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|Church of God In Christ|
|Leader||Charles E. Blake|
|Founder||Charles Harrison Mason|
|Separations||Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A. (separated 1907), General Council of the Assemblies of God (separated 1914), Church of God in Christ, International (separated 1969)|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (August 2012)|
|Church of God In Christ|
|Leader||Charles E. Blake|
|Founder||Charles Harrison Mason|
|Separations||Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A. (separated 1907), General Council of the Assemblies of God (separated 1914), Church of God in Christ, International (separated 1969)|
The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is a Pentecostal Holiness Christian denomination with a predominantly African-American membership. With nearly five million members in the United States and 12,000 congregations, it is the largest Pentecostal church and the fifth largest Christian church in the U.S. Internationally, COGIC can be found in more than 60 nations. Its worldwide membership is estimated to be between six and eight million members. There are more than 15,000 COGIC congregations found throughout the world.
The Church of God in Christ was formed in 1897 by a group of disfellowshiped Baptists, most notably Charles Price Jones (1865–1949) and the founder Charles Harrison Mason (1866–1961). Jones and Mason were licensed Baptist ministers in Mississippi in the 1890s who were disfellowshiped by the local Baptist association for preaching the doctrine of Christian perfection also known as "Holiness." They became associated with a group of men who would become the early African American leaders of the Holiness Movement in the late 19th century.
Holiness was interpreted by many Christian mainline denominations of the late nineteenth century as heresy because proponents of Holiness taught that an individual could be delivered from the practice of sin and live free from sin in this present world through the power of the Holy Spirit. This could only be experienced however, if one had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit which was an experience subsequent to salvation where the believer was cleansed from his or her original sin that had been passed on to all men through Adam. This experience became known as "sanctification." Many revivals were conducted and many new converts testified to being "sanctified," thus being transformed from sinners to "saints." This term "saint" is still used by COGIC faithful when addressing themselves. Jones and Mason began teaching the doctrine of Holiness and Sanctification in their baptist churches. Mason was heavily influenced by the testimony of the African-American Methodist evangelist Amanda Berry Smith who testified that she had been sanctified in the early 1890s. However, once people testified to being "sanctified," many were persecuted and expelled from their mainline churches and began to establish new independent churches. In 1896, Jones and Mason conducted such a revival in Jackson, Mississippi that led to their expulsion from the local baptist association. C. P. Jones led a group of followers from the Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, MS to form the Christ Temple Church. In 1897, C.H. Mason established the St. Paul Church in Lexington, MS which became the first and oldest COGIC congregation in the world.
When the first convocation was held in 1897, the group was originally known simply as the "Church of God." Many Christian groups forming at the time wanted biblical names such as "Church of God, Church of Christ, or Church of the Living God" and rejected terms such as Baptist, Methodist, or Episcopal as not being scriptural names for the church. However, so many new holiness groups were forming and using the name "Church of God," that Mason sought a name to distinguish this Holiness organization from others. Later in 1897, while in Little Rock, AR, Mason believed that God had given him such a name for the group, the "Church of God in Christ" (COGIC). Mason believed that the name taken from 1 Thessalonians 2:14 was divinely revealed and biblically inspired. Mason believed that God said, "If you take the name that I give you, they would never build a building that would hold all those who would come." The group adopted the name and COGIC began to grow throughout the south. C.P Jones was elected the General Overseer, C.H. Mason was selected as Overseer of Tennessee, and J.A. Jeter was selected as Overseer of Arkansas.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, a new doctrine about the "Baptism of the Holy Ghost" was being taught in many Holiness churches. The proponents of the new doctrine taught that when one received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, the recipient would "speak in tongues" as the early Christians did as recorded in the book of Acts. Soon a great revival began in Los Angeles, CA where people were experiencing this phenomenon. In 1906, Mason, Jeter and D.J. Young were appointed as a committee by Jones to investigate reports of this great revival in Los Angeles, CA, that was being led by the itinerant preacher, William J. Seymour. Mason's visit to what was known as the Azusa Street Revival changed the direction of the newly formed Holiness church. During his visit, Mason experienced the Baptism in the Holy Ghost as evidenced by the phenomenon known as "speaking in tongues" according to Acts 2:4. Upon his return to Tennessee from the Azusa Street Revival, Mason began preaching and teaching the Pentecostal message in COGIC congregations. Soon factions developed that split the church into followers of Jones or followers of Mason.
In 1907 at the general convocation held in Jackson, MS, a great debate occurred where Jones and Jeter rejected Mason's teaching on the baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues as the initial evidence. They had been teaching and preaching that "sanctification" was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that tongues could be a sign but not the only sign that one had been baptized. This debate and disagreement resulted in Mason's expulsion and separation from the church. Later that same year, Mason called a meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, and reorganized the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) as a Pentecostal-Holiness body. After years of litigation over the use of the name by the two groups, Mason's group was awarded the original charter. Thus COGIC became the first legally chartered Pentecostal body incorporated in the United States. The segment of believers who continued to follow Jones and Jeter rejecting the new Pentecostal teaching of the baptism of the Holy Ghost continued as a Holiness church and became the [Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A.]in 1915.
