The Church of God, with headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee
, United States, is a Pentecostal Christian denomination
. The Church of God's publishing house
is Pathway Press.
R. G. Spurling
(1857–1935), a Missionary Baptist
minister, and his father Richard Spurling
(1810–91), an ordained elder
, rejected some of the views of the Baptists
in his area as not being in accord with New Testament
Christianity. R. G. Spurling disagreed with Landmarkism
, an ecclesiology
which held that only churches descending from churches with Baptist doctrine were true Church and that they should not associate with Christians of other traditions. Spurling felt that there needed to be another reformation of the Church that went beyond the Protestant Reformation
so that Christians would be united together by love and not by creed
s, which he believed divided. As long as something was not contrary to the New Testament, believers should be able to practice their faith in the form they chose.
Even though not intending to form a new church or denomination, their rejection of Landmarkist values placed them in conflict with traditional churches in that area. Within a short period of time it became clear that they would not be allowed to remain as members of their churches. On August 19, 1886, after being barred from his local Baptist church, he and eight others organized the Christian Union at the Barney Creek Meeting House in Monroe County, Tennessee
. They agreed to free themselves from man-made creeds and unite upon the principles of the New Testament. Between 1889 and 1895, Spurling organized three other congregations, all with the name Christian Union and functioning independently under Baptist polity. While this group would later disband and its members return to their original churches, the Church of God traces its origins to this 1886 meeting.
[Church of God]
"A Brief History of the Church of God"
. Accessed June 12, 2011.
In 1896, three Tennessee evangelists (William Martin, Joe M. Tipton, and Milton McNabb) with links to Benjamin H. Irwin's Fire-Baptized Holiness Church
brought the message of entire sanctification
to the western North Carolina
countryside when they held a revival in the Schearer Schoolhouse near Camp Creek in Cherokee County
. A feature of this revival was that some participants, including children, spoke in tongues when they experienced sanctification. This phenomenon caused great excitement and controversy in the community, and leading Baptist and Methodist leaders soon denounced the revival. Several of the worshiper's homes, as well as a provisional meeting house were burned by mobs opposing the new revival.
The worshipers began to meet in the house of William F. Bryant
(1863–1949), a Baptist deacon
prior to his joining the holiness movement, who assumed leadership of the group. R.G. Spurling often worshiped with the small fellowship and was the driving force behind its 1902 decision to organize into a church, called the Holiness Church at Camp Creek. Organization was made necessary because Irwin's more fanatical teachings were influencing the movement, and there was a need for authority to discipline erring members.
Tomlinson era (1903–1923)
It would be Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson
and his organizational skills, however, that would be responsible for the growth of the Camp Creek Holiness Church into a national denomination. A Quaker
for the American Bible Society
, Tomlinson had received the sanctification experience and had connections with Frank Sandford
's Shiloh church in Durham, Maine
. While not an ordained minister, churches often invited him to preach. The church at Camp Creek had known Tomlinson for seven years before they asked him to join their church in 1903. After climbing what is now known as Prayer Mountain in Murphy, North Carolina
, and reportedly being divinely assured that this fledgling church was indeed God's reestablishment of the New Testament church, Tomlinson joined the church and was soon elected its pastor. This allowed Spurling and Bryant to pursue evangelism. Fourteen new members were added to the church in the first year of Tomlinson's pastorate, and other churches were soon established in Georgia and Tennessee.
By 1905, there was a desire for greater organization among the churches. Delegates from four churches met at Camp Creek in January 1906 to conduct the 1st General Assembly of the "Churches of East Tennessee, North Georgia and Western North Carolina". Though the intention was still to avoid the creation of a creed and denomination, the members' consensus on certain endeavors and standards laid the groundwork for the future denomination. The Assembly declared, "We hope and trust that no person or body of people will ever use these minutes, or any part of them, as articles of faith upon which to establish a sect or denomination", and that it was not "a legislative or executive body, judicial only". The 1st Assembly decided that foot washing
was on the same level as the sacrament
and, like other holiness groups, condemned the use of tobacco
. Tomlinson served as moderator and secretary. The name "Church of God" was adopted in 1907, and Tomlinson was elected general overseer in 1909.
[Synan, ''The Holiness–Pentecostal Tradition'', p. 79.]
The Church of God was a part of the holiness movement
and believed in entire sanctification
as a definite experience occurring after salvation. While individuals had spoken in tongues in the 1896 revival, tongues were not understood as the initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit
. As news of the Azusa Street Revival
began to spread and reach the Southeast, Church of God adherents began to seek and obtain Spirit baptism. Tomlinson was one of these seekers. In June 1907, he traveled to Birmingham, Alabama
, to attend a meeting of M. M. Pinson
and Gaston B. Cashwell
. After being baptized in the Spirit at Azusa Street, Cashwell returned to the South spreading the revival and bringing many holiness groups into the Pentecostal fold. Tomlinson invited Cashwell to Cleveland, Tennessee, and it was under Cashwell's preaching that he received the Pentecostal blessing. After Tomlinson's experience, the Church of God would firmly identify as a Pentecostal church.
In 1910, the official publication, ''The Church of God Evangel'', was founded and remains the oldest continuous Pentecostal publication. Growth followed in the years after organization. In 1902, there was one church with 20 members. By 1910, there were 1,005 members in 31 churches throughout the Southeastern United States.
