Elder Richard Spurling (1810-1891), an ordained Baptist minister, rejected some of the views of the Baptists in his area as not in accord with New Testament Christianity. In August of 1886, he and seven members from Holly Springs and Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Churches in Monroe County, Tennessee and Cherokee County, North Carolina organized the "Christian Union". They agreed to free themselves from man-made creeds and unite upon the principles of the New Testament. In 1902, Richard Green Spurling (Richard Spurling's son) and W. F. Bryant founded the Holiness Church at Camp Creek (North Carolina). A. J. Tomlinson, a former Quaker, united with the church at Camp Creek in 1903, and was selected to pastor the congregation. Other churches were organized in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and the name Church of God was adopted in 1907. In 1909 Tomlinson was elected General Overseer. In 1923 this body was disrupted by division, creating the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and the Church of God of Prophecy.
Something that makes a Church of God service a little unique from other Southern Protestant denominations is their almost concert-like atmosphere. Music, in general, usually plays a very important part in the local churches, almost to the point of overshadowing the traditional sermon. Depending on the individual church, the music played can vary anywhere from old-time gospel and hymn-singing to contemporary Christian and Christian rock. Because of this rather unpredictable form of worship, services can sometimes last well into hours-length.
This body is referred to as Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) in order to distinguish it from other bodies called the Church of God. The church's worldwide membership exceeds 6 million people in over 150 countries. The Church of God (Cleveland) operates several universities, the oldest of which in Lee University in Cleveland, established in 1918. The Church of God Publishing House is a major gospel music resource.