The early pioneers of this newly formed Pentecostal body in 1907 were E.R. Driver, J. Bowe, R.R. Booker, R. E. Hart, W. Welsh, A.A. Blackwell, E.M. Blackwell, E.M. Page, R.H.I. Clark, D.J. Young, James Brewer, Daniel Spearman, and J.H. Boone. These elders became the first Pentecostal General Assembly of the Church of God in Christ. They unanimously chose Mason as General Overseer and Chief Apostle. Mason was given authority to establish doctrine, organize auxiliaries and appoint bishops.
After moving to Memphis and establishing it as the headquarters of COGIC, Bishop Mason founded and pastored the Temple COGIC. Bishop Mason established the annual gathering of the saints that became known as the "International Holy Convocation" to be held in Memphis, Tennessee for twenty days beginning on November 25 and concluding on December 14. This time of the year was chosen because most of the saints at this time were farmers and had to harvest their crops. During the Holy Convocation, the saints met for prayer, fasting, preaching, teaching, fellowship and to conduct the business pertaining to the national organization. As the church continued to grow, Bishop Mason established departments and auxiliaries, created dioceses, and appointed overseers throughout the country. Bishop Mason's preaching was very practical and his delivery was spontaneous, often moving from teaching to preaching to singing and praying all in one presentation. However, he is most known for his consistent, disciplined and deliberate prayer life. In fact, COGIC prides itself as a church built on prayer and fasting.
As an apostle of the Pentecostal-Holiness message, he was convinced that "Holiness" would cover the earth. Bishop Mason traveled the length and breadth of the country preaching and establishing COGIC churches. Because COGIC was a legally incorporated religious organization, this gave its credentials a legal recognition that many independent and unaffiliated Pentecostal ministers desired, many joined the organization. It was during these formative years that Mason credentialed both white and African American ministers who would subsequently become leaders within other Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God USA, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and the United Pentecostal Church International. The first General Secretary of COGIC was a white elder named William B. Holt. Many white ministers where licenced and ordained under COGIC through what many considered a "gentleman's agreement." Unfortunately being located primarily in the south, it was difficult for Pentecostals to remain integrated due largely to Jim Crow prohibitions and racial prejudice. When the Assemblies of God was founded in 1914, invitations were sent only to white Pentecostal ministers including 350 white ministers licensed through COGIC. However, Bishop Mason preached at this founding meeting of the Assemblies of God and wished them well in their efforts. Despite this large exodus of white ministers, a number of white ministers and members remained in COGIC until the 1930s. From that point however, COGIC grew primarily as a predominatly African-American church.
The Church of God in Christ began originally in the southern states of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. As African Americans migrated north during the Great Migration, converted members spread the church north and west. In addition to his own efforts, Bishop Mason sent dozens of charismatic preachers and evangelists to major cities and urban areas north and west to spread COGIC including William Roberts (Chicago), O.M. Kelly (New York), O.T. Jones Sr. (Philadelphia), E.R. Driver (Los Angeles) and Samuel Kelsey (Washington, D.C.) From these major cities, COGIC spread throughout the country. In 1926, Mason authorized the church's constitution outlining the bylaws, rules, and regulations of the church. In 1933, Bishop Mason set apart five overseers to the office of bishop in the church. These men became the first five bishops of COGIC. Those consecrated were: Bishop I.S. Stafford, Detroit, Michigan; Bishop E.M. Page, Dallas, Texas; Bishop W.M. Roberts, Chicago, Illinois; Bishop O.T. Jones, Sr., Philadelphia Pennsylvania; and Bishop R.F. Williams, Cleveland, Ohio.
The first national tabernacle was built and completed in 1925. However, this tabernacle was destroyed by fire in 1936. In 1945, Mason dedicated Mason Temple in Memphis as the church's national meeting site. Built in the 1940s during World War II, its construction was a benchmark effort by a group of African-Americans during that period. When completed, the nearly 5000 seat building became the largest church auditorium of any black religious group in America. After his death, Bishop Mason was entombed in Mason Temple, the only person ever so honored in the city of Memphis. The historic church auditorium is the location of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's final message to the world. He delivered his "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech from the pulpit of Mason Temple on April 3, 1968. Mason Temple remained the site of the International Holy Convocation until the mid 1970s when the number of delegates far exceeded capacity.
In 1951, Bishop Mason was nearing 85 years of age. Realizing that he could no longer be as active as he had been, he set up a "special commission" to help with the administration and oversight of the church. On June 5, 1951, Bishop Mason selected Bishop A.B. McEwen, Bishop J.S. Bailey, and Bishop O.M. Kelly as his assistants. On May 19, 1952, he added Bishop J.O. Patterson, Sr. to this commission. Also in 1952, Bishop Mason revised the constitution to determine the leadership and succession of the church after his demise. Three years later on October 12, 1955, three more bishops were added to this group namely: Bishop U.E. Miller, Bishop S. M. Crouch, and Bishop O.T. Jones, Sr. This group became known officially as the Executive Commission and assumed greater control over church affairs until Bishop Mason's death.
The church has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception in 1907 with ten churches. At the time of Bishop Mason's death in 1961, COGIC had spread to every state in the Union and to many foreign countries with a membership of more than 400,000 and more than 4000 churches. The growth of COGIC at the time of Bishop Mason's death gives credence to his untiring efforts to teach and preach the Pentecostal-Holiness message and his exceptional leadership in building a comprehensive organization fulfilling the prophetic vision of COGIC that Holiness would cover the Earth.
