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The Church of God of Prophecy (CGP) accepts that its roots are connected to the Historical Church in the New Testament which was formed when Jesus “. . . called unto him whom he would and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3: 13, 14).
The modern history of the church is closely intertwined with several of the major religious movements that have swept across the United States and the world. The church has a rich heritage rooted in the Protestant Reformation, including the efforts of Zwingli, Luther, Calvin and others. More particularly, CGP’s legacy is what is referred to as the “Radical Reformation.” Radical reform groups such as Anabaptists, Mennonites, Baptists, and Quakers, contended that the principal reformers had fallen short of a complete renewal or restoration of God’s church. These radical reformers, in one way or another, determined to fully restore the church on deep spiritual experiences, personal piety, strict moral discipline, and proper biblical models. They sought to emulate the patterns of the church found in the Book of Acts, known practices of the apostolic age, and certain other early developments of the patristic period.
When groups of radical reformers immigrated to America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, their ideas found fertile soil and flourished in the colonies. In America, as elsewhere, they emphasized experiential salvation, God’s love, and practical holiness. Love and holiness were, to them, the hallmarks of the true church, in contrast to the complicated and formal creedal-ism [and its subsequent institutionalism] prevalent in their day. Great revivals, some marked by Pentecostal manifestations, occurred among the radical reform groups, especially the Baptists and followers of George Whitefield and John Wesley. Following in this tradition, the forefathers of the CGP viewed their work as both a continuation and restoration of the Apostolic Church.
In August 1886, Richard G. Spurling (1857-1935) a Baptist minister, and his father Richard Spurling (1810-1891) an ordained Baptist Elder, reacted against the prevailing creedal-ism of their day, understood as inordinate dependence upon the Creeds of Christendom in place of the Scriptures. In their view, this had led to over-organization and the consequent lack of fervent Bible practice among many Baptists. The “Landmark Movement” had permeated Baptist congregations in the southern United States with an exclusivist view of the church, which the Spurlings rejected. Consequently, the Spurlings and seven other individuals came out of the Holly Springs and Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Churches in Monroe County, Tennessee and Cherokee County, North Carolina and organized what they believed to be a true restoration of the Apostolic Church. They called it “Christian Union” and constituted it upon principles comparable to the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. The group agreed to free themselves “from all (man)-made creeds and traditions . . . to take the New Testament, or law of Christ” as their “only rule of faith and practice, giving each other equal rights and privileges to read and interpret for yourselves as your conscience may dictate,” and to “sit together as the Church of God to transact business. . . .” In September of that same year, Elder Spurling ordained his son, R. G. Spurling, to be the pastor, with the consent of the congregation. He later moved on, and by some accounts, returned to the Baptist movement prior to his death in 1891. The younger Spurling, who, it appears, had an enduring passion for the initial vision, carried on Christian Union and succeeded in establishing at least two more congregations even though the initial congregation at Barney Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee, ceased to function. Some of the charter members from the original congregation helped to form the two succeeding congregations, and thus, the original organization was perpetuated.
In 1895, portions of western North and South Carolina, northern Georgia, and southeastern Tennessee, were agitated by the presence of the radical wing of the Holiness Movement. Benjamin Harding Irwin had come from the Midwest and greatly affected the region with his “fire-baptized” message. Spurling’s congregations were swept into this movement, thus moving away from some general characteristics retained from the Baptists, to the tenets of the Holiness Movement. R. G. Spurling himself accepted holiness but endeavored to modify the fanatical extremes toward which Irwin’s Movement tended. Those who experienced “fire-baptisms” were often difficult to manage, and thus, Spurling struggled to maintain control of his followers. In the summer of 1896, in Cherokee County, North Carolina, about 12 miles from Spurling’s congregations in Monroe and Polk Counties in Tennessee, an Irwin-influenced revival broke out. During those meetings, held in the Shearer schoolhouse in Cherokee County, some 130 persons were baptized with the Holy Ghost and spoke in unknown tongues. The principal leaders of this revival were William Martin (a Methodist), and Joseph M. Tipton, Milton McKnabb, and Billy Hamby, all Baptists. Each of these men had been acquainted with Spurling and had been influenced by him.
