Uniting of Holiness Groups
In the 1890s a new wave of independent holiness entities came into being. These included independent churches, urban missions, rescue homes, and missionary and evangelistic associations. Some of the people involved in these organizations yearned for union into a national holiness church. Out of that impulse the present-day Church of the Nazarene was born.
The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America
On July 21, 1887, the People’s Evangelical Church was organized with 51 members at Providence, Rhode Island, with Fred A. Hillery as pastor. The following year the Mission Church at Lynn, Massachusetts, was organized with C. Howard Davis as pastor. On March 13 and 14, 1890, representatives from these and other independent holiness congregations met at Rock, Massachusetts, and organized the Central Evangelical Holiness Association with churches in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. In 1892, the Central Evangelical Holiness Association ordained Anna S. Hanscombe, believed to be the first of many women ordained to the Christian ministry in the parent bodies of the Church of the Nazarene.
In January 1894, businessman William Howard Hoople founded a Brooklyn mission, reorganized the following May as Utica Avenue Pentecostal Tabernacle. By the end of the following year, Bedford Avenue Pentecostal Church and Emmanuel Pentecostal Tabernacle were also organized. In December 1895, delegates from these three congregations adopted a constitution, a summary of doctrines, and bylaws, forming the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America.
On November 12, 1896, a joint committee of the Central Evangelical Holiness Association and the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America met in Brooklyn and framed a plan of union, retaining the name of the latter for the united body. Prominent workers in this denomination were Hiram F. Reynolds, H. B. Hosley, C. Howard Davis, William Howard Hoople, and, later, E. E. Angell. Some of these were originally lay preachers who were later ordained as ministers by their congregations. This church was decidedly missionary, and under the leadership of Hiram F. Reynolds, missionary secretary, embarked upon an ambitious program of Christian witness to the Cape Verde Islands, India, and other places. The Beulah Christian was published as its official paper.
The Holiness Church of Christ
In July 1894, R. L. Harris organized the New Testament Church of Christ at Milan, Tennessee, shortly before his death. Mary Lee Cagle, widow of R. L. Harris, continued the work and became its most prominent early leader. This church, strictly congregational in polity, spread throughout Arkansas and western Texas, with scattered congregations in Alabama and Missouri. Mary Cagle and a coworker, Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, were ordained in 1899 in the first class of ordinands.
Beginning in 1888, a handful of congregations bearing the name The Holiness Church were organized in Texas by ministers Thomas and Dennis Rogers, who came from California.
In 1901 the first congregation of the Independent Holiness Church was formed at Van Alstyne, Texas, by Charles B. Jernigan. At an early date, James B. Chapman affiliated with this denomination, which prospered and grew rapidly. In time, the congregations led by Dennis Rogers affiliated with the Independent Holiness Church.
In November 1904, representatives of the New Testament Church of Christ and the Independent Holiness Church met at Rising Star, Texas, where they agreed upon principles of union, adopted a Manual, and chose the name Holiness Church of Christ. This union was finalized the following year at a delegated general council held at Pilot Point, Texas. The Holiness Evangel was the church’s official paper. Its other leading ministers included William E. Fisher, J. D. Scott, and J. T. Upchurch. Among its key lay leaders were Edwin H. Sheeks, R. B. Mitchum, and Mrs. Donie Mitchum.
Several leaders of this church were active in the Holiness Association of Texas, a vital interdenominational body that sponsored a college at Peniel, near Greenville, Texas. The association also sponsored the Pentecostal Advocate, the Southwest’s leading holiness paper, which became a Nazarene organ in 1910. E. C. DeJernett, a minister, and C. A. McConnell, a layman, were prominent workers in this organization.
The Church of the Nazarene
In October 1895, Phineas F. Bresee, D.D., and Joseph P. Widney, M.D., with about 100 others, including Alice P. Baldwin, Leslie F. Gay, W. S. and Lucy P. Knott, C. E. McKee, and members of the Bresee and Widney families, organized the Church of the Nazarene at Los Angeles. At the outset they saw this church as the first of a denomination that preached the reality of entire sanctification received through faith in Christ. They held that Christians sanctified by faith should follow Christ’s example and preach the Gospel to the poor. They felt called especially to this work. They believed that unnecessary elegance and adornment of houses of worship did not represent the spirit of Christ but the spirit of the world, and that their expenditures of time and money should be given to Christlike ministries for the salvation of souls and the relief of the needy. They organized the church accordingly. They adopted general rules, a statement of belief, a polity based on a limited superintendency, procedures for the consecration of deaconesses and the ordination of elders, and a ritual. These were published as a Manual beginning in 1898. They published a paper known as The Nazarene and then The Nazarene Messenger. The Church of the Nazarene spread chiefly along the West Coast, with scattered congregations east of the Rocky Mountains as far as Illinois.
Among the ministers who cast their lot with the new church were H. D. Brown, W. E. Shepard, C. W. Ruth, L. B. Kent, Isaiah Reid, J. B. Creighton, C. E. Cornell, Robert Pierce, and W. C. Wilson. Among the first to be ordained by the new church were Joseph P. Widney himself, Elsie and DeLance Wallace, Lucy P. Knott, and E. A. Girvin.
Phineas F. Bresee’s 38 years’ experience as a pastor, superintendent, editor, college board member, and camp meeting preacher in Methodism, and his unique personal magnetism, entered into the ecclesiastical statesmanship that he brought to the merging of the several holiness churches into a national body.
The Year of Uniting: 1907–1908
The Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Holiness Church of Christ were brought into association with one another by C. W. Ruth, assistant general superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene, who had extensive friendships throughout the Wesleyan-holiness movement. Delegates of the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America and the Church of the Nazarene convened in general assembly at Chicago, from October 10 to 17, 1907. The merging groups agreed upon a church government that balanced the need for a superintendency with the independence of local congregations. Superintendents were to foster and care for churches already established and were to organize and encourage the organizing of churches everywhere, but their authority was not to interfere with the independent actions of an organized church. Further, the General Assembly adopted a name for the united body drawn from both organizations: The Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. Phineas F. Bresee and Hiram F. Reynolds were elected general superintendents. A delegation of observers from the Holiness Church of Christ was present and participated in the assembly work.
During the following year, two other accessions occurred. In April 1908 P. F. Bresee organized a congregation of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene at Peniel, Texas, which brought into the church leading figures in the Holiness Association of Texas and paved the way for other members to join. In September, the Pennsylvania Conference of the Holiness Christian Church, after receiving a release from its General Conference, dissolved itself and under the leadership of H. G. Trumbaur united with the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
The second General Assembly of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene met in a joint session with the General Council of the Holiness Church of Christ from October 8 to 14, 1908, at Pilot Point, Texas. The year of uniting ended on Tuesday morning, October 13, when R. B. Mitchum moved and C. W. Ruth seconded the proposition: “That the union of the two churches be now consummated.” Several spoke favorably on the motion. Phineas Bresee had exerted continual effort toward this proposed outcome. At 10:40 a.m., amid great enthusiasm, the motion to unite was adopted by a unanimous rising vote.
Denominational Change of Name
The General Assembly of 1919, in response to memorials from 35 district assemblies, officially changed the name of the organization to Church of the Nazarene because of new meanings that had become associated with the term “Pentecostal.”