I’ve been through a lot these last few years. The more I think about it, the more I think someone else might benefit from my experiences. So I thought I’d start writing about what I’ve been through and how it has affected me and my family. So here I go…
I was raised in a oneness pentecostal (hereafter referred to as oneness) family. My great grandfather was a oneness pentecostal minister, as were my grandfather and my dad. My dad eventually became a pastor and served in that capacity for a couple of decades. From what I understand, my mom was the reason her family was so involved in oneness. Her older siblings (still) don’t want anything to do with oneness, and the younger ones are either ministers, pastors, or are very involved in their churches (as are their kids). Coming up, we were in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. Most months, we went to at least one “fellowship meeting” where several churches from the area would come together for a full Saturday of singing and preaching. There were the many annual conferences, youth camps, and other special church functions that were the center of our family’s social world. Our mindset was something like “God first, church second, family third, and everything else last”. I remember hearing the verse about “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” many times growing up. Our entire life revolved around church and serving God.
If you don’t know what oneness pentecostalism is, you can read about it on Wikipedia. If you do know anything about oneness, I’m sure I’ll get something wrong according to your understanding, since there are as many versions of oneness pentecostalism as there are microbreweries. To those who buy in to a particular version, it is the one true religion, and (most of) the rest are as wrong as the day is long. The biggest, and most well known of the oneness pentecostal organizations is the UPC, the United Pentecostal Church. If you want to know more about the history of the UPC/oneness and the mindset that goes along with it, get a copy of Dr. Thomas Fudge’s book, Christianity Without the Cross. After I joined the Army and left home, I attended and made a UPC church the center of my world for over 15 years. I met my wife at a UPC church. I still consider some of the people at that church friends, but others I couldn’t care less about. The organization we belong(ed) to growing up, however, was a smaller, much less well known group that had cut ties with the UPC many years earlier. I remember my mom criticizing the UPC because they were too legalistic. (legalistic: that’s the term oneness folks use when criticizing another group for being more concerned about how people wear their hair and clothes than they are.) That’s why we didn’t like, or associate, with the UPC church in our town; they were too legalistic. Te men always wore long sleeved white shirts, and the women didn’t wear culottes. Yeah, that’s what we were concerned about. It turns out that that particular church eventually broke away from the UPC and became independent because the UPC didn’t hold to the same “standards” as they did; the UPC was too lax. (standards: that’s the term oneness folks use to refer to their dress code. They claim it’s biblical and related to how holy they are…) The UPC church I attended didn’t do the long white shirt sleeves thing, but they did do most of the rest of them.
If you’re curious, I’ll give a quick rundown of the “holiness standards” as taught by my former UPC pastor.
Women must not cut their hair. Their hair gives them glory before the angels, and cutting the hair is a sin. Some go as far as the “holy, magic hair doctrine”, but not at this church. Women must not wear makeup. Jezebel wore makeup, so it’s a sin. Women must not wear pants; skirts and dresses only. Pants are a man’s garment, which is explicitly forbidden in the Mosaic law. The skirt or dress should at least cover the knee. The favorite women’s garment is the ankle length denim skirt. Neither women nor men can wear jewelry because the apostle Paul said to not let the wearing of gold be your glory. Men may not wear shorts because they are immodest. Men cannot wear facial hair because (and I quote) “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” and when men leave the UPC (oneness, the truth, whatever the hell you want to call it) the first thing they do to rebel is grow facial hair (hmmm, really!?!?).
So THAT’S what makes us holy: the way we dress, essentially. Which makes no sense to me (now) since the reason we are supposed to be holy is because it is written, “be ye holy, for I am holy”, but God doesn’t have a body (God is a spirit) so if you think about it, emulation of God’s holiness has nothing to do with our physical bodies, but that’s what the UPC and oneness would have you believe.
By the way, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I no longer identify with the UPC or oneness. Currently, I attend an Assemblies of God church, but I have issues with their theology/ belief system as well, and I am considering getting out of Dodge there as well, if I can ever get the balls to make a move (more on that later: I’m such a Nice Guy). Or maybe after I finish the degree I’m working on we can move to a new town which will necessitate choosing a new church… (not pentecostal).
Anyway, back to my story (sorry about explaining so much, but I can imagine that it could be confusing to the uninitiated). Somewhere around 2009, I started getting burned out with my level of “service” at my UPC church and started questioning things. I think (looking back on it now) that I always had questions, but I only admitted the concerns I had once I started getting burned out. So my “service” consisted of a couple of time consuming activities: I lead worship at our nursing home service and I ran sound for the church. I was leading worship once a month at a local nursing home service. That consisted of an hour and a half service on the second (I think) Saturday of the month where I played the guitar and sang three or four songs. The guy in charge of the service (great guy) would preach or get someone else to, then I would sing a couple songs during the altar call at the end. Two or three months a year, there was a need for me to do the same at a second nursing home in town. As far as running sound at church, for approximately eight years, I was “in charge” of the sound booth at the church I attended. I ran a 32 channel mixing desk and we had some other guys who alternated on the audio recording computer and the slideshow display computer. I was there every Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night, and every special service the church had, not to mention choir practices at least an hour before every service, and the service we did on our local military base for several years between Sunday services (that made for a looong Sunday). When we finally quit the UPC, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with all that extra time (I still don’t sometimes). But needless to say, I was burned out.
One day, I was walking though my house, and I had this thought: “Jesus is the Son.” (Oneness believes Jesus is all there is to God; Jesus is God’s name, for heaven’s sake), so for me to have this thought was pretty revolutionary for me. At the time, that thought was so powerful to me that I perceived it as an audible sound; God spoke to me. I know there are going to be those out there who will think I am denying God speaking directly to me, but I’ve analyzed this in more ways than one, and my current thinking is that I was so hyped up and into the mindset of oneness that a thought that God was speaking directly to me. Now that I think about it, it is completely normal for someone in oneness to have an idea that is contrary to accepted thinking and think it is God speaking to them. That’s how oneness got started in the first place, for goodness sake! (see the references to John G. Schaepe in the Wikipedia article). Because of this epiphany, I started doing some research as to how the rest of Christianity viewed the person of Jesus Christ and realized just what the Bible says. (Hey! The whole trinity thing may not be as wrong as I was taught all my life.) That’s why we quit the UPC and looked around for a few months and ended up in AOG. I like the people in my current church. They are essentially good people, but the more I learn, the more I realize how wrong they are (theologically). They have a lot right, but they have a lot wrong as well- but they have less wrong than UPC.
I am still walking this path called life trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. As I learn more, I’ll let you know. I’m long since done with UPC, and I’m pretty sure pentecostalism in general isn’t biblical. So where am I now? If you’re wondering, I consider myself an Agnostic Christian. I haven’t put that out there for my people as of yet, but right now, that makes the most sense to me. But then, I’m still learning. If you read this, I’d appreciate your prayers to whatever God you serve, if any. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.