Bishop Charles Harrison Mason died on November 17, 1961 at the age of 95. He had led COGIC for 54 years. As founder, Bishop Mason had absolute power and authority over all matters of church polity. After his death, according to the 1952 church constitution, the control of the church reverted to the board of bishops, but the constitution did not specifically outline a clear successor and the powers granted to the leadership after his death. COGIC mourned the loss of Bishop Mason for the period of one year before determining new leadership of the church. Led by Bishop A.B. McEwen, the Executive Board asked the General Assembly to be allowed to continue to function until new leadership had been elected and they agreed. In 1962, Bishops W.G. Shipman, W.W. Wells, L.H. Ford, C.E. Bennett, and J.W. White were added to this board enlarging it to twelve members. In December 1962, Bishop O.T. Jones, Sr of Philadelphia, PA was elected Senior Bishop by the General Assembly.
Bishop Jones was pastor of the Holy Temple COGIC in Philadelphia and jurisdictional bishop of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Jurisdiction. Bishop Jones was the last survivor of the first five original bishops consecrated by Bishop Mason. Bishop Jones, assuming the power of the Senior Bishop was the same as Bishop Mason when he was alive, made decisions and appointments without collaboration and consensus of the Board of Bishops, General Assembly, or the Executive Board. Soon thereafter, disagreement arose over the power and the authority of the Senior Bishop and the power and authority of the Executive Board at the Fifty-Seventh Holy Convocation in 1964. Factions developed and controversy engulfed the fledgling organization as executive and administrative decisions were being made by both the Senior Bishop and the Executive Board often conflicting with one another. In 1966, Bishop Jones was removed from the office of Senior Bishop by the General Assembly for misuse of power and misrepresentation of the office of Senior Bishop, however, he continued to be honored as the "senior" bishop of the church.
In an attempt to regain control of the church, the pro-Jones group led a failed coup attempt during the Fifty-Ninth Holy Convocation in 1966. Suits were filed in the Chancery Court of Shelby County, TN to finally resolve the legitimate authority controversy of COGIC. The court ordered the church to convene a constitutional convention in February 1968. COGIC drafted and approved a new constitution that dissolved the office of the Senior Bishop and the Executive Board and created the office of the Presiding Bishop and a General Board who would be elected every four years to preside over the church. The General Assembly would have the supreme authority over the church to decide matters of faith and practice. On November 14, 1968, the General Assembly of COGIC elected the first General Board and Presiding Bishop of the church.
The question of executive authority and succession for COGIC was finally resolved. Historians will regard the years 1962-1968 as the Dark Period of the church. This "wilderness experience" was evidenced by a polarization of deep-seated opinions, broken spiritual fellowships and friendships, and questionable Christian conduct. Several bishops disagreed with this new structure and severed ties with COGIC to start their own organizations. The most notable rift occurred in 1969 when 14 bishops met in Evanston, IL left COGIC to form the Church of God in Christ, International because they disagreed with the electoral process in selecting the Presiding Bishop. However, in a move that could be only seen as a mark of true humility, Bishop O.T. Jones Sr, did not leave COGIC after losing of his position as Senior Bishop. He remained a jurisdictional bishop until his death in 1972. Despite splits and factions, COGIC continued to grow. In 1973, the church claimed a worldwide membership of nearly three million. In fact, many bishops, ministers, and members that left COGIC during the Dark Period returned in later years. COGIC had endured a season of tests and trials during the Dark Period, but was now positioned to triumph under the visionary leadership of the newly elected Presiding Bishop.
Bishop James Oglethorpe Patterson, Sr. was elected as the first Presiding Bishop of the church by the General Assembly at the Sixty-First Holy Convocation of the church in November 1968; Bishop J.O. Patterson was the son-in-law of Bishop Mason, he was married to Deborah Indiana Mason. He had served the church previously as a member of the Executive Board and served as the Executive Secretary of the Church. Bishop Patterson pastored the Pentecostal Temple Institutional COGIC in Memphis, TN, and was the presiding prelate of the Tennessee Headquarters Jurisdiction. Under his unparalleled leadership and guidance, the creation of a greater and well defined ecclesiastical organization came into being. Bishop J.O. Patterson institutionalized the international church establishing protocols of worship, policy, practice, and procedure with a new constitution and official manual completed in 1973. During his tenure, COGIC became a major force in the collective Black Church and the worldwide Pentecostal movement. COGIC enjoyed tremendous growth and recognition in many areas becoming one of the fastest growing and largest religious groups in the United States.
Bishop J.O. Patterson's achievements as Presiding Bishop include the establishment of the Charles Harrison Mason Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia; the C. H. Mason System of Bible Colleges; the J. O. Patterson Fine Arts Department; the Historical Museum and Fine Arts Center and organizer of the Charles Harrison Mason Foundation and the Presiding Bishop's Benefit Fund which provides scholarships to deserving youth. Other ministries brought about under his leadership include the COGIC Bookstore and the COGIC Publishing House. In 1982, he led COGIC in its diamond jubilee celebration of the International Holy Convocation. He was the founder and President of the World Fellowship of Black Pentecostal Churches and forged COGIC's membership in the Congress of National Black Churches. His ultimate dream was to establish and international ministry complex known as "Saints Center" and a fully accredited institution known as "All Saints University," but unfortunately they never materialized. His initiatives allowed the church's growth to exceed four million in the fifty states and 47 foreign countries and 10,000 churches at the time of his death in 1989. Subsequently, he was elected four times uncontested and during his twenty-one year tenure as Presiding Bishop, he consecrated and appointed in excess of 100 bishops.
