Church of God of Prophecy

Church of God of Prophecy
Church of God of Prophecy
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Church of God of Prophecy logo
Classification Protestant
Orientation Holiness Pentecostal
Geographical areas Worldwide
Founder A. J. Tomlinson
Origin 1923
Separated from Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)
Members 1,000,000 [1]

The Church of God of Prophecy is a Christian denomination with beliefs and principles similar to Pentecostal Holiness Christian faith. It is one of five Church of God bodies headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee that descended from a small meeting of believers who gathered at the Barney Creek Meeting House near the Tennessee/North Carolina border in 1886.[2]

The Church of God of Prophecy has congregations and missions in over 130 countries, with a membership of over 1,500,000 [1] In 2006, membership in the United States was 84,762 in 1,871 churches.[3] Ministries of the church include homes for children, bible training institutes, youth camps and ministerial aid. The Church operates Fields of the Wood, a Bible theme park and popular tourist attraction, near Murphy, North Carolina.



The church internally refers to itself rch of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)]], there was controversy over which side of the division had the legal right to the name Church of God. This body distinguished itself as Church of God, over which A. J. Tomlinson is General Overseer. In 1952 a judge in Bradley County, Tennessee, ordered that the church add of Prophecy to the name Church of God for use in secular and business affairs, but allowed the use of Church of God for internal use.


Early history

In August 1886, Elder Richard Spurling (1810–1891), an ordained Baptist minister, associated with the Latter Rain movement, rejected the dominant Landmark Baptist views of the church, which he believed were too Creed and exclusive. With seven members from Holly Springs and Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Churches in Monroe County, Tennessee, and Cherokee County, North Carolina, he organized the Christian Union. These Christians hoped to free themselves from man-made creeds and unite on the principles of the New Testament. In September 1886, Spurling's son, Richard Green Spurling (1857–1935), was ordained as pastor of the Christian Union congregation. He also formed two other congregations. The father and son shared a vision to restore the church.

Around 1895, a revival under the preaching of B. H. Irwin swept into the area. Richard G. Spurling accepted Irwin's teachings on holiness, but was wary of the extreme direction in which he felt the movement was headed. But the revival was effective in moving Spurling's group away from the general faith and practice of Baptists and toward that of the Holiness Movement. In 1902, R. G. Spurling influenced a Holiness group led by W. F. Bryant to form the Holiness Church at Camp Creek, North Carolina. Spurling was elected pastor and Bryant was ordained as a deacon. The next year brought into the church an energetic and powerful leader, Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson or A. J. Tomlinson. Tomlinson, a former Quaker, who experienced an inner change of regeneration and sanctification, came in 1899 to the Appalachian region as a missionary. He became acquainted with Spurling and Bryant and caught Spurling's vision of the restoration of the church. He united with the church at Camp Creek on June 13, 1903, and soon became the acknowledged leader. He later reportedly could be heard barking and wailing in prayer as well as other strange and erie manifestations, leading many to believe that we was possessed by a demon.

New churches were organized in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The first annual meeting of all the churches was held in 1906 in Cherokee County, North Carolina, and the name "Church of God" was adopted in 1907. Tomlinson professed a baptism of the Holy Spirit experience in 1908, which firmly established the church as part of the Pentecostal Movement. This took place under the preaching of Gaston B. Cashwell, a minister who was very influential in bringing Pentecostalism to North Carolina, the Appalachians and the east coast. In 1909, Tomlinson was elected General Overseer of the Church of God.

The present day Church of God of Prophecy officially accepts the Bible as God’s Holy Word, inspired, inerrant, and infallible and as the highest authority in matters of faith and practice.[4] This expression, rightly divided, is evidence that the early 20th century organizers of the Church of God of Prophecy were heavily influenced by the works of C. I. Scofield, in particular his writings on dispensationalism.[5]

In 1923, the Church of God was disrupted by matters concerning finance and governance, leading to a division. The largest body resulting from the division exists as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). What is now known as the Church of God of Prophecy was the smaller body and remained under the leadership of Tomlinson. Tomlinson continued as General Overseer over this church until his death in 1943.

