- Church of God
- I. Variations of the name Church of God are used by many Protestant denominations in the united States, as an expression of their founders' desire to reconstitute the simple church of the New Testament.In the 19th-century United States, many believers began to rebel against the splintering of the Protestant community into a spectrum of sectarian groups, each known for its adherence to a particular doctrine (Reformed) or practice (baptism by immersion) or its allegiance to a particular historical figure (Martin Luther, John Wesley). They wished to return to New Testament simplicity and be known simply as followers of Jesus Christ and a part of his church. The only term they could find in the New Testament was church of God, as in Acts 20:28. Hence, a host of different groups with varied perspectives have taken the name Church of God.Possibly the first to call themselves by that name were the followers of John Winebrenner (1797-1860), a former pastor in the German Reformed Church residing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He began a movement in the 1820s to reinvigorate the Reformed church by adopting many of the new measures, practices at Methodist and Baptist revivals and camp meetings. The first congregation to adopt Winebrenner's lead was formed in 1825. After a scriptural search, they chose the name Church of God to proclaim that all true faithful were members of one church. in the process, they created yet another new denomination, now known as the Churches of God, General Conference.Later in the century, a different group that emerged from the Holiness movement within the Methodist Episcopal Church chose the same name. Though it was led by Daniel Warner (1842-95), a former member of the Winebrenner fellowship, the new fellowship of congregations was not part of Winebrenner's Church of God. The Warner group became known for the location of their headquarters in Anderson, Indiana: Church of God (Ander-son,Indiana). Over the next generation, several other groups followed Warner's example. One small group that spread across Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa and went through several name changes emerged as the Church of God (Holiness).In the 1880s, during a Holiness revival in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, a group led by R. G. Spurling, took the name Church of God. It emerged as a significant pioneering Pentecostal fellowship in the next century and gave birth to many additional groups. It became known as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).The multiplication of church bodies with the same name caused public confusion and legal problems. Quite apart from the Winebrenner, Holiness, and Pentecostal Churches of God, various independent congregations had long used the name, including some who were caught up in the Adventist movement launched by William Miller in the 1830s. In the years following the Great Disappointment (1844) (when Christ failed to return), two fellowships of such churches emerged. One became known as the Church of God General Conference with an additional tag, "of the Abrahamic Faith." The second group, which worshipped on Saturday, became known as the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh-Day).The original Churches of God have given birth to more than 200 Christian denominations, all of which use a variation of the original name, often with the addition of tags referring to their headquarters location or theological uniqueness. Thus today, one will find the Biblical Church of God, the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma), the Original Church of God, the Apostolic Church of God, and the Twentieth Century Church of God, to name a few. Most of these remain relatively small, with membership confined to a few states within the United States, although the Church of God in Christ (a Pentecostal body) has become one of the 10 largest religious bodies in the United States. A few of the older groups have become large international bodies - the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and the Church of God of Prophecy (from the Tennessee group).The motivations behind the name Church of God led many other Protestant groups to adopt variations of the name: Church of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ, Church of the Living God, Assemblies of God, House of God, Christian Church, and so on. The 19th-century Restoration movement associated with evangelists Barton Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell, who all wanted to be known only as Christians, gave rise to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Churches of Christ, and the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.Some of the newer groups have been forced to assume longer, distinguishing names. Possibly the longest is the House of God Which is the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth Without Controversy (Keith Dominion).Further reading:■ J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religion, 7th ed. (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Group, 2002)■ Milburn H. Miller, "Unto the Church of God." (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1968)■ S. G. Yahn, History of the Church of God in North America (Harrisburg, Pa.: Central Publishing House, 1926).II. (Anderson, Indiana)The Church of God with headquarters in Anderson, Indiana, was one of the earliest independent Holiness denominations. It was founded by Daniel Warner (1842-1925), who had been a member of the original Church of God General Council. Warner had come to believe in the holiness