The Church of God (Cleveland, Tn) is a very interesting group of people. They are a Pentecostal movement that came around the same time as the Azusa Street Revival but they were not part of that outpouring. They had their own movement going on and later received greatly from what became known as the “Azusa of the East Coast” under the ministry of G.B. Cashwell.
I get these question often and this is one that I think many want to ask but won’t. A reader asked,
I am going to a Church of God. I love it but it seems to be a show. Is this normal for Pentecostals?
I used to live in Cleveland, Tennesee and I have seen the inside of the Church of God. I firmly believe that most of the leaders want to see God move in their churches (to a fault) but there is a lot of religiosity that goes with it. Been old school Pentecostal is doctrine is what we need but we do not need the old school expressions of superstar church life and legalism that comes with the Pentecostal movement historically.
I firmly believe the Church of God does not want to be another dead movement just like the holiness movement that they came out of. I do have my concerns that it is moving that direction but so is many Pentecostal churches across America. It is one thing to be Pentecostal in doctrine; it is another to be Pentecostal in legalism.
Is General Assembly all theatrics?
If you want to understand how a church thinks and the logic behind their behavior in ministry, it is normally best to look at their meetings. In the Church of God, this is called General Assembly. This is a meeting every other year that was designed to be about church business, doctrinal issues, and a renewal service in the end. The same is true of the Assemblies of God and basically every other Pentecostal movement.
The problem is the last few General Assemblies that I have attended they have been less about business and doctrine and just outright Pentecostal services. The problem with this is if pastors need to be their own camp meeting to get fired up for Pentecost, that is a fundamental problem. What we are left is a cycle of pastors getting “on fire” and a fresh vision of “Old time revival” every other year.
Since we have allowed this to become the central point of our meetings (Assemblies of God do the same thing in recent years) with business and doctrinal issues only being an afterthought; we are left we a lot of theatrics that can not actually apply in local expressions of faith. This is core problem in many churches. It is across the Church of God but it is also wider than just them.
I can not tell you how many pastors I know that are trying to turn their churches into little Bethel Redding right now and even trying to sound like Bill Johnson. You can add into the mix many pastors trying to become franchises of James River Assembly and North Cleveland Church of God.
When you have pastors look to meetings like General Assembly of Church of God and their big churches as models, you normally end up with nothing but frustration. They can’t get success based on stealing another wineskin, they need their own!
Church of God needs revival
They need a move of God than anyone will care to admit but they need to a return to their values without legalism and yes, without the theatrics. Many people want to see the move of the Spirit happen but they are not willing to pay the price for revival. The people in the churches are almost trained to turn on the “Pentecostal service” like a light switch. They can be warring in the Spirit at 12:45pm and by one, they are joking discussing the NFL game. This is a fundamental problem across many Pentecostal churches. I am not picking on the Church of God alone.
Another major issue that no one will care to admit is that we have pastors that fearful. They can’t just say “I want God and God alone.” The reason for this is because too many people get offended at a move of God in one church (and not theirs), there will be mounting pressure at the State office and ultimately the national headquarters. The way the Church of God is structured, the cost is too high for many pastors.
Some of the polity of the denomination has the pastors in fear that if revival did break out in the church, will they lose their church and be removed from the pulpit? Reasonable or not, that is not the issue at hand. The fear is there and until there is some major changes is how the churches are handled and how much power that overseers have; pastors will unknowing quench the Spirit to save their position.
The greatest challenge of Church of God
When I look at the numbers of the churches, I have come to one colcusion: evangelism is a serious issue within the movement. While, on paper, Ecclesiology among the Pentecostals might look pretty close, how it works out is very different. The Assemblies of God is very outward focused and Church of God tends to be more focused on discipleship. This might seem like it is not that big of a deal but it really is. Waiting for people to come through the doors of the church is not good missiology at all. They must be more focused on the harvest. This is the issue across the denomination.
The other major thing that I see is holding back the COG from seeing the revival they say they desire is how the evangelist think. I love them but most evangelists in their ranks spend more time traveling the churches doing camp meetings than actually do evangelism. The evangelist’s most comfortable place is not behind the pulpit but on the crusade field. When I think of an evangelist, I think of people like T.L. Osborn, Reinhard Bonnke, and Daniel Kolenda.
Speaking of evangelism, the COG must get serious about it. When someone comes out with a vision for souls, the churches must respond. An example of this was when Matthew Barnett wanted to reach Los Angeles with the gospel. The churches in the Assemblies responded and they bought the Queen of Angeles hospital and developed the largest urban outreach of modern history. If people are trying to do big things for God in the Church of God, the churches are not getting behind it (to my knowledge).
They are doing a lot of things right
While the original question was about theatrics, I think it needed a wider answer to fully understand why many think the way they do. However, I am not a critic of the Church of God. I love them and do think they have done many things right. I just wanted to give my perspective on why they behave the way they do and what could change that.
One thing is for sure: I will never told to quit praying in tongues in one of their meetings.