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75th Church of God International General Assembly: Historic Encounters, Hints of What Lies Ahead

 

In many ways, this Assembly was an especially historic encounter. In other ways, it may offer some suggestive hints about future directions for this Classical Pentecostal denomination and perhaps for many in the broader Pentecostal movement as well. True enough, a lot of the business probably would appear mundane to most. Items like updating the official Minutes, adjusting administrative tenure limitations, and working through various Resolutions through which the Church of God makes public statements about contemporary topics may not sound all that scintillating. But couched in the everyday work of the business of the church were some unprecedented events that may also serve as portents of things to come.

Mark Williams with newly elected Church of God of Prophecy General Overseer, Sam Clements, and their wives.

Here the theologian in me wants to argue that all of the work of the church, not just the worship singing and spiritual fellowship, is important. For me, attending General Assembly has something of a “sacramental” quality. What I mean is that whenever and wherever the church gathers to worship, to witness, and, yes, to work, it becomes a sign of divine, heavenly grace in this earthly, material world. Or at least it should. So then, not surprisingly, in various Assemblies I’ve seen the Holy Spirit break out, as it were, even in the midst of mundane business sessions.

This Assembly the worship was, as always, especially inspiring. The Wednesday night sermon of Presiding Bishop Mark Williams, “One,” based on Ephesians 4:1-16 and emphasizing unity in the midst of diversity is already being hailed as one of the greatest ever delivered at a General Assembly by a General Overseer. And it really did set the tone for some of the most transformative moments of the week. For one thing, the Wednesday night service highlighted the presence of “Fraternal Guests”. Before the service, leadership representatives from the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God of Prophecy, the Mennonite Church USA, and parachurch organizations such as Christian Churches Together, Pure Hope Ministries, Oral Roberts University, and others, met with the Executive Committee of the Church of God in an expression of love and cooperation. As a participant I can testify that this event was truly unity in action!

God sees diversity in terms of beauty.

For another thing, Joycelen Barnett of Healing the Harvest International, West Palm Beach, Florida, an Ordained Minister in the Church of God of African descent, became the first woman ever to preach a plenary worship service of the General Assembly. For yet another thing, Samuel Rodriguez, founder and director of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, preached Friday night in a dynamic service. Additionally, the current Church of God Presiding Bishop, Dr. Mark Williams, became the first Church of God General Overseer to preach at the Church of God of Prophecy General Assembly since the two split in 1923 over administrative issues. The Church of God of Prophecy also held its General Assembly in Orlando with an overlapping schedule which allowed Bishop Williams to preach in its Saturday night service.

 

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Category: Church History, Summer 2014

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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