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A Pastoral Letter to the Saints of the Church of God in Christ
From Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr,:
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:11-12).
On today, the 26th of June 2015, the majority of the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that has made same-sex marriage legal in all of the states of the Union. The Court made its decision based on its reading of the United States Constitution. Today, the Church of God in Christ reaffirms its long-held position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, basing our decision firmly on the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible teaches marriage to be a lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Christians, we are called to proclaim and practice this doctrine. Our ultimate trust is in God and not in any court or government. We trust God. So, I write to you, saints of God, as a stranger and pilgrim in our contemporary society.
We understand even better now why the Bible calls Christians “strangers and pilgrims” in the world (I Peter 2:11). It is clearer now why Jesus instructed us to be in the world but “not of the world" (John 17:15-16). In fact, today’s Supreme Court decision is just another legal law that makes the holiness message even stranger to our society. While the moral landscape of our society has definitely shifted, we know that the Bible is yet right and God still reigns.
In a democracy such as ours, we are to be ruled by laws. As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we have found ourselves at various junctures unable to find a biblical basis for key legal laws that govern our society. It is a fact that the United States of America has now added same-sex marriage to a list of legal rights which adults may exercise but the Church of God in Christ does not practice, including: gambling; the production, distribution, selling and consumption of alcoholic beverages; the practice of the smoking of tobacco; the purchase of pornography; and the securing of abortions. In the states that permit the recreational use of marijuana, we opt not to exercise the right to use that drug. As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we refuse to exercise these particular legal rights, understanding the Bible as calling Christians to holiness. We are not called to panic nor be anxious; we are called to live a holy life. We are called to live a Christian life as commanded by the Bible; we are called to be in the world but “not of the world." We are called to trust God.
Love is central to a life of holiness. The Bible is clear that Christians are called to love all people. We must resist the temptation only to love those who think like us. Regardless of the personal religious convictions and moral choices of people, we are called to love. We are not commanded to agree with them on all topics. The Bible commands us to love (Matthew 22:39). We are also called to recognize the legal rights of all citizens, regardless of the legal moral choices that they make.
Living in a pluralistic society, clear legal rights have been granted to all citizens. We must remind everyone that our government grants the Church of God in Christ and other religious organizations the legal right for each of us to express our religious convictions, as well as to live out our doctrinal and moral teachings. It also grants us the right to co-exist with those whose beliefs and lifestyles differ from ours. More importantly, we believe the right to religious freedom is a God-given right. We call upon the U.S. government aggressively to protect and preserve the right of religious freedom for all Americans.
As Christians who are strangers and pilgrims, we are indeed living in and “Called to Minister and Witness to a Deeply Distressed and Troubled World.” The church must prepare to receive wholeheartedly and minister effectively to people seeking the biblical understanding of marriage, a biblical Christian lifestyle, and the uncompromising gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us speak the truth with conviction and with care, with patience and with love. Let us proclaim the gospel with courage. Let us embrace our calling to live as strangers and pilgrims in society. Let us live the holy life with boldness. Let us witness unashamedly to the power of the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
About the Church of God in Christ:
The Church of God in Christ is one of the oldest Pentecostal denominations in the world and the 4th largest Protestant group in the United States, with churches in 63 countries worldwide and a membership of nearly 6.5 million adherents.
The death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore is yet another tragic loss in a series of apparent criminal acts perpetrated by certain law enforcement officers against African American men. The Church of God in Christ offers our sincere condolences to the Gray family and to the many families throughout the nation devastated by the loss of loved ones under similar circumstances.
The swift indictment of the six police officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray is the correct message: that no one is above the law and that the lives of young African American men have value. We are prayerful that the Gray family will ultimately receive the justice that was denied to the families of so many young men who lost their lives at the hands of the police.
Police brutality along with racial inequalities in the criminal justice system have had a negative impact on African Americans since the end of slavery. In the sixties, it was the primary cause of rage among blacks identified by the Kerner Commission Report. Since then it has continued to plague African Americans of every generation provoking outrage, protests and even riots.
Harvard sociologist Bruce Western argues that the riots of the sixties fueled a national backlash and a preoccupation with law and order which was the catalyst for the current epidemic of mass incarceration which is decimating the black community.
