A.J. Tomlinson’s Emerging Ecclesiology

A.J. Tomlinson’s Emerging Ecclesiology

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Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389

A.J. Tomlinson’s Emerging Ecclesiology

Harold D. Hunter

IPHC Archives & Research Center, P.O. Box 12609, Oklahoma City, OK 73157, USA



Tis study seeks to engage the question of how A.J. Tomlinson formulated the theological platform that influenced the ecclesiologies of various Churches of God. Te cast includes R.G. Spurling and R. Frank Porter, a forgotten figure but one who, together with Spurling, organized the Holiness Church at Camp Creek in western North Carolina on May 15, 1902. I will argue that, absent the intervention of A.J. Tomlinson on June 13, 1903, the work of Spurling, Porter, and W.F. Bryant would have suffered the ill-fated demise common to hun- dreds of like works in Appalachia. Yet Tomlinson was more than an organizer; he was also someone who influenced the mission adopted by the early Church of God (Cleveland, TN). Tis article has particular relevance in the face of awakened sensitivities to Pentecostal eccle- siology in the light of the Edinburgh 1910 centenary celebrations around the world and the World Council of Churches’ working document, Nature and Mission of the Church. Here I will frame the discussion as a response to Dale Coulter’s article, “Te Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN): A Forgotten Contribution?” in Pneuma: Te Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Theology 29, no. 1 (2007): 59-85.


A.J. Tomlinson, ecclesiology, R.G. Spurling, Church of God (Cleveland, TN), Church of God of Prophecy (CGP), Fire-Baptized Holiness Church (FBHC)

While on the faculty of Lee University, Dale Coulter published an article in Pneuma: Te Pentecostal Theology 29, no. 1 (2007): 59-85, titled “Te Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of God (Cleve- land, TN): A Forgotten Contribution?” I read the article with keen interest but as Coulter was in transition to Regent University, my response was delayed for another day. Tis eventually triggered a lively debate by email. After the first flurry of email exchanges, it seemed that our conversation was captive to the paradigm that held his thesis together. One way to clarify the differences in our perspectives was to start afresh by trying to understand A.J. Tomlinson’s early ecclesiology from the perspective of a systematic theologian.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.1163/157007410X531916



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Since few relevant resources are available about and by Coulter’s key figure, R.G. Spurling, A.J. Tomlinson will be the central character here. Tis is a valid premise in part because had Tomlinson not joined the Holiness Church at Camp Creek on June 13, 1903, it is likely that the work of R.G. Spurling, R. Frank Porter and W.F. Bryant would have suffered the ill-fated demise known to hundreds of like works in Appalachia. Yet Tomlinson was more than an organizer, but also one who influenced the mission adopted by the early Church of God (Cleveland, TN).

I first want to say that the primary point of Coulter’s important study was to challenge an axiom adopted by some Pentecostal scholars that the Pentecos- tal movement has always totally lacked reflection on ecclesiology. As I pointed out to Coulter in my initial email, I was in complete agreement with his stance.

Since Coulter had singled out Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and Frank Macchia, I told him about having served on various ecumenical dialogues with them and other like-minded scholars who espoused the view that ecclesiology was essentially an afterthought for churches that are part of the Pentecostal World Fellowship (PWF). I frequently used Church of God (Cleveland, TN), the Church of God of Prophecy (CGP), and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC), among others, as examples that demonstrated the contrary.

My own views on this topic were published some years ago as “We Are the Church: New Congregationalism,” in Jürgen Moltmann and Karl-Josef Kuschel, eds., Concilium: Revista Internazionale di Teologia.1 Tis volume was devoted to the topic “Pentecostal Movements as an Ecumenical Challenge.” Jürgen Moltmann — or at least Miroslav Volf, as seen in his response to my article — wanted me to argue that the “democratic presence of the Holy Spirit” among Pentecostals accounted for more congregational autonomy than in magisterial traditions, but I cited evidence to the contrary as part of the story. Even in the ranks of denominations that belong to the PWF, it is obvious that


Harold D. Hunter, “We Are the Church: New Congregationalism,” in Jürgen Moltmann and Karl-Josef Kuschel, eds.. Concilium: Revista Internazionale di Teologia 3 (3/1996): 17-21. Other work on ecclesiology include: “Response to J.D.G. Dunn’s ‘Te Charismatic Renewal’s Challenge to Traditional Ecclesiology,’” in Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., ed., Gifts of the Spirit (Pasadena, CA: Society for Pentecostal Theology, 1982); “Sketches of Perspectives on Koinonia,” in Pneuma: Te Pentecostal Theology 12, no. 2 (Fall 1990): 161-66; “Reflections by a Pentecostalist on Aspects of BEM,” in Journal of Ecumenical Studies 29, nos. 3/4 (Summer/Fall 1992): 317-45; “Musings on Confessing the One Faith,” in Pneuma: Te Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Theology 14, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 204-8; “‘Full Communion’: A Pentecostal Prayer,” in Ecumenical Trends 37, no. 1 (January 2008): 1-7, 15.


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no one polity rules the movement, although the Scandinavian churches did prevent the PWF from reaching its full potential as a vehicle of global change.

Unresolved Areas of Research

Placing this first topic under this heading may be deceiving. It in no way implies that this is a minor issue to be quickly dismissed. In fact, it is of major importance as a theological building block for the church that A.J. Tomlinson tried to establish. However, it is treated here because there may not be enough evidence available to us to make a final determination on how this theological shift came about. Spurling asks “where is the visible church . . .?”

Also in Matt 16:18 the church is yet to be built, so then we see this kingdom is set up in the hearts of His people. So every child of God has the kingdom of heaven in them while the church is a union of three or more persons. Matt 18:16, 17. Te ecclesia or church has only a slight difference from the word kingdom . . . Terefore, we see the kingdom of heaven began at John [the Baptist], but in Acts 16:5, we see the churches were established. Also in Acts 2:4 we might claim the church was built or organized. We are grieved to see such unreasonable and extravagant conclusion.2

In light of all the investigations related to my several publications about aspects of the theology of A.J. Tomlinson, I find it improbable that R.G. Spurling was the concrete source for convincing Tomlinson of the difference between the kingdom of God and Church of God. Coulter makes a compelling argument to the contrary, yet I remain unconvinced.

