Historical Introduction to the Churches of God, General Conference
The Churches of God, General Conference began in 1825 because of the labors, revivals, and ideas of John Winebrenner, a German Reformed pastor who ministered in and around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
During the late 1820s, Winebrenner came to theological conclusions about the nature and government of the Church, the importance of the regenerating experience of the new birth and the ordinances (Believer’s Baptism by immersion, Lord’s Supper and Feet Washing). He reaffirmed the belief that the Bible was the “only authoritative rule of faith and practice.”
In 1830 he joined five other “teaching elders,” or ministers, in central Pennsylvania in forming an “eldership” for the purpose of adopting a system of cooperation.
As Churches of God settlers moved west, they established new churches and elderships in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. By 1900 the denomination had spread to West Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The California Eldership began in 1948. Since 2000, congregations have formed in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Churches of God periodicals, The Gospel Publisher (1835-1845) and The Church Advocate (1846-present), have played a key role in distributing information about and for the Churches of God.
Foreign mission work was established at Uluberia, India, in 1898 and at Bogra (now Bangladesh) in 1905. Members of Slovak descent started mission churches in Eastern Europe in 1922, but communist governments thwarted this effort. Project HELP was begun in Haiti in 1967 and a ministry to Navajos began in New Mexico in 1976. In 1994, ministry was launched in Brazil followed by new ministry efforts in Kenya in 2008. Throughout the 2000’s, God has graciously opened opportunities to start ministries in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Honduras.
Findlay College (University of Findlay) was incorporated in 1882 and opened for classes in 1886. Winebrenner Seminary began as a graduate department of theology in 1942 and was chartered as a separate institution in 1960.
The name of the denomination has changed several times. First known as the Church of God, in keeping with Winebrenner’s view that “there is but one true Church, namely: the Church of God.” The phrase In North America was added by the first General Eldership in1845. In 1896 the name was made plural: Churches of God in North America. In 1974 two changes were made. The phrase “In North America” was eliminated in recognition of the Churches of God members in India, Bangladesh, and Haiti. “General Eldership” was changed to “General Conference” in recognition that delegates were no longer limited to “elders.” Thus, the name today is Churches of God, General Conference.