Historic Christianity and the Wesleyan-Holiness Heritage
One Holy Faith
The Church of the Nazarene, from its beginnings, has confessed itself to be a branch of the “one, holy, universal, and apostolic” church and has sought to be faithful to it. It confesses as its own the history of the people of God recorded in the Old and New Testaments, and that same history as it has extended from the days of the apostles to our own. As its own people, it embraces the people of God through the ages, those redeemed through Jesus Christ in whatever expression of the one church they may be found. It receives the ecumenical creeds of the first five Christian centuries as expressions of its own faith. While the Church of the Nazarene has responded to its special calling to proclaim the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification, it has taken care to retain and nurture identification with the historic church in its preaching of the Word, its administration of the sacraments, its concern to raise up and maintain a ministry that is truly apostolic in faith and practice, and its inculcating of disciplines for Christlike living and service to others.
The Wesleyan Revival
This Christian faith has been mediated to Nazarenes through historical religious currents and particularly through the Wesleyan revival of the 18th century. In the 1730s the broader Evangelical Revival arose in Britain, directed chiefly by John Wesley, his brother Charles, and George Whitefield, clergymen in the Church of England. Through their instrumentality, many other men and women turned from sin and were empowered for the service of God. This movement was characterized by lay preaching, testimony, discipline, and circles of earnest disciples known as “societies,” “classes,” and “bands.” As a movement of spiritual life, its antecedents included German Pietism, typified by Philip Jacob Spener; 17th-century English Puritanism; and a spiritual awakening in New England described by the pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards.
The Wesleyan phase of the great revival was characterized by three theological landmarks: regeneration by grace through faith; Christian perfection, or sanctification, likewise by grace through faith; and the witness of the Spirit to the assurance of grace. Among John Wesley’s distinctive contributions was an emphasis on entire sanctification in this life as God’s gracious provision for the Christian. British Methodism’s early missionary enterprises began disseminating these theological emphases worldwide. In North America, the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1784. Its stated purpose was “to reform the Continent, and to spread scriptural Holiness over these Lands.”
The Holiness Movement of the 19th Century
In the 19th century a renewed emphasis on Christian holiness began in the Eastern United States and spread throughout the nation. Timothy Merritt, Methodist clergyman and founding editor of the Guide to Christian Perfection, was among the leaders of the holiness revival. The central figure of the movement was Phoebe Palmer of New York City, leader of the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness, at which Methodist bishops, educators, and other clergy joined the original group of women in seeking holiness. During four decades, Mrs. Palmer promoted the Methodist phase of the holiness movement through public speaking, writing, and as editor of the influential Guide to Holiness.
The holiness revival spilled outside the bounds of Methodism. Charles G. Finney and Asa Mahan, both of Oberlin College, led the renewed emphasis on holiness in Presbyterian and Congregationalist circles, as did revivalist William Boardman. Baptist evangelist A. B. Earle was among the leaders of the holiness movement within his denomination. Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker and popular holiness revivalist, published The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1875), a classic text in Christian spirituality.
In 1867 Methodist ministers John A. Wood, John Inskip, and others began at Vineland, New Jersey, the first of a long series of national camp meetings. They also organized at that time the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness, commonly known as the National Holiness Association (now the Christian Holiness Partnership). Until the early years of the 20th century, this organization sponsored holiness camp meetings throughout the United States. Local and regional holiness associations also appeared, and a vital holiness press published many periodicals and books.
The witness to Christian holiness played roles of varying significance in the founding of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (1843), the Free Methodist Church (1860), and, in England, the Salvation Army (1865). In the 1880s new distinctively holiness churches sprang into existence, including the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and the Church of God (Holiness). Several older religious traditions were also influenced by the holiness movement, including certain groups of Mennonites, Brethren, and Friends that adopted the Wesleyan-holiness view of entire sanctification. The Brethren in Christ Church and the Evangelical Friends Alliance are examples of this blending of spiritual traditions.