What is a Nazarene? (http://nazarene.org)
I will answer this question based on a conversation I had recently with a co-worker at my engineering job. He is a Christian and was moving to Woodland from Vancouver and looking for a church in the area to attend. He knows that I am a pastor and asked to have lunch and discuss our church.
He asked me what made the Nazarene church different from other evangelical churches. What is our distinction?
I talked first about being Wesleyan vs. Fundamentalist. One main difference is in our understanding of God. Fundamentalists typically see God as a Judge who is concerned with catching and punishing those who break the laws. Wesleyans see God as more of a loving Father or gracious physician who seeks to heal and restore us our relationship with Him.
Another main difference is our understanding about the inspiration of the Christian scriptures. Fundamentalists tend to take the Bible literally (which begs the question, which translation are they basing the literal interpretations on). Wesleyans see the inspiration of scripture to include God’s activity in human history and the message of salvation which extends to every person throughout history. It is not to be taken as a textbook on science, history, business or any other secular field of study.
Another main difference is our interpretations of Creation and End Times. Regarding Creation, the Fundamentalists would traditionally believe in a young earth and a literal six 24-hour days for its creation. Wesleyans allow a broad interpretation which could include the literal six 24-hour day creation, intelligent design, theistic evolution and most other theories that would claim God as the creator of the universe. The Wesleyans would also put more stock in the findings of biological, physical and geological science. Regarding End Times, the Fundamentalists would have extensive debates on the details of the End Times including the coming of Christ, the tribulation, the millennium, Armageddon, heaven, hell, etc. The Wesleyans would allow a broad interpretation but would not get caught up in precise predictions about how things would happen.
After this brief comparison between Wesleyans and Fundamentalists, I talked about the early formation of the Church of the Nazarene and its focus on the marginalized, poor, addicted and sexual promiscuous (prostitutes and unwed mothers in particular) members of society. I also talked about our commitment to missions and to Christian higher education.
To counter another extreme, I talked about the issue of speaking in tongues. Pentecostals that I have known have tended to believe that “being filled with the Holy Spirit” is evidenced by the speaking of unknown and unlearned languages, especially a private prayer language. Wesleyans would give credence to the Bible references in the New Testament to the early church speaking in tongues but would interpret this as known human languages that the speakers had not learned or words being translated by the Spirit to the ears of the listeners. Wesleyans would not demand this experience as a sign of “sanctification” or “being filled with the Spirit,” but would acknowledge that is still happens today. Wesleyans would emphasize the diversity of spiritual gifts given to the People of God and not single out one as the most important – except for maybe LOVE!
The last piece of my conversation with my coworker dealt with the distinctive belief of holiness denominations that God’s Spirit not only does something for us (regeneration) but also does something in us (sanctification) and through us (service). This work in our hearts, by grace through faith, can take away our leanings toward sinning and disobedience. The Spirit of God aligns us and gives us the capacity to engage with God’s work – bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.
My final thought was that salvation for the Nazarene is not a personal matter that stops with “being saved,” but is the beginning of a life time process of spiritual formation. This is lived out by faith in Christ as we serve others and engage in the Great Commission.