Bishop Louis Henry Ford of Chicago, IL, was elected and assumed leadership of the church after the death of Bishop J.O. Patterson, Sr. in 1990. Bishop Ford pastored the St. Paul COGIC in Chicago, IL and was the presiding prelate of the Historic Illinois First Jurisdiction. A son of the ministry of Bishop Mason, Bishop Ford dedicated himself to returning COGIC to its emphasis on basic "Holiness". He was very critical of the use of "high church" liturgy, vestments, and modernity that had been introduced to the church by Bishop Patterson. He dedicated his efforts to reminding the saints about the sacrifices of the pioneers of COGIC and challenged COGIC to remain true to its spiritual foundation. He reopened Saints Academy and College and constructed the multi-million dollar Deborah Mason Patterson Hall in Lexington, MS and renovated the national properties in Memphis including Mason Temple. Although very practical in his theology, Bishop Ford was a strong advocate for social justice. He was first thrusted onto the national scene after the horrific death of Emmett Till. Bishop Ford officiated the funeral and gave the eulogy for Emmett Till at Robert's Temple COGIC in 1955. Locally in Chicago, he organized voter registration initiatives and protested against lodging segregation in Memphis during the holy convocations during the Civil Rights era. Bishop Ford is most notably credited with bringing President Bill Clinton, who was a personal friend and the only U.S. president to ever physically address COGIC at Mason Temple, during the Eighty-Sixth International Holy Convocation on November 13, 1993. 
Bishop Chandler David Owens was groomed for leadership of COGIC and was elected after the death of Bishop Ford in 1995, he became the Presiding Bishop. Bishop Owens gained national attention in the church as the President of the Youth Department. Bishop Owens was a noted evangelist of the church and pastored several churches including: Bostick Temple in St. Louis, MO; Well's Cathedral COGIC in Newark, NJ; and Greater Community COGIC in Marietta, GA. He also served as the presiding prelate of the New Jersey Garden State Jurisdiction and the Central Georgia Jurisdiction. Known for his eloquent and extensive vocabulary, astute entrepreneural skills, and organizational leadership, Bishop Owens led COGIC in its centennial celebration in 1997 with the theme, "Holiness, a Proven Foundation for a Promising Future!' He is credited with systematically restructuring church departments and ministries, expanding the church in Asia primarily India and the Philippines, and placing COGIC on a firm financial status. Bishop Owens had outlined a progressive plan to positon COGIC for ministry in the 21st Century known as "Vision 2000 and Beyond." In a unique and unusual move however, Bishop Owens became the only sitting leader of the church to be removed from the office of Presiding Bishop through the electoral process. In 2000, at the Ninety-Third International Holy Convocation, the General Assembly voted Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson as the new Presiding Bishop of COGIC. Bishop Owens continued to serve as a jurisdictional bishop and member of the General Board until his death in 2011.
Bishop Gilbert Earl (G.E.) Patterson re-ignited the presence of COGIC as the flagship Pentecostal church in the United States. G.E. Patterson was the nephew of J.O. Patterson, Sr. He began his ministerial career as co-pastor of the Holy Temple COGIC with his father, Bishop W.A. Patterson. In 1975, he resigned as co-pastor of the Holy Temple and withdrew his membership in COGIC because he disagreed with Bishop J.O. Patterson, the presiding bishop at that time, over the bishopric in Memphis. He established the Temple of Deliverance, the Cathedral of Bountiful Blessing, which grew to become the largest Pentecostal church in Memphis. In 1988, after a thirteen year exodus from COGIC, Bishop G.E. Patterson returned as the founding prelate of the newly formed Tennessee Fourth Jurisdiction. As pastor of a mega-church, the 14,000 Temple of Deliverance COGIC in Memphis, TN, and world renowned tele-evangelist, he is credited with making COGIC and the COGIC brand inclusive. Bishop Patterson was able to bridge denominational barriers and encourage non-COGIC ministries to work together in ecumenical pursuits. As a preacher par excellence, he refocused COGIC in its Pentecostal-Holiness message and witness throughout the world with sound and dynamic preaching and biblical expository teaching. An evangelist at heart, he preached and encouraged the church to remember its spiritual foundation of the past but also to embrace wholistic ministry for the future. A humanitarian and philanthropist, he established COGIC Charities which has provided thousands of dollars in college scholarships and physical and financial assistance in times of disaster such as Hurricane Katrina and Rita. His untimely death in March 2007 left a great void in the church, but COGIC has continued to move forward and prosper under the capable and visionary leadership of its current leader, Bishop Charles E. Blake.
