The Church of Christ (Holiness) USA (COCHUSA) is an African American holiness denomination that began as a holiness fellowship among black Baptist churches in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee in 1896 and was led by Charles Price Jones, Charles Harrison Mason, Walter S. Pleasant, and other Baptist clergy. These leaders first met in 1895 and forged an alliance based on their common goal of introducing the doctrine of sanctification. In 1899 Jones, Mason, and others were expelled by the Baptists. From 1899 to 1906 the fellowship grew throughout the Mid-South and surrounding states. Christ Missionary and Industrial School, the denomination’s leading educational institution, was organized as Christ Holiness School in 1901 in Jackson. (During the 1920s, COCHUSA also supported the Boydton Institute in Virginia.) A mission in Liberia was established in 1902.
Jones was elected in 1906 as the general overseer of the Church of God in Christ, a nondenominational holiness fellowship of more than 110 congregations in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Missouri. Almost 50 percent of the churches were in Mississippi. The epicenter of the fellowship was Jackson’s Christ Temple, Jones’s pastorate and the site of the annual convocation.
In the spring of 1907 the fellowship became embroiled in a theological controversy after Mason, John A. Jeter, and David J. Young, whom Jones had sent to assess the validity of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles and the emerging Pentecostal movement, returned to the South proclaiming the Pentecostal message. Although Jeter recanted his testimony, Mason and Young, joined by others, continued to advance the Pentecostal doctrine. The controversy was addressed in August 1907 with the decision to dismiss Mason from fellowship. While ten congregations followed Mason, the vast majority remained with Jones.
Various African American holiness associations subsequently joined Jones’s fellowship, including the (Holiness) State Convention in Louisiana around 1907, the Virginia and North Carolina Convention in 1921, and the Nashville District of the Holiness Church in 1927. During the 1920s COCHUSA entered into discussions about merging with the predominantly white Church of the Nazarene and the Christian Church; for certain periods, COCHUSA had cooperative arrangements with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Pilgrim Holiness Church.
Committed to nondenominationalism, the fellowship resisted incorporation until the 1910s, after Mason incorporated the name Church of God in Christ. For most of its history, COCHUSA was led by two people: Charles Price Jones (1906–49) and Major Rudd Conic (1949–93). Bishop Maurice D. Bingham of Jackson, Mississippi, was elected Senior Bishop in 1996, a position he held until August of 2004. As of 2015 Bishop Emery Lindsay of Chicago is the Senior Bishop, and Bishop Vernon Kennebrew, from Little Rock, Arkansas, is the President.
Many COCHUSA leaders and laypeople participated in the civil rights movement, most of them on the local level. However, Fannie Lou Hamer was a prominent national civil rights activist.
In recent years COCHUSA has consisted of 167 congregations in the United States, 19 congregations in Liberia, and 9 congregations in the Dominican Republic. It also cosponsors mission projects in West Africa.
- Willenham Castilla, Moving Forward on God’s Highway: A Textbook History of the Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A. (2007)
- Otto B. Cobbins, ed., History of the Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A., 1895–1965 (1966)
- David D. Daniels III, “The Cultural Renewal of Slave Religion: Charles Price Jones and the Emergence of the Holiness Movement in Mississippi” (PhD dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1992)