experience of sanctification, in which the believer is thought to be made perfect in love. He was expelled from the Church of God General Council and in 1880 founded a new Church of God. It is a noncreedal church distinguished by its Holiness perspective and the practice of foot washing as a third ordinance beside baptism and the Lord's Supper.Warner had a zeal for evangelism and missions, and his church began to sponsor missionaries soon after its formation. The majority went to the Caribbean and Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America. The Church of God also sponsors workers in EGYPT.In line with its noncreedal and antidenomina-tional perspective, there is no formal affiliation. Adherents are assumed to be members if they evidence personal conversion and their life suggests the reality of that conversion experience. As of 2003, the church reports an average weekend attendance in its 2,300 North American congregations of some 235,000 people. The missionary program has planted 7,340 churches in 90 countries with some 750,000 believers in attendance.Further reading:■ Barry L. Callen, ed. The First Century, 2 vols. ((Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1979)■ ----, ed., A Time to Remember: Milestones in the Growth of the Church of God Reformation Movement (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1978)■ Milburn H. Miller, "Unto the Church of God" (Anderson, Ind.: Warner Press, 1968).III. (Cleveland, Tennessee)One of the original Pentecostal churches, the Church of God with headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee, has grown into a large international association of churches with a significant role in the emergence of the global Pentecostal movement. The church traces its beginning to 1886 and the small group that grew up around Baptist minister R. G. Spurling Sr. He wanted to start a movement centered on the holiness of life. Spurling was eventually succeeded by his son, R. G. Spurling Jr. (1858-1935), as leader of the group known as the Christian Union.In the 1890s, three laymen in the union had an experience that they described as similar to that of John Wesley (the founder of Methodism). As a result they began to speak of sanctification as a second work of grace for the believer. This new teaching included an experience of speaking in tongues. A short time later, the group came into contact with an agent of the American Bible Society, Ambrose J. Tomlinson (1865-1943). In 1903, Tomlinson became the pastor of the group, and persuaded them to adopt the name Church of God.By 1908, the church had several congregations; Tomlinson presided at the Cleveland, Tennessee, headquarters. That year, the group encountered G. B. Cashwell (1860-1916), an evangelist who had been introduced to the Pentecostal experience of the Azusa Street revival. Tomlinson received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. over the next year the church followed him. In 1909, he was selected the general overseer of the church, a post he would hold until 1922.The Church of God accepted the Azusa teachings, namely that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was available as a third experience of grace to those who had previously been saved and sanctified. The church also believed in baptism by immersion and practiced foot washing.The Church of God's reach beyond the United States began in 1909 in the Bahamas. After a camp meeting in Florida, where they received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, Rebecca and Edmond S. Barr returned to their native Bahamas to spread the word. From that beginning, the Church of God has grown into a global fellowship that includes work in 161 countries serving some 6 million members. it was a significant force in introducing Pentecostalism to several countries, especially in the Caribbean.A. J. Tomlinson ran the Church of God until 1922, when he was driven from office following charges of financial mismanagement. With his supporters, he organized the Church of God of Prophecy. Following his death, his son Milton Tomlinson (1906-1995) proved an effective leader of the church, while his brother Homer, one of the more colorful characters in the Protestant world, founded another church, which proved less successful. As the church grew, it spawned a variety of new movements, many of which took some form of the name Church of God as their own, but none of which developed an important international ministry.The Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) has a worldwide membership of 5,766,000 members, of whom 850,000 reside in the United States. It actively supports the Pentecostal World Fellowship. In 2003, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) announced a new joint global evangelistic initiative to be untaken with the Church of God of Prophecy.Further reading:■ Charles W. Conn, Like A Mighty Army: A History of the Church of God, definitive edition, 1886-1995 (Cleveland, Tenn.: Pathway Press, 1996)■ R. Hollis Gause, Church of God Polity: With Supplement (Cleveland, Tenn.: Pathway Press, 1985)■ Ray H. Hughes, Church of God Distinctives (Cleveland, Tenn.: Pathway Press, 1989)■ David G. Roebuck, "Restorationism and a Vision for World Harvest: A Brief History of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)." Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research, vol. 5. Available online. URL: http://www. pctii.org/cyberj/index.html■ James L. Slay, This We Believe (Cleveland, Tenn.: Pathway Press, 1963).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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