Where Nazarenes Fit

by Tim Isbell, September 2019

I am an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene. Occasionally, someone asks where we fit among the Christian traditions. First, I ask if they are familiar with any church. If so, I start there.

Otherwise, I explain that we are a Holiness subgroup within Protestantism.1 Our sister traditions include Christian & Missionary Alliance (CMA), Church of God (Anderson), Free Methodist, Salvation Army, and Wesleyan Methodist.

If they want to go deeper, I walk them through some of the material in the following section. Or, now that I’ve written it, I can give them the link to this webpage.

Nazarene beliefs

Dennis Kinlaw, the author of Let’s Start with Jesus, believes that we can learn only one lesson at a time. Building on this, he explains that scripture alone does not deliver a finalized form of Christian faith. Though it includes all the seeds, at particular times in history, God led people to deeper understandings. We see this “learning one thing at a time” play out in our individual lives and also in the arc of Christian history.

For example, through the 17th century Reformation, we learned that any righteousness we have comes through God’s grace and not through our effort. Despite the sin of rejecting the Creator’s role in our lives, when we confess and commit to following Jesus, God forgives us and declares us righteous on the basis of Jesus’ voluntary death.2 This is a judicial or legal metaphor, which arises out of God’s role as a sovereign and righteous judge.

Then, in the 18th century Holiness Awakening, hearts cried out for a more personal connection with God than pardon could deliver. Instead of starting with the questions of whether God exists, what we can know about him, and how to get on his good side, John Wesley started with Jesus, the extreme instance that God gave us so that we could know him. From there, Wesley and his colleagues worked backward and forward in time.

In the incarnation, they saw that God does not want to stay at a distance from us. He wants to transform ordinary people to become comfortable living in God’s holy presence. He wants to include us in the communion that the three persons of the triune Godhead know between themselves. In short, God wants to grow Christ-like qualities in us so that we can experience life with him.

In my experience, God uses two ways to grow our hearts to beat increasingly like Jesus’ heart. My best understanding of this is in the links in the following two bullets.

  • The first way is a redemptive loop. Scripture illustrates this with the familial metaphor, where the Father adopts into his family whosoever will follow Jesus. Obviously, this metaphor is more personal than the legal metaphor.
  • The second way is even more intimate. God invites “whosoever will” to enter into a romance, akin to a marriage or the relationship between intimate allies. Scripture illustrates this with the nuptial metaphor, which addresses the Father’s eternal purpose of finding a “bride” for his Son. The bride is the church.

The Spirit of God leads many who are not in Holiness churches on this same path to a deep intimacy with the Trinitarian God. Indeed, this intimacy is a live option for everyone. We don’t have to know Christian Holiness terminology to have an intimate relationship with God. But in our Nazarene tradition, we regularly preach and teach this deeper life. Sometimes knowing that such an experience is available helps us move toward it.

A few other notes about Nazarenes

At the end of 2018, there were 2.6 million members in the Church of the Nazarene; 25% across USA and Canada.

Most of us are socially conservative.

Most of our USA churches worship in a contemporary and informal style that includes Bible-based preaching, a worship band with contemporary music, and the other traditional elements of Christian worship.

We are firmly committed to international ministries and our compassion work in 160 world areas.


  1. For a more in-depth look, click on Wikipedia Christian Denominations and browse to the Reformation chart, and look for “Holiness movement.”
  2. See John 14.6-7
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