The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is an American Pentecostal Christian denomination that was founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1907 by a former Baptist African-American preacher named Reverend Charles Harrison Mason. The denomination has over six million members worldwide, with about five million of its members in the United States and the other million in various other countries around the globe. It is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, alongside the many large denominations of the Baptist church and the Catholic Church . There are over 15,000 COGIC congregations worldwide.
Origins and history
The Church of God in Christ was organized in 1987 by several Baptist laity and clergymen who were disfellowshipped from the Baptist church because of their "Pentecostal-Holiness" styles of praising and worshipping God. The most notable ones were Rev. Charles Harrison Mason and Rev. Charles Price Jones.
According to his testimony, Rev. Mason was praying about being excommunicated from all the local Baptist churches in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, when God told him to found and organize a seperate church, namely the "Church of God in Christ". For the first few years after the COGIC church was founded, Rev. Mason preached to his followers in an old warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1907, Rev. Mason and the first members of the COGIC were able to raise enough money to build the first ever COGIC church building. After it was completed, he named it the Saint Paul's Church of God in Christ. The "International Holy Convocations" of the COGIC were held at Saint Paul's for a short time until the building burned down. In the 1930s, the COGIC was able to raise enough money to build a state-of-the-art church with a massive sanctuary, a chapel/prayer room, and offices for the leaders of the COGIC. They named the church the "Mason Temple Church of God in Christ" in honor of Rev. Mason. After the dedication of Mason Temple, COGIC churches were being built everywhere in the United States. After the COGIC denomination grew to over 100,000 members, the religious leaders of the church met at Mason Temple to formally organize the church as a true denomination.
Reverend C. H. Mason was unanimously chosen to be the "Senior Bishop" of the denomination, leaving all the other religious leaders of the church to become Bishops, Elders, Ministers, and Deacons. After the church was formallly organized, the membership grew well over one million by the 1950s.
Also in the 1950s, the women of the COGIC denomination banded together to create the "Women's Department", a department of the ministry that would help the women of the COGIC to find their true calling in God. The first Supervisor of the Women's Department was Lizzie Robinson. After her untimely death, Mother Lillian Brooks Coffey succeeded her as Supervisor.
In 1961, Bishop Mason died at the age of 95 years old. After his death, the Bishops of the church chose Bishop Ozro Thurston "O.T." Jones to lead the Church of God in Christ. In 1968, after much disagreement over the Bishops' choice to make him the Senior Bishop, the members of the COGIC denomination met up in Memphis during the 1968 Holy Convocation, voted and elected Bishop James Oglethorpe "J.O." Patterson, Sr. as "Presiding Bishop. "
Bishop Patterson led the church for 21 consecutive years and reorganized the Church of God in Christ with an episcopal polity, with the Bishops and the Presiding Bishop holding the highest ranks in the denomination, Superintendents assigned to different districts in each diocese, Pastors, Elders, Ministers, and Deacons. He also reorganized the Holy Convocation to be more of a church conference to praise and worship Jesus Christ than an annual business meeting. He also published an original hymnal for the COGIC in 1985 and titled it, "Yes, Lord!"
Following his death in 1989, Bishop Louis Henry "L.H." Ford was elected Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ. During his term as Presiding Bishop, he urged the members of the church to return back to "basic holiness and sanctification to God" and to not lose the "mark of the High Calling of God". During his term he organized what he called a "General Board", which would be composed of 12 Bishops symbolizing Jesus' Twelve Apostles in the Bible ."The General Board," he said,"would lead the Church of God in Christ and assist the Presiding Bishop as the second-in-command of the church, being that Jesus Christ is the true head of our church."
After his death in 1995, he was succeeded by Bishop Chandler David "C.D." Owens, who believed he had to prepare the church for the 21st century and decided to industrialize the ministry of the church, but not materialize it. His efforts led to the church showing the worship services of its Holy Convocation on national television.
Following the end of his term as Presiding Bishop in 2000, Bishop Gilbert E. Patterson succeeded him as Presiding Bishop and "with his eloquent preaching and heart of love, brought a new meaning to the name "Church of God in Christ" " according to Bishop Charles E. Blake, who was an assistant to Bishop Patterson from 2000 to 2007.
In 2007, following the demise of Bishop Patterson, Bishop Blake was elected Presiding Bishop and decided to not only further industrialize and institutionalize the COGIC but lead the COGIC into a new era of greatness in God. Today, the Church of God in Christ is still one of the fastest growing Christian denominations in the United States and in the world.
- Theology - The Doctrine of God. COGIC is trinitarian and teaches that there is one God eternally existent in three persons expressed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the creator and sustainer of all life. He is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-present.
- Christology - The Doctrine of Christ. COGIC teaches the deity of Jesus Christ. His virgin birth, sinless life, physical death, burial, and resurrection, his ascension and visible return to the earth. He is the only mediator between GOD and man and there is no salvation in any other. Christ is the head of the church.
- Pneumantology - The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. COGIC teaches that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the world. He is the agent that equips, empowers, leads, and guides the church until the return of Christ. As a Pentecostal church, COGIC believes that the Baptism of the Holy Ghost is an experience subsequent to salvation and can be experienced by all believers who ask for it. When one is baptized in the Holy Spirit, COGIC teaches that the believer will speak in a language unknown by that person by the will of God.