Roger Robins argues that Spurling augmented the core beliefs of Southern Restorationism with the distinctive Landmark emphasis on the visible church. Robins also shows that A.J. Tomlinson’s exposure to Sandford included an emphasis on the visible “True Church”.3 Other links will become evident. Ten how does one explain that during the 1933 CGP General Assembly A.J. Tomlinson singles out Spurling as the one who taught him the difference between the kingdom and the Church? Perhaps this is sentimental musings prompted by trying to honor a major influence in his life who was coming to the end of his sojourn. In other words, this is not a carefully crafted assessment


R.G. Spurling, Te Lost Link (Turtletown, TN: 1920), 19, 41.


Roger G. Robins, A.J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 169f.



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of those early years which could only be recreated by arduous research. Clearly, Spurling was an iconic figure that survived and his alignment with Tomlinson was no small victory that had to be celebrated. Much the same can be said about the typed manuscript Tomlinson drafted for the White Wing Messenger (WWM) then published in the June 22, 1935 edition, after Spurling passed away on May 28, 1935.4 Both texts show Tomlinson crediting Spurling with convincing him “that there was a difference between the Church and the king- dom.” As with Tomlinson’s claim that June 13, 1903 was the pivotal date for the Church of God, here again his memory is skewed as other influences on his early life ceased to play an important role in his ongoing ministry. Tis is not the carefully documented work of an objective scholar trying to recreate events of previous decades; rather, the seventy-year-old Tomlinson was waxing nostalgic. A comparison of what Tomlinson wrote in 1913 to what he wrote in 1935 reveals that his emphasis in 1913 was on the public covenant. Tis kind of writing echoes the marketing style of A.J.’s flamboyant oldest son, Homer A., who started editing and writing for the Church of God Evangel and other major publications no later than the late 1910s.5

Regarding the status of Spurling’s ministerial credentials with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), a photocopied letter from F.J. Lee dated June 16, 1925 to John C. Jernigan at Copperhill, TN says:

In regard to Brother Spurling, I will just state that his license have never been recalled. We have been linient (sic) with him on account of his age. I believe I will write him and see if he still expects to be in opposition to us, if so, we will then recall his papers. Ten he could be dealt with in the church, but of course we can’t do until his papers are recalled.

Spurling was present in the 1933 CGP General Assembly and according to Tomlinson he spoke for a while. A.J. Tomlinson mentions him in one para- graph of his 1933 address in addition to his 1935 tribute as having being pres- ent in 1933. F.F. Johnson, pastor of the CGP in Cleveland, presided at Spurling’s funeral, since Tomlinson was in Colorado for a CGP state conven- tion and thus could not fulfill the call of the family. In his June 1935 tribute


Te printed version is taken virtually word for word from the typed manuscript with a slight correction for a minor omission when quoting minutes of the 1916 general assembly.


Just before beginning employment at $150 a week for Doubleday Page & Co. in New York City, Homer wrote his father on March 13, 1920 suggesting they make Christian movies and show them in theaters devoted to these films. Also see the 1922 debut of Te Faithful Standard, that intentionally broke the mold of traditional Pentecostal periodicals.


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to Spurling, who had passed away on May 24, Tomlinson would say that “Brother Spurling’s membership was here at Cleveland where it has been for many years.” On October 29, 1930 Tomlinson had written a letter to R.G. Spurling in which he referred to G.P. “Pinkey” Spurling’s statement that Pinkey Spurling’s parents wanted their names enrolled with CGP in Cleve- land.6 All of these suggest that the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) would have had no other option than to revoke his license and terminate his mem- bership, if this had not already been done much earlier, given the complaint of Pastor Jernigan as far back as 1925.

Coulter and I further disagree about whether Spurling was the one who entered the famous line in the minutes of the first general assembly that they were not legislative but judicial only. Obviously this is Tomlinson’s vocabulary and not Spurling’s, as I will argue here later. Contrary to Coulter’s able defense, I find the discussion of this point in the 1924 court documents to reveal a broader view of how this policy was initiated and put into practice. Tis will be considered again when I take note of the impeachment of Tomlinson. Te longer quotation in E.L. Simmons that Robins used to reinforce this posturing should also be noted. Robins calls on his mentor, Grant Wacker, who speaks broadly of others “informed by the same hermeneutic.”7

Te Core of Tomlinson’s Early Ecclesiology

What follows will constitute a parallel argument to that of Roger Robins that beyond R.G. Spurling, R. Frank Porter, and William F. Bryant “no one would exercise more influence over the organization’s ecclesiology than A.J. Tomlin- son. And no one, it would have seemed, could have been more conflicted in their views on this topic.” Consequently, “Tomlinson, then, arrived in North Carolina with his ecclesiological suitcase open.”8

When compared to standard Protestant studies of ecclesiology, it becomes apparent that the distinctive pillars of Tomlinson’s ecclesiology were his emphasis on an exclusive body ecclesiology and his insistence that the general overseer of this body serve in that capacity for life. Te latter would be one of the most visible features of Tomlinson’s commitment to the term theocracy, which he may have borrowed from the likes of Sandford and Alexander Dowie


Te sources are the White Wing Messenger 12, no.13 ( June 22, 1935), 4, and 28th Assembly Minutes (1933), 18.


Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 171f, 281 n. 22.


Ibid., 170.



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and indirectly from B.H. Irwin. Perhaps of equal importance is Tomlinson’s determination that the general assembly serve as a responsible entity to delib- erate pressing doctoral issues faced by the fledgling denomination.

Robins focuses on how Sandford’s “True Church” influenced Tomlinson. While observing that the term theocracy was used by “Holiness saints of every ecclesiological stripe,” he reminds us that “[f]or Sandford, apostolic order meant authoritarian theocracy, God ruling His Church through divinely appointed leaders who were to be obeyed as absolutely as if they were God Himself.9

W.F. Bryant’s small band in North Carolina witnessed crosscurrents of vari- ous spiritualities, such as fellowship with R.G. Spurling. Spurling’s roots lay in Landmark Baptists, but his identity was captured in the independent Chris- tian Unions he started. Spurling’s first such effort was the short-lived Christian Union at Barney Creek, Monroe County, North Carolina in 1886.10 Te ideas that defined Spurling were compiled in his Te Lost Link, published in 1920.

A fundamental question in the debate concerns when Te Lost Link, which was Spurling’s defining contribution to the topic, was actually first released. Roger Robins opts for 1896 [1897?], then 1920; Douglas Jacobsen goes with 1897, but Coulter stays with 1920. Te whole matter is complicated because Spurling wrote a document known as “An Appeal” in 1897. Some of the lan- guage of “An Appeal” is repeated in Te Lost Link, while the latter at times strikes a different chord from the former.11

Beyond the question of when, how much, and what material was finally printed as Te Lost Link was finished, the most convincing evidence related to this quest may come from the personal library of A.J. Tomlinson. Much of this may be found in the CGP Archives and it shows how widely he read. (Unfortunately, A.J.’s oldest son, Homer Tomlinson, ended up with many of


Ibid., 170f.


During a 1949 interview by H.L Chesser, W.F. Bryant said that Spurling’s 1886 church “went dead.” See Deborah Vansau McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion: A History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 280, 283, 292, 295. McCauley cites Joe Abbott, Te Forgotten Church (n.p., 1962), 38, to say that a glut of holiness churches looks back to Spurl- ing’s 1886 declaration as their origin. Abbott’s work is often based on third-generation oral tradi- tion from independent Holiness Pentecostals.


Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 307; Dale Coulter, “Te Development of Ecclesiology in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN): A Forgotten Contribution?” Pneuma: Te Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Theology 29, no. 1 (2007): 64, 84. Also see James M. Beaty, “Te 1897 Manuscript and Te Lost Link,” TMs, n.d. and James M. Beaty, “Spurling’s 1897 Manuscript: Dated May 4, 1897,” TMs, n.d. Te latter work by Beaty includes footnotes that help illuminate the relation- ship between “An Appeal” (1897) and Te Lost Link (1920).


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A.J. Tomlinson’s original materials and — to summarize a convoluted story — despite my efforts and those of others they are now lost.) Of course, Tomlin- son also traveled much more than Spurling and heard a wide range of influential figures in person. Sandford was only one of these, and one must also reckon with the early influence of the Fire Baptized Holiness Church (FBHC) on the emerging Church of God.12

Another player in the ferment was R. Frank Porter, recently Ruling Elder for the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association (FBHA) in Tennessee. Te seminal organization of the Holiness Church at Camp Creek on May 15, 1902 was carried out by both Spurling and Porter. Spurling was chosen pastor while Porter married Alice Cooke of Cleveland, Tennessee on August 9, 1903 and studied at the University of Chattanooga at Athens from 1905 until 1907. Porter was “admitted on trial” by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1907. Although May 15, 1902 is integral to the identity of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN),13 only one of the original group of leaders, including M.S. Lemons, would remain with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). Tis is W.F. Bryant, whose service as a state overseer ended in 1918.

B.H. Irwin, founder of the FBHC, who was setting up headquarters in Beniah, Bradley County, Tennessee, used language appropriated by Tomlin- son, including theocracy and ruling elder and so on. R. Frank Porter had pub- lished in the early FBHC magazine Live Coals of Fire. Robins documents that Porter held a 1902 revival in Luskville, Tennessee and Tomlinson was quick to follow up on Porter’s lead.14 In fact, the provocative question raised by reports in Live Coals of Fire is how many of the earliest churches in the post-1903 association were originally ignited by the FBHA. In addition, Porter, along with Spurling, ordained Bryant. Roger Robins acknowledges Porter’s pivotal


Harold D. Hunter, “Beniah At the Apostolic Crossroads: Parham, Tomlinson, Sandford, Irwin,” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 1 (January 1997) pctii.org/cyberj/ index.html; Daniel Woods, “Daniel Awrey, the Fire-Baptized Movement, and the Origins of the Church of God,” paper presented to the 2nd Annual Meeting of the Church of God Movements Historical Society, May 24, 2003, Cleveland, TN; Wade Phillips, “W.F. Bryant,” History and Heritage (Summer-Fall 2002), 13 n. 18.


M.S. Lemons, “History of the Church of God” (c. 1937), 4, 5, 10. See also Chesser inter- view of Lemons, 17f., and Bryant, 18. In a 1924 deposition with the Murray and McCalla law firm in Chattanooga, Tomlinson was asked who organized the Holiness Church of Camp Creek, and he replied: “R.G. Spurling and Frank Porter, Ministers.” Tis draws attention to the absence of Porter in Tomlinson’s Te Last Great Conflict. Cf. Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 167-71.


Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 280 n. 13.



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role. Te ordination of Tomlinson on June 13, 1903 was carried out by Spurl- ing and Bryant.15

But most important in terms of A.J. Tomlinson’s ecclesiology is the fact that while he published pertinent articles in the Church of God Evangel, he pub- lished his basic thesis in Te Last Great Conflict (1913) and then tried to nuance his work with the elaborate annual addresses he presented at the gen- eral assemblies. A collection of these addresses released in a multivolume series was published by the CGP and may also be found in the original assembly minutes. Articles such as those identified by Coulter in Bridegroom’s Messenger (initially a Pentecostal Holiness Church paper) and Church of God Evangels are also found in other places, such as, perhaps, the Brethren in Christ magazine Evangelical Visitor and Te Faithful Standard, not to mention the later WWM. Even though the WWM was and is the official organ of the CGP, there are contributions to this periodical that shed light on the early Church of God (Cleveland, TN) ecclesiology.

Robins uses the expression “flow together” to characterize Tomlinson’s early call for unity that really meant to bring all into the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) fold. I have written elsewhere that what some scholars characterize as early Pentecostal ecumenism was actually the same push for uniformity applied to the whole of Christendom. Robins chronicles A.J.’s writings starting with a 1908 piece in Te Bridegroom’s Messenger, followed by a more pointed piece in Te Household of God. A.J. clearly spelled out his intentions in his diary but got only grief from the FBHC, and he failed to bring in L.P. Adams, H.G. Rod- gers, and M.M. Pinson or the Church of God Mountain Assembly.16

If one were to look at those within the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) who might have influenced Tomlinson on ecclesiology, then there are other figures besides Spurling that deserve a closer look. Prior to 1923 there were others who published articles and tracts on the same subject. It will be shown that Tomlinson was hardly alone in espousing an exclusive body ecclesiology.


W.F. Bryant interview by E.L. Chesser, Dixon Pentecostal Research Center, Document 27-A, 4. In the 1935 typed manuscript titled “Te Life of Rev. R.G. Spurling” by A.J. Tomlinson about the passing of Spurling, Tomlinson said simply, “It was Brother Spurling that issued cre- dentials to A.J. Tomlinson as a minister in the Church of God” (p. 1). However, Tomlinson later (p. 6) makes clear that the ordination was performed by both Spurling and Bryant. Obviously the same is printed in the June 22, 1935 White Wing Messenger article about Spurling.


Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 210ff; Harold D. Hunter, “Two Movements of the Holy Spirit in the 20th Century? A Closer Look at Global Pentecostalism and Ecumenism,” One in Christ 38, no. 1 ( January 2003): 31-39. I first advanced this reading in my 1984 presidential address to the Society for Pentecostal Theology.


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We need to go back even further, because Paul Tompson’s related study, published in Pneuma: Te Journal for the Society for Pentecostal Theology, seems to suggest that Tomlinson’s emphasis on exclusivity was most pronounced during the controversies with J.L. Scott and Sam Perry.17 Around January 1910, however, FBHC leader F.M. Britton published a public complaint in Te Apostolic Evangel about an open conflict with Tomlinson and T.L. McClain in Arcadia, Florida during December 1909 over the issue of Church of God’s teaching that they were the one true church.18 Sprinkled through the 1908 Church of God (Cleveland, TN) assembly minutes are the terms His Church, true Church, the Lord’s Church, and Te Church. Spurling took the lead in an evening session devoted to “Te Difference Between the ‘Church of God’ and Other Sects or Bodies of Christians.”19 Te front page of the first issue of Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel has an unsigned article by A.J. Tom- linson elevating the Church and quoting Ephesians 5:27 about a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. Te next issue includes an article by R.G. Spurling in which he defines the “church of God” as the place in which


See H. Paul Tompson, Jr., “‘On Account of Conditions Tat Seem Unalterable’: A Pro- posal About Race Relations in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) 1909-1929,” Pneuma: Te Pentecostal Theology 25, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 240-64. Paul Ham of Golds- boro, NC wrote in the Bridegroom’s Messenger (December 1, 1909) that all the Pentecostal churches should be in unity and called “the Church of God” in each city or part of the city. A.J. Tomlinson replied on March 1, 1909 that “this unity obtained and churches established in every county and city where Pentecost has gone with the New Testament as our only faith and discipline, and the Church would shine and the world would see the glory of it as never before. Tis would keep out false teaching and fanaticism after a thorough order (Colossians 2:5) was reached. She [the church] should not only be one in name, but also one in doctrine and government.”


F.M. Britton, “Brother F.M. Britton’s Letter,” Te Apostolic Evangel (ca. January 1910), 7. Also see E.L. Simmons interview by E.L. Chesser (1949), 1f. Tere is a related note in the lower right column in p. 8 of Apostolic Evangel 1, no. 9 (June 15, 1909) written by someone in Florida during a Britton–A.J. Tomlinson conflict. Unfortunately, the original report by Britton cannot be taken at face value. His portrait of the exclusivity is probably accurate, but not the idea that Tomlinson would have limited women preachers, as Tomlinson proved by granting ministerial license to Rebecca Barr while in Florida. Te matter of women in business meetings is a separate issue, but it is doubtful that Britton himself held the standard for women affirmed in the 1900 Constitution and General Rules of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association of America, Article X, #4, p. 15. Also not accurate is Britton’s complaint that Tomlinson would have endorsed the use of tobacco. Te final point of contention concerning authentic interpretation of tongues reveals a preoccupation with the differing interpretation of the content of these utterances. For the Tom- linson perspective, see Diary of A.J. Tomlinson, ed. Homer A. Tomlinson (Queens Village: Te Church of God, World Headquarters, 1949) 1:136.


General Assembly Minutes, 1906-1914: Photographic Reproductions of the First Ten General Assembly Minutes (Cleveland: White Wing Publishing House and Press, 1992), 43, 45, 47.



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the “covenant of visible unity and fellowship” is required. Soon small editorials began to appear, one of which reports that there have been inquiries about the “Lord’s Church.” Marion Whidden in Crewsville, Florida says that Te Eve- ning Light will “ring out the precious truth of the true Church. . . .” Te refer- ences of this sort are too many to mention; another notable one is an article by M.S. Lemons on “Te Church of God and Bride of Christ” in Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel.20

Tis point deserves some elaboration. Te above references from Te Eve- ning Light and Church of God Evangel came from just the first ten issues. When one starts reading the Church of God Evangels from 1914 on, it immediately becomes apparent that this theme was still a centerpiece of the magazine. Unfortunately, with one exception there are no extant issues of Church of God Evangels from the years 1911 to 1913, but considering the strong emphasis on the “true Church of God” that is evident in 1914, in addition to relevant material from these years, it is reasonable to assume that this theme gained momentum during this period. Ten, of course, there is the publication of Te Last Great Conflict in 1913 and assorted comments in Tomlinson’s personal journals. In any case, those who doubt that this teaching permeated the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) at this time must spend some time with the early Church of God Evangels.

Te discovery by Roger Robins of an issue of the Church of God Evangel from 1912 is very revealing. Sam Perry wrote an article titled simply “Te Church” that appeared in the Church of God Evangel . Te contents of this article should lay to rest any notion that Tomlinson was the lone voice in espousing an exclusive ecclesiology. Claiming the authority of Scripture, Perry pronounces that one prominent teaching concerns the Church of God, which is a “visible body” that can be referred to as the “Bible Church” or in like terms. Perry buttresses his position by arguing that many biblical concepts were lost through the ages, but among those to be restored is the true Church established by Jesus himself. He continues:

Some may ask, are there not several bodies of professed Christians who called them- selves the ‘Church of God?’ Yes, but can they rightfully claim that name unless they fill


Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 1 (March 1, 1910), 1, 3; Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 2 (March 15, 1910), 4; Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 3 (April 1, 1910), 4; Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 5 (May 1, 1910), 6; Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 7 (June 1, 1910), 2f.


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the Bible description? Shall we be so foolish as to reject the genuine because it has been imitated?


Te whole article shows how entrenched this exclusive concept was among prominent Church of God leaders and is suggestive of the posturing of those who followed them.


Editorial notes by Homer Tomlinson in his published version of his father’s journals recount a 1909 conflict between FBHC General Overseer J.H. King and A.J. Tomlinson. King and Tomlinson both preached in Atlanta at a camp meeting led by Mrs. M.E. Sexton, editor of Bridegroom’s Messenger. Homer claims that a conflict existed over church government, but that King later reversed course by helping to organize the PHC and stayed in charge of this “tightly organized” group.23

It is true that about this time Tomlinson discontinued service as a corre- sponding editor for Bridegroom’s Messenger, but this was also the time when Tomlinson became editor of Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel. Others within the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) argued for exclusivity. In the course of my move from Cleveland, TN my research notes on this particu- lar issue went missing, but I do clearly remember that one such advocate was T.J. Richardson, the highest profile African-American leader who stayed with A.J. Tomlinson after the division of the 1920s.

In an account published in 1933 A.J. Tomlinson described what happened on June 13, 1903. Tomlinson recounted pouring out Bible questions and get- ting Bible answers. “I then said, this means that it is the Church of God. To this they assented. Ten I ventured to ask if they would be willing to receive me into the Church with the understanding that it is the Church of God of the Bible. Tey were willing, and soon proceeded in regular order. I took the obligation with deep sincerity and extreme sacredness never to be forgotten. ( Jer 50:5).” Ten Tomlinson quoted from a “record” that is “now history” and that includes what I have earlier: “It was in June 1903 that the work revived and took upon it a new impetus.” Ten he adds, “At a meeting held June 13, of the above-named year, we made a more careful study of the New Testament


Sam Perry, “Te Church,” Te Church of God Evangel 3, no. 14 (September15, 1912), 6.


Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 209. Te casual reader might find it a bit confusing to sort out the Perry reference because the footnotes in Robins’ book on pages 209-10 from at least number 30 to 36 do not match the same on p. 294, where the specific references are given. However, the correct order can be confirmed by returning to the original 1995 dissertation at Duke University by Robins, “Plainfolk Modernist: Te Radical Holiness World of A.J. Tomlinson,” 471-75.


Diary of A.J. Tomlinson, ed. Homer A. Tomlinson 1:102ff, 238.



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order, and five more accepted the obligation and joined with the faithful little flock to push the work along. (I was one of the five.)”24 Tomlinson would also say of June 13, 1903 that Spurling

. . . took the Bible and gave it to me. He handed it to me and said, ‘Will you take this as the Word of God, believe it and practice it, obey its precepts and walk in the light as God is in the light?’

Nobody else had said it. Nobody else had stepped out boldly like that and declares THIS IS THE CHURCH OF GOD.

Right here I gave my hand to Brother Spurling, who was not a Church of God member exactly like we are, but he and others were spiritually good. But they never brought up and said we are the Church of God. I said it myself, and because I said it God has been honoring it ever since.25

Often overlooked is that while empowering the general assembly, Tomlinson insisted that each local church ratify the business acts of the general assem- blies. When a local church could not affirm all that was passed by the general assembly, they bore responsibility to make their case to the next assembly so that a course correction could be made if needed. Tis aspect of Tomlinson’s imprint is abundantly clear in the 1924 court documents. Before this, Tomlin- son’s third annual address delivered to the 8th Annual General Assembly (1913) illustrated this point well:

At the last two Assemblies decisions were made and actions taken that have been ques- tioned by some who were not in attendance. Both of those actions should be reconsid- ered and emphasized or proven a mistake and abandoned.26

Tomlinson portrayed the 1923 impeachment by Church of God (Cleveland, TN) supreme judges as a battlefield over whether general assemblies were to be judicial rather than legislative or executive. He drafted this report in language that was affirmed by many of the early assemblies and repeated in his annual addresses. Te earliest practice — continued by CGP up through the 1990s — was that votes were not taken, but all male [always only male?] members [and at times guests] in attendance discussed given subjects until consensus was achieved. Considerable emphasis was placed on praying about each business


Answering the Call of God (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House, n.d.), 17f. Tis is from chapter 3, which dates itself as having been published in 1933.


A.J. Tomlinson: God’s Anointed — Prophet of Wisdom, Choice Writings of A.J. Tomlinson in His Greatest Anointings (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House, 1943), 12f.


Historical Annual Addresses 1:21.


H. D. Hunter / Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389


item and being open to charismatic outbreaks during these sessions. Tomlin- son argued that a representative government is like a republic, whereas a the- ocracy is judicial only.27

A review of what Tomlinson had to say about the teaching of apostolic suc- cession by magisterial Christendom sheds more light on the matter. Here is a telling snippet from his annual address delivered to the November 2-8, 1914, Church of God (Cleveland) general assembly: “Although we do not claim a line of succession from the holy apostles, we do believe we are following their example.28

Te following extended quotation from the same address reveals more of what is at stake for Tomlinson:

Te one at Nicaea was disorderly and resulted in division, shame and disgrace, while the one at Jerusalem was orderly and resulted in a closer fellowship and union of the multitudes and brought consolation and joy to all who were interested. And when the decrees (not creed) were delivered to them the churches were established in the faith and increased in number daily. Bear in the mind that the council at Jerusalem was conducted under theocratic form of government which honored God and the Holy Scriptures in the final settlement of the matter in question, while the one at Nicaea was operated under episcopal government and not a word of Scripture was given as author- ity for the creed and nothing said about it being pleasing to the Holy Ghost. We are certainly following in the footprints of the noble and ever-to-be-revered apostles and elders of the early Church when we declare that in all of our deliberations the final decision and settlement of every question must be in harmony with God’s


See A.J. Tomlinson, “Christ Our Law-Giver and King: His Church to Be Built and Gov- erned By Himself,” Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 17 (November 1, 1910), 1-3. Tomlinson described in detail this process in his testimony given in December 1924 (8:1740-1742, 1789). Tomlinson noted that on occasion nonmembers talked during the busi- ness sessions. His intention was to distinguish the 1922 “official assembly” from the general assemblies. In this regard, he asked (8:1949) if in fact there was a general assembly in 1922. He further argued (8:1790) that the Council of Elders was not originally designed as a representative body. Te CGP continued through at least the 1990s the original practice of having local churches ratify (see 8:1862) the business acts of the general assemblies. Also see A.J. Tomlinson’s last annual address to the Church of God (Cleveland, TN): A.J. Tomlinson, “Overseer’s Annual Address,” Minutes of the Seventh Annual Assembly of the Church of God Held At Cleveland, TENN, Nov. 1-7, 1922, 26-28.


