What is the United Pentecostal Church?
Question: "What is the United Pentecostal Church?"
Answer: The United Pentecostal Church is a Pentecostal denomination that was formed in 1945 when the Pentecostal Church Incorporated and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ merged. Their website says that they “grew from 521 churches in 1945” to “4,243 churches and daughter works in 2010”. The United Pentecostal Church claims to be “among the fastest growing church organizations since it was formed in 1945.” Because United Pentecostal Churches are normally congregational in government there can be some differences among individual churches. As a self-governing church body each congregation elects its own pastors and leaders. The denomination’s headquarters are in Hazelwood, MO.
The roots of the United Pentecostal Church and what is known as “Oneness Pentecostals” can be traced back to the early days of the Pentecostal Movement which began in the early 1900’s in Topeka, Kansas based on the teachings of Charles Parham. In 1906 the Pentecostal Movement gained popularity during the Azuza Street Revival led by William Seymour. While it was rejected by mainline Christian denominations, the movement continued to grow and its followers began to form their own Pentecostal organizations or denominations. One of the first was the Assemblies of God which was formed around 1914.
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.”
As the new “movement” gained followers it caused a division in the newly formed Assembly of God organization. Recognizing the unbiblical nature of this teaching, the Assemblies of God rejected this unbiblical doctrine and affirmed the biblical doctrine of the Trinity at its Fourth General Council in October 1916. This led to the Assembly of God banning approximately 150 pastors from the denomination, those who had been teaching this unbiblical doctrine. A few months later several Oneness Pentecostal pastors met in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and started their own organization known as the General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies. That was the beginning of the Oneness Pentecostal movement and eventually in 1945 two of the many Oneness Pentecostal organizations merged together to form the United Pentecostal Church.
Often referred to as “Oneness Pentecostals” because of their denial of the triune nature of God, the denomination was formed around a heretical teaching known as modalism. Because they deny the true nature of God as revealed in Scripture and embrace other unbiblical teachings this group is best classified as a cult rather than a true Christian denomination. Like other cults such as the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, this form of extreme Pentecostalism denies the true nature of God and in reality preaches a different gospel than true biblical Christianity.
Claiming to teach “the apostles’ doctrine,“ the teaching and doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church is based on poor exegesis of Scripture and the misreading and misinterpretation of certain Bible passages. This forms the basis for their heretical teaching on the nature of God and the doctrine of salvation, and other doctrines taught by the United Pentecostal Church. The heresies taught by this group include the denial of the triune nature of God as revealed in Scripture, as well as the teaching that one must be “baptized in Jesus’ name” to be saved and that true salvation is evidenced by speaking in tongues. These teachings come from a long history of misreading of Scripture which led the Oneness Pentecostals to split off from traditional Pentecostalism.
While many false teachings have arisen out of the Pentecostal movement, Oneness Pentecostalism is certainly one of the most deceptive and heretical. Rather than embrace the triune nature of God as revealed in Scripture, Oneness Pentecostals, like the United Pentecostal Church, create for themselves a God they can “understand” and in doing so end up with another gospel and a heretical concept of God. They hold to a form of modalism that, while correctly asserting the biblical truth that there is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4), they fail to recognize the plurality of the Godhead (Genesis 1:26; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 1:9-11; John 1:1; John 8:17-18; John 14:16: John 15:26; John 16:13-15: 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2; Revelation 1:4-6).
Modalism is basically the teaching that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply different ways God manifests or reveals Himself to humanity. It fails to recognize the distinction that clearly exists between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, as well as the eternal relationship that Scripture reveals to us. Contrary to John 1:1, Oneness doctrine denies the pre-existence of Jesus Christ despite the fact that this verse clearly teaches that Jesus is God and that He was with God, and was God from the beginning. They acknowledge that Christ is God but ignore the part of this verse that clearly establishes the pre-existence of Christ and makes a clear distinction between Christ and the Father as do many other verses of Scripture.
Their false view of God’s nature then leads them to misunderstand what it means to be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). The result is that contrary to the clear evidence of Scripture they make water baptism “in the name of Jesus” a requirement of salvation and thus teach baptismal regeneration. But not only do they teach baptismal regeneration but they add to that troublesome teaching that one must be baptized a specific way using a specific formula or wording in order to be saved. By adding to the gospel these requirements, as well the false teaching that speaking in tongues is the evidence that one is saved, they end up with a convoluted gospel full of error and based on a misunderstanding of what Scripture really teaches.
The United Pentecostal Church recognizes that its teachings are not in line with most Christian denominations. We know that because they state on their website that “In our day, the Apostolic Pentecostal movement is distinctive for its teaching of the Oneness of God, the New Testament plan of salvation, and aspects of practical holiness.” In other words, like other cults the leaders of this movement are fully aware that what they teach is not in line with what is normally referred to as orthodox or biblical Christian doctrine.
Still another troubling teaching of the United Pentecostal church is their concept of holiness and the legalistic standards they impose on people. For example, their view of holiness means that women cannot wear jewelry or makeup, that women must let their hair grow long, and that men must have their hair “noticeably short.” Also school students are forbidden from participating in shows, dances, dance classes, theatre or even from wearing gymnasium clothes. While Christians are called to be holy, the United Pentecostal Church’s definition of what is holy, like its other erroneous teaching comes from a misunderstanding of the basic principles of biblical hermeneutics. While they affirm that salvation is not based on works, their teaching on holiness seems to contradict that as they write “After the new birth experience a conflict arises…this battle is a battle for holiness, and we must win it in order to be saved.”
The UPC’s statement of faith makes it clear that there are areas where their beliefs are acceptable and orthodox in that they do agree with the teaching of Scriptures. However they go astray in very fundamental and essential areas. They essentially deny justification by faith. They add baptism and speaking in tongues as requirements for salvation. For baptism to be effective it must be done using the phrase “In the name of Jesus” and must be administered by an ordained Oneness Pentecostal minister. This essentially means that only those who embrace Oneness doctrines and practices will go to heaven, again another typical teaching of this type of “Christian” cult.
Like most cults, the United Pentecostal Church believes that they are restoring biblical doctrine and biblical teaching that had been lost due to the corruption of the church throughout the centuries. Rather than recognizing that God in His sovereignty has preserved the true “apostolic doctrine” throughout the history of the church, they believe they are restoring biblical truths when the fact is all they are doing is reviving the ancient heresy of modalism that has been rejected by Christians every time another “new” group of false teachers begins to proclaim it.
Recommended Resources: Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions by Millard Erickson and The Forgotten Trinity by James White and Logos Bible Software.
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What is the United Pentecostal Church?