Sunday, December 11, 2005


I have been a member of the Nazarene Church for most of my life, I grew up attending a Nazarene church, I went to a Nazarene College (Northwest Nazarene University), and I married in a Nazarene church to a Nazarene woman by a Nazarene pastor. The only time since I was 4 that I didn't have a connection to the Nazarene church was for about 8 months in late 2004 and early 2005 when we left our Nazarene church for a Methodist church, then I accepted a job offer at the Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City (Home of the Nazarene Theological Seminary, Nazarene World Headquarters, and of course the Publishing House).

All this time, the only explanation I have ever heard for the name "Nazarene" is that Jesus was from Nazareth, therefore a Nazarene, so we use the word. Well, today in church I learned there is much more to it then that.

2000 years ago Nazareth was, how do you say it... the ghetto. It was the "wrong side of the tracks", the bad part of town, where the losers and outcasts hung out. It was odd that Joseph, a descendant of the great King David ended up in Nazareth. Even odder was the idea that this was the hometown of the great King that had come to free his people once and for all.

In the late 1800's when Phineas Bresee and friends were sitting around talking about starting a church, they were contemplating a name for this church. One night Pheneas went to bed thinking and praying about it, the next morning he presented the name "Church of the Nazarene" meaning, church of the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden, the trash of society. He felt this is who Christ ministered to, and who the church should be ministering to.

Never before did I feel so proud of my Nazarene heritage. A church founded on reaching the "least of these", that is a church I want to be a part of. It makes me sad to see so many Nazarene churches abandoning these roots. So many who are not proud of the name "Nazarene". "It's not good marketing, it scares people off", they say as they hide their tradition behind labels like "community church". It is very comfortable for us to hide in our all white, upper middle class Christian country clubs of churches, but Christianity is not supposed to be about comfort. If we get comfortable we are missing the whole point. It is not comfortable sitting in a church surrounded by the poor, the outcast and the "sinners". The reason I think that it's so uncomfortable for us, is that it shows us how much we truly fit right in with that crowed, how we are all really, at our best, the least of these, sinners.

I hope Nazarene churches will learn to re-embrace the name "church of the wrong side of the tracks" and welcome in all the sinners and outcasts to join with the rest of us who are already here, maybe then we will stop pretending we are not.


MattSlawson said...

random the post from a fellow "naz"...I'd agree with everything except that we are sitting amongst sinners. We are commiting just as bad if not even worse a sin as those outside of our walls, by NOT reaching out to them and sitting comfortably, in our "country club"....great post man

J.R. said...

Yeah, maybe it's the way a worded it, but the ending was suppose to get at the fact that we are all indeed the "least of these" in one way or another, and when we can admit that we will be much better off as a church.

Josh said...


I'm a fellow Nazbo out in York, PA.

Been working through the whole idea of what it means to be a follower of Christ and Nazarene too. Appreciate your thoughts here.

Not really sure all the motivation behind people changing their church names, but even if they do, the ultimate concern for all of us is whether or not our lives are patterned after the life of Christ. Some may do it under the guise of "community church" or "nazarene church".

Have you heard of the church in Colorado that is called "Scum of the Earth"? That probably goes with the idea of "church on the wrong side of the tracks."

I like your thoughts, J.R. May we live them out in our own lives and help others do the same.

Josh Kleinfeld

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J.R. said...

The above post was removed because it was addressing something that was removed from this site months ago.

Mamamax said...

Right on JR! Good words, to the point and difficult to live in. I often thought that Nazarene might also refer to the vow of the Nazarite because our guidelines were intended to help us live a holy life unto God in order to serve him. I agree with you that we are all sinners. If sin is defined as how far short we fall of God's perfection how can we think otherwise. Ah but therein lies the debate. I prefer calling myself a sinner to arrogantly asserting that I have no sin. I only have no sin because by God's grace he sees me perfected and not as I am. And yet he does see me as I am and loves me anyway. God is great! We get the Grace and God gets the Glory (Martin Luther)

J.R. said...

Here is the rest of the post that I deleted the other day, this part I wanted to keep but blogger only lets me delete a whole post, not part of it.:

I enjoyed your post on the meaning of Nazarene. While you mentioned the true essence of its name origins, I couldn't help but be concerned with your closing statement, "I hope Nazarene churches will learn to re-embrace the name "church of the wrong side of the tracks" and welcome in all the sinners and outcasts to join with the rest of us who are already here." Again, you must learn not to say such things without anything backing up your statements. This is foundational in debate and critiques. You're generalizing and openly claiming that Nazarene churches aren't seeking those kind of people. Where does this come from? Do you realize how much inner-city missionary work the church of the Nazarene produces within its church walls as well as internationally? Here are just a few organizations that the denomination is has started or is directly involved with: Nazarene Urban Ministries, Assosiation of Gospel Missions, the Urban Missions Awareness Offering, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Bresee Institute for Urban Training, Compassionate Ministries. And if you choose to make such broad claims, please share with us your experience in working with people "on the other side of the tracks", or point out the specific problem with what we're doing. I don't want to be too critical but look at the positive elements of critique. I too am an artist and am very passionate about similar things. You seem very interesting in critique and provoking deeper thinking. My regards to that. But be weary of too much emphasis on "provoking". It will get you no where when no one yearns to follow you. Be a little more careful next time. Good luck with your blog. I'll keep reading.-Terese

In response I want to say all the words in this post where directed not at THE Nazarene church as a whole, if you read closely you will see that I am infact supporting the very idea that THE Nazarene church was named on. My words are directed at a lot of Nazarene congragations that I have attended, known of, or know people who have attended.

jennylou said...

