The Development Of Ecclesiology In The Church Of God (Cleveland, TN) A Forgotten Contribution

The Development Of Ecclesiology In The Church Of God (Cleveland, TN)  A Forgotten Contribution

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Pneuma 29 (2007) 59-85

The Development of Ecclesiology in the

Church of God (Cleveland, TN):

A Forgotten Contribution?

Dale M. Coulter

Dept. of T eology, Lee University, Cleveland, TN 37320, U.S.A.

[email protected]

Abstract

Recent Pentecostal theologians attempting to forge a Pentecostal ecclesiology seem to agree that early Pentecostalism lacked any significant discussion of the doctrine of the church. While that contention may be true of the free-church wing of early Pentecostalism, the current article argues that it is not true of the Church of God. Instead, ecclesiology was the most discussed topic among early Church of God theologians and this discussion led to a rather elaborate understanding of the nature of the church. The current article attempts to set forth early Church of God ecclesiology both to show how important it was to the Church of God and to suggest that current statements about the lack of any developed ecclesiology among early Pentecostals should be revised.

Keywords

Ecclesiology, Church, Church of God, A. J. Tomlinson, R. G. Spurling

Introduction

In his introduction to ecclesiology, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen quotes Catholic Paul D. Lee approvingly to underscore the point that Pentecostals have engaged in little reflection on the nature and purpose of the church.1

1

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical and Global Perspectives (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 73. Kärkkäinen first made this point in his article, “Church as Charismatic Fellowship: Ecclesiological Reflections from the Pentecos- tal–Roman Catholic Dialogue,” Journal of Pentecostal T eology 18 (2001): 102. The article is reprinted with some revision as chapter 8 in his Toward a Pneumatological T eology: Pentecostal and Ecumenical Perspectives on Ecclesiology, Soteriology, and T eology of Mission , ed. Amos Yong (New York: University Press of America, 2002). Certain parts of the article also reemerge in chapter 6 of the Introduction to Ecclesiology, which I have cited.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/157007407X178247

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This claim about the dearth of ecclesiological writings among Pentecostals received broad promotion when Peter Hocken repeatedly emphasized it in his article on the church in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.2 Hocken suggested that the lack of a worked-out ecclesiology stemmed from a view of the church as spiritual rather than institutional and from the process of denominationalism within the Pentecostal Movement.3 Another reason supporting this claim may be that in the so-called heart of the movement — its first twenty years — many Pentecostals were still in the process of organizing, which did not leave much time for reflection on the nature of the church. Frank Macchia, who relies upon Hocken’s article, hints at this when he states, “I think that research into Pentecostal history and theology confirms the judgment that there has not been much theological reflection on the nature of the church at any point, especially in the early decades of the movement.”4 Regardless of the specifics behind it, the claim does not accurately represent certain parts of the movement, in particular, the theological development of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN).

For the first thirty-seven years of its existence as a movement, ecclesiology permeated the theological milieu of the Church of God (1886-1923). Its founder, R. G. Spurling, devoted all of his published writings to the topic, including The Lost Link , a booklet dealing almost exclusively with ecclesiol- ogy.5 Its first General Overseer, A. J. Tomlinson, was so concerned about the nature of the church as to be almost obsessed with the topic. This obsession is reflected in his annual addresses to the General Assembly of the Church of

2

Peter D. Hocken, “Church, T eology of the,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, eds. S. M. Burgess and G. B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 211-18. The article in the revised dictionary repeats the same ideas about early Pentecostalism. See Peter D. Hocken, “Church, T eology of the,” in International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, revised and expanded edition, ed. S. M. Burgess (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 544-51.

3

Hocken, “Church, T eology of, ” Dictionary, 212-13; idem, “Church, T eology of, ” Inter- national Dictionary, 544-46.

4

Frank Macchia, “The Church as an End-time Missionary Fellowship of the Spirit: A Pente- costal Perspective on the Significance of Pneumatology for Ecclesiology,” unpublished paper presented at the Pentecostal/National Council of Churches Dialogue, Oakland, CA, March 12, 1997, 3. Cecil M. Robeck cites Macchia to make the same point. See his “Pentecostals and Christian Unity: Facing the Challenge,” Pneuma: The Pentecostal Theology 26, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 320.

5

See R. G. Spurling, “Dangers and Hindrances to the Cause of Christ,” The Way 1, no. 6 (June 1904), 1; idem, “The Church,” The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 2 (March 15, 1910), 4; idem, The Lost Link (Turtletown, TN, 1920).

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God, over thirty articles devoted to the topic within a ten-year span (1910- 1920) in the deno minational publication, Church of God Evangel, and more space being given to ecclesiology in his The Last Great Conflict than to any other topic.6 In addition, the first eighteen assemblies of the Church of God dealt with the topic in some manner with some assemblies being almost exclu- sively devoted to it. It is not insignificant that Tomlinson commends the min- utes of the seventh General Assembly (1912) to those who “are or may become interested in the re-establishment of the Bible Church with all of its former graces, gifts and glory.”7 What emerges from this data is an extensive debate about the nature and purpose of the church within the early history of the Church of God that culminated in a well-developed ecclesiology.8 While many may take issue with certain features of this ecclesiological outlook, there is no mistake that it represents a prominent — albeit neglected — feature of early Pentecostalism in the United States.

The present article attempts to trace the theological exploration of ecclesiol- ogy in the formative period of the Church of God through two of its primary representatives, R. G. Spurling and A. J. Tomlinson. I have identified the first thirty-seven years (1886-1923) as the formative period because it was during this time that the major components of the ecclesiological views of the Church of God were developed. T ose lines of thought and the debates to which they gave rise culminated in a split within the Church of God in 1923 that led to the formation of two distinct bodies, the Church of God and the Church of God of Prophecy. R. G. Spurling best represents the first phase of this forma- tive period (1886-1910). During this phase, his ecclesiology functioned as the dominant model under which the Church of God operated. Spurling also defined the parameters of the debate on the nature of the church that would influence every subsequent discussion. While Spurling’s outlook set the eccle- siological agenda in the first phase, Tomlinson proved more than able to bring that agenda to maturity in its second phase (1910-1923). It was during this second phase that Tomlinson extended certain facets of Spurling’s ecclesiology while vigorously holding on to others. Under the weight of questions concern- ing mission and authority, Spurling’s modified free church ecclesiology shifted

6

The statistic on the Church of God Evangel would most likely be higher, but at this time the

issues from 1911 to 1913 are missing. In reality, this statistic encompasses a seven-year period.

7

General Assembly Minutes 1906-1914: Photographic Reproductions of the First Ten General

Assembly Minutes (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House, 1992), 122.

8

See R. G. Robins, A. J. Tomlinson: Plainfolk Modernist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 169, who also makes this point.

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to the point that Tomlinson was defending himself against charges of reinvent- ing another form of Catholicism.9 By examining the thought of Spurling and Tomlinson, including the continuities and discontinuities, the theological reflection on the church in the early history of the Church of God will emerge, as will the need to revision the contemporary judgment of an ecclesiological vacuum within Pentecostalism.

First Phase: R. G. Spurling

When R. G. Spurling and his father, Richard Spurling, began Christian Union in 1886, they were both protesting a particular strain of Baptist thought known as “Landmarkism.”10 Promoted by prominent Baptist ministers J. R. Graves (1820-1893) and J. M. Pendleton (1811-1891), Landmarkism proved to be a powerful force in the Southeastern part of the United States. Of their writings, Pendleton’s church manual was especially significant because it disseminated Landmark ideas without many Baptist churches even realizing it.11 Graves and Pendleton called for Baptists to return to “the ancient Landmarks,” by which they meant the roots of their Baptist faith. Central to this call was the idea that Baptist churches were the only true expressions of the church. As scholars have noted, the ecclesiology of Landmarkism was its most distinctive feature.12

9

Tomlinson seemed to anticipate these accusations when, in a discussion on apostolicity he initiated at the seventh General Assembly (1912), he stated, “Some may say, ‘I know now what you are aiming at, you want to organize a body like the Catholic Church.’” See General Assembly Minutes, 137; In his article, “The Church of God: A Great Mystery,” Church of God Evangel 12, no. 18 (April 30, 1921), 1, J. P. Hughes mentions an ex-Church of God minister who was claim- ing, “The Church of God is like the Catholic church and Tomlinson is the pope.”

10

See Wade H. Phillips, “Richard Spurling and the Baptist Roots of the Church of God,” paper presented at the Twenty-T ird Annual Meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Theology, Guadalajara, Mexico, who establishes this point.

11

J. M. Pendleton, Church Manual: Designed for Use of Baptist Churches (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1882; reprint, Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1966). Wade H. Phillips suggests that R. G. Spurling belonged to the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, which was founded on Pendleton’s Church Manual. See his “Richard Spurling and the Baptist Roots of the Church of God,” 17; and idem, “The Life and Times of Richard Spurling,” Church of God History & Heritage (Summer/Fall 2002), 6-7.

12

H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987), 450; Baptist T eologians , ed. Timothy George and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1990), 193, 238. James Tull even calls Graves the “champion of Baptist High Churchism.” See his Shapers of Baptist T ought (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1972; reprint, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984), 129ff.

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Clustered around the Landmark understanding of the church was a number of important ideas that influenced Spurling. Stemming from Graves, Land- mark Baptists endorsed the idea of an unbroken succession of churches. T ey argued that the first church in Judea was Baptist in its organization and struc- ture, and that one could trace a series of “Baptist” churches patterned on this original model.13 To buttress this claim, Graves republished G. H. Orchard’s History of Foreign Baptists, which attempted to trace the history of Baptist churches from John the Baptist to the current day.14 By equating dissenters with Baptists, Orchard pinpointed various groups from John the Baptist for- ward that typified the Baptistic ideal. He argued that the history of dissent revealed that “Baptist” churches had always been in existence. Graves seized on Orchard’s argument as “proof” of the Landmark idea of church succession. So important is this idea to Landmarkism that one Baptist historian suggested that it “plays the same role as apostolic succession for Catholics, validating their claims to be the only true church.”15

Graves and Pendleton also claimed that the church was an independent, visible congregation with officers, ordinances, and government. The exercise of spiritual power through ordination of ministers, discipline of members, and administration of ordinances was invested in the local congregation, which was in itself the body of Christ. This flow of spiritual power implies that one should only partake of the Lord’s Supper in one’s own congregation because that particular congregation had spiritual oversight. Moreover, Graves and Pendleton saw water baptism as the gateway to membership in the local church. Since this membership could only consist of the regenerate, they asserted that repentance and a confession of faith must precede the act of bap- tism. The former made one a Christian while the latter admitted one into the church. All of these Landmark ideas shaped Spurling, causing him to recon- sider his view of the church.

Spurling’s writings extend from 1897, when he composed “An Appeal,” a manuscript setting out a critique of Landmarkism and his alternative, to 1920,

13

J. R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What is it? 2d ed. (Memphis, TN: Baptist Book House, 1881; reprint, Texarkana, AR-TX: Baptist Sunday School Committee, 1928), 121-30.

14

G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Foreign Baptists: Taken from the New Testament, the First Fathers, Early Writers, and Historians of All Ages, 7th ed. (Nashville, TN: Graves, Marks & Rut- land, n.d.). The first edition in the United States was published in 1855. Reprinted as G. H. Orchard, A Concise History of Baptists: From the Time of Christ T eir Founder to the 18th Century (Lexington, KY: Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, 1956; reprint, Texarkana, AR-TX: Bogard Press, 1987).

15

McBeth, The Baptist Heritage , 459.

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when he published The Lost Link .16 Although much of the material in “An Appeal” found its way into The Lost Link , there are sufficiently significant differences between the two works to see them as distinct contributions.17 Beyond these two works, Spurling left only two articles, a series of poems/ songs and a recorded address he gave at the 1913 General Assembly of the Church of God.18 As a reaction to what Landmarkism represented, Spurling’s writings evince a relatively developed critique of established Christianity based on his own reading of the Constantinian fall of the church and a constructive alternative to it.

The Constantinian Fall of the Church

The idea of a Constantinian fall of the church seemed to impress itself on Spurling as he connected the theological issues of his present context to the fourth century. While his primary target was the Landmark Baptist and Methodist churches that were persecuting him and other preachers in Appalachia who had embraced Holiness ideas, Spurling came to believe that the root cause of these churches was the Council of Nicaea. Consequently, his writings possess two levels of critique. On the one hand, his initial concern was the immediate cause of the persecution he and others were enduring at the hands of the Baptist and Methodist churches. It is no mis- take that Spurling put pen to paper on May 4, 1897, right in the midst of the persecutions surrounding the holiness group spawned from the Shearer Schoolhouse revival.19 These persecutions were at least partially based upon

16

R. G. Spurling, “An Appeal,” Handwritten manuscript, 1897, Church of God of Prophecy Archives, Cleveland, TN. I have entitled the manuscript “An Appeal” after the opening words.

17

I would disagree with Douglas Jacobsen’s assessment that “An Appeal” is the original man- uscript of The Lost Link . See his T inking in the Spirit: T eologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2003), 371, n. 72. For an extensive comparison between the manuscript and The Lost Link see James M. Beaty, “The 1897 Manuscript and The Lost Link ,” unpublished paper. My thanks to Dr. Beaty for providing a copy of his paper.

18

Spurling, “Dangers and Hindrances to the Cause of Christ,” 1; idem, “The Church,” 4; idem, “Address on the Church,” General Assembly Minutes, 195-98.

19

For the history surrounding the Shearer Schoolhouse revival and its impact, see Charles W. Conn, Like a Mighty Army: A History of the Church of God, definitive edition (Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 1996), 23-29; Wade Philips, “Baptist Rejection of Holiness Revives the Church of God,” Church of God History & Heritage (Summer/Fall 2002), 1, 9; idem, “W. F. Bryant: From Bootlegger to Holiness Leader,” Church of God History & Heritage (Summer/Fall 2002), 3-4. Spurling’s brother-in-law, Billy Hamby, was a preacher there. In addition, court documents dated August 26, 1897 put the persecutions of the small holiness group very close to Spurling’s writing.

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doctrinal differences, particularly surrounding the idea of sanctification. On the other hand, Spurling concluded that creedal formation preceded and gave rise to doctrinal divisions. Since the Council of Nicaea had issued the first ecumenical creed, which was then used to divide the church into Arian and pro-Nicene wings, Spurling saw it as the wellspring of division and Christian-on-Christian persecution. His attempt to correct the immediate problem of persecution in Appalachia was to call for a reunion of Christians premised upon a rejection of Nicaea and a recovery of the original ground of Christian unity, Christ’s law of love.

Spurling began his attack on Nicaea and creedalism with a biblical/theo- logical analysis of the nature of the church. From sifting through his writings it becomes clear that the fundamental issue for him concerns the basis of fel- lowship among the people of God. Drawing particularly on Johannine texts, Spurling asserted that Christ’s commandment or law to love one another must ultimately define the church as the people of God.20 Christians do not create this fellowship. Rather, it pre-exists in the Spirit and is first given because the Spirit inscribes the law of Christ on the heart. Any other basis of fellowship must be rejected. He states, “All denominations know and fellowship each other by their creed or confession of faith instead of the way Jesus said for men to know His disciples.”21 For Spurling, if one is to develop an ecclesiology centered on the notion of koinōnia, then creedal statements cannot authorita- tively define the boundaries of that koinōnia because they represent human attempts to formulate more precise doctrinal definitions. To formulate a con- fession of faith is tantamount to constructing a theological image of God, which is vulnerable to the charge of idolatry. If no one can know where the wind blows (John 3:8), then no one can authoritatively claim to know the Spirit’s mind beyond the boundaries established by Christ’s law of love. “T ere- fore whosoever attempts to write a law or creed for a church is guilty of idola- try. T us we see that human laws and governments in the churches is the sin of the age.”22 Spurling’s claim is that denominations have abandoned Christ’s law of love as the essential basis of fellowship, and in so doing have constructed theological idols.

20

Spurling, “An Appeal,” 4, 17; idem, “Dangers and Hindrances to the Cause of Christ,” 1; idem, “The Church,” 4; idem, The Lost Link , 9-10, 12, 20, 22. Johannine thought dominates Spurling’s concept of fellowship. He appeals to John 3.8; 13:34-35; 15:12; 17:21; 1 John 3:11, 14, 23, 24; 1 John 4:1-6, 7-8, 20-21; 3 John 10.

21

Spurling, “Dangers and Hindrances to the Cause of Christ,”1.

22

Spurling, “An Appeal,” 4.

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After arguing in support of Christ’s law of love as the ground of fellowship, Spurling turns to history to answer the question of when the church aban- doned this law. He identifies Nicaea as the flashpoint for two reasons. First, Spurling cites Orchard in defense of his view that the church lived under the law of love for the first three centuries prior to Nicaea.23 In fact, Spurling’s view of history seems to stem almost exclusively from Orchard. In writing a history of dissent, Orchard had accused Constantine of marrying church and state, reintroducing Roman pagan practices and political interests into the church, destroying the liberty of churches by setting up Sylvester as pope, and persecuting various dissenting groups.24 A close reading of Spurling reveals that he agreed with most of Orchard’s conclusions. In Spurling’s mind creedal- ism and persecution went together. This was his own experience in the late 1890s and Orchard had confirmed to Spurling that it was the experience of the post-Nicene church.

Secondly, Spurling went beyond Orchard to see the problem as a blending of spiritual power and political power. Spiritual power became an oppressive political power when one person or group imposed its own will on another. He concludes that the fall of the church was caused by “assuming the right to make any law by which to exclude anyone or bind anyone’s conscience [and] judging a brother by the law of faith instead of God’s law of love, liberty and righteousness.”25 This does not mean that Spurling was against the idea of the community shaping the conscience. Instead, his concern lay with what he considered a human attempt to bring a conscience into conformity with a theological ideal articulated in an article of faith.

The claim of an oppressive political power in control of the church prompted Spurling to gravitate toward apocalyptic texts to describe metaphorically the church’s condition. In particular, he wove together three images drawn from different texts to argue that the church had fallen into a Babylonian captivity. Instead of specifying a particular individual or group, Spurling linked the first

23

Cf. Spurling, “An Appeal,” 18; idem, The Lost Link, 34-35; Orchard, A History of Foreign Baptists, 22, 110, 175.

24

See Orchard, A History of Foreign Baptists, 38, 58, 86-87, 88, 119, 141. Examples of Orchard’s comments are as follows: “This mode of proceeding in consulting the bishop [Sylves- ter], led to the destruction of civil and religious liberty, and ruined the independency of the churches” (38); “While the catholics, under Constantine, were ornamenting their sanctuaries, so as to resemble heathen temples, the Donatists’ zeal prompted them to clear the walls and floors of their places of worship of all vestiges of the ancient superstition” (86-87).

25

Spurling, “An Appeal,” 14.

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image, the enthronement of the “man of sin” (2 T ess. 2:3ff) or the rise of the beast, to the coercive exercise of political power. As he states, “it was the belief that one had the right to think for another that enthroned the man of sin.”26 In addition, Spurling fused Ezekiel 16 and Revelation 17 and 18. The first text is an elaborate metaphorical description of Israel as the bride of Yahweh who had committed fornication, which resulted in exile. For Spurling, when inter- preted in light of Revelation 17, the unfaithful bride becomes the harlot who rides the beast.27 The once pure church had become enamored with the allure- ments of wealth and political power that Babylon offered (church and state), with the result that it was now captive to them. The only solution was to echo the cry of Revelation 18:4 that God’s people come out.28 The “man of sin,” or the beast, was the political power upon which the harlot church sat in her captivity; a captivity in which she would remain until she gave up creeds and returned to Christ’s law of love. The church had fallen into this captivity the moment bishops at Nicaea, backed by Roman political power, created a novel rule of faith and used it to oppress others.

A Constructive Ecclesiology

As the heat of persecutions in the late 1890s subsided, Spurling became less concerned about Landmarkism. Centering his criticisms on Nicaea, he began to develop his ideas about grounding the church on Christ’s law of love. As indicated earlier, Spurling’s ecclesiology revolves around the concept of koinōnia. The church is the creation of Christ, who through the Spirit has inscribed his own law on the hearts of his children. Summarized as love for God and one another, this law forms the parameters of the covenant or koinōnia that exists prior to and hence constitutes the people of God. One cannot substitute creedal formulations for the law of Christ because “there is but one law giver, even Christ.”29 So important is this idea that

26

Ibid., 4.5. Some pages of the manuscript are a number followed by a 1/2, indicating that they were written and inserted later. See also idem, The Lost Link , 24.

27

Spurling, “The Church,” 4; idem, “Address on the Church,” General Assembly Minutes, 195; idem,The Lost Link , 8.

28

Spurling, “An Appeal,” 5.5; idem, The Lost Link , 8, 17. Spurling uses the phrase “political ecclesiasticism” to identify the union of church and state.

29

Spurling, “Dangers and Hindrances to the Cause of Christ,” 1. See also idem, The Lost Link, 10, where he states, “T ere is but one law-giver . . . So Christ spoke all the law, precepts and government of His Church. To add anything is a step in apostasy.”

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Spurling uses it as his definition of the church: “the Church is a people ruled by Jesus and His laws.”30 The church’s koinōnia remains grounded upon the rule of Christ and the covenantal obligations required by that rule. Government, therefore, becomes his shorthand for the church because he views it as God’s new society, which is united in Christ and regulated by his laws.

Spurling articulates this ecclesiology partly through an analysis of the con- tinuities and discontinuities between the Old Testament and the New Testa- ment. He contrasts the role of law in both testaments by noting that while the Mosaic law was external and collective, the new law is internal and individual. Since the Mosaic law was written on tablets and bound everyone to the same ceremonies and customs, it was superseded by the new law, which fostered individual liberty of conscience as a result of its pneumatic inscription on the heart through regeneration and the mind through sanctification.31 T is soteri- ology led Spurling to adopt a pneumatological pole to his ecclesiology. He even suggested that the Spirit was the rock upon which Christ built his church.32 In light of Romans 14, Spurling argued that the Spirit binds persons together in love, creating koinōnia without violating individual liberty or equality.33 In this way, the Spirit preserves the rights of individuals to offer their interpretation of scripture. Indeed, one of the marks of the church is whether members have “equal rights and privileges to read and understand and practice God’s Word as they see it.”34 While Christ’s law institutes the church, giving it a visible structure, the Spirit constitutes the church by causing Christ’s rule to be established in persons and enabling them to grow in that rule.

In his article on the church, Spurling discusses the similarities and differences between the kind of fellowship that existed in the Old Testament and the kind that exists in the New Testament. He begins by asserting continuity, stating,

the first church was established in the wilderness, when Israel heard the command- ments of God, accepted the covenant and laws, and the officers were selected and placed in order accordance [sic] to God’s revealed will. The gospel church had its

30

Spurling, “Address on the Church,” General Assembly Minutes, 196.

31

Spurling, “An Appeal,” 1-4.

32

Spurling, The Lost Link , 9.

33

Spurling, “An Appeal,” 3-4.5 .

34

Spurling, The Lost Link , 10-11. Spurling makes this point several times, even including it as one of the founding ideas of the Christian Union, the first name of what would become the Church of God. See Spurling, “An Appeal,” 13-14; idem, The Lost Link , 40, 45.

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beginning at Jerusalem, when God set them in the church, ‘First Apostles,’ then all the officers in regular order. T ey were then recognized as ‘the church.’

35

Based on Luke’s description of Israel as the “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38; KJV), Spurling finds clear parallels that help him identify the nature of the New Testament church. While Israelites were the people of God in Egypt, they only become “the church” upon entering into covenant with God at Sinai. Likewise, Spurling asserts that God establishes the church in the New Testament on the basis of a covenant and its officers.

This continuity helped Spurling differentiate between the kingdom of God and the church. He states, “The ecclesia, or church has only a slight difference from the word kingdom, which may be seen in the following. Israel or the Jews were God’s people while in Egypt but were not called His church until they received His government in the wilderness and agreed to keep it, forming a covenant.”36 The kingdom consists of God’s people while the church consists of those who have consciously and collectively agreed to keep God’s covenant. To put it another way, the kingdom involves the spiritual union of all those who have undergone Christian initiation while the church is the visible coun- terpart to this spiritual entity.37 Spurling believed that a person did not enter the church at baptism, as his Landmark heritage had taught him, but only when one received “the right hand of fellowship” from others. He instituted the practice of taking a person into a local church by having all existing mem- bers greet the person with the right hand as an act of fellowship. It is a practice that continues in the Church of God today. For Spurling, that act of extending and receiving the right hand symbolized entrance into a visible covenantal relationship with Christ and others to be the church. This is why Spurling asserted that Christian initiation (repentance, faith, and water baptism) only brought one to the place where keeping God’s law became possible.

Spurling also noted a discontinuity by stressing that fellowship in the New Testament consisted of a marital union with Christ. In 1910 when Spurling

35

Spurling, “The Church,” 4. Notes from an address Spurling gave on the church at the third General Assembly (1908) offer this summary of one of his points: “The Church must be made exact in every part as the tabernacle was exact.” See General Assembly Minutes, 44, 45.

36

Spurling, The Lost Link , 41.

37

What Spurling means by Christian initiation is repentance, faith, and baptism. T ese intro- duce one into the kingdom, but do not make one a member of the church. See Spurling, “An Appeal,” 10; idem, “Address on the Church,” General Assembly Minutes, 196; idem, The Lost Link, 11.

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was writing to fellow Pentecostals, he emphasized visible nature of this union. To be married to Christ required that one submit to Christ’s rule and govern- ment. Spurling believed that this submission went beyond Christian initiation because it involved binding oneself to others who were in the kingdom of God to form a visible body. He states, “O beloved saints, do not claim to be the church of God until you are joined together in the gospel fellowship and agreement.”38 Gospel fellowship requires Christ’s government. Existing prior to believers, this government is consented to through an agreement or unity “established by the keeping of the decrees of the Apostles and elders. Acts 16:4-5”.39 The marriage between Christ and believers encompasses a vis- ible communion of persons who have submitted not only to Christ’s rule, but also to the interpretation of that rule in the decrees of the church’s officers.

Spurling’s view of the church as government led to an unresolved tension in his ecclesiology. On the one hand, he eschewed creeds as binding the con- science and, instead, argued that the Spirit brought liberty and equality. Hence the church must remain grounded upon Christ’s law of love, which is why the New Testament is its only rule of faith and practice. Spurling believed that the New Testament authoritatively articulated the nature of the law of love. It is also why individual believers must be given the freedom of conscience to prac- tice Christianity. On the other hand, he believed that the conscience should be “Christi anized” and asserted that individuals could be excommunicated “for known violations of God’s Word or commands.”40 Moreover, in an implicit reference to the Jerusalem Council, he endorsed following the decrees of the Apostles. Elsewhere, Spurling states, “the Apostles did not assume the right to form government for the Church, so God forbid that I should make a law to govern the people of God.”41 Only Christ could form government because Christ alone instituted the church. This suggests that apostolic decrees express Christ’s law. The Jerusalem Council represents the definition of the church because it shows the apostles interpreting Christ’s law and applying it to vari- ous situations.42 The New Testament remains the regula fidei, but the church,

38

Spurling, “The Church,” 4.

39

Ibid. (my emphasis).

40

Spurling, The Lost Link , 45. See also idem, “The Church,” 4, where he explicitly mentions that Diotrephes cast some out of the church (3 John 10). At the third General Assembly (1908), Spurling opened a discussion that concluded that a person should worship according to con- science but the conscience “should be purged, and trained according to the laws and commands of Jesus.” See General Assembly Minutes, 42, 43.

41

Spurling, “Address on the Church,” General Assembly Minutes, 196.

42

In The Lost Link , 41, Spurling claims that the church was established at Acts 16:5 or

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as a pneumatic entity, can and does interpret it out of the unity formed by Christ, which plays a role in “Christianizing” the conscience. It is most likely due to Spurling that in its first General Assembly (1906), the Church of God adopted the ruling that the assembly was a judicial body only, not a legislative or an executive body.43 Spurling clearly desired to live in the tension between an anti-creedalism that promoted liberty and equality and a visible community that could define the boundaries of interpretation through its decrees. He states,

Some think Christians ought not to be united in any bond of fellowship while others are not satisfied with the law and government of Christ and the Holy Spirit but must have a great many more laws and governments. So between the two extremes there is a wise and reasonable middle ground of truth which unprejudiced and honest Spirit led Christians can surely find in the words and acts of the Savior and His followers under the leadership of the Holy Ghost.44

Spurling’s ecclesiology can best be characterized as an Anabaptist/Baptist ecclesiology modified by his critique of Landmarkism. There is a sense in which the church is a voluntary association because Christians must join themselves in communion and agree to abide by Christ’s law and its inter- pretation. Receiving the right hand of fellowship seems to symbolize this covenant. As Spurling notes several times, repentance, faith and baptism (Christian initiation) only bring one to the place where keeping the law of Christ becomes possible. Yet, the church’s koinōnia remains grounded upon the structure given in Christ’s own life. Spurling identifies the koinōnia of the church with the givenness of Christ’s human existence, especially his cruciform existence. Reminiscent of the “suffering church” idea found in Anabaptist thought, he even suggests that the church participates in Christ’s

possibly Acts 2:4. Part of the larger context of Acts 16:5 is Paul and Timothy delivering the

decrees given by the Jerusalem Council.

43

General Assembly Minutes, 8, 9, 40, 41, 58, 59. It is important to recognize that Spurling is

consenting to the idea that the assembly is the judicial body rather than the local church. In addi-

tion, in a discussion on pastoral appointments at the second General Assembly (1907), Spurling noted that sometimes the local church chooses the pastor, but other times Paul selected the pas- tor. He concluded that pastoral appointments could be made by the local church but also by those in authority over it, presumably, the assembly. Contra Wade H. Phillips, “Quakerism and

Frank Sandford,” 7-8, this endorsement of some centralization suggests that Spurling is modify-

ing the Baptist ecclesiology of his youth. See General Assembly Minutes, 28, 29.

44

Spurling, The Lost Link , 42. Given the ambiguities in Spurling’s thought, I would contest

Robins’ conclusion that Spurling’s ecclesiology “made no provision for authoritative structures

beyond the local congregation.” See Robins, A. J. Tomlinson, 169.

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effort to redeem the world by its self-denying existence. That is, the present sufferings of the church continue the redemptive act of Christ insofar as they “fill up” Christ’s afflictions. The risen Christ presently extends this life by establishing his rule in the Spirit. Since the church is Christ’s government, the Spirit constitutes the church as the visible body of Christ, the place where Christ reigns as his law of fellowship gradually becomes embodied in the lives of his saints. Any voluntary agreement depends upon the prior givenness of the church’s esse in that the church’s koinōnia is the creation of Christ and the Spirit, not the people of God. Persons voluntarily enter and exit this communion, but there is an important sense in which they do not define it.

Spurling also implicitly connects Christ’s life and the New Testament inso- far as the latter seeks to articulate the meaning of that life in an authoritative way. If one is to follow the rule of Christ, then the New Testament must be the only rule of faith and practice. For example, he argues against the Mormon claim that their teaching on polygamy reflects Christ’s law because it is expressly against the New Testament. Given the Jerusalem Council, Spurling seems content to allow the church to interpret Christ’s law and issue its decrees under the inspiration of the Spirit. At the same time, these decrees are not creeds in the sense that they form an alternative rule of faith beyond the one already established. Rather, they are the fallible interpretive decisions of the commu- nity as it seeks to follow Christ’s law faithfully. The concluding statement of the minutes of the first General Assembly encapsulates Spurling’s ideas: “It seemeth good to the Holy Ghost and us; being assembled together with one accord, with the Spirit of Christ in the midst and after much prayer, discus- sion, searching the Scriptures and counsel, to recommend these necessary things and that they be ratified and observed by all the local churches.”45

Second Phase: A. J. Tomlinson

On June 13, 1903, A. J. Tomlinson joined the church that was to become the Church of God.46 As Robins notes, when Tomlinson arrived in the foothills of North Carolina “[Frank] Sandford’s theocratic authoritarianism, the radical congregationalism of independent holiness, and the moder- ate congregationalism of the Society of Friends could each lay claim” to

45

General Assembly Minutes, 18, 19.

46

See Charles W. Conn, Like a Mighty Army, 61; Robins, A. J. Tomlinson, 168.

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him.47 From his Quaker upbringing and subsequent interaction with holi- ness groups, Tomlinson was exposed to ecclesiologies that saw spiritual authority as primarily invested in the local church or monthly meeting. In contradistinction, Tomlinson’s brief experience with Frank Sandford (1862- 1948) and his Shiloh movement exposed him to an authoritarian theocracy in which God ruled by means of divinely appointed leaders.48 Tomlinson’s third experience of water baptism was into “the church of the living God” by Frank Sandford himself.49 By this time, Sandford was claiming to have restored the church of God with himself as the sole leader. Still an unformed mass of ideas, these influences lay swirling around in Tomlinson’s mind as he was ordained by Spurling and W. F. Bryant.

Regardless of the ecclesiological baggage Tomlinson brought to the fledgling denomination, Spurling’s developed vision of the church had a profound impact on him. Tomlinson considered Spurling a father, and there are indications that the feeling was mutual.50 Reflecting back on his influence, Tomlinson remarked that he learned from Spurling that one enters the church “by covenant and the right hand of fellowship” rather than conversion. He also noted that Spurling taught him the difference between the kingdom and the church.51 A brief exam- ination of Tomlinson’s early writings not only confirms these later reflections, but also indicates that he operated with Spurling’s basic categories. Nevertheless, Tomlinson was too independently minded to remain content with the foun- dation Spurling had laid. Whether consciously or not, he filled in the gaps Spurling had left even while attempting to remain faithful to the original vision.

47

Robins, A. J. Tomlinson, 171.

48

Ibid., 170. For more on Frank Sandford see Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “Sandford, Frank,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 766-67; idem, “Sandford, Frank,” in Inter- national Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 1037-38. On the impact of Sand- ford on Tomlinson see Robins, A. J. Tomlinson, 120-23, 130-33, 142, 145-47, 170-71; Wade H. Philips, “Quakerism and Frank W. Sandford: Major Influences that Transformed A. J. Tomlin- son and the Church of God,” paper presented at the Twenty-first Annual Conference of the Society for Pentecostal Theology, Lakeland, FL, November 7-9, 1991; and Harold Hunter, “Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads: Little Noticed Crosscurrents of B. H. Irwin, Charles Fox Parham, A. J. Tomlinson,” paper presented at the Twenty-fifth Annual Conference of the Society for Pentecostal Theology, Toronto, Canada, March 7-9, 1996, 8-9.

49

See Robins, A. J. Tomlinson, 120, 155; Hunter, “Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads,” 8.

50

In his introduction to Spurling’s address on the church (1913), Tomlinson states, “In one sense, I look upon him as my father.” General Assembly Minutes, 194. One year later, after Tom- linson was elected General Overseer again, Spurling commented, “I feel toward him like a father.” General Assembly Minutes, 314.