Bishop Charles E Blake assumed leadership and was elected Presiding Bishop of the church after the death of Bishop G.E. Patterson. Bishop Blake is the senior pastor of the famed West Angeles Cathedral COGIC in Los Angeles, CA. For many years, West Angeles has been one of the fastest growing churches in the United States and remains the largest COGIC local congregation with a membership of 25,000. He also served as the presiding prelate of the First Jurisdiction of Southern California. Taking the helm during a time of sorrow, transiton, and celebration, Bishop Blake reverently led COGIC through the death of Bishop G.E. Patterson in March 2007, while at the same time prepared the church for its 100th Holy Convocation, an important milestone for the church. An estimated 70,000 "saints" convened in Memphis to celebrate the centennial celebration in November 2007. A progressive and visionary leader, Bishop Blake is leading COGIC to become a greater global ministry primarily in Africa and Latin America while at the same time investing in the inner city where many COGIC congregations are located. Internationally acclaimed as well, Bishop Blake is known for his aggressive initiative, "Save Africa's Children" which supports hundreds of African children who have been affected by HIV/AIDS in orphanages in several countries in Africa. In 2009, Bishop Blake unveiled an aggressive program known as "Urban Initiatives" to address the plight of the America's urban areas. In 2010, Bishop Blake led the church in another giant step. For the first time since the establishment of COGIC, due to its size and growth to more than 50,000 delegates, the 103rd International Holy Convocation met outside of Memphis, TN in the city of St. Louis, MO.
In recent years, COGIC, the Assemblies of God, and other Pentecostal denominations and ministries have dedicated themselves to reconciling and healing the vestiges of racism within Pentecostalism, which separated on racial lines in 1914, by working together in common ministries. Two signs of this reconciliation and healing are the 1994 Memphis Miracle and the School of Urban Missions of Oakland, California operated jointly by both denominations. In 1994, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) was formed after the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA) was dissolved. The PFNA was originally formed in 1948 and only included white Pentecostal denominations excluding COGIC and other non-white churches. At this meeting, held in Memphis, headquarters for COGIC, the PCCNA was formed as an inclusive organization including all the major Pentecostal groups in North America regardless of race. Since its creation, the PCCNA has had a co-chair leadership, one of which has always been a COGIC bishop, usually a member of the General Board, and the other from one of the member organizations of the now defunct PFNA.
The Church of God in Christ is a trinitarian Pentecostal-Holiness denomination. The church believes that there are three works of grace (salvation, sanctification, spirit baptism) that God bestows on believers often testified by many COGIC saints in this affirmation, "I am saved, sanctified, baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost." The church believes that the Bible "contains one harmonious and sufficiently complete system of doctrine" and is the inspired Word of God. The church believes that "man is saved by confessing and forsaking his sins, and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ". The church believes that sanctification and the baptism in the Holy Spirit are subsequent, distinct, and separate experiences to the new birth. As a Holiness church of the Wesleyan tradition, COGIC believes that Sanctification is "that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Ghost, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God and enables him to perform good works". The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience distinct from and subsequent to conversion and sanctification that empowers and equips the believer to live a life of holiness. As a Pentecostal church, COGIC believes that Speaking in tongues is the consequence of Spirit baptism and is given to believers who ask for it. The church believes in the visible Second Coming of Christ. The church believes in divine healing, however, it does not advocate the exclusion of medical supervision. It believes that the gifts of the spirit are given to believers and are active in the church today. The ordinances of the church are water baptism by immersion, the Lord's Supper and foot washing.
COGIC is considered to be a part of the Protestant branch of Christianity, although it is arguable and can be debated whether Pentecostals should be considered Protestants at all since Pentecostals as an organized group did not emerge out of a rejection of Catholicism. However, COGIC teaches and preaches 10 major doctrines of Christianity that include:
As a classical Pentecostal church, COGIC embraced, enhanced and developed many spiritual and cultural distinctives that made its worship, practice, and witness unique. However, as Pentecostalism has become more mainstreamed and accepted as orthodox Christianity, many mainline denominations and countless churches that once rejected Pentecostalism have adpoted and embraced these distinctives in their worship and liturgy. These distinctives include the prayer tradition, tarrying, fasting, congregational singing, testifying and testimony service, praise service, and consecrations. These distinctives were implemented during the formative stages of the church and continue to be utilized by many COGIC congregations around the world.
According to the 1973 Constitution of the Church of God in Christ, the church has two structures to govern the church: civil and ecclesiastical. The civil structure of the Church of God in Christ includes a President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, General Secretary, General Treasurer, and the Financial Secretary. All officers are elected by the General Assembly. The General Secretary, General Treasurer, and Financial Secretary terms run concurrent with the current presidential administration that is elected every four years.
The legislative authority of the church is vested in a General Assembly. The General Assembly is composed of the members of the General Board, ordained and/or credentialed pastors, elders, jurisdictional/auxiliary bishops, jurisdictional supervisors, and four district missionaries and one lay member from each jurisdiction. The General Assembly elects a 12-person General Board (Presidium) every four years from the college of bishops who serve functionally as apostles of the church. The General Assembly meets biannually each year in April and November. The Presidium oversees the operation of the international church when the General Assembly is not in session. The Presidium includes a separately elected International Presiding Bishop by the General Assembly who serves a term of four years who then appoints two assistant presiding bishops. The current Presiding Bishop and Chief Apostle is Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. National officers of the church are chosen at the General Assembly every four years unless special elections are warranted.
In addition to the General Board, there is a Board of Bishops, a National Trustee Board, Judiciary Board, Council of Pastors and Elders, and various departments and auxiliaries united collectively under an umbrella organization known as Auxiliaries in Ministry (AIM).
