The information in this section is excerpted from the Church of God website and was written by Oral and Laura Withrow in Meet Us at the Cross. For much more information click on the Church of God site.chog.org.
The Decision to Believe and Begin To begin our look at the Church of God, what it is and what it teaches, it is appropriate to ask you to meet us at the cross, for we believe that the cross is the starting point for each Christian. It is there that we come face-to-face with the overwhelming love of God that prompted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As Paul put it, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, niv). The path of every believer meets and proceeds from the cross. There the price for our sins was completely, wonderfully paid. For each of us, faith's journey begins at the foot of that rugged, ancient symbol of redemption. The content and guidelines of that faith are given in the Bible; what God has done and will do is sufficiently stated. The faith, however, is more than knowing what the Bible says and systematically living out its dictums. The faith is also experience. A Christian not only knows Jesus' teachings, for instance, but has by a decision of the will permitted the risen Christ to live in his or her life. In a miraculous way, that commitment to Christ is rewarded in the believer with a deep feeling of peace that C. S. Lewis has described as "surprised by joy!" The joy of the Lord is not one of temporary hilarity; rather it is the peaceful inner assurance that God is with me and I am with God—because of Christ. The experience of God working in our lives to forgive and redeem us begins as you and I confess our sins and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The experience is described well by Bill and Gloria Gaither:
He touched me, O He touched me, And O the joy that floods my soul; Something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.1
The Spirit-Filled Life For many years, one of our ministers, Charles Weber, challenged people to "live out of the overflow." He spoke of the Spirit-filled life. With similar emphasis, the late Marcus Morgan has stated that for Christians the challenge is to "realize the full influence of His power and presence in our living." John the Baptist proclaimed,
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. --Matthew 3.11, niv
Jesus himself, at the time of his baptism, "saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove" (Mark 1:10, niv). Several experiences of the baptism of the Holy Spirit are recorded in the New Testament (Acts 2:1–4; 9:17; 10:44–46; 19:1–7). Jesus sustained the promise just before his ascension, saying, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you" (Acts 1:8, niv). The events in the New Testament account are sufficient to indicate believers can experience the baptism of the Spirit. We could say one's life is saturated with the Holy Spirit or immersed in the Spirit. The wordsanctification is often used to describe the experience of the Spirit-filled life. Whatever the term used, we believe the infilling of the Spirit in the life of the Christian makes a dynamic difference in the individual's receptivity to the Spirit's leadership and the individual's effectiveness as a witness for Christ. The believer's experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit may be viewed from at least four perspectives: Cleansing. The Holy Spirit cleanses the attitudes, mindset, habits, and spirit of the believer. In the Old Testament, we read of utensils that were set aside to be used exclusively in worship. Sanctification is the word used to refer to this cleansing (Ezekiel 42; Daniel 5). The Holy Spirit works in the believer to purify and set aside a person for God's use. (See 1 Peter 1:13–16; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8; Hebrews 2:11; 10:10.) Consecration. Consecration (commitment) is the act of the believer. Persons who have accepted forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life offer themselves to be fully blessed and used by God. Paul wrote the Christians in Rome,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. --Romans 12:1–2, niv
Consecration is presenting everything about our personality, including our physical bodies, to God for his use, in a decisive act of worship. Calling. This is the part of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit-filled life on which God and the believer work together. The Spirit cleanses, the believer consecrates himself or herself, and together the Spirit of God and the believer work out the calling. The calling is the task(s) which the believer accepts in the life of the church in order to help evangelize and serve the world. There are many functions in this great task of sharing the gospel, "giving a cup of cold water," and doing it unto "one of the least of these" in Jesus' name (Matthew 10:42; 25:40). As the believer presents his or her total personality for service to both God and humanity, the Holy Spirit considers both the natural abilities of the believer and the need for workers in the church and then gifts that believer. A gift is a divine enabling of the believer for ministry beyond any natural talents he or she may possess. Often the Holy Spirit challenges the believer to a