By Teena Myers
I have driven by a church many times and admired its exterior, but never had cause to investigate until I needed a candidate for my next first time guest experience. A little internet research revealed the church is a United Pentecostal Church (UPC). Their website proudly announced that they are Pentecostal, which is another way of saying they speak in other tongues.
Tongues had almost ceased from the church until the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, which gave birth to several new fellowships. Among them the Assemblies of God who embrace tongues is their distinctive doctrine, believe in the trinity and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The United Pentecostals also speak in tongues but deny the trinity and baptize in the name of Jesus only.
I have a friend who grew up in a United Pentecostal Church, who I will call Amy to protect her privacy. She is loving, caring and strong. Her husband suffered a lapse in judgement that destroyed their marriage. She raised their sons in poverty for several years before their father came to his senses, cleaned his life up, and remarried their mother. To her credit, their sons survived the upheaval without bitterness or turning to a life of drugs and rebellion.
Based on my experience with Amy I looked forward to visiting a UPC church, but wondered how they would react to my appearance. There are a lot of restrictions on women: no make-up, no cutting hair, no jewelry, and no pants. My hair was shoulder length, and I wore jeans, make-up and jewelry when I visited.
The iron gates and stone wall reminded me of a fortress. I parked next to a car with a unique tube that snaked its way from an air conditioner vent to a baby’s car seat. I had never seen anything like it and never wondered if my baby was hot in the backseat of the car. Kudos to this mother.
I entered a beautiful foyer adorned with two pictures on my right. One of an older couple and the other a younger couple, which I later learned were the Pastor and his son with their wives. I looked up and found myself face to face with women who wore their long hair in a bun, long dresses, no make-up and no jewelry. They easily picked me out as a visitor. I was the only woman in the building wearing blue jeans. They greeted me warmly. Asked me to fill out a first time guest card and drop it in the offering or bring it to the welcome desk for a gift after the service.
The sanctuary looked similar to many churches I have attended. It even had a contemporary feel with its subdued lighting and full band. Both men and women took turns leading the worship. They sang beautifully almost bringing me to tears.
A young man wearing tan shoes with an upturned toe similar to an Arabian shoe gave the announcements. The shoes had me totally distracted, but I caught a few items. A lot of people were out sick and needed prayer. Apparently, Sunday School is suspended during the summer, but plans were in the works to start the program again in September. They had great success with a church plant in a nearby parish with twenty new members. One of the church members, a military officer, had recently been promoted to colonel.
The young man called for the ushers. Male and female children received the offering under the supervision of the ushers. I opted to keep my guest card, so I could redeem my gift at the end of the service.
The children were dismissed. A beloved guest speaker was introduced by the pastor as a prophet well known in UPC circles. The prophet asked us to speak in tongues or simply say Jesus if we lacked the gift. “Doing so will bind the devil,” he said.
The prophet opened his Bible but did not read a scripture. Instead he told a series of random stories that I found difficult to follow. Many references to the importance of tithing and repeated encouragements to speak in tongues were injected into the stories. He longed for revival as most ministers I know do. Prophet said a revival would put an end to people lying about tithing. His scriptural basis for that statement came from the story of Ananias and Sapphira. He claimed they dropped dead in the church when they lied about tithing.
Apparently, he had missed the context of the story which had nothing to do with tithing. They dropped dead because they sold property, so they could give the money to poor persecuted Christians. They didn’t want to give all the money, and they conspired to deceive the church. Peter said they had not lied to men but to God. Their deceit cost them their lives (Acts 5:1-10).
One of his stories left me skeptical. He came from a family of ministers the most prominent being an uncle who raised a cow from the dead. I missed a lot of what he said after that statement as I searched my memories for anyone in the Bible who had raised an animal from the dead. I arose from that meditation to hear a horse had also been raised from the dead.
If God can raise a man from the dead certainly he can raise a cow and a horse, but would he? I have spent a lifetime studying God. I find his actions to be very methodical, pre-planned, and always with purpose. He does not act on a whim, and he does not “show off” his power. The story of the cow raising glorified the exploits of the uncle more than God’s.
While I won’t go so far as to say the animal resurrection story is a lie, I remain a skeptic. I am more inclined to believe this uncle had left a legacy of service to God that spawned fanciful stories added by followers who desire strong powerful leaders that prove doubters wrong. It is human nature to add our own spin to the truth making truth extremely difficult to find. Humanity has been doing so and getting ourselves into trouble with these stories beginning with Eve’s announcement if they merely touched the forbidden tree they would die. God said if they ate the fruit of the tree they would die.
The prophet finally read a scripture but only to justify his purpose for the service. He had come to impart his gifts to the pastor and the pastor’s son. He could not impart gifts to the congregation. Only the pastor could do that.
The pastor was deeply moved by the message and impartation. He spoke about the connection in the prophet’s message to things taking place in the church. Most of the congregation came forward for prayer. The pastor, his son and their wives prayed for the people. The prophet remained on the platform. The prayer service ended with the pastor asking if anyone else wanted prayer. He then told the congregation that he loved them and said goodbye.
I walked to the foyer to collect my gift at the welcome desk. No one was at the desk. I left my card on the desk and departed without my gift. As I drove toward the gates, I noticed a sign on either side saying, “You are entering the mission field.”
The UPC service is similar to Assembly of God services I have attended. Apparently, the only divide lies in doctrine that each believes is too important to compromise.