Churches of God in North America.This religious organization arose as a result of the revival movement which spread through the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. One of the leaders of the revival movement was John Winebrenner, a minister of the Reformed church at Harrisburg, Pa. His sermons were so impressive that some of his congregation became alarmed about their spiritual condition. Revivals were a new thing in that region and some of the members became so dissatisfied that they laid the matter before the synod of the Reformed church which met at Harrisburg, Sept. 29, 1822. The case was not disposed of until 1828, when Mr. Winebrenner's connection with the Reformed church was severed. After this he began to labor in the surrounding districts and towns; and in 1829 he organized an independent church calling it only the Church of God. Other congregations soon followed in and around Harrisburg, each assuming the name Church of God, and adding the name of the town in which the congregation organized, as Church of God at Hagerstown.
These churches, in which all members had equal rights, elected and licensed men to preach, but for some time there was no bond or general organization or directing authority. In Oct., 1830, a meeting was held at Harrisburg for the purpose of establishing a regular system of coöperation, which was attended by six licensed ministers. At this meeting an eldership, to consist of an equal number of teaching and ruling elders, was organized which was called the "General Eldership of the Church of God," to distinguish it from the local church eldership. The movement continued to spread to adjoining counties and to Maryland, western Pennsylvania and Ohio. On May 26, 1845, delegates from the three elderships met at Pittsburg, Pa., and organized the "General Eldership of the Church of God in North America," but in 1896, the name was changed to "General Eldership of the Churches of God in North America."
In doctrine these churches are evangelical and orthodox, and are Arminian rather than Calvinistic. They hold as distinctive from other denominations, that sectarianism is antiscriptural; that each local church is a church of God, and should be called so; that in general, all Bible things should be called by Bible names, and a Bible name should not be given to anything not mentioned in the Bible. The members of the Churches of God believe that three ordinances are obligatorythe Lord's Supper, baptism and the religious washing of the saint's feet. They have no written creed but accept the Bible as their rule of faith and practice.
In policy the Churches of God are presbyterian. Each local church votes for a minister but the annual elderships make the appointments within their own boundaries. The congregation elects the elders and deacons, who with the minister constitute the church council and are the governing body, having charge of the admission of members and general oversight of the church work. The minister and an equal number of laymen within a certain territory constitute annual elderships, corresponding to presbyteries, which have the exclusive right to ordain ministers. The different annual elderships combine to form the General Eldership which meets once in four years, and is composed of an equal number of ministers and lay representatives (elders) elected by the annual elderships.
The Churches of God have been established in many parts of the country and are now represented in sixteen states. They were established in Kansas by the settlers who came from the older communities in the east and brought their faith with them. In 1890 there were 26 organizations in Kansas with a membership of 956. Nearly all of these churches were in the eastern third of the state. In 1906 only 12 organizations were reported with a total membership of 613. This falling off in Kansas is doubtless due to the emigration of many of the members to Oklahoma and the Indian Territory, where good cheap land was to be had.Pages 347-348 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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