The Old Testament contains many references to altars being erected on locations where God met with man, such as Noah in Genesis 8:20, Abraham in Genesis 27:9, and Moses in Exodus 17:15. At other times, men erected altars at a place where they had a powerful, important meeting with God.
It is in this context that the mountain top altar was built in Fields of the Wood. A.J. Tomlinson, first General Overseer of the Church of God/Church of God of Prophecy, came to this spot on June 13, 1903, to pray. It was here that he met with God about his future and the future of the Church of God.
A great revival took place at the Schearer Schoolhouse in Cherokee Couny, North Carolina in 1896 which caused a major upheaval of the religious order of the day. Traditions and customs were challenged as men like William Martin, Joe M. Tipton, and Milton McNabb preached with anointing the truths from God’s Word. People came from near and far searching for greater knowledge of God. The Holy Ghost began falling on these humble, sincere seekers. The excitement and influence of this revival spread by word of mouth throughout the area, driving people to come from miles away to hear these Christians speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance. As revival fire spread throughout the mountains, skeptics were so agitated that one hundred persecutors including ministers, deacons, stewards, one justice of the peace, a sheriff, and many others tore down and burned the schoolhouse where they were meeting.
The work of reformation and restoration continued with an even greater fervor under this persecution. These early pioneers of the faith persisted in their pursuit of the Word of God. It was during this time that one of the early leaders of the movement, Richard Spurling, called a meeting of these men and women. He presented a bold message which called for total reformation. Those in attendance were moved by his Spirit-filled message and totally endorsed his recommendations.
“As many Christians as are present that are desirous to be free from any man-made creeds and traditions, and are willing to take the New Testament, or the law of Christ, for your only rule of faith and practice; giving each other equal rights and privileges to read and interpret for yourselves as your conscience may dictate, who are willing to sit together as the Church of God to transact business as the same, come forward.”
Eight persons responded and formed the organization called the “Christian Union.” This group never knew great success, but historically, it was the beginning of a movement that now spans the globe.
At the death of Richard Spurling, his son, Richard G. Spurling, became the leader of the organization. In 1902, after many struggles, the organization adopted a plan of church government and began a new church named the “Holiness Church at Camp Creek.” Criticism and unbelief stunted the growth of the church and it seemed to be almost a death struggle to hold the organization together. No membership gains were evidenced that first year.
That same year, two preachers, Ambrose Jessup (A.J.) Tomlinson and J.B. Mitchell, came to western North Carolina distributing Bibles for the American Bible Society. They preached and studied the Word with the people living in the mountains of the region. These men labored under extremely difficult conditions to deliver the Word to the people living throughout the area.
When A.J. Tomlinson became acquainted with the Holiness Church at Camp Creek, he found a group of Christians conscientiously worshiping with the Spirit of God moving freely among them. He immediately detected a close adherence to the teachings of the Word. He found himself returning again and again to worship and study the Word of God with these mountain folks. There was a strong feeling by this group that time should be set aside for study of the Scriptures in an effort to gain greater biblical understanding. A time for study was called for June 13, 1903, in the home of W.F. Bryant.
A.J. Tomlinson spent the night of June 12 in the Bryant home. He awoke early the following morning and climbed to the top of the mountain behind their home to pray. The spot where he prayed is where the Place of Prayer marker now stands. Arising from prayer, he was moved by the Spirit to action. He returned to the Bryant home for the meeting.
Reflecting on that June 13, 1903 meeting, Tomlinson stated, “I learned more about the organization at this time, and when I understood fully that they meant to stand for the whole Bible rightly divided and take the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice, it appealed to me and I became very much interested at once. I poured in the questions and Bible answers were given which perfectly satisfied all of my inquiries. I then said, ‘This means that it is the Church of God.’ To this they assented. Then I ventured to ask if they would be willing to receive me into the church with the understanding that it is the Church of God of the Bible. They were willing and soon proceeded in regular order. I took the obligation with deep sincerity and extreme sacredness never to be forgotten.”
At that June 13 meeting, a careful study of the New Testament order of government was made. A.J. Tomlinson became one of the church’s most formidable leaders, beginning here as pastor. In 1906, Tomlinson became the General Moderator for the Church and the name “Church of God” was officially adopted the following year.