William F. Bryant, a Baptist lay preacher, was drawn into the Holiness Movement during the above noted revival. Eventually, he became the leader of the group in the Camp Creek area near the same Shearer school house. Several buildings where they had been meeting were demolished, and burned. At one time a group of 106 persons from the surrounding communities were present for the burning of one of the buildings that was deliberately torn down. This group included a justice of the peace, a sheriff, and local religious leaders of at least two denominations. This was an attempt to extinguish the fires of revival which had disturbed the more established churches in the vicinity. Baptist churches in the area excommunicated all those “harboring the modern theory of sanctification,” maintaining that sanctification was a “dangerous heresy.” Persecution, violent at times, continued. The opponents took special advantage of Bryant’s loosely-formed fellowship. Oppression from without, coupled with an internal lack of formal order and discipline, nearly devastated Bryant’s group. By 1902, the faithful but persecuted little band (now meeting in Bryant’s home) had dwindled to no more than 20 persons.
Indeed, had it not been for the wise counsel and influence of R. G. Spurling, Bryant and his company of believers may have vanished from history. But Spurling, who, since 1886, had witnessed his own Christian Union struggle for survival, persuaded Bryant to organize in order for the work to endure. Consequently, on May 15, 1902, the “Holiness Church at Camp Creek” was set in order. Spurling himself was selected by the congregation as pastor, and Bryant was ordained as a deacon. These steps, in their view, made the church permanent. In a real sense, Spurling’s vision for the restoration of God’s Church taking “the New Testament as the only rule of faith and practice,” was perpetuated through this act of organizing. By his presence and leadership, the remnants of Christian Union (1886) were, de facto, absorbed into the Holiness Church at Camp Creek in 1902.
Soon led by an energetic young pastor from Indiana named A.J. Tomlinson, the group was more formally organized in 1903 into the Church of God and relocated its headquarters to neighboring Cleveland, Tennessee the following year. From Appalachia to the World, the century that followed saw great growth in all the branches of this movement. From the beginning, these spiritual pioneers traced their roots to the New Testament church and considered themselves a continuation of the Spirit-filled Christianity exhibited in the book of Acts. This desired connection with early Christian expression continues today with a mandate that all church decisions be committed to prayer and based on scripture. In contemporary theological terms, the Church of God of Prophecy is a Protestant, Evangelical, Wesleyan holiness, Pentecostal movement that believes in man’s freewill regarding salvation.
The Church of God of Prophecy is a vibrant, worldwide body of believers, united in worship, working hand-in-hand to share God’s love and a message of hope to the brokenhearted. The Church of God of Prophecy has over one-and-a-half million members, worshiping in over 10,000 churches or missions in 135 nations of the world. Nearly 90% of our global membership is outside of North America.
From its beginnings, the Church of God of Prophecy has based its beliefs on “the whole Bible rightly divided.”
Frequently Asked Questions
How did you get the name “Church of God of Prophecy?”
The General Assembly of 1907 officially adopted the name Church of God. During the years that followed he disruption within the Church in 1923, much controversy ensued over which group had the legal right to that name. Several protracted, legal proceedings failed to resolve the issue satisfactorily. For several years, we used the name, “Church of God, over which A.J. Tomlinson is General Overseer,” but that did not fully settle the matter. Finally, in 1952, the issue was decided in the Chancery Court of Bradley County, Tennessee, when the judge decreed that the suffix “of Prophecy” be added to our name for use only in secular and business affairs to distinguish our organization from other organizations with similar names. We agreed to the ruling, in order to be in legal compliance, ad we continue to use the name in conducting our external affairs. For internal affairs, government, and worship we normally use our original name, Church of God.
What is the meaning and function of the Church covenant?
The church covenant is the means by which individuals fulfill their desire to become a member of the Church of God of Prophecy. It is a public affirmation of one’s willingness to follow all of the teachings of Christ. Jesus instructed His disciples that they were to fulfill His Great Commission by “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commended you . . .” (Matthew 28:20). The covenant is the means by which individuals acknowledged their personal commitment to the entire Word of God. This obligation, or covenant, is the basis upon which a local church accepts and individual into its fellowship.
What is represented by the Church flag?
The flag of the Church of God of Prophecy came into use in 1933 as an ensign to “…be displayed because of the truth” (Psalm 60:4). Because the Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is “the Truth” (John 14:6), the various designs and colors of the flag represent His character and work—red, His blood; blue, His truth; and white, His purity. The purple scepter, star, and crown all represent His royalty or kingship. As was stated when the flag was introduced, its components “all point to our Christ.”
What is represented in the church logo?
