The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) is a multicultural Christian religious organization formed in 1945 by a merger of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. It is (as of 2008) headquartered in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Missouri. This church is especially distinguished by its adherence to Oneness Theology, its insistence upon baptism in Jesus' name (as opposed to the Trinitarian formula used in most other Christian churches), and an emphasis upon Holiness living in all aspects of one's life.
According to UPCI sources:
The central organization embraces a modified presbyterian system: ministers meet in sectional, district, and general conferences to elect officers and to conduct the church's affairs. The annual general conference is the highest authority in the UPCI, with power to determine Articles of Faith, elect officers and determine policy. A General Superintendent is elected to preside over the church as a whole; in 2008 this office was held by Kenneth Haney.
The UPCI allows women to serve as pastors and to evangelize. Ministers at all levels are allowed to marry and have children, but homosexual marriage (and homosexuality in general) is forbidden.
Worship at the UPCI is best described as lively, with members often jumping, dancing, singing, shouting, and clapping, as in all Pentecostal churches. Some people run through the church aisles, which is known as "victory marching". Church services are ofttimes punctuated with acts of speaking in tongues (glossalalia), interpretations of tongues, prophetical messages, and laying on of hands for the purposes of healing. These events can happen spontaneously during the service, with no forewarning or direct guidance by the leader of the service, or more often at massive altar calls where the entire congregation is encouraged to come and pray together at the altar.
UPCI members commonly refer to all Apostolic Christians as "saints", generally referring to the men as "brothers" and the women as "sisters" (i.e. "Brother Smith" or "Sister Henderson"), in their normal day-to-day speech whether inside or outside of church.
The UPCI does not recognize the doctrine commonly held by most Evangelical Protestants that says that mere belief or faith in Jesus Christ, or the repetition of a simple "sinner's prayer" (however sincerely meant), is the sole requirement for "receiving Christ" or "getting saved". One receives Christ when, after following His commandment to repent and be baptized in water in His Name, they initially receive the Holy Ghost. And only those who "endure unto the end" (Matthew 24:13) in this saving, faithful relationship will be saved. Although many Evangelicals would characterize this as "works salvation" (and thus heretical, according to their doctrine), the UPCI insists that one is saved, not by works, but solely by the grace of God, which is received through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His commandment to be "born again" as described in John 3:3-5.
One scholarly work, Our God is One, by UPCI author Talmadge French, has received a great deal of attention from non-Oneness groups. Two other works, The Oneness of God and The New Birth, both by Dr. David Bernard, also explain basic UPCI beliefs on the Godhead and salvation.
Repentance is also a prerequisite for receiving the Holy Ghost. UPCI sources emphasize that no one can repent on his or her own power; it requires a supernatural gift of God's grace. It does not bring by itself the full power of salvation, and unless it is followed up with baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ (see below) and baptism of the Holy Ghost, it may be lost. Furthermore, the ability to repent is temporary and may only be accomplished while one is alive.
This so-called Jesus-Name doctrine is a point of contention between Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals such as the UPCI. Like other Oneness believers, the UPCI baptizes "in the Name of Jesus Christ", while Trinitarians use "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Both sides utilize Matthew 28:19 to support their claims, with the UPCI holding that the "name" of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is "Jesus". They insist that the word "name" in the Scripture is singular, and thus that all three titles refer to Jesus. Other Oneness believers assert that Matthew 28:19 was changed to the traditional Triune formula by the Catholic church, using various historical encyclopedias to support their claims.
The UPCI believes that salvation cannot be completed without water baptism, and specifically without the pronouncement of the name of Jesus Christ (and no other name) over the proceeding. This belief originates from Acts 2:38; members corroborate this with Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48, and Acts 19:5, claiming that these are the only Scriptures showing how the early Church performed baptisms, and that the Bible authorizes no departure from that formula.
In UPCI theology, the tongue becomes the vehicle of expression for the Holy Spirit (James 3), and symbolizes God's complete control over the believer. UPCI doctrine distinguishes between the initial act of speaking in tongues that accompanies one's Baptism in the Holy Ghost, and the gift of "divers kinds of tongues" spoken of by Paul in I Corinthians 12:10, 28-30. While the former is considered indispensable evidence of one's baptism by the Holy Ghost (as spoken of in John 3:5; also Matthew 3:11, Acts 1:5, 2:4 and 19:6, according to UPCI doctrine), the latter gift is not necessarily held by all believers, once they have initially spoken in tongues. The incidents of tongues-speaking described in Acts, while the same in essence, are different in operation and purpose than the tongues spoken of in I Corinthians 12-14. The latter are given to selected believers as the Spirit (God) decides.
UPCI doctrine also distinguishes between the "Fruit of the Spirit" as mentioned in Gal. 5:22-23, and the initial act of speaking in tongues. The Fruit of the Spirit takes time to develop or cultivate, and therefore does not qualify as an immediate, outward and identifiable sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. Speaking in other tongues, on the other hand, does serve as that sign, and is therefore considered an insidpensable part of any person's salvation process.
The UPCI adheres to Oneness theology, teaching that the one God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament as Jehovah (YHVH in Hebrew), revealed Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. The name "Jesus" in Hebrew is "Yeshua", meaning "God (YHVH [Lord]) saves", and is the proper name for describing God in the flesh. Thus Jesus Christ was and is God. For the UPCI, Jesus is the one true God manifested in flesh, "for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (John 1:1-14; I Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9).
Oneness teaching asserts that God is a singular Spirit, not a Trinity of persons as in the traditional Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant understanding. The Father and the Holy Ghost are one and the same Person, says this doctrine; "Father", "Son" and "Holy Ghost" are merely titles reflecting the different manifestations of the One True God in the universe. Jesus is believed by Oneness adherents to be both fully Divine and fully human; His Divine nature is believed to be the Father (Who is also the Holy Ghost), united to Christ's human nature to form one Person, the Son. Thus the Father is not the Son (this distinction is crucial), but is in the Son as the fullness of His divine nature (Colossians 2:9).
Although the UPCI belief in the union of the Divine and Human into one person in Christ is similar to the Chalcedonian formula, traditional Chalcedonians disagree sharply with them over their opposition to Trinitarian dogma. Chalcedonians see Jesus Christ as one single Person uniting "God the Son" (a being whose existence is denied in Oneness theology), the eternal second person of the traditional Trinity, with human nature; while UPCI believers see Jesus as one single Person uniting the Father Himself--the one and only true God--with human nature to form "the Son of God". Unlike all Trinitarians, the UPCI does not believe in the Son's eternal existence; the Son, say they, only came into being at the Incarnation (Hebrews 1:5).
The UPCI believes their conception of the Godhead is true to early Christianity's strict monotheism. They contrast their views not only with Trinitarianism, but equally with the Arianism espoused by both Latter-day Saints, who believe that Christ was an entirely separate "god" from the Father and the Spirit, and Jehovah's Witnesses, who see Him as a lesser deity than His Father. The UPC's understanding of God is similar to Modalism, although it cannot be exactly characterized as such, and is thus the most serious difference between it and other Pentecostals and Evangelicals (such as the Assemblies of God), who have often tended to disparage the UPCI as a "cult".
UPCI views on the Godhead are examined in detail in UPCI minister Dr. David K. Bernard's The Oneness of God
Nevertheless, the UPCI teaches a code of conduct based upon what it believes to be scriptural teaching, many principles of which were taught in the New Testament by the Apostles themselves. Inward holiness, such as the demonstration of the Fruits of the Spirit in the Christian's life, is accompanied by outer signs of holiness, according to the UPCI. These standards include beliefs that women should not cut their hair and should wear dresses or skirts, rather than pants, according to a scriptural mandate to "Not wear that which pertaineth to a man" (Deuteronomy 22:5). Woman and men alike are encouraged to "adorn [themselves] in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety" (I Timothy 2:8-10), and are discouraged from wearing jewelry, biblically defined as "gold, or pearls, or costly array" (I Timothy 2:8-10). The precise strictness to which these standards are adhered to often varies, however.
One contested holiness viewpoint in the UPCI involves ownership of a television. However, in a move to expedite the cause of evangelism, the 2007 General Conference of the UPCI saw a majority of ministers vote for a resolution that allows for the use of television in advertising. This proposal was passed by merely 84 votes, and currently allows for advertising using this medium. The resolution was reviewed for a year by a special committee prior to the final vote, and was only adopted after careful consideration. This "Resolution #4" caused many UPCI ministers to threaten to leave the church; at least one new denomination, the Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship, was formed in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Some Pentecostal preachers and evangelists began to embrace and preach the doctrines of Oneness and Jesus-Name Baptism during this timeframe, which led to friction within the nascent "Apostolic" movement. When the Assemblies of God formally affirmed the traditional doctrine of the Trinity at its Fourth General Council in October 1916, Oneness Pentecostals were forced to withdraw from their organization. Two months later, several Oneness ministers met in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and on January 2, 1917, they formed their own Oneness Pentecostal organization, called The General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies.
The General Assemblies of the Apostolic Assemblies merged with another church, The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and accepted the leadership of an African-American, G. T. Haywood. This group held the first meeting in Eureka Springs in 1918. This interracial organization adopted the title of The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and remained the only Oneness Pentecostal body until late in 1924. Southern Jim Crow laws, together with other racial and cultural norms of that time period, resulted in many of the white leadership choosing to withdraw from this interracial group, rather than remain under African-American leadership. Many local congregations in the Jim Crow South, however, endeavored to remain interracial, while complying with local segregationist laws.
During 1925, three new Oneness churches were formed: The Apostolic Churches of Jesus Christ, The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance, and Emmanuel's Church in Jesus Christ.
In 1927 steps were taken toward reunifying these organizations. Meeting in a joint convention in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Emmanuel's Church in Jesus Christ and The Apostolic Churches of Jesus Christ merged, taking the name The Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. This merger united about 400 Oneness Pentecostal ministers. In 1931, a unity conference with representatives from four Oneness organizations met in Columbus, Ohio, in an endeavor to bring all Oneness Pentecostals together. The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance ministers voted to merge with The Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, but the terms of the proposed merger were rejected by that body. Nevertheless, a union between The Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World was consummated in November, 1931. The new body adopted the name of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ.
In 1932, The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance changed its name to The Pentecostal Church, Incorporated, reflecting its organizational structure. In 1936, the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated ministers voted to work toward an amalgamation with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. Final union, however, proved elusive until 1945, when these two Oneness Pentecostal organizations combined to form the United Pentecostal Church International. The merger of these two Oneness Pentecostal bodies brought together 1,838 ministers and approximately 900 churches. Membership numbers for the UPCI have risen year by year thereafter.
The current racial climate of the UPCI has improved markedly over earlier decades. For many years, African-Americans ministers were listed in the UPCI manual as the Colored Branch, but in more recent times, the church has developed a Black Evangelism ministry serving under the umbrella of the Home Missions Division. A number of African-American pastors, presbyters and even District Superintendents hold leadership positions in the UPCI today. Multicultural and Spanish ministries also cater to the needs of a wide variety of people, including those of Amish-Mennonite, Filipino, Gypsy, Native American, Korean, Eastern European and Asian extraction.
Many districts and churches also support educational institutions in their cities and states. These efforts are often administered by local churches.