It is not uncommon for a person to ask me, “What is a Nazarene?"
I will share a few things about who “we” Nazarenes are – that are part of a larger history, of course! These items stand out as personally important to me.
Nazarenes - connection to John Wesley and the Methodist Church:
Nazarenes are an extension of the larger movement of Methodism – that extends back to the influential work of John Wesley and the Methodist movement – including various denominational traditions that have emerged over more than 200 years! There are an estimated 75 million Methodists worldwide.
Nazarenes – who trace a particular theological lineage to John Wesley through the Methodist Church (and social-holiness-revival meetings) are a small denomination that emerged from the larger whole. There are only about 2 million Nazarenes worldwide. (For additional perspective, there are an estimated 100 million Baptists worldwide – an estimated 80 million Anglicans worldwide and an estimated 73 million Lutherans worldwide.)
Nazarenes are just a small drop in the large bucket of Christian denominations!
A few key notes about Nazarene history and distinctive practices that are important to me.
The name Nazarene derives directly from the identity of Jesus, who was from the town of Nazareth. An intentional hope of persons associated with the Church of the Nazarene, was that their ministry would follow in the footsteps of this “original” Nazarene.
Connection to Los Angeles Urban Poor:
The Church of the Nazarene traces direct roots to a movement among Christians in Los Angeles, California. In the Organizing Minutes of the church, October 30th, 1895, denominational leaders declared (in language characteristic of their historical context):
“The field of labor to which we feel especially called is in the neglected quarters of the cities and wherever else may be found waste places and souls seeking pardon and cleansing from sin. This work we aim to do through the agency of city missions, evangelistic services, house-to-house visitation, caring for the poor, comforting the dying. To this end, we strive personally to walk with God and to incite others so to do.”
Connection to Influential Civic and University Thinkers:
This church was led in its birth and through its early years primarily by Phineas F. Bresee, but connected to others, including Joseph Pomeroy Widney. (Widney was the second President of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the founding dean of the USC School of Medicine.)
Bresee and Widney had been Methodists. Both men had been active in “downtown” (a modern term) mission in L.A.. Bresee and Widneay wanted this new church they were founding to be active among the homeless in connecting homeless urban poor with Christian families.
Commitment to Education and Female Leadership:
Bresee, who would stay with the fledging denomination while Widney would return to Methodism, was himself a trustee of USC and an advocate for liberal arts education. Bresee would later become President of a Nazarene college – and it is of interest to me that the first Nazarene college was founded by lay-women – and not by male clergy - and included liberal arts work alongside a separate (but connected) Bible college.
Important Quotes on Mission to the Poor from P.F. Bresee:
The mission of Bresee was at the heart of this denomination – and, is a reason I believe in the mission of the Church of the Nazarene today. Key quotes from P.F. Bresee that motivate my connection to the Church of the Nazarene today include the following:
”Let the Church of the Nazarene be true to its commission; not great and elegant buildings; but to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and wipe away the tears of sorrowing, and gather jewels for His diadem.”
“We were convinced that houses of worship should be plain and cheap, to save from financial burdens, and that everything should say welcome to the poor…”
"We can get along without rich people, but not without preaching the gospel to the poor."
"We want pastors who will go out and find the poor that nobody else cares for."