A Rousing Message
Church of God in Christ COGIC) Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. preached a stirring message Thursday night before attendees at the Assemblies of God biennial gathering in Orlando, Florida.
For the past 46 years, Blake has been pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, where membership now numbers 25,000.
Blake has been leader of the 5.5-million-member, 108-year-old Pentecostal denomination since the death of Gilbert E. Patterson in 2007. COGIC and the AG are the two largest Pentecostal bodies in the U.S.
AG General Superintendent George O. Wood noted how blacks and whites worshipped joyously together at the Azusa Street revival in 1906. However, soon afterwards, Pentecostals went their separate racial ways, following the established segregation in place in the rest of society.
COGIC founding bishop Charles H. Mason came to the first General Council in 1914 and blessed the formation of the Assemblies of God. Blake blessed the AG in its 101st year.
"God in a significant way has brought us together again in fellowship and in love," Wood said.
Blake, who turned 75 on Wednesday, noted how COGIC and the AG, along with other Pentecostal denominations, recently have collaborated on moral issues that face the nation. The Bible teaches that abortion, same-sex marriage, and extramarital relations are wrong, Blake stressed.
In preaching from the Book of Daniel, Blake said people who know God will be strong and carry out great exploits. Daniel and his three cohorts found themselves in a culture out of step with their beliefs, yet they stood solidly for their convictions, he said.
"We must not bend," Blake said. "We must not bow in our integrity or our morality. When you're cast in the fire, Jesus is already there."
God uses fiery furnaces, lion's dens, dreams, and visions to bring his purposes to pass, Blake said.
Soft-spoken through the early portion of his sermon, midway through Blake started preaching in cadence, accompanied every few words by notes played by a nearby organist. Moving away from his prepared script and away from the podium, the suddenly invigorated Blake moved to the front and center of the stage. For 15 minutes he recited scriptural truths about God's goodness, bringing the largely white crowd to its feet with sustained clapping and shouting.
"God is calling on us to do great things for him," Blake exhorted, as the crescendo atmosphere seemed like a gospel revival service. "Don't get discouraged, but keep on trying. Don't stop now."
Blake ended the service by inviting the downtrodden and weary to the front of the auditorium. Hundreds streamed forward for prayer.
"Some of you have received specific instructions from God, but have grown discouraged and tired," Blake said. "Gather around the altar."
Wood subsequently rejoiced at the freedom in the house.
The service marked an increasing cooperation between the two Pentecostal groups. In November 2013, executive leaders from the predominantly black COGIC and the majority white Assemblies of God gathered in Springfield, Missouri, for the first time to dialogue.
The number of blacks in the AG has increased significantly this century. There were 164,071 African-American adherents in the AG in 2001, or 6.2 percent of the total body. Now there are 300,763, or almost 9.6 percent.
A Pew Research Center report last week cited the Assemblies of God as the most diverse evangelical denomination in the U.S.