Overview of the United Pentecostal Church International

People raising their hands in worship

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The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) believes in the oneness of God doctrine instead of the Trinity. This view, along with the "second work of grace" in salvation, and a disagreement over the formula for baptism led to the founding of the church.

United Pentecostal Church International

  • Full Name: United Pentecostal Church International
  • Also Known As: UPCI
  • Known For: The United Pentecostal Church International is a Oneness Pentecostal denomination and claims to be the world’s largest Pentecostal Christian organization today.
  • Founding: Established in 1945 by the merger of the Pentecostal Church Inc. and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ.
  • Headquarters: Weldon Spring, Missouri.
  • Worldwide Membership: 4,900,000
  • Leadership: David K. Bernard, General Superintendent.
  • Mission: " The mission of the UPCI is to carry the whole gospel to the whole world."

Founding a Oneness Pentecostal Denomination

In 1916, 156 ministers of the recently formed Assemblies of God denomination split from the church over conflicting views on the oneness of God and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. In 1924, these leaders who withdrew formed an organization called the Pentecostal Church Incorporated. Later, in 1945, the UPCI was formed by the merger of the Pentecostal Church and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ.

Prominent United Pentecostal Church founders include Robert Edward McAlister, Harry Branding, and Oliver F. Fauss. Current notable leaders are David K. Bernard, General Superintendent; Stan Gleason, Assistant General Superintendent; and Paul Mooney, Assistant General Superintendent.

Since its formation, the church has recorded impressive growth. Today, the UPCI has upwards of 4,000 churches in North America, some 9,000 ministers, and Sunday School attendance of more than 600,000. The denomination reports a membership of more than 350,000 in the U.S. and Canada combined. Worldwide, the organization is active in 228 countries and counts a total membership of nearly 9 million in almost 42,000 churches.

The United Pentecostal Church International has its headquarters in Weldon Spring, Missouri, USA. The denomination operates several Bible colleges and training institutes, a publishing house, a children's home, a home for troubled young men, other community outreach programs, a radio ministry, and a foreign missions program that is especially active in South America.

A congregational structure makes up the government of the UPCI. Local churches are independent, electing their pastor and leaders, owning their property, and setting their budget and membership.

The central organization of the church follows a modified presbyterian system, with ministers meeting in sectional-district and general conferences, where they elect officials and see to the church's business.

Beliefs of the United Pentecostal Church International

Concerning the Bible, UPCI teaches, "The Bible is the Word of God, and therefore inerrant and infallible. The UPCI rejects all extrabiblical revelations and writings, and views church creeds and articles of faith only as the thinking of men."

The distinguishing belief of the United Pentecostal Church is its doctrine of the oneness of God, the opposite of the Trinity. Oneness means that instead of three distinct persons (Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit), God is one, Jehovah, who manifests himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A comparison would be a male who is, himself, a husband, a son, and a father all at the same time.

UPCI professes salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not of works. UPCI also believes in baptism by immersion, in the name of Jesus Christ (and not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). For this reason, the church has sometimes been called the "Jesus Only" movement.

Like all classical Pentecostal denominations, UPCI teaches that conversion to Jesus Christ should be followed by an intense experience of Spirit baptism or Baptism in the Holy Spirit. This baptism is accompanied by speaking in tongues as a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled believers, as they are called, then expect to manifest one or more of the gifts of the Spirit.

Worship Practices

Worship services in the UPCI involve members praying aloud, raising their hands in praise, clapping, shouting, singing, testifying, and dancing for the Lord. Other elements include divine healing and showing spiritual gifts. They practice the Lord's Supper and foot washing.

United Pentecostal churches tell members to refrain from movies, dancing, and public swimming. Female members are told not to wear slacks or have bare arms, not to cut their hair or wear makeup or jewelry, to wear dresses below the knee, and to cover their heads. Church leaders cite Bible verses like 1 Timothy 2:9 for these extreme modesty rules:

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. (NLT)

Men are discouraged from wearing long hair that touches the collar of the shirt or covers the tops of their ears. All these are considered signs of immodesty as United Pentecostal churches believe holiness starts on the inside but should be reflected on the outside.