Oi veh! These discussions stress me out. The silly part is that I sincerely believe that we all desire the same thing, that Christ would be glorified in our churches and that everyone would feel welcome--would find a place where they soak up the love of God. I was raised in one of the largest Nazarene congregations. The church offered wonderful services to the poor through a food and clothing ministry but was located in a very rich neighborhood. The general church programs aimed their attention at upper middle class families and my high school youth group had expensive ski trips in addition to our mission trips to the Bahamas. I remember as a child and teenager seeing the beat up cars that came for food during the week and feeling that there was a huge gap between the people the church ministered to physically with food and clothing during the week and the people who arrived in their expensive cars on Sundays. Yes, the financial resources of the church allowed them to have compassionate ministries, and yes they aimed their programs at a demographic (upper middle class) that is in great need of God. But I think we can do so much more in bringing us all together, whatever our economic, social, or racial realities. I think a healthy church is one in which the wealthy and those in need sit and pray with one another on Sunday--one that is sensitive to the economic poor when making decisions about church programs, retreats, decorating, sound systems, etc. so that they are not excluded. I have to applaude my childhood Nazarene church. While I was in high school they began a church in the park where people from our church met with the homeless downtown and celebrated each Sunday.
Terese, I appreciate your comments but they had an edge of threat in them that greatly upset me. Please allow us to discuss and reconsider and grow without the stress of threat. Help us to become better. I was discouraged to see that gossip had reached you regarding previous posts.

Scott Ketchum said...

I think you've pealed a scab back with this one - if we lose sight of our purpose as a body of Christ and become consumed with our entertaining programs and "safe places" at church, we disgrace the ultimate sacrifice God made in giving up His Son. Wrestling with this kind of stuff allows a church to grow beyond generational ideologies. Keep speaking truth in love and giving it rightful scope.

flyseller said...

JR, I am truly sorry for the comments made in the deleted posting. Those words were completely inappropriate and unjust.

My thinking is that they were made by someone who feels threatened by anything that questions or challanges their way of thinking. They probably feel that there is only ONE way - Their Way - to think or believe. How shallow.

God, I am sure, loves them just as much as he loves you or I, and yet he must be incredibly disappointed with their intollerance for opposing or questioning view points.

We serve a wonderful God who loves each one of us - you, me and everyone else. Please keep your blog going and don't change a thing.

Blessings on you!

arj said...


thanks bro for this post, enlightning. I grew up in the Naz church myself and now I am in the Pres Church America. I was just wondering the other day about how Naz's got their name and start. Good stuff. One of my main struggles with the Church i was in growing up was that i heard about grace but didn't see to much of it. Sin was for the people "out there" of course until a marriage exploded or a minister imploded, or whatever. The amazing thing about the gospel is that Jesus came to save the sick the "least of these". People like me. That is good news. Keep on fighting for people like me!!

davin said...

That is interesting. I never knew that.

Ryan Nicholas Danker said...

J.R., Great post! As a member of that blessed denomination that you were a part of for eight months (although like you, raised a Nazarene)I thought your comments were very well-put and appropriate to the discussions going on in various evangelical denominations who are trying to hide from their "brand name" in an attempt to further cater to a society who is afraid of commitment to anything beyond their visual perception. My issue with many of those "community church" designates is that they perpetuate the fear of authority. The church since its very beginning was structured such that oversight was given by others (i.e. bishops) who, although known by the local community, had a broader vision and a larger grasp of what "the church" really was. So not only are those Nazarenes (and other evangelical churches who play this game) who attempt to get rid of their denominational label actually using false advertisement, but, I fear displaying their ideological bent as well. This bent is obviously an isolationist one which in the church is very dangerous. We should be thankful that we are members of Christian denominations that understand the importance of a larger vision, although never forgetting that this larger vision should ultimately seek the true and actual reunification of all Christian churches in a truly universal body to the glory of God.

Dean Cowles said...

Amen to your Nazarene name post. I too was born and bred and married a Nazarene girl. I graduated from NNU in 1980. My dad CS Cowles taught in the religion department for many years. He's now at Point Loma.

I'm president of YouthPartnersNET, formerly Compassion's USA division, and we work with urban churches all over America from many faith traditions. I enjoy reminding folks of our great heritage.

We have an urban church in Denver and they call themselves, "Scum of the Earth Church" no kidding and they are busting out of the walls.

Let's say it like we mean it. Would love to connect with you more. My email is

I get to KC every now and then, my inlaws live there.

Blessings brother.
Dean in Denver - home of the next World Series Champions