ABOUT THE UNITED PENTECOSTAL CHURCH part 2
BY REV.DAVID K. BERNARD
The word "United" in our name reminds us that the organization was founded with the desire of uniting all brethren of like precious faith under one banner for the cause of proclaiming "the whole gospel to the whole world" and establishing a worldwide fellowship of believers.
The word "Pentecostal" in our name refers to our determination to emulate the pattern established in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. Our Fundamental Doctrine advocates the salvation message of Acts 2:38 repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Our commitment to holiness of life is likewise a vital aspect of adherence to the apostles' doctrine, for as the apostle Peter exhorted in Acts 2:40, we must save ourselves from a perverse generation.
The word "Church" reminds us that we are not just an organization of individuals, whether ministers or saints, but an integral, vital part of the body of Christ that exists to worship, pray, and proclaim the gospel. Our World Network of Prayer helps to harness our energies for prayer, and our numerous camp meetings and conferences continually ignite and renew our worship.
The word "International" confirms that we have formed a worldwide fellowship to which the Lord is adding daily. We now have constituents in about 135 nations around the globe.
Because of our commitment to these apostolic priorities, God has indeed blessed us with the growth that comes from Him. From about five hundred churches in 1945, we have grown to almost four thousand in the United States and Canada and almost twenty thousand in the rest of the world. Our worldwide constituency is approaching three million. These numbers
reflect respectable growth over the last half century in North America and spectacular growth in many countries in the last decade.
Of course, we understand that neither the name nor the organization is necessary or sufficient for salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, purchased by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and experienced by all who obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not our place to judge other groups or individuals, nor can we claim to be the only group who embraces truth and has an experience with God.
But we should be thankful to belong to a fellowship that has a leading role in evangelizing the world with the whole gospel, preserving the fullness of the apostolic message, and con-tending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. (See Jude 3.)
In the early part of this century, most Pentecostals in various organizations - Trinitarian as well as Oneness--had a strong commitment to the areas we have identified, including the Pentecostal message of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, holiness of life, fervency of prayer, and heartfelt worship. Indeed, the guiding impulse of all these organizations was the restoration of apostolic Christianity.
Unfortunately, the Trinitarian Pentecostals chose to follow historical tradition, creed orthodoxy, and majority opinion instead of returning fully to the apostolic pattern and biblical teaching of the oneness of God, absolute deity of Jesus Christ, and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Their decision proved to be a harbinger of things to come, for many Trinitarian Pentecostals are now in the process of discarding or de-emphasizing many truths they once held dear.
For instance, the key distinctive of the entire Pentecostal movement from the out-set has been the baptism of the Holy Spirit
with the initial sign of speaking in tongues. Many Trinitarian Pentecostals and most charismatic however, now deny that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence. In classical Trinitarian Pentecostal churches, usually only a minority of members now claim the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some scholars' estimate for the Assemblies of God is as low as thirty percent.
Likewise, all Pentecostals once held very similar standards of holiness in conduct and dress, but gradually one organization after another has abandoned them. In recent years, observers have also noticed a decline in the fervor of prayer and worship among Trinitarian Pentecostals. Indeed, prominent Trinitarian scholars have acknowledged that if one wants to see the type of demonstrative worship that characterized all Pentecostals until quite recently, he should attend a United Pentecostal camp meeting or conference.
Through the years, Trinitarian Pentecostals have generally tried to ignore the existence of Oneness Pentecostals, apparently in hopes that their influence would be minimal and that they would dwindle away. But today Apostolic believers are more visible and active than ever.
In what appears to be a major change of direction, Charisma magazine, the leading periodical of the charismatic movement, recently devoted a feature article to Oneness Pentecostals, particularly United Pentecostals. It noted their significant impact in such areas as gospel music and witness to high governmental officials, including the president of the United States. It seems that Trinitarian Pentecostals and charismatics are finally acknowledging that we Oneness Pentecostals are here to stay and that it is important to hear what we have to say.
As one might expect, Charisma criticized Oneness Pentecostals for our emphasis on doctrinal teachings and. practical holiness of life. After all, over the years the charismatic movement has strongly opposed both emphases and has been a major factor in causing the classical Trinitarian Pentecostals to abandon them. (It has also had a positive influence upon many people, especially those with no Pentecostal background, by encouraging them to seek after the things of God.) Charisma acknowledged that the doctrine of the trinity is a mystery, that the apostles baptized in Jesus' name, and that United Pentecostals hold to the standards of holiness that all Pentecostals once embraced as Scriptural. Yet it argued that our stands
for the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus' name, and practical holiness are not important in the modern world .
Somewhat wistfully, the article offered the hope (from charismatic point of view) that the United Pentecostal Church might change its fundamental position on these points, although it did not offer any solid supporting evidence. Why should charismatics have such a strong desire to see us change? It may be that as long as we hold firm to these apostolic truths, our
very existence reproves their unwillingness to stand for them. Moreover, as long as we continue to grow while adhering to these positions, we disprove the notion that the church can no longer survive or increase in the modern world if it insists on maintaining its apostolic identity.
Among many Pentecostals and charismatic the motivating factor for abandoning basic doctrine and holiness is not a profound change of theological views after intense prayer and Bible study, but simply a desire to grow at all costs--to achieve greater acceptance and "success." Some such churches have mushroomed by affirming or ignoring lifestyle choices that are clearly contrary to God's Word; by emphasizing showmanship, entertainment, recreation, and social life; and by openly appealing to members of other churches even though they consider them to be already saved.
But such growth should not impress us, for it is not the increase that comes from God. It is possible to amass a crowd of thousands in a year's time with relatively little spiritual effort, but true growth requires a new birth, conversion from sin, a change of lifestyle, attainment of maturity, and a disciplined life. This kind of growth takes time, effort, intensive prayer, one-on-one
ministry, and the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.
We should not be surprised if many people, even professing Christians, follow the route of doctrinal compromise and worldly lifestyle. Paul predicted, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4). Jesus Himself said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be Which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, Which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
Do these prophetic utterances mean that we should not expect significant church growth? Absolutely not! As in the Book of Acts, it is God's will for us to have revival and increase until Jesus comes! These passages simply remind us that we must not sacrifice our apostolic identity-including our fundamental doctrine, our lifestyle of holiness, and our fervency of prayer and worship-in a mistaken attempt to attain any kind of growth at any kind of cost.
No, it is our message and identity that has enabled us to grow so rapidly without compromise, that has forced others to take notice of us, that speaks to their conscience so strongly that they are determined to change us. Let us continue to proclaim the
whole gospel to the whole world, and in doing so we will grow with the increase that comes from God. As we continue in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in prayer and in praise, the Lord will add to the Church daily those who should be saved. PH
This article appeared in the October 1997 issue of the Pentecostal Herald
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