We decry the cruel victimization that is prevalent in the inner city and seek to highlight the root causes of the injustice that African Americans across the nation suffer. We urge the immediate adoption and implementation of social policies and laws that will stem the tide of violence unleashed on our citizens by those charged with protecting and serving.
Despite the injustice African Americans face at the hands of society, in general, and law enforcement, in particular, violence and rioting are never justified. Therefore, we condemn such behavior in the strongest terms possible. Violence is antithetical to Christian teaching and counterproductive.
We must continue to follow the example of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work of so many other Civil Rights leaders who won an end to segregation through non-violent tactics.
We both urge and support the continuance of peaceful demonstrations which typify our preferred response in Baltimore and where ever the cry for justice needs to be heard.
The Church of God in Christ will continue working in concert with government and civil society to achieve change. We will aggressively advocate for enacting social policies and laws that will ameliorate the current, untenable situation and reverse the militarization of our local police forces while strengthening community policing practices.
The Federal Government’s recent decision to provide funding for body cameras for police forces in small and medium sized cities is an excellent example of policies that can lead to true progress. Research indicates that both police officers and the public are more judicious in their actions when body cameras are used.
We believe the ultimate prescription for our inner cities must give all citizens access to quality education, jobs that pay a living wage, a fair criminal justice system and policies that strengthen the family and promote financial literacy.
With the help of God, we can turn our urban neighborhoods around.
Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr.
Presiding Bishop & Chief Apostle
Seventh in Succession
Church of God in Christ
Bishop Charles Harrison Mason was born September 8,1864, on the Prior Farm near Memphis, Tennessee. His father and mother, Jerry and Eliza Mason, were members of a Missionary Baptist Church, having been converted during the dark crises of American Slavery. Elder Mason was converted in November, 1878, and baptized by his brother, I.S. Nelson, a Baptist Preacher, who was pastoring the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church near Plumerville, Arkansas.
In 1893, he began his Christian Ministry with the accepting of ministerial licenses from the Mt. Gale Missionary Baptist Church, in Preston, Arkansas. He then experienced sanctification through the word of God and preached his first sermon in “Holiness” from II Timothy 2:1-3: “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” On November 1, 1893, Elder Mason matriculated into the Arkansas Baptist College, but withdrew after three months because of his dissatisfaction with the methods of teaching and the presentation of the Bible message. He then returned to the streets and to every pulpit that was opened to him declaring Christ by the word, example, and precept.
In 1895, Bishop Mason met Elder C.P. Jones of Jackson, Mississippi; Elder J.E. Jeter, of Little Rock, Arkansas; and Elder W.S. Pleasant of Hazelhurst, Mississippi, who subsequently became Bishop Mason’s closest companions in the ministry.
Jointly, these militant gospel preachers conducted a revival in 1896, in Jackson, Mississippi, which had far-reaching affects on the city.
The theophanic manifestations of the revival, which included the large numbers that were converted, sanctified, and healed by the power of faith and the dogmatic teachings of Bishop Mason on the doctrine of sanctification caused church doors within the Baptist association to become closed to him and to all those that believed and supported his teachings.
So in 1897, when these pioneering, persistent preachers returned to Jackson, Mississippi, Bishop Mason was forced to deliver his first message from the south entrance of the courthouse. A Mr. John Lee, who desired to see Bishop Mason’s ministry continue, provided the living room of his home the next night. Because of the overwhelming number that attended, a Mr. Watson, the owner of an abandoned warehouse in Lexington, Mississippi, gave his consent to transfer the revival meeting to the gin house on the bank of a little creek.
This gin house subsequently became the meeting house for the Church of God in Christ. This miracle deliverance revival was such a success it stirred up the “Devil”, causing someone to shoot five pistol shots and two double barreled shotgun blasts into the midst of the saints while they were shouting and praying. Some persons were wounded but miraculously, none of the shots were fatal.
At the close of the meeting, it was necessary to organize the people for the purpose of establishing a church with a stronger appeal and greater encouragement for all Christians and believers, a church which would emphasize the doctrine of entire sanctification through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
A meeting was mutually called by Elder Mason, Elder Jones, and Elder Pleasant, and sixty stood as charter members. Land was soon bought on Gazoo Street, from Mrs. John Ashcraft, just beyond the corporate line, upon which was built a little edifice 60×40. These charter members formed a Pentecostal body known as the “Church of God.”