- Angelology - The Doctrine of Angels. COGIC teaches that Angels are messengers sent from God who served during the Creation, throughout the old testament, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the establishment of the church and the ministry of the apostles, and are yet at work in the Kingdom of God. They exist primarily in the spiritual realm and organized according to duty and function.
- Demonology - The Doctrine of Demons. COGIC teaches that Demons are real and they are evil or unclean spirits. They are fallen angels who joined Satan in his failed attempt to usurp power in Heaven. They exist today as adversaries to the kingdom, purpose and will of God. As Pentecostals, COGIC believes that Demons can be subdued and subjugated through the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus.
- Anthropology - The Doctrine of Man. COGIC teaches that Man was created perfect and sinless in the image of God as a tripartite being having a body, soul, and spirit. Through the sin of Adam, all men are born in sin and can only be restored through salvation offered only through Jesus Christ. The soul of man is immortal and will spend eternity either in heaven as the redeemed or in hell as the damned.
- Hamartiology - The Doctrine of Sin. COGIC teaches that sin originated in eternity when Satan committed open rebellion against God in heaven. Sin was transmitted to humanity when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, as a result all men have original sin. The result of sin is the depravity of man, broken communion with God, shame and guilt, and physical and spiritual death.
- Sorteriology - The Doctrine of Salvation. COGIC teaches that salvation is the work of redemption to the sinner and his restoration to divine favor and communion with God. Salvation is brought about through faith, repentance, conversion, regeneration, justification, and sanctification. Though COGIC teaches that salvation is a work of grace brought about through faith in Jesus Christ. COGIC does not promulgate nor encourage the doctrine of "eternal security," also known as "once saved, always saved."
- Ecclesiology - The Doctrine of the Church. COGIC teaches that the church is the community of Christian believers who have accepted Jesus Christ and submit to his lordship and authority in their lives. It can be spoken of as the individual and the collective, physical and spiritual. It includes not only those who are members of COGIC, but all believers who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Eschatology - The Doctrine of Last Things. COGIC teaches that according to the Word of God, there will be final events and conditions that address the end of this present age of the world. These events include physical death, the intermediate state, bodily resurrection, the Second Coming of Christ, The Great Tribulation, The Battle of Armageddon, the Millennial Reign, The Final Judgment, the Future of the Wicked [in Hell], and Life [for the redeemed] in Heaven.
The Church of God in Christ is composed of many religious leaders who preside over a group of churches that are clustered together in dioceses, or as the COGIC calls them "Jurisdictions". Each U.S. state has about five jurisdictions composed of over sixty churches or more. The jurisdiction is divided up into even smaller districts that are headed by Superintendents. And over them, are Bishops, who lead the entire Jurisdiction. Over the Bishops are the members of the General Board and the Presiding Bishop. The COGIC teaches that the leaders of the church must directly answer to God and to the members of the church before they can try to change anything about the structure or doctrine[s] of the church.
General Officers of the Church
- Presiding Bishop - Bishop Charles E. Blake
- First Vice-Presiding Bishop - Bishop Philip A. Brooks
- Second Vice-Presiding Bishop - Bishop Jerry W. Macklin
- General Secretary - Bishop Joel H. Lyles, Jr.
- General Treasurer - Bishop S.L Lowe
- Financial Secretary - Auxiliary Bishop Frank A. White
The executive authority of the church is vested in the Presiding Bishop, the First Vice-Presiding Bishop, and the Second Vice-Presiding Bishop. The legislative authority lies in the hands of the Bishops, preachers, and elders who are members of the General Assembly, which serves as like a "congress" to the church.
Every year since 1907, the Church of God in Christ has held annual Holy Convocations, in which the people of the Church of God in Christ meet up in Memphis, Tennessee (now in St. Louis, Missouri) and have worship services every night for seven consecutive days in November. The first Holy Convocations of the COGIC were somewhat different than what they are now. From 1907 to 1969, the Holy Convocations were more like business meetings, although they did have some worship services in the sanctuary of Mason Temple. In 1969, after Bishop J. O. Patterson was elected Presiding Bishop, he reorganized the Holy Convocation so that it could be a annual church conference and not an annual business meeting. From 1969 into the 1970s, the Holy Convocations were held in the church sanctuary of Mason Temple, until after the membership of the COGIC grew so rapidly, that in the 1980s, the COGIC had to move the Annual Holy Convocation to the Memphis Cook Convention Center. From the 1980s to the 1990s, over 30,000 to 40,000 people attended the daily worship services of the convocation each year. In the late 1990s, even the Cook Convention Center itself was becoming too small of an edifice to hold the convocations in each year. So under the leadership of Bishop G.E. Patterson, in 2001, the convocation was officially moved to the FedEx Forum in the heart of downtown Memphis. After having the convocation in Memphis, Tennessee for 103 years, the Holy Convocation was moved to Saint Louis, Missouri under the leadership of Bishop Charles E. Blake due to financial reasons. The annual Holy Convocation is now currently held at the famous Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO.