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Questions about the UPCI

To My Dear Young Friend, 

Since you have written me a veritable treatise covering a range of subjects and asked questions with regard to most of them, I cannot be brief in my reply.  My answers may not be satisfactory to you at first, but I believe that in the end, I will have fully engaged your concerns.  I may be more philosophical than you may like.  I only hope I can be as persuasive as you were inquisitive. 

I will begin with the old saying that sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees.  The UPCI is not a tree farm, nor is it a contrived collection of uniform trees; it is a fertile forest with all the traits and characteristics of a natural wilderness forest.  It consists of old growth trees, young saplings, a rich sampling of species and once beautiful trees now hollow and lifeless.  The uniformity of a true forest can only be observed and appreciated when taken as a whole.  If you go tree by tree, you will be disappointed almost as often as you will be delighted.  But, for every disappointment, you will find something inspirational or even beautiful.  In fact, you will find more good than bad, more strength than weakness and more beauty than ugliness as evidenced by the fact that the forest is still alive and well. 

The UPCI will not stand up to the withering scrutiny of a perfectionist’s microscope.  Its growth has progressed in spurts, in uneven and inconsistent alterations and occasional losses.  Our successes have been checkered with failures.  Sometimes we have been knocked to our knees in matters of doctrine, character, public embarrassments and political turmoil.  Only a fool would deny that this organization has suffered many problems, many of them self-inflicted. Yet, after every blow we have staggered back to our feet and kept walking.  We have, and will continue to upgrade our policies and revisit our articles of faith.  The process has been too slow for some, too fast for others and painful for all of us.  Some have highlighted our flaws, declared them unacceptable and jumped ship.  Others have swept our flaws under the proverbial rug and denied that they even existed.  Neither approach is right.  In the end, we must accept the fact that our organization is as much a work in progress as are individual Christians.  

What do we do in our local churches when we face dilemmas of compromise?  What do we do with people who sin presumptuously or who act stupidly?  Banish them from our presence?  No.  We work with them.  We make concessions to timing and teaching, we overlook their idiosyncrasies, and we make difficult judgments about their status.  Yes, sometimes we have no choice but to disfellowship some, but that is a last resort, and it is usually because they have become toxic to the body.  Ultimately, however, we must treat them as precious souls for whom Christ shed His blood.  At what point did Jesus excise the Judas tumor from His band of disciples?  Even when He knew precisely what was in Judas’ heart, He still reached out to him and called him friend.  What about the rest of the disciples?  Go down the list of epithets that Jesus hurled at them—faithless, perverse, unbelievers, hard-hearted, offensive, even Satanic!  But Jesus loved them in spite of their faults and kept honing them into worthy ambassadors for the gospel.  Why should it be any different for ministers and churches?  

Moreover, with whom or with what other organization should we compare our own?  Do we have another in mind, another group that meets every specific criterion that we arbitrarily select?  If our shortcomings are too egregious to tolerate, where will we flee?  Where is this group that is far more in keeping with standards of excellence, this group that manifests every quality lacking in the UPCI?  The truth is, it exists only in the nether regions of imaginations and in our unrealistic expectations.  I submit to you that a careful perusal of the constitutions, manuals and bylaws of every organization, whether sacred or secular, would reveal inconsistencies and troubling contradictions, especially if they are juxtaposed to the actual practices.  If perfection is required, then all of us would be lonely indeed, because the only perfection we may find stares back at us from our mirrors.  Those who protest this charge by saying that they never claimed to be perfect have nevertheless declared themselves more perfect than the UPCI.  This is the inescapable conclusion to which critics must eventually come.  Let him that is most perfect cast the first stone. 

It is quite amazing to me that those who magnify our faults also tend to minimize our assets.  For example, we have close to 10,000 ministers and the number keeps climbing.  We attract nearly 20,000 young people to the National Youth Congress every other year.  We have an extensive Global Missions program with missionaries or representatives in nearly 120 countries.  Our world-wide constituency is around three million. We have a compassion services arm that sends hundreds of thousands of dollars in supplies as well as medical personnel to those victimized by natural disasters.  In addition to seven Bible colleges, we have an accredited graduate school that is drawing attention in the seminary community.  We are presently laying the groundwork for a liberal arts college.  We have a growing number of Ph.D’s to provide faculty and administrative personnel for these educational institutions.  We have the only publishing house that serves the greater Apostolic community with literature and printed materials.  We have nationally renowned musical groups and composers.  Nearly every geographical location in the country has a UPCI church within driving distance.  We support our children and youth with Sunday School camps, youth camps and a cadre of children and youth evangelists, and we service many of our other subgroups like men and women as well. All of this, and much more, is exclusively Apostolic in its core doctrinal beliefs, a fact that has no equal in any other organization or association.  These are not boastful statements.  None of them would be possible without the blessing of God on the UPCI.  What I am saying is not that the good compensates for the bad, but that the good must be preserved and enhanced while we do our best to cull out the bad.  

I have had the singular fortune of rubbing shoulders with men in this organization whom I would call some of the greatest Christians in the world.  Many of them chafe over contradictory and sometimes incoherent positions that exist among us.  Yet, because they see this greater good, they are willing to fellowship side by side with people despite major disagreements.  Should I think my brand of Christianity is higher and purer than theirs?  Or is it they who have the greater strain of Christlikeness than do I?  Are their attributes of mercy, forgiveness, forbearance, patience and longsuffering indicative of a closer relationship with Christ than mine?  Is this a fair point to raise?  I think it is.  Jesus Himself said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Matthew 23:23.  We have the right and even the obligation to discern differences and make judgments about preferences and convictions. 

With regard to the more specific points, even the most legalistic and literal minds among us give room for interpretation in almost all of the references you make.  Worldly sports, amusements and other activities have all been permitted to be defined, within reason, by the districts or even by the local pastors and churches. The sophistication of technology is forcing us to rethink many of our definitions.  Much of the sentiment for or against certain things has historically been regional in implementation, and the emphasis has been weighted against anything that could be construed as or related to a vice, i.e. gambling, smoking, drinking, drugs, and blatant immoral behavior such as fornication or lewdness. The fact is that our bylaws were written in the context of a cultural climate that tended toward extreme, black and white standards.  Even the choice of words used in our manual is unfortunate in the vernacular of the present.  Many of the ideas held by our forbears have passed out of vogue, a fact lately evidenced by the changing of our position on conscientious objectors (still in process).  In 2007, the conference changed the ruling against using television for advertising purposes.  On the other hand, years earlier we strengthened our position on baptism for the remission of sins.  Little by little, our constituency is addressing those rules that we find archaic or out of touch with present realities.  

So, what do we do with a set of bylaws that was written in 1945, sixty-seven years ago?  Even some of them were carry-overs from documents composed long before the merger.  I contend that, as out of date as they may be, we would make a huge mistake by throwing them all out and starting over.  It would cause an upheaval and panic that would backfire on us.  Actually, given time, some things will take care of themselves.  Other things will be addressed whenever the groundswell or the consensus of opinion reaches a point that cannot be ignored.  The principles that gave birth to the rules will always be valid.  We will just have to find a way to give them concrete meaning in accordance with our present culture.  I am at peace with this, even though I am aware of temporary conflicts and/or inconsistencies.  

The so-called holiness standards do not represent my greatest source of angst.  I am much more interested in addressing any lingering racial prejudice, gender inequalities, greed and organizational politics than over the use of technology or what kind of amusements we are for or against.  I believe that fewer are hurt over whether or not I play golf than whether or not I truly love them and treat them with respect.  The truths I embrace about holiness are largely irrelevant if I harbor resentment, jealousy, anger or covetousness in my heart. 

Perhaps what we need the most is to pray the serenity prayer on a daily basis.  “God, help me to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  This letter may not have answered all your questions, but it answered mine.  Maybe that’s all I’m capable of doing.  God bless you and I love you. 

Your Faithful Friend

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Reader Comments (1)

This position below was held by the original founders of the organization as they merged. As you see, there is a difference in the application, yet they had unity.
"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. - THE PENTECOSTAL HERALD Dec. 1945"
The disappearance of the spirit of this agreement (agreeing not to contend for our differing views...WT Witherspoon) has not been healthy for the organization

March 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDale Royce

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