Historical Annual Addresses, compiled by Perry Gillum (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Pub- lishing House & Press, 1970) 1:34. Spurling’s 1897 “An Appeal” dismissed those who teach apostolic succession and Baptists who make laws and binding rules (p. 8). Tis is contrasted to the law of Christ, which he termed “the lost link.”



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Holy Word, and a ‘Tus saith the Lord’ or ‘It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us,’ at the end of the decision.29

Tis was part of Tomlinson’s justification for how to move forward a church government that he classified as judicial only. Tose who attended the annual general assemblies were not known as delegates but as seekers who attempted to achieve consensus, and it was up to each local church to ratify resolutions for them to be considered binding on local bodies. While keenly aware of the plethora of denominations, Tomlinson lifted up Jesus’ prayer in John 17 as a way toward uniting all believers.30

Tomlinson spoke of a united church in the opening centuries of Christian- ity, depicting Jerusalem as a center linking far flung churches. By this He meant to give James first place over Paul or Peter when it came to councils like the one recorded in Acts 15.31 Tomlinson is less precise when it comes to understanding how local churches related to one another outside such a struc- ture. He conceded that an episcopacy did eventually emerge, but only as the church lost its way. Tomlinson espoused a vision of restoring the apostolic order known as theocracy.

Since the 1906 assembly called for an annual meeting for “elders, and cho- sen men and the women from each church” to come as members and not as representatives, it raises the question in what ways women originally partici- pated in the business meetings. Tis was reinforced in Tomlinson’s deposition testimony given in December 1924. Te 1908 assembly affirmed female dea- cons, but this was reversed the next year; then the 1910 assembly decided that women could not be ordained. In the 1912 assembly M.S. Lemons spoke against women participating in business sessions. Yet when Tomlinson intro- duced the idea of cell groups to the 1915 assembly, he depicted the group as a “vast body of thoughtful men and women.”32 Tomlinson enjoyed more success in this regard during his years as general overseer of the CGP.


Historical Annual Addresses 1:40-41. See also page 39. See Constitution and General Rules of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association of America (1900), 2, under Article II, Object and Design: “It is our intention that the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association shall embody all the essential characteristics and perform all the functions of an Apostolic church.”


Historical Annual Addresses 1:42. Tis is from the 1914 general assembly. Also see “Te Oneness of God’s People,” Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 11 (August 1, 1910), 1f.


See his annual address delivered to the Church of God (Cleveland) general assembly that met November 1-7, 1915 in Historical Annual Addresses 1:52.


Historical Annual Addresses 1:71. Te December 1924 court document may be found at 8:1709f.


H. D. Hunter / Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389


As the story unfolds, one discovers a unique fusion of the emerging ecclesi- ology with staunch emphasis on racial reconciliation. In popular terminology, it will eventually become the intersection of the “Arise Shine” and the “Great Speckled Bird.” Although CGP did not take the lead in social justice issues as carried out in the public arena, they did create an alternative community that empowered many who were oppressed by society. Clearly a vital issue for Tom- linson was the bringing together of different races and nationalities. I have documented elsewhere that during the initial conflict, with ten members of the elders’ council lined up against Tomlinson and the two elders who sup- ported him, the matter of race was not insignificant.33

In 1914, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) would seemingly make their selection of Tomlinson as general overseer permanent or, as he put it in his diary for November 15, 1914, “until Jesus comes or calls.”34 Amid a charis- matic outbreak during this business session, M.S. Lemons took Tomlinson by the arm and led him to the front. Some said the position was for life and when M.S. Lemons said, “I think you can all see that God’s approval is on this selec- tion, and I don’t see any use of ever saying anything more about a change,” the minutes added, “Tis remark met a unanimous approval.”35 Tomlinson empha- sized the charismatic dimension of general overseer selection for life. Tis approach was continued by CGP up through at least 1990 but never by the Church of God (Cleveland, TN).

Robins characterizes this quest of leadership by Tomlinson over not only the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) but the entire Pentecostal movement as seeking “apostolic authority.” Te term is used parallel to the term apostolic order as applied earlier to Sandford. More telling about Tomlinson is his use of James as his model. One can see the notes scribbled on his set of Te Ante- Nicene Fathers that figured into his 1914 annual address. Building on the


Harold D. Hunter, “A Journey Toward Racial Reconciliation: Race Mixing in the Church of God of Prophecy,” in Te Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy, ed. Harold D. Hunter and Cecil M. Robeck (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 2006), 277-96.


A.J. Tomlinson, diary, vol. 3, November 15, 1914. Manuscripts Division. Library of Con- gress, Washington, D.C.


Echoes from the Tenth Annual Assembly of the Churches of God held at Cleveland, Tennessee, November 2-8, 1914, p. 24; A.J. Tomlinson court testimony in December 1924 (8:1759f). Also see Diary of A.J. Tomlinson, ed. Homer A. Tomlinson 1:227ff and Diary of A.J. Tomlinson, ed. Bishop Homer A. Tomlinson (Queens Village: Te Church of God, World Headquarters, 1955) 3:84. Cf. James Stone, Te Church of God of Prophecy: History & Polity (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House and Press, 1977), 30-31.



H. D. Hunter / Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389

exalted language about James used by early bishops, Tomlinson raised the stakes by placing James on “his imperial and mediatorial throne.”36 In terms of A.J. Tomlinson’s journey, it is likely that part of the backdrop for this development was his exposure to the FBH Movement. It seems difficult to imagine that he would not have known that the founder, B.H. Irwin, had been made general overseer for life at the first national meeting, which was held between July 28 and August 8, 1898 in Anderson, South Carolina. Having followed Irwin as general overseer of the FBH while at the helm of the Pentecostal Holiness Church (PHC), J.H. King would complain not only that Irwin pushed through a FBH Discipline that made him general overseer for life, but that his unrestricted powers were canonized and published after being endorsed by a national body that allowed that

[h]e alone had authority to make any and all appointments, to receive and ordain all candidates for the ministry, to deprive of credentials, and expel from the State Asso- ciation all that he disliked or disapproved of their work.37

Not unlike the FBH influence, exposure to the theocracy teachings of Sand- ford and Dowie would have likely included awareness that these figures were expected to hold their position through their entire lives. Ten there would be other examples, such as Tomlinson’s trip to Memphis in 1908, during which he attended services led by Charles H. Mason, who led the Church of God in Christ until he passed away in 1961 at the age of ninety-five. Tere was also Tomlinson’s time in Cincinnati, when he would have seen Martin Wells Knapp as the undisputed leader of God’s Bible School founded by Knapp in 1900. In 1888 Knapp launched the famous magazine Te Revivalist, and in 1897, with Tomlinson’s home town Quaker friend Seth Ress, he cofounded the denomi-


General Assembly Minutes: 1906-1914: Photographic Reproductions of the First Ten General Assembly Minutes, p. 302, citing minutes of the 10th Annual Assembly held November 2-8, 1914 in Cleveland, Tennessee (p. 12); Historical Annual Addresses: A.J. Tomlinson, 1:50. Cf. Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 208, 212, 220ff; Daniel D. Preston, Te Era of A.J. Tomlinson (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House and Press, 1984), 59ff. I read A.J. Tomlinson’s handwritten notes in his personal copies of the ANF years before Robins would report this finding in his book on Tomlinson. What I found was incorporated into various dictionary and encyclopedia articles that I wrote about A.J. Tomlinson.


