Thursday, June 13, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the founding of another American denomination — the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).

It is the 13th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


To borrow from the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, “The Making of New Denominations,” there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.”


It has been the purview of this show to, from time to time, play the role of David Attenborough, taking you outside and into the world of other Christian denominations—often in the wild—to see how they act, worship, and play with other Christians and the world.

Often, these stories of new denominations are the result of a split in leadership or the adoption of a new doctrine or emphasis. The Luther-like nailing of 95 Theses or such an abrupt and decisive move isn’t always present. Usually, new churches gradually develop and spread, some making or breaking fellowship with other churches along the way. But when it comes to the American denomination, the Church of God, we have a story with a definite date.

And I should note: this is the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) as another peculiarity of American denominations in a particular litigious spirit, and the various “Churches of God” appealed to the state and this- the first of the “Churches of God” gets to keep the name as long as they note their geography.

So, who are these Christians claiming to be some 8 million strong worldwide? We head to North Carolina at the end of the 19th century, when the frontier was still a reality and organized churches were failing to meet the needs of a disparate and (sometimes) disorderly bunch.

This was also the time of early reports of a new kind of ecstatic worship—speaking in tongues, either a known foreign language or an unknown tongue. This would spread from Middle America through Wales and Korea and eventually to the Azusa Street Revival, where Pentecostalism would become a feature on the denominational map.

But the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) predates that with a similar story. Will Bryant and R.G. Spurling were former Baptists looking for a new fellowship for themselves and others who had found themselves on the outs with their older churches on account of their adherence to a theology that promised “whole sanctification” (that is, the elimination of all willful sin) and ecstatic worship.

They formed the “Christian Union” in Tennessee in 1886. They attracted the attention of Ambrose Jessup (or A.J.) Tomlinson joined the union and gained considerable authority by 1902. The Union changed its name to the “Holiness Church at Camp Creek” in 1902. But there was still no distinct origin story for this band of generally Protestant holiness and early Pentecostal Christians.

That is, until the 13th of June in 1903, when AJ Tomlinson reported that he had climbed a mountain in Cherokee, North Carolina, where he had “prevailed with God” and was given a revelation. According to Tomlinson, when he descended the mountain on that 13th of June, a meeting of fellow Christians had already gathered, and he came to them with news of his revelation of a pure church and, in his words:

“I asked many 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.”

The Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) reports: “Thus on June 13, 1903, The Church of God arose out of the period of the Dark Ages, 1578 years after the awful apostasy, and was restored to God’s favor.  Just as Christendom at large did not realize what had happened at Nicea in A.D. 325, neither did Christendom at large know what had happened when David’s words were fulfilled – “…we found it in the fields of the wood.”

The claim, ironically on this the day after the commemoration of the Council of Nicea yesterday, that it was in 325 and at the Council with Constantine that the church entered a long (1500 years long!) Babylonian captivity. There had certainly been good and faithful Christians, but none, according to Tomlinson, had put together all the pieces- Justification, Holiness, Glossolalia (speaking in tongues), and what they believed to be a “theocracy” or church run by Jesus Christ alone.  

The early 20th century saw a division amongst the Church of God churches—the “Seventh Day” version, the Mountain Assembly, “of Prophecy,” and Chattanooga (I’m assuming Tennessee), among others. 

Today, the Church of God claims over 8 million adherents worldwide, including some 1 million in America. It is served by Lee University and the newly renamed Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee, which was previously named the Church of God Theological Seminary.

As a body that recognizes the independence of individual churches in the Baptist tradition, it can be hard to track numbers and strict adherence, but the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) remains one of the larger Holiness-Pentecostal church bodies in America with a very distinct founding—on a mountain top on June 13, 1903. 


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from the book of Hebrews:

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?

You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor

    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who also appreciates the real cities of “Atlanta, Texas; Newark, California; Jacksonville, North Carolina; and Cleveland, Georgia- he is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man noting that Cleveland, Tennessee, was once home to the wonderfully named baseball team, the “Cleveland Manufacturers (they would become the Morristown Jobbers). I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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