Headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee, the Church of God of Prophecy has more than three hundred thousand members worldwide. Its New Testament theology is evangelical in nature, and its worship style is Pentecostal. The early history of the denomination is entwined with that of the Church of God and the holiness movement. The church doctrines are founded on biblical inerrancy. Baptism by the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues and total abstinence from tobacco and alcohol are among the teachings of the church.
A. J. Tomlinson (1845-1943) established the denomination in Cleveland in 1923 following his forced resignation from the position of general overseer of the Church of God. Tomlinson had been an early leader in the Church of God, but dissension over issues including financial control led to a division. Tomlinson and a few congregations in Tennessee and elsewhere formed a new organization, initially called the Tomlinson Church of God. The splinter group, much smaller than the parent organization, became involved in extended litigation over the use of the name “Church of God.” In 1953 the Bradley County Chancery Court decreed that the suffix “of Prophecy” be added to the name for use in secular and business affairs. Internally, however, the denomination still uses the name “Church of God.”
Tomlinson led the church throughout the 1930s, when the denomination achieved considerable growth, especially through missionary outreach in foreign nations. Today, 75 percent of the membership lives outside the United States.
In 1943 Tomlinson's death created a critical void in the church's leadership, and his sons, Milton and Homer, vied for appointment as general overseer. Milton Tomlinson was selected and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1990 at the age of eighty-four. During his tenure, the church continued to hold its general assembly annually in Cleveland, inundating the small city with as many as twenty thousand delegates from around the world to participate in the week-long church business meeting and worship services.
Homer Tomlinson moved to Queens, New York, and founded another church, the Church of God. Until his death in 1968 he remained a flamboyant preacher. He pronounced himself “king of the world” and took a throne on worldwide trips. Tomlinson ran for U.S. president four times as head of the unregistered Theocratic Party.
Billy D. Murray became the first general overseer outside the Tomlinson family in 1990. Although a splinter group separated from the denomination after his selection, efforts toward worldwide evangelism have been revitalized under Murray's leadership. Leaders also tackled some of the historical misunderstandings about the church and made efforts toward spiritual reconciliation with the Church of God. In 1997, the church reported approximately 2,000 congregations in the United States, of which 133 are in Tennessee.