Nazarene identity — The story of a movement
The Christian church, as we know it today, came into being following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This happened in the first half of the first century subsequent to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Within less than 300 years the Christian movement became the most powerful force in the Roman world. In the year 323, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.
In the Middle Ages, several Christian reform movements arose. In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation — led by people like Martin Luther and John Calvin — gave birth to many of the Christian denominations we know today.
In the early 18th century, an Evangelical Revival swept across England. That revival was fueled by evangelist George Whitefield and the ministry of two brothers, John and Charles Wesley. The Wesleys emphasized the possibility of a victorious life through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The preaching, teaching, follow-up work and social ministries of the Wesleys gave birth to the Methodist movement. The historic "golden age" of evangelical Protestantism includes the first 100 years of this movement.
As time passed, the preaching and the teaching of the doctrine of the Spirit-filled life (sometimes called entire sanctification or Christian holiness) began to wane within Methodism in the U.S. and Great Britain. Opposition even developed to those Methodists seeking to maintain a focus on the biblical call to holy living. This resulted in the organization of new denominations including the Wesleyan Methodist and Free Methodist.
About that same time (latter part of the 19th century), a holiness revival spread across the U.S. In addition to Methodists, the revival involved members of many Protestant denominations. Sadly, the holiness movement was not universally popular, and opposition to the message of freedom from sin arose. Such opposition led groupings of holiness people to band together for mutual encouragement. The Church of the Nazarene was born in the context of this banding together of various small associations of local churches that had been formed to preach and teach holiness.
Initially, the "Church of the Nazarene" was a single congregation. That church was organized in Los Angeles, California in 1895 under the leadership of Dr. Phineas F. Bresee. His experience as pastor, educator, evangelist, and presiding elder in the American Methodist church had prepared him well to guide the new group. Within a decade, dozens of churches in the U.S. had been organized under the Nazarene banner. While its initial beginnings were on the West Coast, that new movement soon began reaching toward the heartland of the United States and then to other countries. Dr. Bresee's burning passion was to "spread scriptural holiness" around the world, a passion that has continued to be a driving motivation for the Church of the Nazarene throughout its history.
These independent Wesleyan groups, including Bresee's Nazarene group, began to talk about the need for a more structured and comprehensive fellowship that would unite their forces. Thus, in 1907, a meeting in Chicago between Bresee's group and a similar association from the East Coast led to a merger of the two groups. The following year, at a meeting in north Texas near Pilot Point, a large group from the South joined these other two groups. This latter event — on October 13, 1908 — is celebrated as the official formation of the Church of the Nazarene. Subsequently, other like groups have chosen to come under the Nazarene banner, not only in the United States, but in other parts of the world.
At its official beginning as a national denomination in 1908 the Church of the Nazarene had a little over 200 churches and 10,500 members scattered across the U.S. The Church of the Nazarene now includes congregations in more than 160 countries of the world. The 30,000 Nazarene churches around the world now have a total membership of almost 2.5 million.