further study of the Bible and considerable personal preparation and training for the task(s) the Spirit has assigned. Paul gives a list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Additional lists are found in Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. The lists provided by Paul are not intended to be exclusive or to rule out other ways that the Spirit may peculiarly equip persons for God's work in the church and through his church to the world. Convincing Evidence. The convincing evidence of the Spirit-filled life is holiness. Holy or righteous living includes a faithful study of the teachings of Jesus and a continual effort to live out the implications of those teachings day by day. The believer is not so spiritually conceited as to think that he or she is a perfect human being. The Holy Spirit is the source of power for holy living (John 16:5–16; Philippians 2:12–13). Paul sets the pattern of the Spirit-filled life in bold relief as he contrasts it with the sinful life. You will want to read about the "fruit of the Spirit" and the "acts of the sinful nature" as Paul compares them in Galatians 5:16–26. It should be noted, also, that the Pentecostal outpouring in Acts 2 was more mission-centered than person-centered. The purpose was empowerment for the divine mission. Church of God hymnist Charles W. Naylor expressed both the scriptural teaching and the experience of the Spirit-filled life:
Spirit holy in me dwelling, Ever work as Thou shalt choose; All my ransomed powers and talents For thy purpose thou shalt use. O how sweet is thy abiding! O how tender is the love Thou dost shed abroad within me From the Father-heart above! Thou hast cleansed me for thy temple, Garnished with Thy graces rare; All my soul Thou art enriching By Thy fullness dwelling there. In me now reveal Thy glory, Let Thy might be ever shown; Keep me from the world's defilement, Sacred for Thyself alone. Spirit holy, Spirit holy, All my being now possess; Lead me, rule me, work within me, Through my life Thy will express.2
The experience of the Spirit-filled life begins when the believer, the individual Christian, opens his or her life to the full work of God's Spirit in a conscious act of the will. From that point on, there is a growth in the Spirit, called by some "progressive sanctification," which produces an increasing awareness of oneness with God and effectiveness in Christian service. Three Ways We Speak of the Church of God We have good reason to use the name Church of God. It is a biblical name. What better source is there from which to get a name for a group who worships God! The name Church of God is used to describe the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:13; and 1 Timothy 3:5. Many church groups use the name Church of God. Also, some independent congregations use some form of the name. It is appropriate for Christians to search the Scriptures and discover that descriptive title. The Church of God with North American offices in Anderson, Indiana, makes no claim to the exclusive use of the biblical name and is conscious that such use brings with it the responsibility, even the obligation, to worship, fellowship, and serve in ways that honor God and his church. We do not consider ourselves to be another denomination, with a prescribed creed and an unbending organizational structure. Neither are we a sect with legalistic statements on, and enforcement of, lifestyles. We do not have any captivating commitment to a human personality. 1. The name Church of God is used in a universal sense to refer to all persons who believe on Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and are thereby in the Church by God's action as indicated in Acts 2:47. The Church of God is not a particular set of believers so much as it is all believers, whatever other associations to which they may give themselves in the name of Christ. The universal nature of the Church is marvelously communicated by Paul to the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 2:1–22). His summary is descriptive and explanatory:
You are...fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. --Ephesians 2:19–22, niv
2. The name Church of God is used to identify a particular movement within Protestant Christianity. When the name is used to designate the movement, it is written thus: Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). Since the time of its earliest spokesman, Daniel S. Warner, in the 1880s, the preachers, teachers, poets, and other writers have given emphasis to the message of unity and holiness. The message of unity is that all God's people are one (John 17) and are called to recognize that unity, to relate to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to coordinate their efforts in mission to the world. The message of holiness is expressed well by Arlo F. Newell. He says the holy life begins as
divine cleansing purges the attitudes and disposition of the believer until the image of Christ is reflected in him or her. All of our emotions are left fully intact but are cleansed and sensitized by the Holy Spirit. Nothing essentially human is removed in the sanctifying experience. One's ability to love, hate, laugh and cry are now freed from the curse of sin to be experienced rightly as God's child. The believer now demonstrates the graces of the sanctified life as spoken of in Galatians 5:22–23.3