Ecclesiastically, the Church of God in Christ has an episcopal form of government where churches are organized in dioceses called jurisdictions each under the authority of a bishop. Generally, jurisdictions range in size between 30 to 100 churches. Each state in the US has at least one jurisdiction and several states have more than one jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions are specific to region, for example: Northern California or Northeast Michigan, while others are without respect to geography and may include churches from neighboring states. There are more than 200 ecclesiastical jurisdictions around the world including more than 170 in the United States alone. Jurisdictions are set up similar to the International/General Church in terms of composition, polity, and procedure with minor adjustments due to size, location, and discretion of the individual jurisdictions. Jurisdictions can be divided further into districts depending upon its size and number of local congregations. Typically districts comprise three to ten local congregations. Districts are usually under the authority of a district superintendent.
During the formative stages of COGIC, Bishop Mason organized departments to further support the work of the church as it continued to grow and expand. These departments include: the Sunday School Department, the Women's Department, the Youth Department known as Y.P.W.W. (Young People Willing Workers), and Missions and Evangelism. As COGIC has continued to grow, new departments, auxiliaries, and ministries have been established including the Adjutancy, Men's Department, COGIC Charities, and Urban Initiatives to name a few. These auxiliaries are found in nearly every church, district, and jurisdiction within COGIC and function to support the wholistic approach that COGIC has toward ministry within the church and the larger community that COGIC congregations serve.
The first Sunday School Superintendent was Professor L. W. Lee (1908–1916). In 1924, the Sunday School was more formally organized under Father F.C. Christmas (1916–1944) who provided Sunday school curriculum and guides (quarterlies) for the congregations. After building the Sunday School Department in every state, an assistant was needed. Elder L. C. Patrick was added to the National Sunday School. In 1945, Bishop S. Crouch of the Northern California Jurisdiction appointed Elder H. C. Johnson as State Sunday School Superintendent, He in turn appointed Missionary Lucille Cornelius to be his Chairlady, the first woman to work with the women in the Sunday School Department. Mother Jones of Arkansas became the first National Field Representative under Bishop Patrick. Unique to COGIC was the creation of the Sunday School Field Representative. This office is reserved for a woman who serves as counterpart to the Sunday school superintendent who is usually a man. These offices are found in every local, district, and jurisdiction to support to development and growth of the Sunday school. In 1946, the National Sunday School Congress began to meet with the YPWW Congress. In 1951, the first separate National Sunday School Convention convened in Kansas City. Missouri. The current International Sunday School Superintendent is Bishop Alton Gatlin of Crowley, LA and the International Field Representative in Mother Georgia Macklin Lowe of Memphis, TN.
The largest department in COGIC is the Women's Department. Women in COGIC have been influential in the leadership and organization of the church since its inception. The church believes that women are gifted and called to ministry; it does not, however, officially ordain women to the office of elder, pastor, or bishop. In 1911, Bishop Mason though opposed to the ordination of women, established a unique and complementary ministry to promote the work of women in the church. Historically, women in ministry in COGIC are known as missionaries and are designated in two categories— Deaconess Missionary and Evangelist Missionary. Deaconess Missionaries serve and assist in the ceremonial and temporal affairs of the local church. Evangelist Missionaries are licensed to teach the gospel, conduct gospel meetings, and may be given the oversight of local congregations serving as the church administrator.
A General Supervisor of Women is appointed by the Presiding Bishop and given authority to lead the International Women's Ministry of the church. Each jurisdictional bishop appoints a jurisdictional supervisor to lead the work of the women on a jurisdictional level. The jurisdictional supervisor is assisted by district missionaries who oversee the women's ministry of the district. Recognizing the call of women to the ministry, COGIC has created numerous positions that allow women to work as counterparts to the department presidents as chairladies (YPWW) and Elect ladies (Evangelism). On the local church level, COGIC developed and has maintained the position of the "church mother." Church mothers have historically served as the leader of the women's ministries in the local congregations. The designated church mother along with other "older and seasoned" women of the church provided the practical teaching of holiness in daily life and practice. Today however, many church mothers have been reserved to titular positions as many pastor's wives have assumed the role of leader of women's ministries in local congregations. Despite what seems to be obvious limitations to minister because of ordination, women have been given great latitude and numerous opportunities to serve in ministry in COGIC. As a result, many local congregations, foreign missions, and schools were established and through the leadership and efforts of women in COGIC.
Lizzie Woods Robinson (1911–1945) was the first "General Mother" of the church. Finding two groups of women in the church, one group praying known as the Prayer Band, the other group studying and teaching the Word known as the Bible Band, she combined the two under the name of the Prayer and Bible Band. She organized the sewing circle and after meeting Elder Searcy, she encouraged the women to support mission work through the Home and Foreign Mission bands. As the church continued to grow, she began state organizations and appointed the first state mothers. Mother Robinson was a staunch advocate for holiness and taught strict guidelines for the women with regard to dress and worldliness. She was greatly interested in the building of Mason Temple and she kept her national building fund drives functioning until she knew the building was ready for dedication. When she died in 1945, she had laid an impressive foundation for the women's ministry in COGIC.
Her successor, Lillian Brooks Coffey (1945–1964) was the organizer of the Women's International Convention. The first Women's Convention was held in Los Angeles, CA, in 1951. Today the International Women's Convention/Crusade meets annually in May in various cities throughout the nation drawing thousands of women from around the world. Mother Coffey was a child convert to COGIC under the preaching of Bishop Mason. Mother Coffey was also most influential in organizing many of the auxiliaries, bands, and units that exist within the COGIC Women's Department today. The most active women's auxiliaries include: Prayer and Bible Band, Christian Women's Council, Home and Foreign Mission Bands, Young Women's Christian Council, Purity Class and the Sunshine Band. Mother Coffey also began the use of the title "Jurisdictional Supervisor" for state mothers as more jurisdictions were forming in each state.
