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The Church of the Nazarene is in a "theological crisis," general superintendent Jerry Porter announced five years ago at a global theology conference in Guatemala City. As the 1.5-million member denomination approaches its 100th anniversary next year, leaders are rethinking their central holiness doctrine of entire sanctification.

Some Nazarene theologians dispute Porter's interpretation and say the denomination is rearticulating, not reforming, its beliefs. But other scholars insisted to ct that the crisis persists.

"A lot of the folks who have been around the church awhile thought of themselves as being characterized by things they don't do: You don't smoke, you don't drink, you don't go to dances, and in some parts of the denomination, you don't wear makeup or go to clubs or some parts of society," said Thomas Jay Oord, professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and co-author of Relational Holiness. "That kind of Christianity loses steam really quickly. It's not something you can give your whole life to."

Nazarenes belong to an evangelical church that formed in 1908 when various groups in the holiness movement came together under the leadership of Phineas Bresee, a former Methodist minister. This new denomination, which stemmed largely from Methodism, emphasized entire sanctification as an "act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect." But it hasn't always, if ever, been clear what such a sanctified life should look like.

"[T]he question in the last decades of the 20th century was whether or not the Church of the Nazarene ...

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July 2007

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