The life of holiness includes both personal piety and disciplined practical service within the church and to all peoples of the world (Galatians 6:7–10). Dr. John W. V. Smith, the late Church of God historian who taught at Anderson School of Theology until his retirement in the 1980s, has caught the spirit of the Church of God in this statement:
The Church of God reformation movement was more than a series of emphases, however. It was a crusade to open the door of all truth. Some of the specific content of this truth was lifted up and proclaimed, but the limits of truth were never defined. That was left open, for God was still at work among his people and who could say when the boundaries of his revelation had been reached?4
3. The name Church of God is also used to identify congregations. A Church of God congregation is a local community embodiment of the universal church as well as the Church of God reformation movement (Anderson, Indiana). We believe very strongly that genuine Christians identify themselves with a local body of believers and worship, fellowship, and serve with other Christians. Participation in the local church is not an option for Christians; it is an integral part of their salvation experience. (See Acts 2:41–46; Ephesians 5:19–21; Hebrews 10:25; 1 John 3:11–1 5.) Nearly all congregations (local churches) identify themselves with designations of location such as Northside Church of God or West Fourth Street Church of God. Some use the title First Church of God, but in those instances, they refer only to the fact that theirs was the first congregation of the Church of God in that city or community. First has no biblical or theological meaning. Some congregations in recent years have wanted to express more visibly the openness of the Church of God to fellowship all believers in Christ. Thus a few congregations have used designations such as Community Church, The People's Church, or simply Northside Church. The theology and practices of the Church of God are consistent with the community concept for the local church. This Is How We View Membership We like the way the Church of God identifies its members. No one person decides that another will or will not be admitted to membership in a local group. Neither congregations nor congregational leaders vote on who shall be received as members. The Church of God believes that when one accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, God places that person in the church (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 12:18). Salvation is the criterion for membership in a congregation of the Church of God. The first preachers and lay workers of this reformation movement sang lustily about that type of membership:
We reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one, While love entwines about each heart in which God's will is done.5
We also like what the Church of God says about maintaining membership in the church. One maintains membership by participating in the worship services and fellowship of the congregation. Amazingly, in a culture that seems to thrive on lists and membership statements, the Church of God has effectively carried on an expanding ministry in about ninety countries and established strong congregations that are involved in both person-oriented spiritual ministries and community-oriented social ministries. We like that. And so, if you go to a Church of God congregation in Detroit, Michigan, or in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Los Angeles, California, and say, "I'd like to join the church," do not be surprised if the pastor or some layperson says something like, "My friend, if you are a Christian, you are already a member of God's church, and that is good enough for us. We invite you to worship with us. We will help you get acquainted and find your place in the life and work of the congregation." In some of our congregations, we refer to each other as "brothers" and "sisters" in the Lord. Other congregations encourage the use of first names. These are ways of expressing our commitment and love for each other, both as friends and as children of God. We think you will like that. How Can a Person Join the Church of God? 1. If you are not a Christian (that is, not saved, not born anew, not a disciple of Jesus Christ), then you will want to confess your sins in prayer, ask God to forgive your sinful way of living, and invite Jesus Christ to come into your life as Savior and Lord. You may be able to do this alone, but many persons have found that the assistance of a thoughtful and mature Christian is helpful at this time (Matthew 11:28). When you accept Jesus Christ as Savior, you are born into the church You are a new creation in Christ (John 3:1–7; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Through the cross you have become a member. 