After the passing of Mother Coffey in 1964, Dr. Annie L. Bailey (1964–1975) became the third General Supervisor. Mother Bailey was the wife and companion of Bishop John Seth Bailey, a trusted advisor of Bishop Mason and later the first assistant presiding bishop of the church. Mother Bailey along with her husband, modeled the pastor and wife ministry team in COGIC. She led the International Women's Convention in becoming a training institute for women in the ministry. She served as the jurisidictional supervisor of several states helping to establish and stabilize struggling jurisdictions.
Dr. Mattie McGlothen (1975–1994) the fourth General Supervisor, was a tremendous organizer and had a great impact on the development of the Women's Department as well. She established new auxiliaries for the department including the International Hospitality Unit, the Educational and Bishop's Wives Scholarship funds, the We 12 and Lavendar Ladies to name a few. Internationally she built a home for missionaries in the Bahamas, a pavilion for senior citizens ans unwed mothers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She also established the Mattie McGlothen Library and Museum in Richmond, CA as a resource for COGIC historical facts and memorabilia. Finally, she changed the visible presence of women in ministry with the introduction of the ministry "habit". Today thousands of COGIC women when ministering the gospel or serving in official capacities are seen in their civic (black) or ceremonial (white) habits.
After the demise of Mother McGlothen, Mother Emma F. Crouch (1994–1997) of Dallas, TX served as the fifth General Supervisor. Although her tenure was brief, she encouraged the women to stay focused and supportive to the leadership of the church. One of her contributions was to divide the women's fellowship in the local congregations into two groups: The Christian Women's Council for the middle aged and senior women of the church as well as the YWCC for the younger women.
The current General Supervisor of Women is Mother Willie Mae Rivers (1997–present) of Goose Creek, South Carolina. Mother Rivers is committed to strengthening the auxiliaries in the local churches and to prepare the younger women to carry the mission of COGIC into the Twenty-First Century.
The first youth leader on a national level was Elder M.C. Green. In 1917, the YPWW was official organized under the leadership of Elder Orzo Thurston Jones, Sr. Elder Jones would become the second senior bishop of the church after the passing of Bishop Mason in 1961. The purpose of the YPWW as stated in the COGIC official manual is as follows: “You are evidently aware of the fact that true religious education consists of instruction and practical expressions of the truths learned. Therefore with this thought in mind, I have reached the conclusion that there is a large and important place in which training is given in Christian activities and opportunity is made for adequate expressions of the Christian experience. In the Church of God in Christ, this auxiliary is called the Y.P.W.W. In other organizations we may note similar names which are used, such as the Young People’s League, Christian Endeavor, BYPU, etc.” Written by the Bishop O.T. Jones, Sr. He began production of the YPWW Quarterly Topics to fulfill the purpose of the department. In 1928, he established the first Youth Congress which brought together youth leaders and workers to further strengthen the aim and mission of the department on a national level. For a brief period of time, the YPWW Congress was combined with the Sunday School Congress in a joint convention until 1951. The Youth Congress eventually become one of the largest conventions in COGIC. The International Youth President is Elder Linwood Dillard of Memphis, TN and The International Chairlady is Evangelist Joyce Rogers of Denton, TX.
Missions work in COGIC originally began under Elder Searcy in 1925. In 1926, upon the recommendation of Mother Lizzie Roberson, Elder C. G. Brown of Kansas City Missouri, was appointed the first Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Home and Foreign Missions Department by Bishop C. H. Mason. The Elders' Council met and organized the first Missions board of the Church of God in Christ. In 1927, the call was made for workers to go to serve the Lord in foreign lands. Mrs. Mattie McCaulley of Tulsa, Oklahoma was the first to respond to the call. She was sent to Trinidad. Thereafter, missionaries were sent to Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, Asia, and other places throughout the world. Military Chaplains have also been very instrumental in spreading COGIC through military installations as well. In November 1975, at the National Holy Convocation in Memphis, TN., with the consent of the General Board, Elder Carlis Moody, Sr. of Evanston, Illinois, was appointed by Bishop J. O. Patterson to be president of the Department of Home and Foreign Missions. Elder Moody immediately began to reorganize the Missions Department, giving new guidelines. President Moody also added these ministries to the Missions Department:
Today COGIC has more than 3,000 churches, and several schools, missions, and medical clinics in nearly sixty nations on five continents including Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Liberia, Nigeria, Germany, Pakistan, India, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Panama, Rwanda, Uganda, and Australia. The church is believed to have nearly two million members on the continent of Africa. The fastest growing areas include: Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, and India. In fact, Nigeria has 19 bishops and more than 2000 churches. The international membership of COGIC is estimated be between one to three million adherents. Bishop Carlis L. Moody remains as the current President of the Missions Department.