The presbytery believed that God directed them to bring the younger son, Milton Ambrose Tomlinson (1906–1995), forward to leadership. This was confirmed by the General Assembly in 1944, and he became the General Overseer of the church. The additional phrase of Prophecy was added to the name on May 2, 1952. Under Milton Tomlinson's leadership, the church began the White Wing Publishing House, White Wing Christian Bookstores, The Voice of Salvation radio and TV programs, and numerous other ministries. In 1961 the publishers at the White Wing Publishing House and Press considered M. A. Tomlinson to be "God's spokesman",[6] a belief which was shared among the church at large. M. A. Tomlinson served as General Overseer until 1990. Past educational institutions (both of which are now defunct), include the Church of God of Prophecy Bible Training Institute, and also Tomlinson College. Both institutions were located in Cleveland, Tennessee.[7]


Homer Aubrey Tomlinson, older brother of Milton, formed a separate denomination, the Church of God (Huntsville, Alabama) under his leadership in 1943–1944. In 1957, Grady R. Kent went out of the Church of God of Prophecy and formed The Church of God of All Nations, which adopted its name in 1958.

When the church elected a new General Overseer in 1990 after the retirement of Milton Tomlinson, the stage was set for another division. A small body left in 1993 after a division in the church led to another church being formed by a group that felt that its congregation was led by God to appoint Robert J. Pruitt as their general overseer. That group, called is commonly known as The Church of God (Charleston, Tennessee).

Recent history

"Exclusivity" has never been an official church teaching. However, some ministers have subscribed to such teachings, and still hold them today, separate from the church's official stance on the subject. The church is working hard to correct the negative impression that this assumption has caused. In 2004, a joint cooperative world evangelism effort began between the Church of God (Cleveland) and the Church of God of Prophecy. This, and other efforts, are steps toward healing the effects of the long-time hurt and mistrust between the two organizations.

In 2006, at the church's bi-annual General Assembly, General Overseer Fred Fisher retired from this leadership role and a new General Overseer was appointed, Randy Howard. After a week long discussion between members at this same General Assembly, the church changed its long-standing interpretation of acceptable reasons for divorce and remarriage. The church agreed that people who had been divorced (for the cause of fornication) and were later remarried may become members of the Church of God of Prophecy. There was an overwhelming majority, made up of several thousand voting members, that voted for the change. Many wishing to conform to the original denomination from which they split and return to the correct ideals they once believed (taking the original name).


From early on, the Church of God of Prophecy has believed its principles are based on the Holy Bible, and continually researches scriptures through various committees. At the Eleventh Annual Assembly in 1915, the General Overseer stated in his annual address, "We do not claim to have reached perfection; we are only searching for it." The following doctrinal insights reflect current findings through the Church of God of Prophecy International Assembly. The leadership acknowledges through various studies and writings that there are human limits of spiritual comprehension. Therefore, the organization continually studies for greater knowledge of God's design for His Church and attempts to better align itself to the New Testament teachings of Christianity in order to continually grow and develop into the "fullness of the stature of Christ".

Henceforth, following each Assembly, the Biblical Doctrine and Polity Committee would be expected to make any further adjustments that would be required in light of this mandate to reflect Assembly decisions.

From its beginnings, the Church of God of Prophecy has asserted that its beliefs are based on "the whole Bible rightly divided."[5] Water baptism by immersion, the Lord's Supper, and feet washing are held to be ordinances of the church. Individuals must profess to be born again in order to become members, as well as maintain a consistent Christian witness. This group does not maintain that an individual must be a member of their specific denomination to be a Christian.

The Church of God of Prophecy is firm in its commitment to orthodox Christian belief. It affirms that there is one God eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It believes in the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His sinless life, the physical miracles He performed, His atoning death upon the Cross, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His personal return in power and glory at His second coming. It professes that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is essential for the salvation of sinful mankind.[citation needed]

It teaches the belief that the sinner is brought to an awareness of the need for salvation through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. It teaches the belief that in sanctification by the blood of Christ, one is made holy. It affirms the present, active ministry of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and by whose indwelling and empowerment that individuals are able to live godly lives and render effective service to God and others. It teaches the oneness and ultimate unity of believers for which our Lord prayed, and that this should be visibly displayed "that the world may know, see, and believe" God’s glory, the coming of His Son, and the great love He has for His people (John 17:20–23). The organization is committed to the sanctity of the marriage bond and the importance of strong, loving Christian families.[citation needed]

The Church teaches (and many members believe) that it embraces all biblical doctrines as taught in the New Testament. The particular interpretation of the teachings (primarily from the New Testament) were originally introduced in a series of 29 sermons delivered on the Voice of Salvation radio program by M. A. Tomlinson, several doctrinal beliefs of the church became summarized by the 29 Prominent Teachings.[6]

  1. Repentance
  2. Justification
  3. Regeneration
  4. Born Again
  5. Sanctification
  6. Holiness
  7. Water Baptism
  8. Baptism With the Holy Ghost
  9. Speaking in Tongues
  10. Full Restoration of the Gifts to the Church
  11. Signs Following Believers
  12. Fruit of the Spirit
  13. Divine Healing
  14. The Lord's Supper
  15. Washing the Saints' Feet
  16. Tithing and Giving
  17. Restitution Where Possible
  18. Pre-Millennial Second Coming of Jesus
  19. Resurrection
  20. Eternal Life for the Righteous
  21. Eternal Punishment for the Wicked
  22. Total abstinence from liquor or strong drink
  23. Against the use of tobacco, opium, morphine, etc.
  24. On Meats and Drinks
  25. On the Sabbath
  26. Adornment (historically Against Wearing Gold for Ornament[6])
  27. Lodge/Secret Society Membership (historically Against Belonging to Lodges[6])
  28. Wholesome Speech of the Believer ([citation needed] not originally listed explicitly[6])
  29. Divorce and Remarriage (historically Against Divorce and Remarriage Evil[6])

In recent years, some of these teachings have fallen out of prominence by its membership and/or have continued to evolve with recent and ongoing studies, some available on their international website concerning: issues of marriage, outward adornment, and total abstinence of strong drink, and use of prescription drugs. Some of these are core doctrinal shifts based on recent studies, and some are changes in common practice among the members.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b About the Church of God of Prophecy
  2. ^ The five Church of God bodies are Church of God (Charleston, Tennessee), whose offices are located in Cleveland, but whose mailing address is Charleston; Church of God (Cleveland); Church of God of Prophecy; The Church of God (Jerusalem Acres); and The Church of God for All Nations
  3. ^ "2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  4. ^ The Beliefs of the Church of God of Prophecy, Church of God of Prophecy website, accessed June 22, 2008
  5. ^ a b Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (1896), 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Basic Bible Beliefs (1961), White Wing Publishing House And Press, "While these doctrinal sermons were written by Bishop Tomlinson, they are not to be considered as reflecting only his opinion. They represent the collective judgments of thousands of dedicated men of God who have sought the guidance of the Spirit for a true interpretation of God's Word. The language is the author's but the truths that language expresses belong to God and all those who sincerely seek his will." 
  7. ^ Hill, Samuel S. (2005). Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Mercer University Press. ISBN 0865547580. 

Further reading

  • R.G. Robins, "A.J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist", New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, Samuel S. Hill, editor
  • Gates Shall Not Prevail, by Raymond A. Carpenter
  • Handbook of Denominations in the United States, by Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood
  • The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, by Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. Van Der Maas
  • The Church of God of Prophecy History & Polity, James Stone

External links

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