2. If you are a Christian (that is, saved, born anew, a disciple of Jesus Christ), then let the pastor and other persons in the congregation know you are a Christian and begin worshiping and working with them. Then say to family, friends, and acquaintances, "I am a member of the Church of God." Your witness at this point is important to you and to the church. Because of the cross, you are a member. Practical Perspectives on Membership a. A person who has been a member of a denomination may wish, for his or her own purposes, to bring a letter to the local Church of God pastor; however, you are not required to bring a letter. Your personal affirmation of faith, your participation, and your Christian character will demonstrate that you are a part of the family of God. b. A consistent demonstration of Christian character is appropriate before persons are recognized for responsible positions of leadership in the life of the local church. c. There is room for differences of opinion in the fellowship. Perfect agreement on minute details of doctrine and practice is not required. An open mind and an open heart are characteristic of a vital group of Christians. d. Congregations seek to carry on financial and property matters in a fashion consistent with common business practices and state laws. Therefore, each congregation defines voting membership in terms of age and gives indication of how long a person is expected to have been worshiping with the local group. Voting membership is identified to meet requirements of incorporation laws; among the requirements are a personal witness to a Christian experience and a lifestyle consistent with the teachings of the Church of God. e. A person removes himself or herself from membership in the Church of God when he or she is no longer committed to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord or when his or her lifestyle is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus and other clear teachings of the New Testament. Most persons do not have to be told of this; it is obvious to both the individual and the congregation. Many congregations have adopted a discipline process to counsel persons whose lifestyle is in question. f. We have not always succeeded in being as open to fellowship Christians from other traditions as we would like. We have sometimes failed by "preaching" more than we "practiced." Still we are seeking the ideals expressed and have been blessed as many thousands of others have said, "That's the way I see it, too." We ask that you be patient with us in our failures and work with us as we all learn to accept persons on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible Is Our Rule of Faith The Church of God movement has maintained a sure belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. As noted preacher Raymond Jackson used to say, "I may jump all over the Bible, but I will not jump out of it." We believe the Bible is the foundation for instruction in the Christian faith. Paul said, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16, niv). The Bible is a moving chronicle. It tells the story of Jesus—"the greatest story ever told." It tells of men and women who found life at its highest and also experienced life at its most dreadful depths—persons such as Jonah, Job, Esther, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, and Matthew. The stories and teachings of the Bible are not to be creedalized. We would not abbreviate the Bible and its teachings into a sixteen-sentence statement or expand it to a five-volume index of faith. We do appreciate short statements that are affirmations by a group or an individual. We can never suggest, however, that those statements adequately summarize the Bible. Nor are such statements wisely used as a basis to determine orthodoxy or membership in the church. Though we are tempted to make the Bible a list, a prescription, or a proposition, we remind ourselves that it is instead the Book of Life that vibrates with the stories of real persons and the living God. There is probably only one major rule for the use of the Bible: Read it! We honor the Bible by accepting the fact that Christ is Savior and by worshiping him as Lord of life. He is the Living Word to whom the Bible, the written Word, witnesses (John 1:1–18). As Barry L. Callen has written, the Bible is for us
equated with the viewpoint of God. Thus for us the Bible must be accepted as a sure guide for the enlightenment of our faith and for the ordering of our steps. When God speaks, all else must fall silent so that we can listen with our lives!6
Church of God congregations have sung with great conviction:
Praise God for His grace which its pages unfold! For the story of love which will never grow old! For the light on life's pathway which streams from its pages! Praise God for His Word, blessed Book of the Ages!7
Ordinances Are Rich Experiences for Believers Ordinances are worship and faith disciplines which have specifically been ordained by Jesus in his instructions to his followers. We believe the ordinances are symbolic of something that is happening in the believer as a direct act of God's Spirit. The symbolic act witnesses to an inner reality. These symbols affirm and remind us of what God has done in Christ. Baptism by immersion is a first step for the new believer. The term baptism means to immerse. Immersion of believers is the only form of baptism that is indicated in the New Testament. Through baptism, the new believer witnesses to a new spiritual dimension in his or her life. Baptism is also a witness to the church that the new believer is a part of its fellowship and work and to family and friends that he