The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) was formed in 1907 by Charles Harrison Mason, who was expelled from his Baptist church in the late nineteenth century because of his views and teachings regarding salvation, sanctification, and holiness. In 1891 Mason was licensed to preach by Mount Gale Missionary Baptist Church in Preston, Arkansas. He entered Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock in 1893 but became dissatisfied and withdrew after three months as a result of the new methods of teaching in the era of post-Reconstruction racial uplift that stressed rational preaching over emotional worship. Mason traveled for several years as an itinerant preacher throughout Arkansas and Mississippi before settling in Jackson in 1896 and joining Charles Price Jones, a fellow holiness preacher and pastor of the Mount Helms Baptist Church. Mason’s messages were primarily based on the controversial doctrine of sanctification, which stressed that all men could free themselves from sin by righteous living.
In 1897 Mason established his first holiness congregation as the result of a revival he conducted in Lexington, Mississippi. As the holiness revival grew, Mason obtained the use of an abandoned cotton gin near the bank of a small creek in Lexington, turning it into the first COGIC structure; those converted during the revival became the first congregation members. Later that year, while on a trip to Little Rock, Mason came to believe that God had revealed the name for his holiness following. According to Mason, the name Church of God in Christ was biblically supported in I Thessalonians 2:14, II Thessalonians 1:1, and Galatians 1:22.
In 1899 Mason also became associated with two other holiness ministers, J. A. Jeter of Little Rock and W. S. Pleasant of Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Mason, Jones, Jeter, and Pleasant concluded that a holiness association should be formed and met in Jackson to bring together all of the black holiness congregations in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Jones served as the general overseer, Mason served as overseer of Tennessee, and Jeter served as overseer of Arkansas. The three maintained this organizational structure until 1907, when a dispute over church leadership, especially involving the biblical issue of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), caused the organization to dissolve. Mason then became COGIC’s first bishop.
Although headquartered in Memphis, COGIC retains deep roots in the state of Mississippi. Its first large concentration of followers resided in the state. In 1917 the Church established Saints Industrial College in Lexington to educate children from Holmes County. In 1926 Mason appointed Arenia C. Mallory as the college’s president. Mallory used the school as a platform to link COGIC and Mississippi to the national racial uplift movement. Saints Industrial College served as the headquarters for the Mississippi Health Program and for literacy programs that reached throughout the state via COGIC congregations. As a result, COGIC’s influence on Mississippi politics, culture, and social life can still be felt today.
- Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (2007)
- 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)
- Calvin White Jr., The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ (2012)