The Tomlinson Phenomenon

By C. Eldon McNabb

A Great Revival
Under the guidance of R. G. Spurling, Sr., a great Sanctifica­tion revival burst forth in west­ern North Carolina in 1886.  Then in 1896, the modern Pen­te­costal movement in America began during a wonderful revival in the same area.  From there, it quickly spread into eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia.  Many were blessed, and it wasn’t long until about one hundred and thirty people had been Baptized with the Holy Spirit.   The revival fires burned on, and this wonderful “new” experience began to gradually spread to various locations across the country.

It was this vibrant spiritual arena into which A. J. Tomlin­son stepped on July 14, 1899, to begin his missionary work among the poor mountain folk of western North Carolina.

God Creates a New Star
As those revival fires were blazing in the hills of North Carolina, A. J. Tomlinson was born again and sanctified by the Spirit of God on his farm in Indiana.  In 1889, after an awesome and frightening experience, he told his wife, “It’s time for us to pray.”  In his book, “Answering The Call Of God,” he gave an account of how, as he went about his labors on the farm, he prayed and sought God until he pressed forth into the wonderful realm of spirituality.

Soon Mr. Tomlinson began to wrestle with the problem of which church to join.  He de­scribed his struggle this way.

“Then came the real conflict:  What church should I join?  If there had been but one, as was the case in the time of the Apostles, I would have been saved that trouble.  I searched and prayed and sought for information from people, books and papers.  I was perplexed.  I felt I was at a crisis.  I did not know what to do.  They were all different, and none of them really satisfied me, but I felt I must be a member of some church.  I finally decided to join the one nearest my home, merely for convenience, as I thought I could do more good in one near by, as I could attend more regularly.”

When he had worked but a short time as Superintendent of a little Sunday School there, it doubled in size.  Some time later, a revival broke out upon that little church and the work of it was thrust upon him.  So began what was to prove to be one of the greatest ministries of the twentieth century.

During the next few years, Bro. Tomlinson sought out, and gave consideration to various religious groups.  No doubt he found good qualities in each of them, and held each in due respect.  Being stirred with a great mission­ary zeal, he volunteered his services to assist in the labors of a noted missionary named J. B. Mitchell.  It was that association which ultimately brought him to North Carolina.  God was working something there which would, in due time, thrust A. J. Tomlinson into the work which God had called him to do.

The Forming Begins
As the revival flames burned, in those final years of the 1800s, with all of its blessings and difficulties, R. G. Spurling, Sr., tried to bring some order among the various groups.  The result of which was the formation of  the “Christian Union,” in Monroe County, Tennessee, but the C. U. didn’t stir much interest.  Not long afterward, the elder Spurling died and his son Richard, Jr. accepted the respon­sibilities of the work.

By the Spring of 1902, a small group, consisting of W. F. Bryant and a few others, had also begun to feel the need for government.  So, on May 15, 1902, Bro. Bryant and those concerned saints gathered at Bro. Bryant’s home, near Murphy, NC.  There, with the guidance of Bro. Spurling, they organized under the name of The Holiness Church at Camp Creek.  Bro. Spurling became the pastor and W. F. Bryant was ordained a minister.

The Year of the Arise
The year 1903 produced a number of momentous events, including the first successful heavier-than-air flight, formation of the Ford Motor Company, Harley-Davidson began to manufacture motor­cycles, the Communist Party was organized, and Pope Pius X was crowned, etc.  Perhaps one of the most significant events of 1903, was the first successful heavier than air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  It is especially important, because flight, includ­ing space flight, was to repeat­edly signal prophetic events as the work of God’s Elect pro­gressed throughout the century.

In Isa. 60:8, God prophesied of man’s mastery of aviation.  In verse one, He said, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”  Then in verse eight, He asked, “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?”  These verses show us that God’s Church would rise up, this side of the dark ages, together with the development of airplanes.

It came to pass, on June 13, 1903, in the mountains of North Carolina, that a great Prophet of God, Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson, declared a small group of believers to be The Church of God, and, that day, God’s Church arose.  Then, on December 17, 1903, man rose into the air in the first successful effort to fly as the doves.  It is amazing that both of these prophecies are in the same passage of the Holy Scriptures, and the fulfillment of them occurred in the same year, and in the same State.

The Word Creates
On June 13, 1903, A. J. Tom­linson went up onto a moun­tain to pray, near where the Holiness Church at Camp Creek had their meetings.  He later testified to a small group, in the home of W. F. Bryant, that the Lord had inspired him, during his prayer, that they had espoused a faith and attitude toward the word of God that, if they would accept it, they were the Church of God.  (During the next forty years, he directed the establish­ment and growth of two prominent, inter­n­ational, Pentecostal organi­zations.)

Brother Spurling immedi­ately submitted the leadership to Bro. Tomlinson, and the work began to grow.  In two and a half years, it had grown to such an extent, that they thought it was necessary to call a general conference.  They did not adopt the name “Church of God” until 1907, but the beginning of the Church of God can neither be dated from the time of organization in 1902, nor from the time of the official name change.  They became the Church of God when the bold declaration was made by the Prophet to whom God had given the revelation of it.

By the summer of 1923, the Church of God had grown to about 30,000 members in the United States, at which time a power struggle forced Bro. Tomlinson out of Office.  Today an estimation of that group’s numbers to be at over 500,000 would probably be much too modest.  Bro. Tomlinson walked out and down the street, and mounted a “soap box,” and started over, and by the time of his death, in 1943, it had attained to something over 20,000 members.  In 1952, that work came to be known as “Church of God of Prophecy.”  I consider it quite appropriate that, in 2001, the publishers of World News Network named A. J. Tomlinson as “Church of God Man of the Century.” (

The forty-year ministry of A. J. Tomlinson as the leader of the Churches of God is of tremen­dous importance.  A forty-year leadership of God’s People occurred only eight times in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, not at all.  God gave A. J. Tomlinson a forty-year ministry so we would know that his work had “the Seal of God” upon it.  He fulfilled Bible prophecy, and generated a succession of churches which were the direct fulfillment of the volume of prophecy which was written about God’s Church for the 20th century. (Compare with Paul in Col. 1:15)

From that succession of churches must come yet another, which will finish the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning God’s Elect, and will usher in the return of our Savior and King.  The time is short.  So let us labor, with all zeal, unto the day of His coming.