or she is now an active participant in the Christian community (Mark 1; Matthew 28; Acts 2:38). The Lord's Supper, often called Communion, is an affirmation of oneness in Christ. In the sacramental churches, it is often called the Eucharist ("thanksgiving"), a reference to the thanks offered over the bread and the cup (1 Corinthians 10:16). The Lord's Supper and Communion are both terms used by Paul in his writings (1 Corinthians 11:20; 1 Corinthians 10:16, kjv). Church of God congregations frequently share the elements of the Lord's Supper. Many have Communion on the first Sunday of each month (including World Communion Sunday), on New Year's Eve, and on Maundy Thursday. The bread and the cup are symbolic of the grace experienced in the life of the believer. Foot washing is an ordinance practiced by many church groups. It is an act symbolizing the servant ministry of all Christians to each other and to the world. Usually men assemble in one room and women in another. In some congregations, young persons assemble separately so they can be instructed more fully on the meaning and practice of foot washing. Some congregations now provide opportunity for family groups to participate in the ordinance of foot washing. Persons wash each other's feet, sing hymns, and give personal testimonies of God's blessing on their lives. Participation is not considered a test of faith. Rather, it is a spiritual experience which Christians are encouraged to observe and join. Infant dedication is not considered an ordinance, but it is consistent with the instructions of Jesus. He said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14, niv). Parents are encouraged to present themselves with their infants for a time of dedication in public worship, the act reminiscent of the presentation of Samuel by his mother as told in the Old Testament and Jesus by his parents as told in the New Testament. It is a time for the church and the parents to acknowledge the child as a gift from God, commit themselves to rear the child in awe and respect of God, and ask God's blessings upon the body, mind, and spirit of the child. Infant baptism is not practiced in the Church of God. Infant baptism is usually an act on the part of parents by which they believe saving grace is imparted by God to the child. Later in life, the child is asked to confirm that decision by the parents after receiving instruction in the faith. We believe a child is innocent and already in the grace of God. Later the child, in some stage of his or her growth and training, will come to a time when he or she responds to the conviction and leadership of the Holy Spirit and will have an opportunity to accept Christ as Savior. It is at that time the child, youth, or adult will be baptized. We believe a wedding is a worship service of the church. A marriage should be entered into with discretion, wisdom, and a recognition that it is a marvelous gift from God to both the couple and the families involved. We believe a marriage begins best with a wedding that is a worship experience and with both parties committed to Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives and home.
What is the future of the Church of God reformation movement? We believe that the Church of God will have an increased and significant ministry in the twenty-first century. Consultations and conferences are taking place on national, international, local, and district levels, challenging Christians to consider the current and future nature of our world, and how best to share the gospel and call persons to discipleship. We are aware that the coming decades will be a time of crisis for the earth and its people. We are giving attention to a range of needs and issues that include the environment, peace and reconciliation, poverty and hunger, population trends, evangelism and church growth needs, and unity and interdependence in a society and world marked by cultural diversity. We feel God has called us to be involved in ministering to the needs of people everywhere and to live responsibly in the whole universe. We seek to be a redemptive, reconciling force for peace in the years to come.
How big is the Church of God? In the United States and Canada, we have about 2,214 congregations and more than 250,000 persons who attend the worship services of those local churches on a typical Sunday. Globally, we have more than 7,500 congregations with over 1,1000,000 believers. Though many congregations do retain a list of Christians who are a part of their fellowship, you will remember that we do not keep formal membership lists, and so precise figures are more difficult to determine than in many groups. An interesting fact: The number of persons who are associated with the Church of God in other countries surpassed the number of those in the United States and Canada in 1983. The church is growing at a vigorous pace in the southern Africa and Asia/Pacific regions and in Latin America. In addition, strong evangelistic programs are resulting in new congregations being planted in strategic locations throughout North America and in a variety of international locations. By the year 2025, the Church of God plans to more than double the number of its congregations and constituents within the United States, Canada, and around the world.
