Happy Birthday Church of God!
August 19 is the birthday of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). On this day in 1886, a small group gathered at a gristmill along Barney Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee—not far from the Coker Creek stop on the well-traveled Unicoi Turnpike.
On that summer Thursday, Richard Green Spurling preached a sermon on God’s church and invited his hearers to set aside man-made creeds and traditions, to adopt the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice, to give equal rights to interpret Scripture according to one’s own conscience, and to sit together as the church of God.
Eight responded to the invitation, including his father, Richard Spurling, who as an ordained Baptist Elder had the ecclesial authority to set a church in order and to moderate their business meeting. They called themselves Christian Union—signaling a rejection of separatism and exclusivism they had experienced in other churches.
A few days later, Elder Spurling ordained his son as their first pastor, and over the following decade or so, Richard Green Spurling organized other Christian Union congregations in nearby communities.
Although none of those original mountain congregations have survived until 2021, Richard Green Spurling’s vision, first proclaimed alongside an Appalachian mountain creek, now reaches more than 7 million, 600,000 members, worshiping in more than 40 thousand congregations, in 185 nations and territories of the world. To God Be the Glory!
For the earliest publication of this account, see A. J. Tomlinson, “The Last Great Conflict” (Cleveland, Tenn.: Press of Walter E. Rodgers, 1913; reprinted White Wing Publishing House, 1984 and 2011).