J.H. King, “History of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church: Chapter II,” Pentecostal Holiness Advocate 4, no. 48 (March 31, 1921), 10f. Tis is easily confirmed in the early FBH constitutions available at the IPHC Archives & Research Center now available on CD.


H. D. Hunter / Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389


nation that became known as the Pilgrim Holiness Church.38 Perhaps a like argument could be made about Tomlinson’s knowledge of D.S. Warner, founder of what became known as the Church of God (Anderson, IN), or even A.B. Simpson and his Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Although A.J. Tomlinson put a council of elders in place, he intended to have supreme power, including the appointment of state overseers, who in turn appointed pastors, who then appointed local leaders. In 1922 his author- ity was diminished in a way he could not accept. After CGP was launched, Tomlinson disbanded a council of elders as such.39

Icons at the Periphery of Tomlinson’s Ecclesiology

Te “right hand of fellowship” as part of the formal acceptance of someone into a Church of God is not the central theological issue of A.J. Tomlinson’s ecclesiology, although it is obviously public and therefore its visibility fosters much discussion, at least among those in this particular tradition. For exam- ple, there is nothing comparable to sacramental baptismal regeneration, but rather a public sign of the reality of someone joining the church. Te candi- dates, having been accepted by a local community, would have had to affirm distinctive teachings of the national body and expressed their intentions by affirming a verbal covenant of the same.

Perhaps Spurling was the one who convinced Tomlinson that a public ver- bal covenant was necessary to make a believer part of the true church. Tomlin- son declared this to be the case when he introduced Spurling to the 1913 Church of God (Cleveland, TN) general assembly.40 And in Tomlinson’s typed


Homer A. Tomlinson, Te Great Vision of the Church of God (Queens Village, NY: by the author, 1939), 5. Cf. God’s Clock Keeps Perfect Time: God’s Bible School’s First 100 years: 1900- 2000, compiled and edited by Kevin M. Moser and Larry D. Smith (Cincinnati, OH: Revivalist Press, 2000).


Although there is no reason to think that A.J. Tomlinson is meant, the following comments by R.M. Evans under the title “Scriptural Basis of Church Unity” in Te Bridegroom’s Messenger 5, no. 109 (May 1, 1912), 4, are instructive:

I note among other important statements in your editorial [Sexton] of April 1, the fact that

the church at Pargamos held to the doctrine of the Nicholaltanes, “meaning the one man

rule — the priest ruling the people.” Not only so, but Pergamos means citadel, so there is

not only a Mohammed, but his Mecca, not only a Joseph Smith, but a Salt Lake City, and

not only an Alexander Dowie, but a Zion City to boost his claims. Jesus, however, disap-

proved of Church capital cities, to sustain aspirants, and warp its actions.


Echoes From the Eighth General Assembly of the Churches of God Held at Cleveland, Tennessee, January 7-12, 1913, 38.



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1935 manuscript titled “Te Life of Rev. R.G. Spurling” printed in the June 22, 1935 WWM, Tomlinson recounts this issue in strong terms:

I had been taught, as many others, that I was in the Church by my being born again or converted and saved. But as stated on previous occasions, Brother Spurling knocked that old tradition out of me in five minutes.

Te key phrase of entering the Church “by covenant and the right hand of fellowship” is found both in the typed manuscript and in the 1935 WWM article titled “R.G. Spurling Passed Over Te Tide.” But if Spurling was fight- ing Landmarkism’s exclusivity, and since we know that Spurling and Tomlin- son gave different dates for the birth of the early church, then a question mark must be placed by Coulter’s insistence on this point.41

It is interesting to note that the language of the covenant remained part of CGP language up through at least the 1990s. But none of this language is unique to either Spurling or Tomlinson and most likely was borrowed from the many advocates of this perspective.

According to Roger Robins, “Spurling carried assumptions that had been common to Southern restorationism since the days of Barton Stone and Alex- ander Campbell.” Among them was the rejection of creeds and “the ideal of a church united not by ecclesiastical coercion but by the law of love and the bonds of Christian fellowship.” “Spurling acknowledges his debt to the Dis- ciples of Christ movement by including Campbell among the great heroes of church history along with Luther, Wesley, Calvin, Wycliffe, and Huss (Te Lost Link, p. 17).”42

A logical implication, then, is that A.J. Tomlinson either drank from the same wells before meeting Spurling or from the same stream as it flowed through many of the places Tomlinson visited and was espoused in the litera- ture he read. In place of creeds, Tomlinson would appropriate the term decree from the book of Acts.

One can also speculate about such figures as Charles G. Finney, Charles Spurgeon, A.J. Gordon, R.A. Torrey, and C.I. Scofield.43 I am not conversant with their work in this area of ecclesiology and do not know how many of these influenced Tomlinson, but their impact on a slice of North American


“R.G. Spurling Passed Over the Tide,” White Wing Messenger 12, no. 13 (June 22, 1935), 3f; Coulter, “Forgotten Contribution?” 73.


Robins, A.J. Tomlinson, 169, 280 n. 10.


For example, A.J. Tomlinson undertook missionary tours with J.B. Mitchell, who had been converted under the ministry of R.A. Torrey and then attended Oberlin College.


H. D. Hunter / Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389


Christendom was so significant that the possibility of some links cannot be dismissed out of hand.