51

A. J. Tomlinson, “R. G. Spurling Passed Over the Tide,” White Wing Messenger 12, no. 13 (June 22, 1935), 1.

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Tomlinson and Spurling’s Original Vision

The continuities that exist between Spurling and Tomlinson are strong enough to suggest that Spurling may have been the primary influence on Tomlinson’s theological development from 1903 onward. Failure to take these continuities into consideration invariably leads to a truncated interpretation of Tomlinson’s ecclesiology. In an early periodical Tomlinson coedited with M. S. Lemons, both respond to a letter about their church affiliation, stating, “We do not hold to any church creed. We wish to say, however to these inquiring friends; we belong to a church, having the New Testament for its doctrine, love and obedience for its fundamental principles, and Christ for its head and only ruler.”52 The response goes on to reveal their intention in publishing the periodical as creating unity by calling persons to return to the plain, simple teachings of Jesus. The anti-creedal sentiment coupled with a call to return to the teachings of Christ as the head of the church clearly echoes Spurling’s own emphases.

Between 1908 and 1909, Tomlinson wrote a series of articles for The Bride- groom’s Messenger that attempted to promote the call for unity to an even broader audience.53 The premise of each article remains the same: Full visible union can be achieved by rejecting specific doctrinal emphases and obeying the teachings and commandments of Christ. As the head of the church, Jesus is the only lawgiver and king upon whose shoulders its government has been laid.54 To reinforce this point, Tomlinson appealed to Isaiah 9:6-7, which, he noted, implied that the government was placed upon Christ’s shoulders.55 Consequently, the church can be “one in doctrine and government. . . by tak- ing the simple doctrine of Jesus and the apostles without placing our construc- tions or opinions upon them.”56 Tomlinson’s articles reveal further the influence

52

The Way 1, no. 6 (June 1904), 4.

53

A. J. Tomlinson, “Unity of the Faith,” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 1, no. 11 (April 1, 1908), 2; idem, “The Lord’s Church,” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 2, no. 33 (March 1, 1909), 4; idem, “Oneness,” The Bridegroom’s Messenger 2, no. 37 (May 1, 1909), 2. T ere is a possible connection between the first article and an address Tomlinson gave at the second General Assembly (January 1907). Although no details are given, the title of the address is listed as “unity of the faith.” Spurling and M. S. Lemons are said to have endorsed the address. See General Assembly Minutes, 24, 25.

54

Tomlinson, “Oneness,” 2.

55

Ibid. Tomlinson utilizes this text repeatedly to buttress his view of the headship of Christ. See idem, “Christ Our Law-Giver and King,” The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 17 (November 1, 1910), 2; idem, “Another Good Opportunity for Correction, Explanations and Instructions,” Church of God Evangel 7, no. 34 (August 10, 1916), 1.

56

Tomlinson, “The Lord’s Church,” 4.

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of Spurling’s ideas. The restorationist vision of the church, the view of Christ as the divine lawgiver who institutes the church, and the desire to ground union in a return to this primitive pattern are all present.

By 1910, as editor of the newly established Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, Tomlinson had planted his vision firmly within Spurling’s well-plowed ground. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in an article Tomlin- son wrote on Christ as lawgiver and king.57 The article addresses a twofold concern: (1) the need to fulfill the prayer of Jesus for unity; (2) the need indi- vidual Christians have for a stable organization to keep them from falling into error. The answer to both is a recovery of the church based on a return to Christ’s government. As Tomlinson states, “Get in one accord with Christ in doctrine, and this will bring us all together in one body, into one organization, under one government, with only one law-giver, Christ, who is the Head of the Church. Jesus gave His Church for government, and all the laws for govern- ment come from Him, through His Holy Apostles.”58 Deriding their refusal to submit to any government or organization while also claiming to be members of Christ’s body, he goes on to chide Pentecostals for opposing the idea of a visible church. Indeed, Tomlinson suggests that anyone who refuses government implic- itly stands in opposition to the Jerusalem Council and thus to Christ’s church. It is clear that Tomlinson, like Spurling, saw the Jerusalem Council as embodying the basic definition of the church: Christ’s visible rule or government.

While there are additional connections between Tomlinson and Spurling, the central idea that links both is the view of the church as governed by Christ’s laws. This conception of the church became the launching pad for Tomlinson’s ecclesiological agenda. Arguing against those who claimed that conversion automatically made one a member of the body of Christ, he repeatedly empha- sized the need for a visible church. Conversion meant entrance into the king- dom of God and the family of God, not the church.59 Instead, one enters the

57

Tomlinson, “Christ Our Law-Giver and King,” 1-3. The article was reprinted with slight variations as chapter six in Tomlinson’s The Last Great Conflict (Cleveland, TN: W alter E. Rodgers, 1913; reprint, Cleveland, TN: White Wing, 1984), 65-73.

58

Tomlinson, “Christ Our Law-Giver and King,” 1-2.

59

A. J. Tomlinson, “A Glimpse at the Church of God,” The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 8 (June 15, 1910), 2; idem, “More About the Church,” The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 9 (July 1, 1910), 1; idem, The Last Great Conflict , 132-43; idem, “The Church of God Is Not Composed of All Christians as Some People Seem to T ink,” Church of God Evangel 9, no. 20 (May 18, 1918), 1.

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church by accepting Christ’s laws in covenant.60 The distinction between the visible and the invisible church violated the nature of the church as a com- munity governed by Christ’s laws. In one article, he suggested that Scripture does not distinguish between visible and invisible, but only provides laws for the governance of something concrete. He asks, “Where are the laws to govern the invisible church? Nothing can be church without government and author- ity.”61 Hence one cannot claim to be a member of the invisible body of Christ while failing to recognize and submit to Christ’s visible government.

Since the church is the government of Christ, it precedes believers as a divinely given vehicle of God’s grace. “It is not an assembly of believers that makes [sic] ‘The Church of God.’ It is the laws of Jesus Christ that makes [sic] the people, ‘The Church of God.’”

62

Tomlinson believed that the church was the “pillar and ground of truth” from which flowed all of the doctrines vital to Christianity.63 This is because Christ gave the truths of Christianity to the church. Tese truths naturally spring forth from the church’s relation to Christ as her head, rendering creedal formulas unnecessary at best. When Tomlinson appeals to Christ as head of the church, he seems to have in mind a head of state.64 The emphasis is not so much on the organic nature of the body of Christ metaphor as it is on the political nature. The church is the body politic instituted, ordered, and directed by Christ. Christ does not direct the church from afar, however, but intimately through the Spirit that pervades the body politic as Christ’s vicar. “While Jesus Himself is not here in person, He has given the laws or rules by which every department is to be governed and has a representative in the person of the Holy Ghost to abide in every under officer and member so that every one can be directed and moved in perfect

60

A. J. Tomlinson, “Another Good Opportunity for Correction, Explanations and Instruc- tions,” Church of God Evangel 7, no. 34 (August 19, 1916), 1.

61

A. J. Tomlinson, “How Many Churches Does the Bible Recognize, and What are T eir Names?” Church of God Evangel 6, no. 27 (July 3, 1915), 1. See also idem, “Loyalty and Persever- ance: The Bible is Just Like it is and We Should Follow it Close,” Church of God Evangel 7, no. 43 (October 21, 1916), 1.