On the church's website, they claim that in 2020, they had 36,000 churches and 7 million members in 178 countries.
The precise legal name of this body is "Church of God". After a protracted court case involving donations intended for the use of its orphanages being received by other groups using the same name, the Supreme Court of Tennessee
determined that it alone was entitled to use the simple name Church of God in 1953. The group however uses Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in order to distinguish it from other bodies that use "Church of God" in their titles.
The Church of God recognizes three ranks of credentialed ministers: exhorter (initial level), ordained minister
(intermediate level), and ordained bishop
(highest level). Exhorters are authorized to preach, serve as evangelists
, and serve as pastor of a church.
[In emergencies, exhorters may be authorized by their state overseer to baptize converts and receive new church members. When serving as pastors, if state laws allow, the exhorter may solemnize marriages. 2012 COG Minutes S58.II, pp. 155.]
Ordained ministers are further authorized to baptize converts, receive new church members, administer sacraments
, solemnize marriages, and establish churches. In addition to the rights and privileges held by exhorters and ordained ministers, ordained bishops are authorized to assist in ordination
ceremonies. State/regional overseers are designated "administrative bishops", International Executive Committee members as "executive bishops", and the general overseer as "presiding bishop
". Women are eligible to be exhorters and ordained ministers. However, only men can become ordained bishops. There are also categories of licensed minister of Christian education and licensed minister of music.
The Church of God is a hierarchical church
with an episcopal polity
[2012 COG Minutes S35.1, p. 115.]
The Church of God's highest judicial body is the International General Assembly.
[2012 COG Minutes S1.IV.A, p. 58.]
This body has "full power and authority to designate the teaching, government, principles, and practices" of the Church of God.
[2012 COG Minutes S3.I.1, pp. 65–67.]
Meeting every two years, the General Assembly's voting membership includes all lay
members and credentialed ministers of the Church of God 16 years of age or older who are present and registered. The General Assembly is responsible for electing the church's executive officers. These are the general overseer, the three assistant general overseers, and the secretary general. In addition, it elects the directors of the church's missionary and Christian education ministries.
[2012 COG Minutes S2.VI.1, pp. 59–61.]
The Church of God operates Lee University
, a Christian Liberal Arts university in Cleveland, Tennessee, established in 1918. In response to the need for a graduate seminary, the Church of God Graduate School of Christian Ministries opened in 1975. Its name was changed to the Church of God Theological Seminary and then again to the Pentecostal Theological Seminary
(PTS) with the hopes of appealing to a broader student base.
*Church of God (Chattanooga)
*Church of God with Signs Following
(org. circa 1922)
*Church of God of Prophecy
*Church of God, House of Prayer
*Church of God (Huntsville, Alabama)
*The Church of God (Jerusalem Acres)
*The Church of God for All Nations
*Church of God (Charleston, Tennessee)
During the latter half of the twentieth century, the Church of God gradually relaxed what they call their "Practical Commitments". These are separate from their Declaration of Faith, which are the biblical beliefs of the church. These practical commitments are the social practices of the church, and originally included "That members dress according to the teachings of the New Testament", "That our members conform to the Scripture relative to outward adornment and to the use of cosmetics, etc. that create an unnatural appearance", as well as other admonitions concerning hair, ornamental jewelry, "mixed swimming", television/movies, dances, and "ungodly amusements". Many of these practical commitments were modified as the church adapted to ministry outside of its southeastern U.S. roots, however the Declaration of Faith has not been modified since its adoption in 1948.
In 2007, the denomination had 6 million members worldwide.
[Eric Patterson, Edmund Rybarczyk, ''The Future of Pentecostalism in the United States'', Lexington Books, USA, 2007, p. 139]
*Charles Paul Conn
– Chancellor of Lee University
*Raymond F. Culpepper
– 1st Assistant General Overseer
*Rufus Hollis Gause
– Distinguished Educator within denomination
*Steven Jack Land
– President of Pentecostal Theological Seminary
*G. Dennis McGuire
– Former General Overseer
*Church of God (Anderson, Indiana)
*Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma)
*Church of God (Huntsville, Alabama)
*The Church of God (Charleston, Tennessee)
*Protestantism in the United States
*List of the largest Protestant bodies
*Christianity in the United States
*Crew, Michael. ''The Church of God: A Social History''. University of Tennessee Press, 1990.
*Conn, Charles W. ''Where the Saints Have Trod: A History of Church of God Missions''. Cleveland: Pathway Press, 1957.
*Robins, R.G. ''Tomlinson. Plainfolk Modernist.'' Oxford: University Press, 2004.
*Official website of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in the PhilippinesOfficial website of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in CanadaOfficial website of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific IslandsOfficial website of the Church of God(Cleveland, Tennessee)in India, Kerala State
Category:Religious organizations established in 1886
Category:Pentecostalism in Tennessee
Category:Pentecostalism in the United States
Category:Church of God denominations
Category:Pentecostal denominations in North America
Category:Christian denominations established in the 19th century
Category:1886 establishments in Tennessee
Category:Members of the National Association of Evangelicals
Category:Evangelical denominations in North America