CGP would come to declare that God’s visible church was birthed on Mt. Hattin near the Sea of Galilee and on the basis of revelation (see Matt 16:13-20). Tomlinson’s “revelation” on June 13, 1903 is consistent with that paradigm. Notably, no less than Rebecca Barr wrote in a 1910 Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel that Tomlinson had written her a letter saying that the Church needed to be revealed to her.44 Tomlinson himself singled out the ordaining of the twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-15) as the actual birth of the original church. As early as the publication in 1913 of Te Last Great Conflict, Tomlinson portrayed the Church of God as functioning before the Day of Pentecost.45 In Spurling’s 1910 Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel article, he does not give a solid date about the start of the Church. Spurling says it started in Jerusalem “when God set them in the church, ‘First Apostles,’ then all the officers in regular order.” But then he quotes Acts 2:42 about con- tinuing “steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Spurling’s article in the Te Way does not give a date, but contrasts Christ’s Law of Love over against creeds and confessions. Spurl- ing’s Te Lost Link refers to the “rock” of “upon this rock” as the Holy Spirit and places this as a future event, which puts both positions at odds with Tomlinson.46

It is presently unknown when A.J. Tomlinson first identified the “rock” of God’s Church as being Jesus. However, the 1922 Te Book of Doctrines47 says the “rock” is not Peter but Jesus. On the back of Homer Tomlinson’s Te Shout of a King, Homer lists this as one of his publications. See also an editorial note in his edition of his father’s diary and the 1920s correspondence from New


Te Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 7 (June 1, 1910), 7. Notice also how revelation is stoked by M.S. Lemons in “Te Church of God and Bride of Christ,” found on p. 2 of the same issue.


A.J. Tomlinson, Te Last Great Conflict, 134-35; Historical Notes: A.J. Tomlinson (Cleve- land, TN: White Wing Publishing House, 1970 [1943]), 47-48, quoting a tract by Tomlinson entitled Te Last Days Church. Also see Minutes, 36th Assembly (1941), 45; Historical Annual Addresses: A.J. Tomlinson 3:220. Cf. Perry Gillum, Tese Stones Speak (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House and Press, 1985), 51f.


Spurling, Te Lost Link, 9, 41.


Homer A. Tomlinson, Te Shout of a King (Queen’s Village, NY: Te Church of God, U.S.A. Headquarters, 1968); Te Book of Doctrines (Cleveland, TN: Church of God Publishing House, 1922), 101.



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York City.48 Tis book was revised in 1970 by the Church of God (Queens Village, NY) while it was led by Voy Bullen. A 1922 chapter on “Te Church of God” calls Te Church of God the “body of Christ” and “the Church,” and so on.49

Spurling’s Te Lost Link


refers to the “New Testament” as the “only infal- lible rule of faith and practice.” Te phrase “. . . only rule of faith and practice” is found in the 1900 Constituion and General Rules of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association of America under Article VII, Government, in connection with “His [God’s] infallible Word.” Tis language remained in the CGP covenant up through at least the 1990s. Spurling is explaining “the agreement or basis of union as it stood in 1895.” Tis was the grounds for rejecting “men-made creeds” and accepting only the “law of love.” He adds “instead of faith, faith in Christ being the only faith required in the gospel and love being the com- mandment of Christ, by which we should know each other as His disciples.”

Spurling then says that the “New Testament contains all things necessary for salvation and church government. Terefore, all dealings must be on gos- pel principles. Baptism, the Lord’s supper and feet-washing, as taught in the Scriptures and that each member shall have equal rights and privileges to read, believe and practice for themselves in all matters of religion that may not prove contrary to the law of love or the true spirit of Christianity.”

In his “short autobiography,” Spurling talks about having to give up his license and concludes: “Here it seemed to me that my little boat must forever sink as I was turned out of what I once thought was Christ’s only true church.” He took this risk because of forsaking the “commandments of men” and rather obeying God. “Te Lord was with me and gathered hundreds of people to hear about the new way, and so we went until we were able to establish our- selves on God’s law and government, and now we lay it before the world.”51

Having shown the roots of Spurling’s thought in Southern Restorationism, Roger Robins cites specific examples, such as affirming that “[t]he New Testa- ment is the only infallible rule of faith and practice” and that the law of love binds together the ideal church, making it the “only basis for Christian unity,”


Diary of A.J. Tomlinson, ed. Homer A. Tomlinson 1:256. When he proposed this project in a letter to his father on March 13, 1920, it sounded as if it would be compilation of writings by A.J. Tomlinson. In a letter from 1920-21, however, he talks about doing a “rewrite” and then, on October 19, 1921, discusses work on page proofs.


Te Book of Doctrines, 95, 97.


Spurling, Te Lost Link, 45.


Ibid., 48, 49.


H. D. Hunter / Pneuma 32 (2010) 369-389


which Spurling affirms in Te Lost Link but does not mention in “An Appeal.” A.J. Tomlinson uses this phrase in Last Great Conflict.52

Despite the cogent argument put forward by Coulter, I do not believe that Spurling was Tomlinson’s first exposure or catalyst for the idea that the fourth- century ecumenical Council of Nicea was when the true church plunged into apostasy. Tis view was espoused by many at that time, and it would be diffi- cult to find a specific reference on this point in the extant sources. Again, although Robins does not single out Nicea as part of Spurling’s heritage in Southern Restorationism, it is not a stretch to link the two. In fact, this would have been so widespread that A.J. Tomlinson would have been exposed to the concept through multiple sources.

Spurling’s 1897 “An Appeal” includes internal evidence that Spurling did not invent this notion about the Council of Nicea but took it from the writ- ings of G.H. Orchard and Charles Buck. Since it is quite certain that others were saying the same thing, it seems an unnecessary strain to claim Spurling as the principal source when many, including A.J. Tomlinson, had access to the same sources or at least similar sources and would have lived in the generation that gave considerable attention to this notion. Tomlinson’s exposure to such a wide range of sources and the material that is documented in his own writ- ings seem to support this thesis. However, there may not be hard evidence one way or the other about how this seed was planted or what made it grow in his imagination.


Ibid., 25; Tomlinson, Te Last Great Conflict, 40.



  • Reply May 5, 2023


    deeply rooted in pre-Trib eschatology which was the bread and butter of virtually all early American Pentecostals Link Hudson Philip Williams Brett Dobbs Oscar Valdez Michael Chauncey Neil Steven Lawrence Terry Wiles Peter Vandever

    • Reply May 5, 2023


      Link Hudson but admittedly – your own cog roots as you claim them

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