The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is a denomination of the Christian Church. Historically, it is an African American Holiness-Pentecostal church. The church has congregations in nearly 60 countries worldwide. With a membership of over 5 million during 2007, it is the largest African-American and largest Pentecostal church in the United States.
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The Church of God in Christ was formed in 1897 by a group of Baptists disfellowshipped from their church, most notably Charles Price Jones (1865-1949) and Charles Harrison Mason (1866-1961).
Mason was a licensed preacher for the Baptist Church in Arkansas in the 1890s and was disfellowshiped by the local Baptist association for preaching Holiness. He then became associated with a group of men who would become the early African American leaders of the Holiness Movement late in the 19th century. Charles Price Jones of Jackson, Mississippi, J. A. Jeter of Little Rock, Arkansas and W. S. Pleasant of Hazelhurst, Mississippi were a few of these Holiness leaders. Many different revivals were conducted leading to the establishment in Jackson, Mississippi of a new church when the first convocation took place in 1897. While seeking for a name in order to distinguish this Holiness organization, Mason believed the name Church of God in Christ was both divinely revealed and biblically supported. The Church would then be reorganized with Jones as General Overseer, Mason as Overseer of Tennessee, and Jeter as Overseer of Arkansas.
In 1906, Mason, Jeter and D.J. Young were appointed as a committee by Jones in order to investigate reports of a revival in Los Angeles, beinh conducted by the itinerant preacher, William J. Seymour. Mason's visit to what was known then known as the Azusa Street Revival changed the direction of the newly formed Holiness church. Upon his return to Tennessee from the Azusa Street Revival, Mason started to preach and teach the Pentecostal Holiness message.
In 1907, Jeter and Jones rejected Mason's teachings about the baptism with the Holy Spirit, resulting in a mutual separation. Jones continued leading his adherents as a Holiness church, changing the name in 1915 to the Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A. Mason called a conference in Memphis, Tennessee, known as the Holy Convocation and reorganized the Church of God in Christ to be a Holiness, Pentecostal body.
Early pioneers of the 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 were the first Pentecostal General Assembly Of The Church Of God in Christ. They unanimously chose Mason to be General Overseer and Chief Apostle.
Mason was given authority to establish doctrine, organize auxiliaries and appoint bishops. During these formative years Mason credentialed both whites and African Americans who would become leaders within other Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies Of God, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and the United Pentecostal Church International.
From November 25 - December 14, Mason formed what is commonly known as the COGIC National Holy Convocation of Saints to be held yearly in Memphis, Tenessee. The meeting was for worship, preaching, fellowship and to conduct any church business involving the national organization.
The first national tabernacle was built completed in 1925. It was later destroyed by fire in 1936. In 1945 Mason dedicated Mason Temple in Memphis to be the church's national meeting site. Built in 1940 during World War II, the construction of was a benchmark effort by a group of African-Americans during that period. It was the largest Black-owned church auditorium in America during the 1940s. The historic church auditorium was the location of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's final message to the world. He delivered "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech from the pulpit of the Mason Temple.
The church has experienced incredible growth since the inception in 1907 comprised of 10 churches. COGIC originally began in the southern states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. As African Americans migrated north during the Great Migration, converted members began to spread the church north and west. By the time of Bishop Mason's death in 1961, COGIC had spread to every state in the Union and also many foreign countries with a membership comprisins more than 400,000. In 1973, the church claimed a worldwide membership of close to three million.
Recently, the COGIC and the Assemblies of God have dedicated themselves to reconciling and healing these two organizations that separated on racial lines in 1914, by working together in common ministries. Two signs of this effort are the 1994 Memphis Miracle and the School of Urban Missions of Oakland, California operated by both denominations.
In 2007, the church celebrated its 100th Holy Convocation, a very important milestone celebrated by the church and even marked by an African-American hair gel company.
The COGIC believes that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The COGIC doctrine is trinitarian, focusing on repentance, regeneration, justification and sanctification. The church also teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is given to all believers who ask for it. Holiness of life is emphasized. The ordinances of the church are water baptism by immersion, the Lord's Supper and also foot washing (the ordinance of humility).The church believes in divine healing, but does not advocate the exclusion of medical supervision.
The Church of God in Christ has holds an episcopal form of government, where churches are organized in dioceses called jurisdictions that are each under the authority of a bishop. The administrative and legislative authority of the church are vested in a General Assembly. The General Assembly is composed of ordained and credentialed pastors, elders, evangelists, missionaries, chaplains, and jurisdictional/auxiliary bishops.
The General Assembly elects a 12-person General Board (Presidium) from the college of bishops that serve functionally as apostles. The Presidium oversees all the operations of the international church when the General Assembly is not in session. The Presidium includes a separately elected International Presiding Bishop that serves a term of four years with two appointed assistant presiding bishops. The Presiding Bishop and Chief Apostle currently is Bishop Charles E. Blake. Sr. National officers of the church are chosen at a 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 also departmental presidents.
World headquarters are in Memphis, Tennessee, which is commonly referred to by members as the "Holy City of the Saints of God", "Jerusalem" or "the Holy Mecca of the Saints of God". The headquarters are housed in the Mason Temple. Each year, more than 50,000 representatives from COGIC churches will meet in Memphis for Holy Convocation.
Women in the COGIC have been very influential in the leadership and organization of the church since its inception. Lizzie Woods Robinson (1911-1945) was the very first "General Mother/Supervisor" of the church. Her successor, Lillian Brooks Coffey (1945-1964) organized the 1st International Women's Convention (1951) and was highly influential in organizing many of the departments that exist within COGIC today. Foreign missions and schools were also established through the leadership of women in the COGIC.
The COGIC has churches, schools, missions, and medical clinics in almost sixty nations. The COGIC operates schools of higher learning which include the C. H. Mason Bible College 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 of Atlanta, Georgia.