Q & A: Nazarene History

Q & A: Nazarene History

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Q: What are some similarities between Nazarenes and Pentecostals?

A: Both have their roots in the Holiness revival of the nineteenth century. The Church of the Nazarene is a Wesleyan-holiness denomination. The first wave of Pentecostals emerged from the Wesleyan-holiness revival.

Q: Then why are Nazarenes and Pentecostals different?

A: The Church of the Nazarene was created to embody the theology championed by the National Holiness Association (NHA), which fostered the 19th-century holiness revival. Pentecostals, however, altered that theology and split off into a different trajectory. The NHA and the Church of the Nazarene emphasized holiness of heart and life. Pentecostals shifted the emphasis to ecstatic “gifts of the Spirit” and ecstatic experiences. They insisted that the infilling of the Holy Spirit is witnessed by physical manifestations such as “speaking in tongues.” Nazarenes became a “fruits of the Spirit” people who maintained the Wesleyan standard that the evidence of a Spirit-filled life is found in the inner witness (a clear personal conviction that God works in my life) and the outer witness (a consistent Christian life that others can observe).

Q: Wasn’t our church originally known as the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene?

A: Yes, indeed, but Nazarene founders understood and defined the word “Pentecostal” quite differently than the way it is popularly understood today. By 1870, most Wesleyan-holiness people had embraced the view that one’s experience of entire sanctification was accomplished by the Holy Spirit in a “personal Pentecost,” or filling with the Holy Spirit. In other words, early Nazarenes equated “Pentecostal” and “holiness,” regarding these two words as synonyms.

Modern tongues-speaking Pentecostals, though, equated “Pentecostal” with speaking in unknown tongues and other ecstatic experiences. For a while, Nazarenes contended for their use of the term, but the secular and religious press eventually adopted the Pentecostal movement’s use of it, so Nazarenes bowed to the fact that the term’s popular meaning had changed and they removed it from the church name.

Contrary to some who have falsely taught otherwise, Nazarene founders never sympathized with the unique claims of 20th-century Pentecostals. Nazarene founders in both Texas and California regarded early Pentecostalism as a form of fanaticism.

Q: Where can I read more?

A: You can find two good chapters on Nazarenes and Pentecostals in the second edition of What is a Nazarene? Understanding Our Place in the Religious Community (revised 2013), by Wes Tracy and Stan Ingersol; available from Nazarene Publishing House.

Stan Ingersol is manager of Nazarene Archives.

Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2017