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Stan Ingersol, denominational archivist for the Church of the Nazarene since 1985, offers six essays on Nazarene origins that will guide the church today. Several of the chapters contain the 2008 Wiley Lectures from Point Loma Nazarene University. Ingersol shows that, though the church has at times been tempted to abandon its historical position as a “believers’ church in the Methodist tradition” (xi), the church remained on mission.

By the late nineteenth century Methodist churches, despite their revival heritages, no longer insisted that one needed to testify to being born again in order to be a member. Methodists grew up in the church, attended Sunday schools and Epworth Leagues, joined the church, participated in class meetings, and even became church leaders without ever sensing the need for a conversion experience. As a result, nominal Christians filled the churches, which meant that the denomination had ceased to be a church of “believers,” leading to Church of the Nazarene founder Phineas Bresee’s desire to “Christianize Christianity” (see p. 112). The Church of the Nazarene required a clear salvation testimony in order for someone to become a member.

The first chapter, “The Trajectory of Nazarene History,” identifies the “vision of the founders” as including unity in holiness, a warm-hearted religion, a “democratic” Methodism, an “apostolic” ministry that included women being ordained and in positions of leadership, a heart for the poor, and a mission to the world. The elements that threatened to pull the church away its mission were fundamentalism, mainstream evangelicalism, and American culture. What expanded the mission of the church was its internationalization.

The second chapter, reprinted from the Wesleyan Theological Journal, deals with the still contentious issue of baptism. Though the Church of the Nazarene insisted on a “saved” membership, unlike most believers’ churches, it did not necessarily practice adult baptism by immersion. Rather, Ingersol shows that early Nazarenes held a great diversity of opinion and practice regarding baptism. Many of our own early members and leaders had been baptized as children and became saved later in life, before praying to be entirely sanctified. Baptismal practices among the constituent groups forming the Church of the Nazarene in 1907 and 1908 varied widely. Until its union with other holiness groups in the South, the New Testament Church of Christ insisted on baptism by pouring (since the Holy Spirit was “outpoured” and water baptism was a physical representation of that which was spiritual). During discussions regarding union among the constituent bodies, such issues as baptism were deemed nonessential in comparison to the importance of forging a believers’ church committed to second-blessing holiness. Through the 1930s general superintendents baptized infants at district assemblies. In no way did this practice discourage celebrations of believer baptisms, whether by sprinkling, pouring, or immersing. That the Nazarenes could rejoice in the diversity of practice of baptism only put more emphasis on the real reasons for the church coming together. “Unity in holiness” overshadowed differences of opinion. Ingersol ends the chapter by quoting from the Life and Work of Mary Lee Cagle, one of the founders of the New Testament Church of Christ, in which she writes of a particular service in New Mexico: “It was one time they baptized every way under the sun—by every mode possible. They dipped—they plunged—they poured—they sprinkled and they baptized babies. It was a time of rejoicing; and the shouts of the redeemed echoed and re-echoed through the hills.”

Chapter 3 deals with the “Stages of Social Ministry” in the Church of the Nazarene, particularly noting that,
tan Ingersol, denominational archivist for the Church of the Nazarene since 1985, offers six essays on Nazarene origins that will guide the church today. Several of the chapters contain the 2008 Wiley Lectures from Point Loma Nazarene University. Ingersol shows that, though the church has at times been tempted to abandon its historical position as a “believers’ church in the Methodist tradition” (xi), the church remained on mission.
By the late nineteenth century Methodist churches, despite their revival heritages, no longer insisted that one needed to testify to being born again in order to be a member. Methodists grew up in the church, attended Sunday schools and Epworth Leagues, joined the church, participated in class meetings, and even became church leaders without ever sensing the need for a conversion experience. As a result, nominal Christians filled the churches, which meant that the denomination had ceased to be a church of “believers,” leading to Church of the Nazarene founder Phineas Bresee’s desire to “Christianize Christianity” (see p. 112). The Church of the Nazarene required a clear salvation testimony in order for someone to become a member.

“Nazarenes and Fundamentalism” constitutes the subject of chapter 4. Fundamentalism threatened to pull the church away from its original mission as a believers’ church in the Methodist tradition. Biblical inerrancy and creationism, championed by militant Calvinists and dispensationalists, swayed many evangelicals in the 1920s. The fundamentalists’ insistence on a pre-millennial second coming of Christ could easily have become part of the church’s identity were it not for such wary leaders as H. Orton Wiley. As well-meaning as were people who tenaciously held fundamentalist opinions in the church, these were not issues over which the Church of the Nazarene had come to be formed. As Ingersol writes, “The Nazarenes were the product of a different movement with a very different core of theological ideas; their spiritual life is the expression of a different essential quality” (84). Again, unity in holiness prevented the denomination from being sidetracked from its primary mission.

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with Nazarene internationalization and organization. While Bresee had been hesitant to enter foreign fields until building up a significant number of “centers of holy fire” in cities at home, his younger colleague H. F. Reynolds supervised the work of the church abroad for two decades and himself traveled the globe to oversee it. (Mary Lou Shea has recently published an excellent biography of Reynolds.) The polity of the church—unique among evangelicals—proceeded upon the premise that the church was global, not national. The center of the Church of the Nazarene was an increasingly international general assembly, rather than national assemblies. Ideally, district superintendents represented the general superintendents, and familiar relations could be maintained among them. However, because language, culture, and geography stood as barriers, missionaries mediated between national districts and general superintendents. Later, regional directors and field strategy coordinators stood in de facto, if not official, authority between the general church and local districts. Ingersol worries that this may unwittingly constitute a form of “neo-colonialism” (107). Nonetheless, as Ingersol notes, communication and transportation in the twenty-first century has made it possible for the church to maintain itself as an international body in a way that it never could have if it expanded greatly in the early twentieth century. As such, the Church of the Nazarene is not unique or separable from the grander sweeps of twenty-first-century global evangelicalism, which has tilted from the West and the North to the East and the South. Ingersol reminds us, however, that the church’s mission to “Christianize Christianity” remains an ongoing task wherever the church is—to call and lead people to “repentance, reformation, sanctification, and integration” (114). Ingersol closes with a lament that the Church of the Nazarene has not been more open to wider dialogue and fellowship with other evangelicals.

Past and Prospect will stimulate pastors and other church leaders to think deeply about the place the Church of the Nazarene occupies in the wider evangelical market. One caution comes to mind: Though it is true that the Church of the Nazarene and its constituent bodies emphasized the necessity of being born again, this must be attached to its primary calling to preach and teach second-blessing holiness. Worth further study is how Pentecostalism has also influenced the identity of the Church of the Nazarene. Certainly Ingersol has interpreted a wealth of historical material that should aid both laypeople and church leaders in understanding the trajectory of Nazarene history into the twenty-first century.


FLOYD T. CUNNINGHAM serves as academic dean and professor of the history of Christianity at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary.