Early in the 20th century there was a man, Dr. Phineas Bresee, who found many of the churches in urban Los Angeles had stopped caring for the most broken people in the city – these were the addicts, the homeless, and the hurting. Dr. Bresee, however, was optimistic about the condition of the city and it’s people because of one thing – the grace of God.
As Nazarenes we believe, like many Christians, that God’s grace is forgiving and saving but that’s not the end of the story. God’s grace is also transforming! Dr. Bresee’s optimism was rooted in the idea that God not only wanted to save people from their sins but also wanted to transform their lives so that they no longer had to live in sin.
So began his mission and subsequently a church in 1908.
Since 1908 the Church of the Nazarene has grown to include 2.15 million members in 159 world areas gathered in over 28,000 churches. Together, we bring healing to the sick, comfort to the lonely, love to the broken, and food to the hungry. Together, we teach so children have a future, prisoners can find hope, and families can be restored. Together, we love the poor with compassion, the oppressed with justice, and the lost with grace.
So where does the name “Nazarene” come from?
Bresee loved a text from John, chapter 2, in the Bible. Here is the story of Jesus, Philip, and Nathanael. One day Jesus bumps into Philip while traveling through Galilee and invited him to follow. Philip, filled with joy that he had found the Messiah, runs off to find his friend Nathanael and invites him to come meet Jesus. Nathanael’s reaction isn’t exactly what Philip was expecting.
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
See Nazareth was where Jesus was from but it was also known as a place of little worth. Nathanael was surprised that something good, Jesus, could come from something thought to be of such little value.
The name, Church of the Nazarene, marks us as a people who come from Jesus but also as a church for “nazarenes” – people for whom no one believes anything good can come from.