Written by Stan Ingersol
From his column Past to Present

The Church of the Nazarene is among the denominations dubbed “camp meeting churches” by Melvin Dieter, author of a standard history of the holiness movement.

These bodies—Church of the Nazarene, Pilgrim Holiness, Church of God (Holiness), among others—sprang from the matrix of the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness. A few with different origins were drawn into the Camp Meeting Association, including Free Methodists and Wesleyan Methodists.

A holiness camp under the trees.

The National Holiness Association (NHA), as it was also known, was founded in 1867 after a very successful National Camp Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness at the Methodist camp ground in Vineland, New Jersey. In ensuing years, the NHA fostered camps and conventions across America, as well as local, county, and state holiness associations.

The purpose of holiness revivalism was not the sinner’s conversion, though conversions occurred; rather, the goal was to use traditional modes of revivalism (protracted meetings, camp meetings, the mourner’s bench) and repurpose them to lead Christians into the grace of entire sanctification.

Each regional denomination that united to create the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene sprang from this matrix, and camp meeting origins left a distinct imprint on Nazarene preaching, music, and life.

Hiram Reynolds, the second general superintendent, left parish ministry after a decade to become a full-time revivalist. In both capacities—pastor and evangelist—he regularly participated in holiness camp meetings throughout New England, and was an officer in the Vermont Holiness Association.

The purpose of holiness revivalism… was to lead Christians into the grace of entire sanctification.

In 1895, Reynolds united with the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America (APCA), the Nazarene parent body on the eastern seaboard. He was elected General Missionary Secretary in 1897 and gave oversight to home and foreign missions for the next ten years. He organized the first Nazarene churches in Canada after conducting revivals there. By 1907, the APCA extended from Nova Scotia to Iowa and had missions in India and Cape Verde. His vision for global missions was an outgrowth of his evangelistic ministry.

Pasadena, Calif., Camp Meeting (ca. 1912).
Left to right, seated: E. P. Ellyson and
Phineas Bresee;
standing: Emily Ellyson, Earnest Bresee,
Ada Glidden Bresee, and Sue Bresee.

Phineas Bresee similarly promoted revivals in churches and camps in southern California as a Methodist pastor and district superintendent, and toured the Midwest in 1892, speaking at NHA camp meetings.

Eventually Bresee felt called to create revival-oriented churches among the urban poor. Toward this end, Los Angeles First Church organized in autumn 1895. From the outset, it had a strong revivalistic atmosphere; so strong, in fact, that it eventually alienated Dr. J. P. Widney, the founding co-pastor, who had proposed the name “Church of the Nazarene.” Widney departed in 1898. Bresee remained and gave leadership to an expanding movement.

Revivalism also shaped Nazarenes in the South. “The evangelist controversy” roiled the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in the 1890s. The MEC,S did not recognize the office of evangelist; therefore preachers could not be appointed to the role. Those who persisted left the itinerant (appointive) ministry to be “local preachers,” which gave them lower status in the ministry.

Southern Methodist bishops addressed the evangelist controversy in 1894. Their address deplored “self-styled modern evangelists” who imitated D. L. Moody. The General Conference tightened disciplinary measures, and many evangelists moved from the MEC,S into the independent holiness movement, and later into the Church of the Nazarene.

This group included C. B. Jernigan, Bud Robinson, and R. T. Williams, as well as female evangelists Mary Lee Cagle, Fannie McDowell Hunter, Emma Irick, and others barred from the Methodist ministry because of their gender.

Flyer for a holiness camp (ca. 1900)

The Church of the Nazarene provided a new home for scores of Methodist evangelists. The evangelist became a heroic figure in the Nazarene imagination, and their entrepreneurial spirit influenced several generations.

There was a close link between gospel music and revivalism, and many Nazarenes joyfully participated in the gospel music tradition. Revs. Haldor and Bertha Lillenas founded Lillenas Music Company in 1925. After about 13 years as co-pastors of churches, Bertha became a full-time evangelist and Haldor labored to launch a music company. Nazarene Publishing House purchased their company in 1930, retaining Haldor as its manager. He could compose and edit music while traveling, so the couple continued participating in revivals for many years to come.

John T. Benson, a Nashville layman, also started a gospel music company. To make it profitable, he established a separate business that became one of the great printing firms of the southeastern United States. Benson also published religious literature, but music was his first love and personal passion.

James D. Vaughn established the Vaughn Music Company and settled in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. It published gospel music books, record albums, had a radio station, and sent numerous Vaughn Music Quartets to sing at religious gatherings, including a Nazarene General Assembly. Vaughn was originally a Methodist but swung into the Church of the Nazarene later in life.

Revivalism influenced every aspect of early Nazarene life: preaching, music, district life (through the annual district camp meeting), and in a multitude of other ways.

Stan Ingersol is manager of archives for the Church of the Nazarene.