What restrictions do you place on your members in the Church of God? Diversity, within the scope of the teachings of Jesus Christ, is expected. Conformity in all matters of doctrine and practice is not the goal of the Church of God for its people. We are mutually committed to God in Christ, to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and to local, national, and international fellowship with Christians. Some congregations and some individual Christians may tend toward a major involvement with social causes as an expression of their personal faith. Others may concern themselves principally with an individual expression of piety and often focus on personal religious lifestyles. There is room for both types of witness and concern. Our relatedness to each other in the church does not depend on a strict and uniform doctrinal stance but on our commitment to Jesus Christ, bringing his spirit to bear on our personal lives and society. We see our bodies as "temples of the Holy Spirit" and therefore urge abstinence from some specific behaviors such as sexual immorality and the use of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and drugs for pleasure or psychological escape (1 Corinthians 6:15, 19–20).
Theologically, how do you stand in relationship to other church groups? Without getting involved in detailed definitions, we like to think of ourselves as conservative, rooted in Wesleyan-Arminian theological heritage, a part of the Anabaptist free-church tradition, a part of the Holiness Movement that came to mid-America in the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries, and a participant in the Protestant tradition. We value the insights of those who espouse fundamentalist, liberal, neoorthodox, liberation, and process theologies, but we have some serious questions about some of the methods and conclusions of these schools of thought.
Are you charismatic? Are you Pentecostal? Yes! and No! We are charismatic if by that you mean that persons and churches are empowered by the Spirit for the edification of the church on mission in the world. Yes, we are Pentecostal if by the term you mean that the Holy Spirit was given to the early church and continues to come, empower, and call the church to servant ministries No, if you mean by charismatic or Pentecostal an emphasis on speaking in tongues as the sign of a spirit-filled life or the freedom for persons to speak in tongues at their own discretion in public worship.
Are you a member of the National Council or World Council of Churches? No. We are ecumenical in spirit and in practice but have not felt participation in either of these organizations is the best way to give witness to the unity of Christians or the most effective way to expand our world ministries. We cannot honor some actions and programs of these organizations. On the other hand, some programs, literature, and opportunities for service initiated by them are obviously Spirit-inspired. We have occasionally taken the opportunity to cooperate with our Christian brothers and sisters in these organizations as the most effective way of doing some tasks and as an expression of Christian unity. A few congregations participate in the activities of the National Association of Evangelicals and the Christian Holiness Association. Most pastors actively participate in community ministerial and church organizations.
Do you believe persons have to be baptized in the Church of God in order to go to heaven? No. Baptism is a first step in the life of the Christian convert. When a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, it is expected that the person will take the first step of following Jesus Christ in baptism (Mark 1); however, believers who have been baptized in other church groups will find their baptisms honored. Persons who have been baptized as infants are encouraged to appreciate the act of faith on the part of their parents and to witness to their own decision for Christ through believer's baptism. We rejoice in the provision of God for the salvation and eternal life of persons whom we shall never know, persons who are active in hundreds of other Christian groups. It will be a joy to get acquainted with all those persons in heaven!
What do you mean by stewardship? Stewardship is the responsible use of all of our resources, recognizing that all good gifts come from God. It has implications for the use of our abilities, the use of time, and the way we earn and spend our money. Christian stewardship includes the practice of giving the first 10 percent of one's income directly to the church for missions and ministries—the tithe. We believe tithing is taught in the Old Testament (Malachi 3:8–10) and the principle and practice is sustained in New Testament teachings (Matthew 23:23; 1 Corinthians 16:2; and 2 Corinthians 8:1–5). It is the foundation for a more complete financial stewardship. While many persons of the Church of God are tithers, tithing itself is not looked upon as a means by which one manipulates God in order to obtain material success. It is a spiritual discipline which is a reward in itself. Many Christians not only give the first 10 percent of their income (tithe) to the church but also give additional offerings to help build church facilities and make faith promise commitments to missions causes.
