Nazarenes don’t have a lot of name-brand recognition in southcentral Pennsylvania, so don’t feel dumb for not knowing.
‘Nazarene’ simply refers to Jesus, who was from Nazareth.
On the Christian family tree, we are the Methodists’ grandkids, and thus the great-grandkids of the Anglican Church of England. Nazarenes don’t see ourselves as ‘the only real Christians’ – we welcome all Christians as our brothers and sisters following Jesus, and we recognize that we are simply one branch of the Christian family tree.
After the American Civil War, there was a movement across the frontier driven by Methodists looking-back to the original writings of their founder, Anglican priest John Wesley. This movement emphasized “loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength,” totally committing ourselves to His ways, and loving “your neighbor as yourself”. (Mark 12: 28-31). These ideas were summed up in the idiom of the day as, among other things, ‘holiness’ and ‘sanctification’.
A typically fervent and active movement of the times, the ‘Holiness movement’ quickly found themselves too constrained in established churches and broke out all over the landscape. The movement grew rapidly and Christians from many branches of the family tree joined up.
The early Nazarenes took seriously a life of compassion to the poor and the down-and-out. In the early 1900s, Nazarenes built orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, rescue missions, churches and colleges all over the place. Our churches ministered to opium addicts, prostitutes, cowboys too habitually drunk to hold a riding job; no one was too broken. Nazarenes worked hard at what we today call ‘social justice’. We sent missionaries all over the world. They were passionate for everyone to know Jesus and His saving, transforming power in our lives.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, did not limit his view of the Christian faith to one particular strand: he embraced insights from Christians who lived throughout the centuries. Since Wesley is one of our ‘touchstone’ theologians, our theology embraces his method: utilizing insight from all across the spectrum of Christian theology. Our official doctrines, written in theological wording, can be seen here (http://www.nazarene.org/ministries/administration/visitorcenter/articles/display.aspx).
Today Nazarenes invest heavily around the world in development work and disaster relief, education, and developing life-giving congregations who transform their communities through God’s Spirit transforming individual lives. You can see more about all of this here (http://www.ncm.org/). The Church of the Nazarene partners with relief agencies around the world to do the most good we can.
We believe that God loves every person in the world, and that only God can bring wholeness to the brokenness of humanity. For more on ‘what we believe’ about God, life and ‘the meaning of it all’ in everyday language see the Pastor’s note ‘What we believe’.
Though these numbers change continually, The Church of the Nazarene has around 25,000 churches in 156 world areas. Our official ‘membership’ number stands at around 2 million, worldwide. The website for our International Headquarters is http://www.nazarene.org/