The Department of Evangelism was officially organized on a national level by Overseer L.C. Page in 1927. That spread of COGIC was due largely to its evangelistic efforts of its evangelists through crusades and revivals. Male as well as female evangelists were greatly instrumental in spreading COGIC through the length and breath of the United States as well as around the world. The first meeting was held in Memphis, Tennessee around 1937. The early conventions of the Evangelist Board were basically crusades led by Evangelist Page and a few other Evangelists from across the country. In 1981, Bishop J.O. Patterson appointed Dr. Edward Lee Battles President of the Department of Evangelism. During his administration, Dr. Battles organized Regions to oversee evangelistic ministry in various regional areas across the country. He also instituted the Annual Prayer Breakfast, conducted Evangelistic Crusades across the country and developed the Church of God in Christ National Evangelist Registry. Dr. Battles served as president until his death in December 1996. In 1997, Bishop Chandler D. Owens appointed Evangelist Richard “Mr. Clean” White as President of the Department of Evangelism. He continued to build on the department through expansion of the Regional Administration into 10 geographical locations across the country. He appointed regional presidents to serve as liaisons to the jurisdictional presidents. Of special note is Evangelist Reatha Herndon who served as the International Elect Lady of the Department of Evangelism from 1951-2001. Mother Lillian Coffey appointed Mother Reatha Herndon as president of the National Women’s Evangelist Board in 1951. Mother Herndon and her twin sister Leatha were pioneers of the evangelistic work of the Church of God in Christ. Together they traveled across the country proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were also instrumental in establishing 75 churches across the nation.  The current president of the Department of Evangelism is Elder Willie James Campbell of Chicago, IL and the International Elect Lady is Evangelist Rita Womack of Los Angeles, CA.
It has been said often that one of the greatest contributions of Pentecostalism to Christianity is its impact on music. Pentecostals have been known and continue to be known for their lively worship, exuberant expressions of praise and worship, and musical compilations. Most churches simply relied on congregational singing of hymns and chants. Pentecostal churches most notably COGIC perfected the use of the choir as an integral part of the worship experience. From the very beginning of gospel music, COGIC members have influenced its rise including: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Madame Earnestine Washington, Evangelist Goldia Haynes, and Elder Utah Smith. Mrs. Anna Crocket Ford was the first organizer and Director of the National Music Department. COGIC became a staple of gospel music under the guidance and unparalled leadership of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. (1970–1994). Under her leadership and tenure, COGIC choirs and singers came to dominate gospel music producing a number of recordings and gospel hits. In 1982 during the Seventy-Fifth Holy Convocation, the diamond jubilee of the church, COGIC published its own hymnal, "Yes Lord" which included many arrangements and songs written by COGIC and African-American musicians and songwriters.
Well-known gospel musicians with COGIC roots include; Andrae and Sandra Crouch, Walter and Edwin Hawkins, Tremaine Hawkins, Be Be and Ce Ce Winans, The Winans, The O'Neal Twins, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Rev. Timothy Wright, Myrna Summers, Thomas Whitfield, Deneice Williams, Donnie McClurklin, LaShun Pace, The Anointed Pace Sisters, Richard "Mr. Clean" White, and The Clark Sisters (Elbertina "Twinkie" Clark Terrell, Jackie Clark Chisholm, Dorinda Clark Cole, and Karen Clark Sheard). COGIC continues to influence gospel music with a whole new generation of artists with COGIC roots that include: Kim Burell, Kierra Sheard, J. Moss, Micah Stampley, Kurt Carr, Ricky Dillard, Kelly Price, Mary Mary, Tamela Mann, Earnest Pugh, DuShawn Washington and Michelle Williams, The current leader of the International Music Department in Dr. Judith Cristie McAlister of Nashville, TN, who is also a major praise and worship national recording artist.
As COGIC continued to grow, it became necessary for the various departments to convene annually to conduct the business unique to their ministries. The YPWW department began in 1928 with the convening of its first Youth Congress. Then in 1946, the YPWW Department was combined with the Sunday School Department for joint conventions until 1951 when they were separated once again. Each department convened its own convention in various cities throughout the nation until 1975. In 1976, under the leadership of Bishop J.O. Patterson Sr., the five major departments of COGIC were united under an umbrella convention known as UNAC-5 (United National Auxiliary Conference). Dr. Roy L.H. Winbush was selected to serve as the first chairman. In 1992, during the Ford administration, UNAC was disbanded in favor of three separate conventions namely: the International Sunday School Convention, the MY Convention (Music and Youth) and the ME Convention (Missions and Evangelism) again meeting in separate cities.. However in 1996, the umbrella format was revised under the administration of Bishop C.D. Owens and became known as AIM (Auxiliaries in Ministry). Bishop J.W. Macklin was selected as the first chairman. This convention brings thousands of COGIC members representing all the major departments including Sunday School, Missions, Evangelism, Music, and Youth together in July and meets in various cities around the U.S. The current chairman of AIM is Bishop J. Drew Sheard of Detroit, MI.
In 1918, COGIC opened its first institution of higher learning, the Saints Industrial and Literary School in Lexington, MS. The school enjoyed its greatest growth and success under the leadership of Dr. Arenia C. Mallory (1904–1976). Bishop Mason appointed her as head of the school in 1926 and she led the school to become an accredited junior college until her retirement in 1976 after fifty years of service. The school closed in 1977, but was reopened for a brief period as Saint's Academy, a private co-educational grade school in the early 1990s under the administration of Bishop L.H. Ford. The school and college remain closed at present. In 1968, COGIC established the C.H. Mason Theological Seminary to train its ministers and ministry leaders.
Today COGIC operates the All Saints Bible College, Memphis, TN, the C. H. Mason system of Bible Colleges, and the C. H. Mason Theological Seminary, an institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and part of a consortium of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
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