This section was added to provide the reader with a brief overall knowledge of United Pentecostal Church (UPC/UPCI) doctrines. Note that many links will take you to UPC writings which further explain some teachings. (A synopsis of some beliefs can be found in a tract entitled, "The Apostle's Doctrine." Similar information can be found in a tract issued by Word Aflame Press, the publishing press affiliated with the UPCI.)
To read a PDF copy of the 2012 Manual of the UPC click here. The Manual gives all the inner workings of the organization, including their beliefs and Articles of Faith, as well as the rules for the ministers. It is issued annually. I was quite surprised to find it online as previously it has only been available to licensed ministers.
There are people who contact me, concerned about a relative, neighbor or a friend who is involved in the United Pentecostal Church and inquire as to their beliefs. There are also people who attend these churches and yet are not fully aware of their teachings.
Many have said, at least in the past, that the UPC is not a denomination. I recall my former pastor saying we were not a denomination. Ads have appeared saying it's not a denomination. However, on the main page for the official web site of the UPCI it is stated: "The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) has been among the fastest growing denominations in North America since it was formed in 1945...." (as of April 2007)
Please note that how some teachings are conveyed and enforced vary from church to church and area to area. Much appears to depend on individual ministers. However, every UPC licensed minister has read and agreed to the Articles of Faith. This is a requirement to be licensed and is attested to in their license application. To see an older version of the Articles of Faith from 1952, click here.
In addition, ministers are required to sign an affirmation every two years that they embrace and believe the Fundamental Doctrine of the Articles of Faith. (Click on the link for more detailed information.) This practice was voted on and approved in the fall of 1992, was implemented in 1993, and it continues to be required today. When this was implemented, there was an uproar and the UPC lost many ministers. For some, it was one thing to agree to the standards in the Articles of Faith, but another to have it mandated that they practice and teach all of them. In 1994 it was reported in the Pentecostal Herald that the UPC experienced a growth in their number of churches in 1993, when in fact it appears they experienced a net loss. It is unclear as to the exact number of ministers which were lost.
Since that time, the organization lost additional churches and ministers when television advertising was approved at the 2007 General Conference (the watching of TV is still not approved). This helped to bring about the formation of another Apostolic organization in 2008 called Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship that is comprised of many of the more conservative ministers, Larry Booker being one of the founders. There was a fair amount of controversy concerning how they started and also contacted their then fellow UPC ministers. They have touted themselves as having a "preferred apostolic future." The UPC does not allow its ministers to be a part of this organization. They have also lost members due to preterist teachings and lost many in Ethiopia, and a few other places, over the divine flesh teaching. (See further down for more info.)
Besides requiring that ministers adhere to the Articles of Faith, it may come as a surprise to some UPC church members that they, too, may also expected to abide by these beliefs. This is specified in the UPC ministerial manual, under the section on local church government that may be used by any church wishing to adopt it for their by-laws. Article II, Section 1:1 states that "Anyone believing in and accepting the Apostolic doctrine as set forth in our Articles of Faith is eligible to become a member."
Continuing in Section 2:1, it lists nine obligations for members of a local assembly. One is to "cleanse one's self from all filthiness of the flesh..." and it is stipulated that "tobacco in any form is considered filthy." They are told to "avoid all ungodly and worldly amusements (all amusements and recreation are not harmful)" and to obtain a letter of membership when moving and to unite with another UPC church as soon as possible. Members are also required to conduct themselves as Christians, manifest brotherly love, not forsake attending services, support the assembly through prayer and financial aid, maintain family and secret devotions, and abide by the By-Laws of the assembly.
Any member of a UPCI church that wishes to change churches must have a letter of transfer from their pastor before they can be accepted as a member in another UPCI church.
It may come as a surprise to many that licensed ministers are not the only members of the UPCI. The organization also considers as members the people who are members of their affiliated churches. In Article II of the General Constitution it is stated: "Membership in the United Pentecostal Church International shall consist of all ministers and missionaries holding an accredited credential or license, and all members of local assemblies which are affiliated with us..."
Articles of Faith
The United Pentecostal Church teaches many basic Christian doctrines, such as the Bible being the inspired Word of God, the creation and fall of man, repentance, divine healing, communion, foot washing, the second coming of Jesus, the millennium, and final judgment. All of these are covered in the Articles of Faith. However, there are three areas where their doctrine differs greatly with mainstream Christian churches. Additionally, several "standards", or outward ways of living, are included in their beliefs.
The main area where the UPC differs from most churches is their belief in one God. Though Trinitarians also believe in one God, the UPC opposes the concept of the Trinity. The UPC believes that God manifested, or made himself known, in different ways: as the Father in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Holy Ghost in emanation. They do not view God as three separate but equal persons. Their belief on the Godhead is often referred to as "Oneness" or "Jesus Only". To see a list of some books that refute this teachings, click here.
The second area is the UPC stand on baptism. The UPC stipulates that baptism is a requirement for salvation. They teach that a person's sins are washed away in baptism and therefore it is essential that one be properly baptized. Therefore, baptism must be by full water immersion and in the name of Jesus or one's baptism is invalid and they are unsaved.
The third area is their belief concerning the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They teach one must be filled with the Holy Ghost, with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues (a language that is not known by the believer), in order to be saved. In other words, if a believer has not spoken in tongues, God's Spirit is not in them, and they are therefore lost. Besides "initially" speaking in tongues, most ministers teach that one should continue to do so on a regular basis.
Their fundamental doctrine of full salvation is such: "repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance." (It is interesting to note that the mention of remission of sins was not part of the original fundamental doctrine statement, but was added in 1973. The UPC was formed in 1945.)
What many UPC members may not realize is that the organization in its beginning was not as dogmatic concerning when a person was saved. This is why the fundamental doctrine ended with a statement about not contending for one's view. If you are a reading this and doubt its veracity, I strongly suggest you spend some time reading the earlier material directly from the organization. The first Pentecostal Herald (December 1945) stated this: "Articles on such subjects as "The New Birth," will be accepted, whether they teach that the new birth takes place before baptism in water and Spirit, or that the new birth consists of baptism of water and Spirit. This is indeed the proper attitude toward the most vital subject, as we are all seeking after truth, and are confident that God will lead us into all truth, by His Spirit."
Concerning standards, they believe in Godly living, in which their views on what constitutes such consist of the following:
"We wholeheartedly disapprove of our people indulging in any activities which are not conducive to good Christianity and Godly living, such as theaters, dances, mixed bathing, women cutting their hair, make-up, amusements, and unwholesome radio programs and music. Furthermore, because of the display of all these evils on television, we disapprove of any of our people having television sets in their homes. We admonish all of our people to refrain from any of these practices in the interest of spiritual progress and the soon coming of the Lord for His church."
Under a section entitled 'Public School Activities' it is stated:
"We disapprove of school students attending shows, dances, dancing classes, theatres, engaging in school activities against their religious scruples, and wearing gymnasium clothes which immodestly expose the body.
"We disapprove of school students being forced to take co-educational classes which involve boys and girls being mixed together in swimming, calisthenics, baseball, and other mixed athletics while clothed in ungodly attire which immodestly exposes the body."
Teachings Not Included in the Articles of Faith
Referred to as standards or holiness teachings, there are teachings which are not covered in the Articles of Faith. Some are basically taught in all UPC churches, while others may be added by the individual pastor. Some ministers teach that your salvation is at stake if you do not abide by these rules.
For instance, there is an issue of sleeve length. Most would probably teach that a sleeveless shirt would be wrong to wear, without mandating how long the sleeve should be. Another may mandate sleeves be no shorter than the elbow, with others stipulating they must be to the wrist.
Shorts are normally taught against for both sexes. Some allow culottes on women, while others forbid them. Gauchos and capris are usually disallowed. My former District Superintendent once referred to gauchos as 'glorified pants.' Pants are not to be worn by women and men should not go shirtless.
Facial hair on men in many churches is discouraged and their hair should be short while a woman is never to cut or trim her hair. Long hair is translated to mean uncut hair in I Corinthians 11. Some teach a woman's spirituality and/or salvation hinges on whether or not she abides by this teaching. Others teach a woman has special power in her long, uncut hair. There are ministers who mandate that women wear their hair up.
Women are to wear dresses or skirts. Some require a set length, while others advise it should be at least to the knee. Pantyhose may or may not be required.
There are ministers who teach against all jewelry, while others will allow a pin, ring or watch. Others claim you'll be lost if you wear a wedding ring. It is interesting that in the very first edition of their official publication, The Pentecostal Herald, they offered a 'Jesus Saves' pin for sale. "Mounted on beautiful white Mother of Pearl! An ideal gift for Christmas, or prize for Sunday School." The price was $1.50, including tax. (My, have prices changed!)
Radio used to be spoken against. However, for years the UPC has been broadcasting a radio program. Movies are not allowed. Televisions should not be owned, however limited use of video was approved. (Yet if you want your license as a minister in the UPC, you are asked if you have a television in your home. If you answer 'yes', even if it is only for video purposes, your application will be denied at General Headquarters in Hazelwood, Missouri.) There is a resolution that will be presented to the ministers at the 2013 General Conference in the fall that seeks to remove the mention of television from their manual.
Video use is "strictly limited to those areas in which motion picture cameras and projectors are traditionally permitted to be used; namely, in taking of pictures of family, friends, and church activities, and the viewing of educational, religious, or inspirational films which are consistent with wholesome Christian principles. Be it further resolved that we restate our strong opposition to viewing of all worldly motion pictures and video films as are being shown commercially in theatres and on television for entertainment purposes for the ungodly masses, and the use of them in any form for God's people. Be it further resolved that all video receivers be so altered as to be unable to receive television channels. Be it further resolved that none of our ministers use video in any way except as herein provided."
The UPC passed positional papers against organized sports and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The King James Version is accepted as the "most accurate translation of the Scriptures to be used in our churches and among our people." The UPC also has a judicial procedure that is supposed to be followed when there is an accusation of wrongdoing against a minister or if one minister has a grievance with another minister.
A Little More About The UPC
The headquarters of the United Pentecostal Church is located at 8855 Dunn Road in Hazelwood, Missouri. The official monthly publication is "The Pentecostal Herald"; the name reportedly may be changed to The Pentecostal Life. Books and other resources are published by the Pentecostal Publishing House, though much is being outsourced now due to financial issues. A store is located at their headquarters. "Harvestime" is the official radio show. (Harvestime's name was changed at the 2005 General Conference to Media Missions Division. It is now called My Hope Radio.)
Eight Bible colleges are endorsed, none of which are operated by those outside the organization, and they teach UPC beliefs and are not accredited. In addition, they sponsor the Urshan Graduate School of Theology, which has been reported to have a low enrollment and been losing money since its inception in August of 2001. It appears they recently became accredited sometime in 2010. In the fall of 2012, they had a record enrollment of 81 students. David Bernard reported on September 12, 2012: "Due to new rules and interpretations by our accrediting association, we are now authorized to treat degrees from UPCI Bible colleges as "educationally equivalent" to accredited bachelor's degrees. This means there is now no limit on the number of Bible college graduates we can accept for our master's programs. It is also the first time for the UPCI to obtain an official ruling that recognizes the bachelor's degrees of our Bible colleges in this way." It July of 2012, UGST completed its acquisition of the Gateway College of Evangelism in Missouri, and they now offer an undergraduate school called Urshan College.
"Forward" is the quarterly magazine for UPC ministers. There are also publications for the youth and ladies.
They endorse a ministry for boys in Louisiana called Lighthouse Ranch For Boys, a drug & alcohol counseling ministry in Louisiana called Spirit of Freedom Ministries and Tupelo Children's Mansion Ministries, a home for orphans in Mississippi.
Also endorsed is Life In Focus Education, formerly ACTS: Alcohol and Chemical Treatment Series, which is "a charity-based community assistance program that offers training and course studies in Drug Education, Anger Management, Finance Management, Grant Writing, and Employment Development." The Jesus Message is a blog and podcast site. Compassion Services International is a "Christian relief and development service provider dedicated to providing emergency relief during, or in the aftermath, of disasters."
One of their later endorsed ministries is New Beginnings - Children's and Family Services, "providing maternity care center services (at no charge to birth mothers whose plan is adoption), domestic and international adoption services for adoptive parents and placement services for special needs children (older than four years) from Tupelo Children’s Mansion and Blue Mountain Children’s Home." They are also endorsed by the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To obtain a ministerial license, no formal training is needed. Requirements include a list of reading material as well as preaching engagements. There are three levels of licenses: local, general, and ordained. To see training material provided for their ministers, click here. To see other training videos, click here. To see the 2012 reading requirements for the three levels of licensing, click here.
The UPC is run by a board of General Presbyters, with the late Nathaniel A. Urshan having been the General Superintendent for many years. In the fall of 2001, Kenneth Haney was elected the new General Superintendent and was re-elected since this time until David Bernard won the office and started in 2010. Mr. Haney passed away in 2011. There are also Regional Executive Presbyters and District General Presbyters, along with Honorary General Presbyters. (Since Bernard was elected, there has been a continual push for "Apostolic Identity" in reinforcing UPC stands on holiness. Around the same time, ten of the more conservative UPC ministers decided to take a stand to uphold the holiness standards, calling on fellow ministers to "entirely reflect" the organization's beliefs and created the WeDeclare.org website. The Conroe United Pentecostal Church in Texas, pastored by R. Kent Smith, registered the domain on September 3, 2009. Since then, as of early July 2010, only 532 of their more than 9,000 ministers had signed the "declaration" online. They claim that the ministers within the organization seeking to make changes are a "very noisy minority." The website appears to have been removed, as the domain was only registered through September 3, 2012. For one man's thoughts on this group, which includes a quote from the site, click here.)
The United States is broken into districts, each district being overseen by a District Superintendent and Presbyters. Some states are large enough to be a district in themselves, while others such as New Jersey and Delaware are combined as one district. There are also many churches outside of the United States as they have a very active Global Missions Division. (In late 2011, the Foreign Missions Division changed its name to Global Missions. The Home Missions Division name was changed to North American Missions.) This is the web site for the United Pentecostal Church of Australia - UPCA. This is the web site for the United Pentecostal Church of France.
They hold an annual General Conference, which is declared a religious holiday for members, as well as annual District Conferences and camps. At more recent General Conferences, the UPC has taken stands against divine flesh doctrine as well as preterist teachings. Starting in 2007, the organization will charge $25.00 ($35 at the door) to register to attend as they lost a great deal of money (reportedly $500,000) on the prior conference. Since that time, the cost has risen. In 2011, a person spent at least $50.00 with early registration & up to $75 to attend the several day event (one night is free). It is the same price for 2012.
Out of all the Oneness (also known as Apostolic) churches, the United Pentecostal Church has been considered the largest. In past years they had been struggling financially, but they have worked hard to reverse that trend and now appear to be on more solid ground financially.
In the organization's report on the growth statistics of the UPCI from 1945 through 1999, it is interesting that the UPCI compares its statistics with the Assembly of God. If the UPCI truly wants to compare growth, why not do so with other Apostolic churches? How does their growth compare to the PAW or ALJC? Below are some details of the report.
In 1945 the UPC had 521 churches and as of 1999 they had 3892. From 1998 to 1999 they added 31 churches, which was an .8% growth. (This is the net amount after subtracting the churches which closed or left the organization from the new ones which started.) This is certainly not an indicator of the 'enormous' growth some members claim. The truth is that in 2008, 2009 and 2010 they actually had losses. According to their records, on the average 147 new churches are added each year and 101 churches close or leave the UPCI. According to the official web site of the UPCI, they now have 3876 churches (down from 1999 figures), with an estimated constituency of 600,000. (These are all North America figures.)
[Note: As of the beginning of July 2010, their website claims 4358 churches, 9085 ministers and a Sunday School attendance of 646,304. Sunday School attendances are not an accurate indication of the regular attendance as that would be significantly smaller as there are often large drives to bring in or bus children to Sunday morning services. A Sunday evening attendance would be a more accurate reflection of members and constituents. As of December 2011, their website claims 4,305 churches -down since 2010- (including daughter works and preaching points- these two started to be added around 2006, thus inflating their numbers) and 9,193 ministers. David Bernard shared in October 2011 that, "After three years of small declines, this year we experienced a net growth in the U.S. and Canada of 1.5% in number of churches (including daughter works and preaching points)." Click here for his letter. For 2012, the increase was 1.7%.]
On September 12, 2012, David Bernard announced the following statistics: "...the UPCI now has about 45,000 churches and preaching points in 198 nations. In the U.S. and Canada, we have almost 4,400 works and over 9,200 ministers. This represents an increase in the number of churches for the second consecutive year and an increase in the number of ministers for the third consecutive year. We have a record number of ministers with local license." The probable reason for the increase in local licensing is that in 2011 they started a push to recruit new ministers in an effort to grow as they don't even have enough churches to reach .5% of the population of North America. The exact figure for ministers is 9234 and for churches it is 4404. The report is indicative of little growth in two years; a 46 church increase, with no mention as to church size, and a little over 149 ministers. They have more than double the amount of ministers as churches.
In 1945 the UPC had 1838 ministers and as of 1999 they had 8372. From 1998 to 1999 they added 153 ministers, which was a 1.86% growth. They had, as of 1999, 4480 more licensed ministers than they had churches. In 2010, this difference grew to 4727 more licensed ministers than churches, and in 2011, there were 4888 more.
In 1986 they gained 165 churches and lost 92; in 1987 they gained 175 and lost 97; in 1988 they gained 144 and lost 85; in 1989 they gained 172 and lost 111; in 1990 they gained 137 and lost 122; in 1991 they gained 147 and lost 91; in 1992 they gained 145 and lost 91; in 1993 they gained 136 and lost 177 (This was when the yearly affirmation took effect.); in 1994 they gained 146 and lost 98; in 1995 they gained 154 and lost 93; in 1996 they gained 130 and lost 78; and in 1997 they gained 123 and lost 78. From 1986 through 1997 the UPC did not average a net of more than 47 new churches per year in a 12 year period.
To bring it home, in 1982 New Jersey had 9 churches and in 1984 there were 11 (some of these have been small with few in attendance). That was an increase of one per year. In 2001 they had 20. So from 1982 to 2001, New Jersey added 11 churches, a growth rate of less than 1 per year. (This was taken from UPCI Church Directories.) [In 2010, there were 30, showing a growth rate of a little more than 1 per year since 2001.] It is evident the UPC ministry is growing at a greater rate than their churches and continues to do so into 2012.
Updated March 16, 2013
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August 23, 1997
Copyright © 1997-2013 by Lois E. Gibson
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