The logo is not a replacement of the church flag, but is an additional image that helps identify our church through digital and print media. As with the church flag, all the aspects of the church logo represent Jesus and our mission as His followers—The Cross and the World, The Church of God of Prophecy is commissioned by the Lord to preach the message of the cross to the entire world; The Red Flame, The message of Christ is to be preached under the anointing of the Holy Ghost fire, letting the people know there is power in the blood; The Blue in the Flame, the truth of God’s Word; The Gold Scepter, Star and Crown, We declare boldly to the world that Jesus is total power and authority; that He is our bright and morning Star; that He is our King of Kings; The White, the blood of Christ washes us white as snow; The Purple, This represents the kingship, royalty and authority of Christ.
Do you hold any other writings to be equal to the Bible?
No. The Church of God of Prophecy believes the Bible, alone, is the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God. Because it is God’s Word, it is the highest authority for belief and practice in all matters of faith.
Do you consider membership in the Church of God of Prophecy necessary to salvation?
No. Salvation comes only by grace through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Membership in the Church of God of Prophecy is extended to those who have already experienced salvation, but becoming a member of the church will not save an individual.
The organizational structure of the Church of God of Prophecy exists and operates at three interdependent levels-international, national/regional/state, and local.
The Local Level
Not only are biblical truths such as repentance, regeneration, sanctification and holiness of life preached, but they are lived out in local churches around the world. The local level is the heartbeat of the church, providing caring congregations in the thousands of cities, towns, and communities around the world where the church’s mission is carried out on a daily basis. These local bodies of believers form the framework within which the church meets its objectives of worship, evangelization, equipping believers, and preparation for Christ’s return.
Local churches are led by a qualified licensed pastor, appointed by the respective overseer who works in cooperation with the local body. The pastor serves as the spiritual and administrative leader of his congregation, and seeks God’s direction for shepherding the flock.
The national / regional / state level provides more focused leadership and support directly within the context of the nations, regions, and states where the church is at work.
The international level of the church organization functions on a worldwide basis and provides a global network of support and interaction for the church’s ministries in all 50 United States and 128 other nations.
The International Assembly
Every two years, leadership and laity from around the world come together to form the International Assembly, the doctrinal decision-making body of the Church.
International Assemblies address ongoing Biblical revelation as well as International practical concerns and provide a vehicle for the movement to corporately receive direction as a church family. This week-long global homecoming, open to all, provides every church member an opportunity to participate with equal voice in business proceedings as well as be enriched by diverse, Spirit-filled ministry from around the world.
At all levels of organization in the church, efforts are being made to retain a dynamic flexibility in order to avoid stagnation. In increasingly complex and ever-changing societies, the ability to remain relevant to people’s needs is dependent upon the ability to respond to societal change in a positive manner without compromising truth. God is dynamic, not static; He is a God who moves and acts in the affairs of mankind. The church is committed to be a mobile and pilgrim people who move when He moves and who stop when He stops, thus, the organizational structures described below are currently serving our mission, but they are subject to review and revision as God’s Holy Spirit may direct.
The Church of God of Prophecy holds the biblical principle of genuine repentance toward God (an individual’s experience of salvation) as its qualification for Church membership in accordance with the early church’s practice and God’s own activity in adding to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13). By genuine repentance is meant Godly sorrow for sin, confessing, turning from, denouncing and forsaking sin, and exercising faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ “who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9, 10). Salvation is both instantaneous (new birth, regeneration) and the all inclusive work of redemption, beginning with regeneration and culminating with the glorified body (Hebrews 9:28). In terms of “being added to the church,” the instantaneous aspect of salvation is evident, and a public commitment (“I will/I do”) to the Church covenant as administered by an authorized Church of God of Prophecy minister, in an appropriate church setting, is necessary. The covenant reads:
Will you sincerely promise in the presence of God and these witnesses that you will accept this Bible as the Word of God, believe and practice its teachings rightly divided—the New Testament as your rule of faith, practice, government, and discipline, and walk in the light to the best of your knowledge and ability?
Membership in the Church denotes acceptance, which is the basic need of every new believer. Ministry leadership and the Church must endeavor to give members this sense of belonging. The Church also advocates that new members be immediately placed in an effective, ongoing, discipleship process by the pastor and local church (Acts 2:42), a process that includes nurturing and discipline, to help them become mature (2 Peter 3:18), discover the spiritual gift or gifts, which will be exercised through them for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians, chapters 12, 13, 14), and to learn to make disciples of others (Matthew 28:19, 20). As we continue in the harvest, a program of extensive discipleship requiring great wisdom and loving care by leadership and people will help all our members mature in Christ.
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