Subsequently, in 1897, while seeking a spiritual name which would distinguish the church from others of the similar title, the name “Church of God in Christ” was revealed to Bishop mason while walking along a certain street in Little Rock, Arkansas. The following scripture supported his revelation: I Thessalonians 2:14, “For ye brethren became followers of the Churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for ye have suffered like things of your own countrymen even as they have of the Jews.” All of the brethren unanimously agreed to the name of “Church of God in Christ.”
Later, the church was reorganized during which Elder C.P. Jones was chosen as General Overseer. Elder C.H. Mason was appointed as overseer of Tennessee, and Elder J.A. Jeter was overseer of Arkansas. The turning point in Elder Mason’s life came in March, 1907, when he journeyed to Los Angeles, California, to attend a great Pentecostal revival with Elder D.J. Young and Elder J.A. Jeter. Elder W.J. Seymour was preaching concerning Luke 24:49, “And behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.” Elder Mason became convinced that it was essential for him to have the outpouring of the Holy ghost.
The following are excerpts from Elder Mason’s personal testimony regarding his receiving the Holy Ghost.
“The first day in the meeting I sat to myself, away from those that went with me. I began to thank God in my heart for all things, for when I heard some speak in tongues, I knew it was right though I did not understand it. Nevertheless, it was sweet to me.
I also thank God for Elder Seymour who came and preached a wonderful sermon. His words were sweet and powerful and it seems that I hear them now while writing. When he closed his sermon, he said ‘All of those that want to be sanctified or baptized with the Holy Ghost, go to the upper room; and all those that want to be justified, come to the altar.’
I said that is the place for me, for it may be that I am not converted and if not, God knows it and can convert me…”
“The second night of prayer I saw a vision. I saw myself standing alone and had a dry roll of paper in my mouth trying to swallow it. Looking up towards the heavens, there appeared a man at my side. I turned my eyes at once, then I awoke and the interpretation came.
God had me swallowing the whole book and if I did not turn my eyes to anyone but God and Him only, He would baptize me. I said yes to Him, and at once in the morning when I arose, I could hear a voice in me saying, ” I see…”
“I got a place at the altar and began to thank God. After that, I said Lord if I could only baptize myself, I would do so; for I wanted the baptism so bad I did not know what to do. I said, Lord, You will have to do the work for me; so I turned it over into His hands.”
“Then, I began to ask for the baptism of the Holy Ghost according to Acts 2:41, which readeth thus: ‘Then they that gladly received His word were baptized,’ Then I saw that I had a right to be glad and not sad.”
“The enemy said to me, there may be something wrong with you. Then a voice spoke to me saying, if there is anything wrong with you, Christ will find it and take it away and marry you…Someone said, ‘Let us sing.’ I arose and the first song that came to me was ‘He brought me out of the Miry Clay.’
The Spirit came upon the saints and upon me…Then I gave up for the Lord to have His way within me. So there came a wave of Glory into me and all of my being was filled with the Glory of the Lord.
So when He had gotten me straight on my feet, there came a light which enveloped my entire being above the brightness of the sun. When I opened my mouth to say Glory, a flame touched my tongue which ran down me. My language changed and no word could I speak in my own tongue. Oh! I was filled with the Glory of the Lord. My soul was then satisfied.”
This new Pentecostal experience which Elder Mason found for himself, for he began to proclaim to others upon his return home to Memphis, Tennessee as a New Testament doctrine. A division, subsequently, became evident within the ranks of Elder Mason’s contemporaries when Elder J. A. Jeter, the General Overseer, Elder C. P. Jones, and others regarded the new Holy Ghost experience of speaking in tongues as a delusion. Being unable to resolve their difference in the New Testament doctrine.
The General Assembly terminated by withdrawing the “right hand” of fellowship from C. H. Mason. Elder Mason then called a conference in Memphis, Tennessee of all ministers who believed in receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost according to the scriptures in Acts 2:1-4. Those who responded to Elder Mason’s urgent call were E. R. Driver, J.Bowe, R.R. Booker, R. E. Hart, W. Welsh, A. A. Blackwell, E. M. Page, R.H. I. Clark, D. J. Young, James Brewer, Daniel Spearman and J. H. Boone.
