The United Pentecostal Church is a Christian organization with a very unique doctrine. I imagine I’ll get visitors here who are very familiar with it, and some who’ve never heard of it so I’ll explain it here.
The UPC believes in the “Oneness” of God. Whereas most of Christianity believes in the Trinity – that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are 3 separate beings – Oneness theology holds that all 3 are 1 spirit, and each are simply different manifestations of that one spirit.
The whole Oneness thing leads to the next difference, which is over Baptism. Which is a necessary part of salvation, must be done by full immersion in the water (no sprinkling) and MUST be done “In the name of Jesus Christ.”
Then you also have to receive the “gift of the Holy Ghost” and the only way you know you have that is when you speak in tongues. That means you speak in a language you don’t know. Mostly its not a real language. I’ve heard several preachers tell stories of people speaking in tongues in front of someone from other countries. Usually the person speaking in tongues is an uneducated native somewhere on the “mission field.” But they’ll be praying away, and someone on the missions team or someone visiting from yet another country (not America, this doesn’t seem to happen in English) will recognize their own native language being spoken by someone who couldn’t possibly know it. It’s always stories, and everyone gets excited over them, but nobody I know ever saw it live.
All of the above is part of salvation. But even after you complete all of the above steps, you have to stay on guard and follow the long list of rules or you could “backslide” and lose your salvation. And if God happens to come back (the Rapture) or you happen to get hit by a bus you’re screwed. Straight to Hell with you, do not pass Go do not collect $200.
Where Did The United Pentecostal Church Come From?
During my days in the UPC, nobody talked a whole lot about the origins of the organization. We knew there had been a merger of some sorts back in the 1940s of two older organizations with the same teachings. Other than that, we were told that our beginning was the Day of Pentecost in the Bible.
But I discovered something new since I’ve left the church. According to the website GotQuestions.org:
The teaching that became the basis for Oneness Pentecostalism can be traced back to a Pentecostal Camp meeting held in Arroyo Seco, California either in late 1913 or early 1914. While at the meeting a Pentecostal pastor named John Scheppe had what he believed was a divine revelation from God. As he meditated that night, he believed God revealed to him that baptism must be done in the “name of Jesus only” and not in the name of “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Like most cult leaders, his revelation and “new doctrine” did not come as the result of the careful study of Scripture but instead was based on a subjective revelation he believed to be from God. Soon after, several other Assembly of God pastors began teaching this “new revelation” that would become the basis for Oneness Pentecostalism and “Jesus name only baptism.”
Anyone coming here from a purely Pagan background may not get why this is SUCH a big deal. Let me explain. Baptism in Jesus Name is the core, bedrock, fundamental belief that sets the UPC and other “oneness” organizations apart from the rest of Christianity. They go so far as to say, that if you do EVERYTHING else right – you sincerely repent of your sins, you even speak in tongues with the Holy Ghost, you live a sincere attempt at a holy life – yet your preacher said the wrong words over you when he dunked you under the water, you are shit out of luck. Too bad too sad. You are gonna burn, baby, for all eternity.
But this revelation didn’t come, as they’d have us believe today, by “Rightly dividing the word of God.” (Code for mixing a bunch of verses from all over the book and stringing them together to make them say what you want them to say). No, the “Rightly dividing” part came later. I actually sat through a 2-day (2 hours each day) bible study when I was new by that name. And that’s exactly what it did – we hopped all over the bible, reading a verse or part of a verse here and there, to prove that the UPC doctrine was what the Apostles had in mind all along.
Is The United Pentecostal Church A Cult?
Well.. I tried to look up the definition of a cult and unfortunately there isn’t a great, clear definitive answer. No checklist that says “this organization is a cult if X, Y and Z are true.”
According to Christianity Today, the most common definition of a cult is a group that is:
1) Exclusive. They may say, “We’re the only ones with the truth; everyone else is wrong; and if you leave our group your salvation is in danger.”
2) Secretive. Certain teachings are not available to outsiders or they’re presented only to certain members, sometimes after taking vows of confidentiality.
3) Authoritarian. A human leader expects total loyalty and unquestioned obedience.
In my experience, the UPC wholeheartedly meets #1, and to a slightly lesser extent #3. They don’t keep their doctrines a secret at all, however. We’ve already discussed #1 above, so lets talk about #3.
The Role Of Pastors In The United Pentecostal Church
In the UPC, licensed ministers breathe rarefied air. You just really have no “clout” or prestige at all unless you are one. At meetings such as men’s or ladies retreats, camp meetings, etc where people from many individual churches get together, the licensed ministers are kept separate from the “saints.” (they might as well say the Great Unwashed.) They have separate seating for the services, have separate events and dinners and such to attend, and other special privileges not afforded to those poor, sweet “Saints.”
One year at Ladies Retreat a woman from my church who’s husband had just gotten his Ministers License roomed with a Pastor’s wife and ministers wives from another church in our same town. She told us that they had informed her she should not mingle with us during and between services as she was a ministers wife now. She ignored them temporarily, but eventually she became just as standoffish as the rest of them.
If a Licensed Minister is special, a Pastor is right up there with Jesus Himself. A pastor in the UPC doesn’t answer to a church board. Technically the church body can vote him out but he’d have to be the one to call the meeting in the first place. The organization has a slight amount of oversight – they can revoke a license or disfellowship a Pastor. But that’s rare.
In my own life, I’ve seen my pastor forbid someone from pursuing Christian Rap as a hobby because he felt the music was too worldly regardless of the lyrics. Try to tell me what hours I should work as an executive in a start-up company (that was close to the end of my time there and didn’t work too well). Tell people who to date. One pastor (I’ve had 3 over 20 years in the UPC, all in the same church) spent a whole lot of time telling everyone how disrespecting the Man of God was a swift ticket to Hell.
Every UPC pastor tells the women of his congregation what they can and cannot wear.
If something is said “Across the pulpit” is it law. It is gospel. While my first pastor (he founded the church I attended in the 1960’s and was VERY highly ranked in the organizations governing body when I started going in the early 90’s) would often claim he wanted us to doubt him and verify what he said for ourselves by studying the Bible, the truth of the matter was you just didn’t question him.
If you disagreed with him or any edict he pronounced over you, you simply had nowhere to go. Nobody to appeal to. You either suck it up and submit, or leave.
So yeah. Does that satisfy your requirements for #3 above?
The United Pentecostal Church Is In My Past
This, to me, is the most important statement on this page. The UPC is no longer part of my life. It no longer tells me what to wear, what to watch, what to listen to, who to socialize with, how to vote or what to believe. And nobody ever will again.