62

A. J. Tomlinson, “Church,” Church of God Evangel 5, no. 9 (February 28, 1914), 5.

63

Tomlinson, The Last Great Conflict , 155-60.

64

At times, Tomlinson will also use military metaphors, such as general, but it seems that this derives from the broader category of head of state. Tomlinson probably has in mind the President of the United States, who functions as military leader as well as a political leader. The office embodies both. Likewise Christ’s headship implies both. See Tomlinson’s annual address at the Eighth General Assembly (1913), in which he compares the assembly to the first congress of the United States. See General Assembly Minutes, 163-172.

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order.”65 This emphasis on the church’s givenness in the government of Christ connected Tomlinson to Spurling, while also providing the impetus to move beyond him.

Tomlinson’s Development of the Original Vision

Although Spurling had given Tomlinson the basic idea of the church as government, he had never fully articulated its structure. Instead, he left loose ends. For example, Spurling suggested that the church mirrored the “church in the wilderness” by receiving the covenant and having officers. He had also argued for some measure of centralization in appointing ministers on the basis of Paul’s appointment of ministers. Finally, he had hinted at the Jerusalem Council as a model for the church. As a judicial body, the General Assembly, like the Jerusalem Council, interpreted and applied Christ’s laws under the inspiration of the Spirit. Tomlinson seized these ideas and expanded them.

It seems clear that Tomlinson imagines a divine institution or organization with a pyramid structure. His concept of headship pushed him toward a cen- tralized government. “If the Bible teaches anything it certainly teaches central- ization with Jesus as the great head of the Church and all the members in their respective places in the body.”66 The church is a political entity that operates as a well-oiled machine; a hierarchical organization with every part functioning in harmony to complete God’s mission in the world. So closely aligned were organization and mission that Tomlinson thought the latter could not succeed apart from the former.67 Without a visible hierarchical structure, evangelism and mission were significantly crippled. Likening the church to Solomon’s temple, Tomlinson argued that it should reflect the same beauty and order with overseers for every department, all in submission to one another and to Christ.68 Hierarchy, structure, organization, and government provided Tom- linson with different ways of identifying the nature of the church.

65

A. J. Tomlinson, “Good Organization is What it Will Take to Evangelize this World,” Church of God Evangel 5, no. 21 (May 23, 1914), 2.

66

A. J. Tomlinson, “Holding Together With True Love and Humble Devotion,” Church of God Evangel 6, no. 11 (March 13, 1915), 1.

67

A. J. Tomlinson, “Good Organization is What it Will Take to Evangelize this World,” 1-3; idem, “Good Organization is What it Will Take to Evangelize this World Cont.,” Church of God Evangel 5, no. 21 (May 30, 1914), 1-3.

68

T ere are several articles indicating that Tomlinson saw Luke’s reference to the “church in the wilderness” as a hermeneutical principle by which one could make constant comparisons between the tabernacle and temple and the church, and between Moses and Christ. See A. J. Tomlinson,

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Hierarchy also implied officers and ranks, without which the church could not exist as the church. One could not have government without officers or officers without government; the two were mutually constitutive.69 T is implies that offices are part of the esse of the church. As Tomlinson would state, “This Assembly is not a legislative body. It does not create offices, but it is rather a judicial body. One that searches out the law and offices that have been already made and created and applies and fills them.”70 Spurling had sug- gested that the church, modeled on the “church in the wilderness,” must have officers. Tomlinson teased out the implications of this claim by piecing together various elements of Scripture, most importantly, the implicit structure of the Jerusalem Council. As early as 1910, he suggested that the Jerusalem Council clearly showed James as the overseer of the churches of God.71 Eventually, he drew upon Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Hegesippus’ fragments on the Jeru- salem church, and the so-called letter of Clement to James, in addition to the Lukan account, in order to substantiate the role of James as “chief executive” of the church.72 Although Tomlinson never described James as the vicar of Christ, he came close by connecting James to Moses, whom he had already identified as a type of Christ. With the role of James, not only had biblical precedent been found for the office of General Overseer, but its ontological status secured. Hence the Jerusalem Council helped Tomlinson identify the given structure of the church.

Tomlinson’s anti-creedalism, coupled with his commitment to the church’s visible structure, led him to describe the church’s government in terms of a theocracy. Unlike Frank Sandford’s theocratic authoritarianism, Tomlinson saw theocracy as implying divine authority invested in the church as a whole.

“The Keeping of the Records: The Bible a Book of Records,” The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel 1, no. 7 (June 1, 1910), 1-2; idem, “A Glimpse at the Church of God,” 2; idem, “Christ Our Law-Giver and King,” 3.

69

A. J. Tomlinson, “Loyalty and Perseverance: The Bible is Just Like it is,” 1; idem, “Looking Like Jesus: Broken Hearts and Subdued Spirits Are Preparations for His Coming,” Church of God Evangel 9, no. 33 (August 17, 1918), 1.

70

A. J. Tomlinson, “Assembly Address,” Twelfth Annual Assembly, November 1-7, 1916, in Historical Annual Addresses, compiled by Perry E. Gillum (Cleveland, TN: White Wing, 1970), 66.

71

Tomlinson, “Christ Our Law-Giver and King,” 2-3.

72

See Tomlinson, “Assembly Address,” Twelfth Annual Assembly, Historical Annual Addresses, 66; idem, “Assembly Address,” Fourteenth Annual Assembly, October 30-November 4, 1919, Historical Annual Addresses, 118-19. Tomlinson’s copies of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and The Ante-Nicene Fathers series are available at the Church of God of Prophecy Archives. In the back of each book, Tomlinson would identify the page number and the subject that he considered important. He has several passages underlined that identify James as the “bishop of bishops” and the successor of the church in Jerusalem.

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Simply put, theocracy implied that God directly governed the church. Since the General Assembly embodied the church, it was the clearest expression of theocratic government. In his address to the tenth General Assembly, Tomlin- son sought to differentiate theocracy from episcopacy by contrasting the Jeru- salem Council with Nicaea.73 The primary difference did not reside in the fact that bishops were present at Nicaea, since Tomlinson could not deny the importance of offices and the fact that he presided over a church with a general overseer and state overseers. For him, the problem centered upon the way the decision about Arius was reached. He describes Nicaea as a theological debate surrounding the legitimacy of one creed over another. T ere was no scriptural authority invoked at Nicaea, nor was any reference made to the Spirit’s guid- ing presence. Instead, one party of bishops argued with another about the legitimacy of their theology. The result was that the creed produced by the orthodox prevailed.

Tomlinson summarized his understanding of the difference between theo- cracy and episcopacy in these words:

In the settlement of every subject under question, no matter about the diversified opinions that may exist which may lead to some debate and controversy, the only thing that this body of noble men and women demand is a “T us saith the Lord,” or the Scriptural proof, and, “It seems good to the Holy Ghost and to us.” No creed shall be inaugurated. No division shall be tolerated. The answer to the prayer of Jesus that all may be one shall be the standard.74

What he meant by the guidance of the Spirit was not mere agreement among those present, although it did include that idea. Nor did Tomlinson under- stand the Spirit’s guidance primarily in terms of the slow process by which the church affirmed the legitimacy of a doctrinal formula. Instead, he meant something at once more tangible and more Pentecostal: the direct speech or activity of the Spirit in the midst of the assembly in the form of “the power of God falling” or a message in tongues followed by an interpretation. There are numerous references throughout the minutes to the Spirit’s activ- ity, which was taken as confirmation that the decision was indeed divinely endorsed. Even with these powerful demonstrations of the Spirit, however, the Assembly’s decisions were still viewed as fallible interpretations subject to change “as more light became available.” Following Spurling, Tomlinson

73

Tomlinson, “Assembly Address,” Tenth Annual Assembly, November 2-8, 1914, Historical Annual Addresses, 40-41.

74

Ibid., 42.

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adamantly asserted that the Jerusalem Council never issued a creed but a decree that was then delivered to the churches. While Tomlinson’s naive analysis of Nicaea parses the division too finely, it clearly articulates his view that Christ guides the church in the interpretation and application of his laws through the direct and tangible involvement of the Spirit.

Tomlinson retains Spurling’s idea that the Spirit constitutes the church. The church’s unity was grounded upon the Spirit, causing a group of disparate persons to be the body of Christ. Every member could submit to Christ because the Spirit of Christ guided them into the truth.75 The visible organiza- tion functioned through mutual submission to Christ and one another as all were guided by the Spirit. As a pneumatic organism, the visible structure con- stituted by the Holy Spirit is authoritative, and all members of the church must submit to it. Even the office of General Overseer resides within the church, and implies that the person occupying that office must remain in submission to the General Assembly. As Tomlinson puts it, there must be a “constant yielding to authority in whatever form it appears — the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Assembly, and to those who are over you in the Lord.”76 In this statement, we find all the elements of a theocracy. The body politic, as symbol- ized in the General Assembly with its visible structures, interprets the Scrip- ture under the direction of the Spirit. Christ remains the head of this body because he animates it by his Spirit.

Tomlinson never compromised his view of the church as a theocratic gov- ernment, even when it contributed to the division he fought so desperately to avoid. In one of his final articles before the split in the Church of God, he instinctively returned to Spurling’s view of the Constantinian fall to argue for his position.77 At the previous General Assembly (1922), he had suggested that a Constitution recently drawn up by a group of Church of God leaders was a creed that needed to be abandoned. Now, he sought to buttress his argument by rehearsing the fall of church into creedalism. In one brief paragraph, he portrays a downward spiral beginning with the acceptance of the creed at Nicaea. At that moment, the church immediately ceased to be the Church of God and instead became a church built upon human laws and doctrines. “Spirituality and experimental salvation were soon lost, and nothing was left

75

Tomlinson, “Good Organization,” 2.

76

A. J. Tomlinson, “Looking Like Jesus: Broken Hearts and Subdued Spirits are Preparations for His Coming,” Church of God Evangel 9, no. 33 (August 17, 1918), 1-2.

77

A. J. Tomlinson, “The Church Still Rising: The Bible Must Be Closely Followed,” Church of God Evangel 14, no. 11 (March 17, 1923), 1.

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81

but rituals, forms, brain and worldly wisdom. Church and state finally com- bined to force people to come to the one religion. T en it was that the blood of martyrs flowed like rivers.”78 While martyrdom no longer haunted Tomlin- son’s church, he was certain that a turn toward creedalism would lead to for- malism and lifelessness because it would replace the Spirit’s authority with a human counterpart. True to his own Quaker sensitivities, Tomlinson called upon his readers to dive into the deeper spirituality of the Spirit, who leads the church into the truth of Scripture.

Spurling’s desire to find a balance between communal boundaries of inter- pretation and creedal conformity found a home in Tomlinson’s heart. While he sought to define the boundaries of the visible community more clearly by arguing for a definite structure as given by Christ, he did not want to “bind the conscience.” Instead, he saw the nature of the church reflected in the Pen- tecostal worship service. The same spontaneity in the worship experience was transferred onto the ecclesiological plane. To maintain the sovereignty of the Spirit as the one who guided the interpretive decisions of the visible community of faith, all forms of creedalism had to be rejected. The church must remain free of doctrinal formulas while also being bound by the structures of Christ’s gov- ernment. Christ exercised his headship by giving his law to James and the apos- tles through the Spirit. As their successors, the General Overseer, in conjunction with State Overseers, guides the Assembly, which is the clearest expression of the church, in the continued interpretation and understanding of those laws.

Within the early history of the Church of God, the subject of ecclesiology garnished more interest than any other doctrine. It is clear that Spurling and Tomlinson both attempted to work out a doctrine of the church grounded upon a shared view of the fall of the church at Nicaea as well as an understand- ing of the church as government. While Tomlinson sought to fill in the gaps Spurling left, there is no doubt of the continuity that existed in their visions. Both argued for a visible organization with a given structure instituted by Christ and constituted by the Spirit. Both sought to maintain a balance between freedom of conscience and the authoritative communion to which the conscience belonged. Finally, even though Tomlinson did not explicitly endorse Spurling’s communio ecclesiology, there are hints that he imbibed its ethos. The creation of the visible structure by the Spirit who binds all together in mutual submission to one another and Christ suggests as much. The com- bined ecclesiological views of Tomlinson and Spurling represent a significant contribution to the early Pentecostal view of the church.

78 Ibid.

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Given this early ecclesiological outlook, Pentecostal scholars will need to revise their conclusions about reflection on the nature and purpose of the church. It is simply incorrect to offer blanket statements about early Pentecos- tals not debating or writing on the subject of ecclesiology. In addition, there are lines of investigation that could be pursued with respect to ecumenical dialogue between Pentecostals and other groups. As one example, Spurling’s communio ecclesiology, coupled with Tomlinson’s insights, offers a strong view of the church that approximates Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiologies. T roughout the article I have utilized Zizioulas’ terminology that Christ insti- tutes the church and the Spirit constitutes the church to highlight this connec- tion. At the same time, disagreements remain, such as the role and weight of Nicaea and other conciliar statements in the history of the church. However, it does seem to me that there are avenues of rapprochement. A beginning point would be the shared plurality of authorities in all camps. In particular, this plurality gives rise to a hierarchy of truths that may allow Pentecostals to give greater weight to decrees, and Catholics a renewed understanding of the nature of creeds. With its focus on the Spirit as internal authority, Orthodoxy may provide a mediating position on the function of creedal statements. Finally, Tomlinson’s view of the church as a theocracy in which the tangible and direct witness of the Spirit operates brings Pentecostal insights to bear on the idea of the church as charism. As Miroslav Volf has pointed out, the Spirit’s constituting activity is not merely in baptism or Eucharist, but reveals itself in the direct and visible guidance offered by Christ to his body.79 In this way, the so-called charismatic gifts of 1 Corinthians are ecclesial in nature, not simply for guidance of a local congregation, but as a constituting feature of the church — its charism. As current Pentecostal theologians continue their ecu- menical endeavors in the realm of ecclesiology, they should draw upon the resources of the entire tradition, recalling that in some parts the nature and purpose of the church was debated quite rigorously.

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