The United Pentecostal Church was formed through merger of a number of Oneness Organizations in 1945. In the years 1901-10 or so, a number of “Pentecostal” outpourings occurred in the United States. Those most often cited, and remarkable in history today were in Topeka, and later in Los Angeles. Within a few years, men traveling largely from city to city, through Northern California, Oregon, Washington, to Illinois, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Ohio, New York, Main and New Brunswick on one hand, and in places too numerous to recount through the South East, but to a large extent in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana, brought the message and experience of Pentecost to those who would receive it.
In those early years of this century, by apparent providence, a number of immigrants brought the same experience from Armenia, and other desperate areas of the world. Given the short period of time, quite a large number of people became “tongue-speakers”, manifesting spiritual phenomenon, and being taken up with deep devotion and intense prayer and faith. Of course, this experience hit humanity, and thus the memories include both wonderful testimonies, and the stories of problems.
In these early years, in a segregation which would continue for some time, Pentecost was associated with poverty, and “low culture”, it was an “other-side-of-the-tracks” experience and quite a bit of persecution tended to follow those who believed, as this movement did from the beginning that speaking in other tongues was the authorized sign of the infilling or baptism of the Holy Ghost. (I should note here that the Topeka outpouring happened, not coincidentally as a long term Bible study dwelt on the observation that the scriptures seemed to associate speaking in other tongues with the birth of the spirit). While the inexperienced reader may assume at this point that “religious enthusiasm”, or the power of suggestion was responsible for initial and later phenomenon, he might have made a listenable argument years ago. However, let me remind you that the religious world at large has now come to accept the manifestation of tongues, and no longer calls it “of the devil”, as they did then. It seems that the phenomenon has to be “accepted” by religious authorities before such a redefinition could occur. However, the Pentecostal phenomenon was going on long before the contemporary so-called Charismatic movement, and in fact, in many other places (though often hidden in history) before this century. Indeed, the second chapter of Acts records the outset.
Also, the phenomenon seems to have had no racial bias, touching black and white alike and in similar manner. However, to refute a common misunderstanding, this was in the early days an urban phenomenon, which spread from city to city, and quickly took root in rural areas. However, continuing to the present day, the large and “moving” churches tend to be urban, or now, suburban also.
Now, in the years 1914-1916 a controversy arose concerning the mode of baptism.
Once again, certain men felt obligated to follow the example of the apostles. There was limited organization in those days, and often a very loose but warm fellowship was enjoyed among the new Pentecostals. A great deal of travel was involved in the lives of the evangelists and ministers, and quite a remarkable network existed very quickly. Missionaries were sent abroad (to China, India, Africa) almost immediately. Through this extraordinary network, issues also traveled fast. The baptismal issue was not insignificant. Seeing the implications regarding tradition, and godhead theology, one fledgling (but perhaps the largest) organization formulated a creedal statement concerning the baptismal mode, and also the nature of the godhead. There was a plea to refrain from such measures, but those determined to retain a formal orthodoxy regarding the godhead and baptismal mode insisted that fellowship should be on the basis of signature to the articles of faith which included recognition of the traditional trinity doctrines, and baptism by repetition of Matthew 28:19 (though I suppose the former issue was stressed more than the latter).
Those convicted of the desire to preach under the exclusive authority of scripture simply could not sign the creed. As a result, the Assemblies of God continued from that time under the stated articles. The remaining “Oneness” believers were widespread and fewer in number. Some of these retained loose fellowships while others formed organization which has continued until the present such as a large organization which is mostly of African races called the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), existing since 1914.
The General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies was stated in late 1916 in AK. However, according to one source, an official Clergy Board refused to recognize the newly formed organization, and thus, the ministers did not receive a special rate for train travel. Since few had cars, this was a great setback, and the organization did not last long.
The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance was formed in 1924, and lasted through 1932. Emanuael’s Church in Jesus Christ existed between 1925 and 1928. The Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ also lasting about three years. Read what you want into the history of these short-lived organizations; there was no final solution in any. Being that in these early years the social inheritance of racial separation was so much a part of life, especially in the south, it should be evident that the PAW shortly became a predominantly black organization. These others were white. We remember such conversations as “Do we shake hands with colored folk?” “Why yes! Sure we do.” “Oh, that’s wonderful!”. Anyway...
The Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ resulted from a merger of PAW and ACJC. (Yes, this again formed an interracial group - evidently there were some changes in some mentalities, and thoughts, yet still imperfect, of course). The PMA changed its name to the Pentecostal Church, Inc. (PCI) in 1932, and continuously had fellowship and organization until 1945.
ECJC and PMA attempted merger and could not accomplish it in ‘26. ACJC and PMA attempted to consolidate in ‘31 and failed. PCI and PAJC made a final attempt at merger in ‘36, which would have included such oddities as a “double organization”. This too was unsuccessful.
In ‘43 the PAJC had no conference due to wartime limitations of transportation, in cooperation with the Office of Defense Transportation of the USA. During this time, the idea of merger was again promoted, this time by influential and well-respected men.
After conferences in 1944, the PCI and PAJC met in 1945 and successfully merged to form the United Pentecostal Church under the collective agreement on the following statement of fundamental doctrine:
The basic and fundamental doctrine of this organization shall be the Bible standard of full salvation, which is repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.
We shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we are all come into the unity of the faith, at the same time admonishing all brethren that they shall not contend for their different views to the disunity of the body. - Manual, UPCI 1994
The Articles of Faith are the basis for minister’s fellowship within the organization. There is no “ecclesiastical rule”, on an organizational level affecting those who are members of local congregations, however, fellowship occurs on a wide basis and very freely between virtually all congregations whose pastors are in fellowship with the UPCI.
The General Superintendent is recognized practically as a bishop, and in most parts of the world, as in the United States and Canada, district boards administrate in specific matters pertaining to property, finance, evangelistic cooperation, fellowship and discipline.
The value of the organization is identification, fellowship and protection, but we are aware that the Church is made what it is through the name, and the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to His gospel. He is the head of the true church, which we sincerely seek to be.
Thanks for this opportunity to write a brief history for anyone interested.
(Most historical references here were from United We Stand by Arthur L. Clanton, available from the Pentecostal Publishing House - a division of UPCI, though many more are available - written from various perspectives)