These men of God organized the first Pentecostal General Assembly of the “Church of God in Christ.” Overseer C. H. Mason was then chosen unanimously as the General Overseer and Chief Apostle of our denomination. He was given complete authority to establish doctrine, organize auxiliaries and appoint overseers.
Dr. Hart was appointed Overseer of Tennessee; Elder J.A. Lewis was appointed Overseer of Tennessee; Elder J. Bowe the Overseer of Arkansas; later J. A. Lewis was appointed Overseer of Mississippi. As the church grew, Elder E. M. Page was appointed Overseer of Texas; Elder R.R. Booker, Overseer of Missouri; Elder E. R. Driver, Overseer of California and Elder W. B. Holt as the National Field Secretary.
As the Chief Apostle, he immediately dedicated twenty days, November 25th through December 14th annually as a meeting time for all of his followers to fellowship with each other and to transact all ecclesiastical and secular affairs pertinent to the growth of the National Organization.
This segment of the year was chosen because the majority of the communicants of the church lived in farming districts of Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. By this time of the year, they had sufficient provisions and financial resources from the harvesting of their crops, to enable them to attend and support a national meeting.
The first National meetings were held at 392 South Wellington Street, Memphis, Tennessee. The first National Tabernacle was built and completed at 958 South Fifth Street, in 1925.
This Tabernacle, however, was destroyed by fire twelve years later in 1936. In the interim until 1945, our National Convocation was held within the Church pastored by Bishop Mason at 672 South Lauderdale. In1945, Bishop Mason was able to visualize the culmination of his dream. He dedicated the Mason Temple at Memphis, Tennessee which was built for less than $400,000 during World War II. This auditorium became the largest convention hall owned by any colored religious group in America.
Under Bishop Mason’s spiritual and apostolic direction our church has grown from ten congregations in 1907, to the largest Pentecostal group in America. The membership of the Church of God in Christ grew from three million in 1973 to an estimated 5.2 million in 1997.
Churches under the parent body in Memphis, Tennessee, are now established throughout the United States, on every continent, and in many of the islands of the sea.
ASSEMBLIES OF GOD LEADER SUPPORTS CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST
BLACK LIVES MATTER SUNDAY
Memphis, TN (December 12, 2014) The Assemblies of God, the nation’s largest historically white Pentecostal denomination in the country, is supporting the Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal denomination’s Black Lives Matter Sunday.
The two largest Pentecostal denominations are standing united in solidarity to support Black Lives Matter Sunday, December 14, 2014.
The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the Assemblies of God (AG) are unified in the effort that asks churches around the country to set aside the day to pray for African American men, because of the recent controversial grand jury decisions in Staten Island, New York and Ferguson, Missouri not to return indictments against white police officers in the deaths of two black males, Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the AG wrote a letter to all of the AG pastors saying in part, “First and foremost black lives matter. The lives of all people are precious to God, of course, but at the present moment, our black brothers and sisters feel that their lives are not highly valued by white America.”
He further states, “Because black lives matter, and because America needs the Church to heal its lingering racial divisions, I ask that Assemblies of God churches join the Church of God in Christ on Sunday, December 14, 2014, and pray.”
COGIC Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. says, “I am grateful for this unprecedented letter and show of support from Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. Dr. Wood and the AG demonstrate the love and healing power of Christ by standing with the Church of God in Christ to categorically say, black lives matter.”
The Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God share a rich heritage. Today, the two church’s leaders also share a great friendship.
About the Church of God in Christ:
The Church of God in Christ is the fifth largest Protestant religious denomination and the largest African American church in the United States, with churches in 63 countries worldwide and an estimated membership of nearly 6.5 million members.
The Church of God in Christ, Inc. would like to congratulate Justin Cooper, member of Turin Church of God in Christ, for earning his Eagle Scout Rank in the Boy Scouts of America. Eagle Scout is the highest rank you can achieve in the organization – and the designation represents years of hard work, dedication, learning and community service. Justin is a senior at East Coweta High School and the son of Jonathan and Errica Cooper.
Congratulations on this awesome achievement!
Photo courtesy of the Times-herald.com. Read the full article here.