Do you believe in divine healing? Yes. We believe that, in a broader sense, all healing is divine. Thus we encourage consultation with medical professionals in matters of physical health and with other professionals in matters of emotional and relational problems. We believe these professionals can be used by God to bring health to ill and injured persons. In addition to the healing that comes through natural processes and the informed use of medication and surgery, we believe that at times God directly intervenes in the life of individuals to initiate and complete healing. We put into practice James' instructions to the young church: "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord" (James 5:14, niv). In many congregations, persons come forward following the sermon and request that the pastor anoint and pray for them. In some congregations, people are given an opportunity to come forward before the pastoral prayer, to inform the pastor of an individual need (whether it be for physical, emotional, or relational healing), and to be anointed for prayer. We do not demand of God or arrogantly instruct him about the way healing should take place. We submit our petition and await his gracious action in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love. We do not believe that everyone is healed in the way that we would expect and hope, or even that it is best for everyone to be healed. In praying for healing, we enter into a trust relationship with God; we trust that he will do the best thing for his kingdom and our lives. We believe he knows what is best, even though, for the moment, we may not be able to comprehend it (Job 9:10; Psalm 145:3).
What do you teach about Jesus' second coming? We believe that Jesus will come again, but we have no idea about the date and time (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32–37). Our eschatology (knowledge or study of last things) emphasizes that when Jesus comes to receive his bride, the church, all things of this world will end, and those who have believed on Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will go with him to live eternally. Our view of the kingdom of God is that it is a present reality. We believe that when Jesus came to earth, he launched his kingdom (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Luke 17:20–26), and his kingdom is in the hearts of men and women who give him their allegiance. We are aware of the diligent study by many premillennial scholars and the optimism of postmillennial Christians; however, we are amillennial. In our study of the Bible, we do not discover any teaching about an earthly reign of Christ in a governmental or military sense. Scriptures speak of last things in figurative language (Revelation 20), and we believe they often refer to spiritual rather than temporal realities. We, for the most part, find little doctrinal compatibility with groups who see the establishment and success of the nation of Israel as essential to God's plan (Romans 2:28–29; Galatians 3:26–28). Teachings which give attention to repeatedly setting dates for the expected return of Christ, to observing natural and other phenomena as indications of the imminent appearance of Christ, and to identifying contemporary historical personages as embodiments of the anti-Christ are likewise foreign to our understanding of Scripture. With persons who feel strongly about these points of view, we agree to disagree and explore other ways of experiencing and expressing our oneness in Christ. We work and pray for Christ's coming (Revelation 22:20–21). The principal task of Christians, we feel, is to be involved in God's redemptive plan—sharing the gospel rather than speculating about the nature and timing of last things. Most Church of God congregations accept a range of opinions and beliefs on last things.
What is the nature of your worship services? Our congregations rather closely follow the biblical injunction to do all things in "a fitting and orderly way" (1 Corinthians 14:40, niv). Scripture is read with a sense of profound respect. The gospel message is preached with enthusiasm, usually as an exposition of a scriptural passage, relating it to the contemporary situation of the worshipers. Spontaneity marks many of our services. In some congregations, persons will affirm the message of the pastor or a song with an "Amen!" Occasionally, persons may respond to a well-sung song, greet special guests, or receive an important announcement with applause. Laypersons are often enlisted for leadership in services. Church of God worship services are characterized by good singing. We sing hymns, gospel songs, choruses, and spirituals. Many excellent volunteer choirs sing a wide range of music, from simple gospel songs to the most challenging anthems. A time to greet each other and get acquainted is often included during or immediately following the worship experience.
