The Church of God in Christ is an expression of Pentecostalism in the evangelical Protestant tradition.
With over 6 million members, it is the largest African-American denomination in the world. The Church of God in Christ adheres to the core beliefs of Christianity, including the Trinity and the Second Coming of Christ. The denomination also believes in Pentecostal doctrines such as baptism in the Holy Spirit, which they hold is subsequent to conversion.
The Church of God in Christ was founded by Charles Harrison (“C.H.”) Mason (1866-1961). Mason, who had roots in the Baptist denomination, was known for teaching the doctrine of Christian perfectionism. A series of revival meetings in Jackson, Mississippi, in which Mason was heavily involved, turned into a church in 1897 known as “the Church of God.” Seeking to distinguish themselves from other groups that included that phrase in their title, Mason added “in Christ,” which he was motivated to do on the basis of 1 Thessalonians 2:14.
Revival at Azusa Street
In 1906, Mason and others leaders of the Church of God in Christ, visited the Azusa St. Revival in Los Angeles, California. While at the revival, Mason was influenced by the Pentecostal message and experience, while others he was with didn't.
When the group returned to Tennessee disunited about the Pentecostal message and experience, the church split. Those who followed Mason retained the name Church of God in Christ. Those who joined the disbanding party called themselves the Church of God in Christ (Holiness) USA.
Mason was the General Overseer and Chief Apostle of his group, which became the first incorporated Pentecostal body in the United States.
Until 1914 when the Assemblies of God incorporated, the Church of God in Christ was the only Pentecostal group that had a system to credential Pentecostal ministers. Mason credentialed hundreds of black and white preachers. After 1914 most white ministers sought their credentials through the Assemblies of God.
Following the Azusa St. Revival and the denominational split, the Church of God in Christ built churches and held annual meetings. It continued to grow, becoming the largest Pentecostal African-American denomination by the 1940’s.
Notably, in 1968, Martin Luther King gave his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech from the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Due in part to King and the Civil Rights movement, the Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God have experienced racial reconciliation. Today they work together in joint ministries such as the School of Urban Missions in Oakland, California.
In 2007 the Church of God in Christ celebrated 100 years of existence. From the revival meetings led by Mason, and through the influence of the Azusa St. Revival, the denomination has swelled to 8 million members around the world in over 60 countries.