The Church of God, a renewal movement that began in 1886, has become a prominent piece of over one-million people’s lives in the United States alone.
In regards to the world in its entirety, the church has accumulated over seven-million members in total, subsequently making it a widely received denomination of Pentecostal Christianity. It has since grown, and has made a variety of international efforts to strive toward more.
The CoG was founded by R.G. Spurling and his father Richard Spurling due to a disagreement in beliefs with their former Baptist denomination; based around a Baptist belief that the only recognizable ministries were those descending from the Baptist church. At the time, there was a standard that they should not be associating with other Christian administrations. There was a mutual belief between founding father and son that Christians should be united rather than divided by creeds with a focus on having liberty in faith, thus sparking a reformation of their own.
As Pentecostalism had its beginnings, there were times when fanaticism took the reigns of other denominations. With instances of this, there was more pressure than ever to organize the Church of God to ensure there was not only consistency, but authority and a level head. This decision came to finality in 1902 with the help of a former Baptist deacon going by the name of William F. Bryant, influencing more growth in the movement in due time.
Eventual Growth (1903)
It wasn’t until 1903 that this Holiness Church at Camp Creek would begin to thrive, spreading onto a national level. With the intervention of a man named Ambrose Tomlinson, a renowned distributor of publishings and guest preacher for varying churches, the Church of God would begin broadening.
Eventually Tomlinson was elected to become the pastor, whereas Bryant and Spurling would begin prioritizing evangelism. This allowed for advancement, where the church began opening new locations in both Tennessee and Georgia.
Leading up to 1907, delegates from four separate locations to form a judicial section of their administration that could discuss their mutual beliefs. It was in 1907, that the name “Church of God” was adopted and Tomlinson became the overseer for their belief.
Azusa Street-Revival (1906 – 1915)
It was during the Azusa Street Revival, led by William J. Seymour, that Pentecostalism began bringing many into its fold, forming beliefs that would later become concrete in their combined faith. Tomlinson and many CoG followers began seeking out baptism under this holiness movement, with Tomlinson being baptised by a Pentecostal leader, Gaston B. Cashwell.
As Cashwell moved South, Tomlinson and the Church of God received the Pentecostal blessing, and the Church has since stood firm in its membership of their denomination.
It would be in 1910, that the oldest Pentecostal publication would be made, dubbed “The Church of God Evangel,” and the church would thrive. From the initial twenty members of the church’s organization, it had now grown to one-thousand and five members by 1910, with thirty-one churches throughout the Southeastern United States.
Separations, Financial Shortfalls and Development
Although the church has since only grown and developed, there were times of doubt and detours that would lead to schisms. In 1923, General Overseer Tomlinson was impeached from his position for the mishandling of finances. There are differing mentions of why this may have been, but it is conclusively stated by the majority that the bookkeeping was too relaxed, and that money had been reappropriated from designated areas to assist struggling pastors and locations.
With his integrity questioned, Tomlinson would eventually form his own denomination known as the Church of God and Prophecy. Despite this, both sides eventually claimed mistakes on how things could’ve been handled. Although they remain separate denominations, they are often supporting one another and continuing to work together to ensure one another thrives.
During a time when another minister implemented snake handling into his church, it was quickly dispelled by the Church of God leadership. Despite this quick dissuasion, it had become a separate entity as well, known as The Church of God with Signs Following.
Though these turbulent times may have proven to be detrimental, the CoG has continued to move forward and separate denominations have worked together to ensure a brighter future for everyone involved.
Modern Existence Differentiation
There are quite a few pieces of the CoG that differentiate them from prior instances of Pentecostalism in spite of its association with Protestantism and Christianity. The focuses lay within a direct involvement with the holy spirit, such as visions and spiritual gifts. More controversially, the gifts pertain to divine healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy. This is exhibited mostly within ministries and can be varying in the degrees of how fervent they can be.
The church holds a Declaration of Faith and Practical Commitments, though their leadership has since placed a more relaxed hold on the Practical Commitments to ensure it could be applicable to those beyond the Southeastern United States’ own cultural beliefs. In tandem with their history, the Declaration of Faith is influenced by Pentecostalism, Evangelical and Protestant beliefs. Some of which pertain to the Father, Son& the Holy Spirit, a premillennial coming of Christ, observing the Lord’s Support and the belief that all have sinned and should subsequently seek repentance under God.
In their practical commitments there are standards to integrity, family, social obligations, temperance, moral purity, modesty and overall setting a proper example as a member of the church. There is a high discipline regarding prayer and devotion, leaning toward showing outright loyalty to God and work.
Structure and Hierarchy
Due to the fact that the Church of God has become an internationally involved administration, there has since been the development of a Hierarchy that would help manage the far-reaching ministries. On a more local level, there are state overseers who assist in ensuring the integrity of their church is upheld. Below them are a number of elected Bishops, brought forth from the varying ministries within the designated state.
It is between the overseer and the local church in who becomes a pastor, where there is a bountiful amount of tools and councils at the pastor’s disposal to ensure the best for their location. Everyone remains informed via conferences, allowing everyone to remain informed along the way.
On a more international level there is a harken back to the judicial branch of the church, nowadays known as the International General Assembly. Within this, the leadership is able to have full authority over the government and principles over the CoG. From there, the General Assembly elects officials to be a part of the International General Council.
The International General Council is composed of the aforementioned officials known as Bishops who work alongside the International Executive Council, who then work on daily operations and supervises the administrations.
Contributions and Development
Throughout the years, the church has taken to starting different projects aimed toward bringing new followers into their denomination. There have been many attempts to create foundations of higher learning throughout the world to some success. Many countries have individual locations, spanning from Cleveland, U.S., to Moscow, Russia and many placed in-between.
As the Church of God was initially founded in the United States, it once had more Bible Colleges, though all but Lee University in Cleveland have since been forced to close due to financial reasons for all but Patten University in California, that was eventually sold to a for-profit company.
In their educational endeavors, they’ve introduced music programs that have proven to be an integral role in the church and some choirs of Lee University have been a part of Presidential Inaugurations.
Altogether the church has spread worldwide and has since been recognized as the 22nd largest religion in the world, hailing to their seven-million followers, nearing fifty five thousand churches and over fourty two thousand ministers. They are set to continue their growth and spread their beliefs further throughout the world.