History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

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CHURCH OF GOD GOT ITS START WITH SMALL BAND OF BELIEVERS ON BANKS OF BARNEY CREEK

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

      While many churches in the South had already established their existence and their doctrines, an invitation went forward to those who wanted to fully establish the readings and beliefs of the Bible as it was written. With this request a small group of nine believers formed the Christian Union on the banks of Barney Creek in Monroe County, Tennessee, on August 19, 1886. Activities of this joining together on a hot scorching day in the Unicoi Mountains in eastern Tennessee are not known to any degree, but their mission was fully accomplished. R.G. Spurling was selected as pastor of the church while Richard Spurling, his father, moderated the proceedings. 

     The small congregation knew it was futile to "reform" their own existing churches and so decided to "form" their own church. The intent was to re-establish sound scriptual doctrines of the Bible, and to promote evangelism and Christian service. 

     Barney Creek still remains a small stream that flows quietly through the mountains. Livelihood in this part of the Appalachian Mountains has still much to be desired. However, early folks in this part of the mountains who sought God found the New Testament Christianity and gathered to later become the Church of God, as we know it today. At a later time the experiences of sanctification and Spirit baptism were added.

     This vision of Christian unification was the spiritual desire of R.G. Spurling and his father Richard Spurling, the former being a licensed minister in the Missionary Baptist Church. 

     Richard Spurling was an ordained elder and began to seek God regarding the abuses he saw in the local churches around him. He was quite perterbed concerning the spiritual neglect and ill treatment he witnessed in these congregations. He was also troubled with challenging traditions and creeds that he deemed a hardship for God's people. 

     Calvin, Luther and other famous reformers had brought about many changes to the church such as a "right belief" rather than a "true relationship" with Jesus Christ. These gallant reformers' changes concentrated more-or-less on creed rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit and one's own principles.

     The focal point of R.G. Spurling was Christianity and the law of love rather than creed or doctrine, in which the latter could possibly divide Christians. He believed that the New Testament was the "only infallible rule of faith and practice" and contains everything "necessary for salvation and church government." 

     Spurling was a part of the broad re-establishment that moved through the church world in the United States during the 19th century. At this time, the Christian Union, similar to other groups such as the Churches of Christ and Churches of God (Anderson, Indiana), likened to reinstate New Testament Christianity. The New Testament was given different emphasis by these groups, but all wanted to restore some part of the apostolic church. Some of these groups focused on government, some on everyday life, some on the message, but all longed to return to contemporary Christian life, an important item that had been lost in the superseding centuries. Spurling saw in some teachings that a coarseness and individuality subdued the Gospel and led to dividing the body of Christ more so than to Christian unity.

     A.J. Tomlinson, a friend of R.G. Spurling's, wrote that Spurling preached whenever and wherever he had an opportunity. Tomlinson wrote that Spurling "in this way the minds of the people were continually agitated, and gradually prepared for the work of the Spirit that was to follow. For ten years this servant of God prayed, wept and continued his ministry against much opposition and under peculiar difficulties, before seeing much fruits of his labor."

     Benjamin Hardin Irwin acquired a more intense tactic to the Christian life and taught a "third blessing" called "the fire." He structured, in Iowa, in 1895, the Fire-Baptized Holiness Associations, which later extended around the United States. During the next year he preached in South Carolina and Georgia. He had, by 1898, organized an international Fire-Baptized Holiness Association in Anderson, South Carolina, and during this time he had published a periodical called "Live Coals of Fire." His message was heard and accepted in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina where Spurling was ministering. 

     In 1896, persuaded by Irwin's movement, four men began a revival in the Shearer Schoolhouse near Camp Creek in Cherokee County, North Carolina. William Martin, a Methodist, along with Baptists Joe. M. Tipton, Elias Milton McNabb, and William Hanby, preached a ten-day meeting that attracted much attention to the area. Tomlinson states that "they preached a clean gospel, and urged the people to seek and obtain sanctification subsequent to justification. They prayed, fasted and wept before the Lord until a great revival was the result."

     Twenty-one years after that infamous meeting at Barney Creek, and the formation of the Christian Union, the ever-growing movement would establish themselves as the Church of God. The beckoning call of the original Barney Creek meeting has now established a worldwide membership of over 5 million in more than 145 countries. 

     Reports of Church of God revivals find that hundreds are getting saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, more so now that at any other time. World evangelism is the call of the Church of God through descipleship and prayer, as well as committment. 

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