church, and hope for the Lord’s return.

When Jesus spoke, what many people heard was indeed “good news,” namely, that God freely reconciles sinners to himself. Even a hated tax collector or a woman caught in adultery, hearing of God’s love, can repent, be forgiven and receive eternal life. God gives himself freely to those who acknowledge their own inability to do anything that would merit His favor (Luke 15).

Long before we become aware of it, the Holy Spirit is at work, attempting to draw us to salvation. The psalmist says there is no place where the voice of God is not heard (Psalm 19:3). Paul tells us that, moment by moment, the whole creation depends upon Christ for its existence (Colossians 1:15-17). John declares that Christ enlightens everyone (John 1:9).

In ways matched only by the creativity and faithfulness of God, the Holy Spirit works in both individual and social histories to open pathways for the gospel. He goes before the explicit proclamation of the Gospel and prepares persons to hear—and hopefully receive—the Good News.

In retrospect, all Christians can trace a pattern by which the Spirit brought them to Christian redemption. We refer to this preparatory dimension of God’s grace as “prevenient grace,” or the grace that goes before.

God is for us. Everything that God accomplished through His Son, He now offers to us through the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the whole creation benefits from the salvation that the Father accomplished in His Son (Romans 8:19-25).

Justification is the name we give to the gracious act by which God actually forgives and reconciles sinners to himself. Justification—being returned to God’s favor—is by grace through faith alone.

Justification is but one dimension of God’s saving work. A second benefit is that the Spirit of God actually indwells the repentant sinner to establish the life of God. He or she is born anew— regenerated—by the Spirit of God. The New Testament calls this new realization of spiritual life a new creation, a new birth, birth from above, eternal life, entrance into the kingdom of God, walking in newness of life, and life in the Spirit.

Whatever the language, by the miracle of divine grace, the Holy Spirit actually takes up residence in the Christian and effects a transformation. Where once there was death, now there is life; peace with God where once there was warfare; hope where once there was despair. The New Testament nnounces: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a).

The New Testament speaks of Christians as being “in Christ” and of Christ as being in them. On the one hand, Christians are now reconciled to God because by faith they are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1), in him who reconciles repentant sinners to the Father.

But the New Testament also speaks of Christ in us as “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Through the Holy Spirit, the resurrected Christ imparts His life—himself—in His people. He abides in them and cultivates within them the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

“But,” many ask, “realistically, what kind of spiritual life can I expect as a Christian? Will not the pull of old sinful habits still set the pattern for my life? Or, does the Spirit of God now within me offer a better life?” The New Testament answers: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead—making him Victor over death, hell, sin and the grave—now works in us by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:19)! Once the old law of sin and death ruled. But now “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

The joyous norm for all Christians is that they be filled with Holy Spirit, that they live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-8). Have you personally experienced in your life the miracle of God’s transforming grace?

“The Miracle of Transforming Grace” essay taken from, The Reflecting God Study Bible® 2000. Bible copyright by The Zondervan Corporation and Essay by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Used by permission of Publisher. All rights reserved.

For more information, please visit: