Posted by: Apostolic Oneness Pentecostals | May 14, 2009

Day 14: The United Pentecostal Church International

{{{imagealttext}}}The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) is a Pentecostal Christian denomination, headquartered in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Missouri. It is a part of the Oneness or “Apostolic” portion of the Pentecostal Movement, and was formed in 1945 by a merger of the former Pentecostal Church, Incorporated and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. This church is especially distinguished by its adherence to Oneness theology, its use of baptism in Jesus’ name (as opposed to the Trinitarian formula), and an emphasis upon Holiness living in all aspects of one’s life.

The UPCI emerged out of the Pentecostal Movement, which traces its origins to the teachings of Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas and the Azuza Street Revival led by William J. Seymour in 1906. Rejected by the mainline churches, Pentecostals began to form organizations of their own. One of these new groups was the Assemblies of God, which formed in 1914.

Some Pentecostal preachers and evangelists began to embrace and preach the doctrines of Oneness and Jesus’ Name baptism during this time, which led to friction within the new 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. Two months later, several Oneness ministers met in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and on January 2, 1917, formed a Oneness Pentecostal organization called the General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies.

The General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies merged with another church, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW) and accepted the leadership of G. T. Haywood, an African-American. This group held the first meeting in Eureka Springs in 1918. This interracial organization adopted the PAW name and remained the only Oneness Pentecostal body until late 1924. Southern Jim Crow laws, together with other racial and cultural norms, resulted in many white leaders withdrawing from the PAW rather than remaining under African-American leadership. Many local congregations in the South, however, remained integrated while complying with local segregation laws.

In 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 attempting to bring all Oneness Pentecostals together. The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance 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 PAW was consummated in November 1931. The new body retained the name of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

In 1932, the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance changed its name to the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated to reflect its organizational structure. In 1936, 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.

In recent years, the UPCI has become more ethnically diverse. A number of African-American pastors, presbyters and district superintendents hold leadership positions in the UPCI today. The Hispanic community has its own UPC body called the Iglesia Pentecostal Unida Hispana Inc., with congregations located across the United States.

The basic governmental structure of the UPCI is congregational. Local churches are autonomous, electing their own pastors and other leaders, owning their own property, deciding their own budgets, establishing their membership, and conducting all necessary local business. 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 2009, 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.

According to the UPCI since its formation in 1945, it has been one of the fastest growing denominations in North America, growing from 617 member churches in 1946 to 4,358 churches in 2007 (which includes 4099 autonomous and 258 daughter works). The UPCI in North America has 9,085 ministers and reports a Sunday school attendance of around 650,000. The UPCI has a presence in 175 other nations with 22,881 licensed ministers, 28,351 churches and meeting places, 652 missionaries, and a foreign membership of over 3 million. Total worldwide membership, including North America, is listed at 4,036,945.


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