Who speaks for the Church of God on social issues? The General Assembly in its annual June session often considers and sometimes adopts resolutions that speak to social issues such as alcoholism, abortion, war and peace, divorce, and sexual relationships. Sometimes these resolutions are presented by interest or geographical groups represented in the Assembly. These resolutions usually express the attitude of many within the Church of God but are not necessarily binding on congregations or individual Christians within the body. The resolutions often are worded so as to provoke thoughtful discussion and local initiatives.
Are you a missions-minded church? Definitely! The Church of God emphatically asserts that all Christians are called to world and local missions and that some individuals are particularly gifted for special assignments in the missions tasks. North American and international missions efforts are facilitated and resourced as a result of the partnership between local congregations and Church of God Ministries, the organization entrusted with coordination of the united ministry and outreach efforts of the movement. Though the focus of missions is often on those who are called and sent, we believe that the total church is responsible for taking Christ to men, women, and children everywhere. Our churches voluntarily pool their prayers and financial support to accomplish together what none could do alone.
Information on the above page is excerpted from Oral and Laura Withrow, Meet Us at the Cross (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1999)
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF GOD. The following material is excerpted from the Church of God Webpage. Click on chog.org for more information.The Church of God, with U.S. offices in Anderson, Indiana, began in 1881 as a movement emphasizing the unity of God's people and holy living. Daniel S. Warner and several associates sought to forsake denominational hierarchies and formal creeds, trusting solely in the Holy Spirit as their overseer and the Bible as their statement of belief. These individuals saw themselves at the forefront of a movement to restore unity and holiness to the church. Their aim was not to establish another denomination but to promote primary allegiance to Jesus Christ so as to transcend denominational loyalties.
This movement is not historically related to the several Church of God bodies rooted in the holiness revival of Tennessee and the Carolinas in the late nineteenth century. Although it shares their holiness commitment, it does not emphasize the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues generally associated with Pentecostal churches. Deeply influenced by Wesleyan theology and Pietism, the church's generally accepted teachings include the divine inspiration of Scripture; forgiveness of sin through the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of the believer; the experience of holiness; the personal return of Christ, unconnected with any millennial reign; the kingdom of God as established here and now; the resurrection of the dead; and a final judgment in which there will be reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked. Within the church, baptism by immersion is viewed as a witness to the new believer's regeneration in Christ and inclusion in the family of God. The Lord's Supper reminds participants of the grace experienced in the life of the believer. Foot washing is practiced in acknowledgement and acceptance of the servant ministry of all Christians to each other and to the world. These symbolic acts are understood to be affirmative reminders of what God has done in Christ. None of these practices, termed ordinances, are considered mandatory conditions of Christian experience or fellowship. There is no formal membership. Individuals are assumed to be members on the basis of personal conversion and conduct that supports that conversion experience. This is consistent with the church's understanding of how Christian unity is to be achieved--a unity based on spiritual experience rather than creedal agreement. The Church of God is congregational in its government. Ministers meet in voluntary state, regional, and national assemblies, and other associations. In North America, the General Assembly, composed primarily of ministers but also including lay congregational delegates, meets in connection with the movement's annual North American Convention held in Anderson, Indiana. In 1996 and 1997, the General Assembly initiated a restructuring of the work of the national ministries of the Church of God within the United States. The result was the formation of Church of God Ministries Inc. Priorities for the work of this organization are identified by representatives selected from the grassroots church. In 1891, the movement's first missionary was sent to Mexico. Since those early days, the Church of God has continued to grow into a multinational community of faith. At present, the largest concentrations of U.S. churches are in the Midwest, along the Pacific Coast, and in western Pennsylvania. Average weekend attendance in the congregations of the United States and Canada totals approximately 251,000. There are approximately 2,214 congregations in the United States and Canada. Worldwide, the movement has work in 88 countries and territories representing approximately 7,900 churches and nearly 900,000 believers.