My spiritual growth has been a journey. I did not grow up UPC. I grew up Methodist, always with a tender heart towards the things of God. At the age of 12, I visited a cousin's Baptist church and saw the biblical truth of water baptism by immersion. Later, as an adult, I hungered for more in God and sought the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I began attending an AOG church, was re-baptized and thought I had the infilling of the Holy Ghost. Maybe I did, but it was not what I would eventually receive at a UPC church.
My mother and brother were attending a UPC church, my brother having married a third generation UPC girl. In 1986 I began to seek God, wanting a deeper, more real relationship with Him. I felt so hopeless in my abusive marriage that I felt I would die if God didn't answer me in a new and powerful way.
I began to read and study the Bible; my mother gave me some UPC tracts. Suddenly, one day I felt that I should try this "way." So, I repented. With a sincere and open heart, I surrendered to the watery grave of baptism. I truly did not know if all of this was real, but I had prayed that if it was, I wanted all that God could give me. For me, there was no hype or expectation, only a repentant and "if you're real Lord, now's the time to show me" attitude.
Well, I came out of that water a new person. In the baptismal, I was truly baptized not only with water, but with fire. Heavenly heat hit me in the head, then moved down to my toes in the bottom of the baptismal tank. As it moved back up my body, I could tell that as soon as it hit my mouth, something was going to come out. It did- stammering lips and a new language. I have never been the same and I praise God for that. I went from being someone with a sincere heart that always wanted and tried to believe in God, to someone who knew that God was indeed here for me, hearing my every prayer.
My Years in the UPC
In retrospect, I realize that my changes in standards were a result of often unspoken, but strong messages in subtle ways. I wanted to please God more than anything. Initially, since some of the things UPC teaches were (to me) questionable, I adopted those standards because I felt I'd rather ere on the side of safety. I never found a biblical base for those teachings. After years in the UPC, I've seen enough struggle by its members and hypocrisy, that I now know that those rules are pure legalism, taking away from the work of Calvary, stealing a believer's joy. Christ's blood saves us. It's true, the Blood does not eliminate moral law, but the UPC ignores many of the moral laws in the Old Testament. If they didn't, they would be living like the Orthodox Jews concerning when a woman is clean and unclean, food, and travel on the Sabbath. In other words, the UPC picks and chooses the rules it wants to follow and ignores the rest.
Before becoming involved in the UPC, I had worn my hair long for many years. When I was expecting my son, I cut it off and hated it. Thus, it was with this short hair (that I did not like) that I brought to the UPC. It was easy for me to allow my hair to grow, but frankly, throughout the years in the UPC, I never understood the need to never trim hair. I had no problem with keeping it long, but I thought the rule that you cannot trim it was legalism. Yet, out of character for me, I never spoke up. I now realize that I knew that the censure for doing so would not have been to my liking, if only on a subconscious level. I mean, look around in any UPC church. I was told some of the young girls burned or broke their hair so they could make bang-like poufs on the tops of their heads. I never did and I can tell you I was never successful in making a natural looking pouf on my head.
After my experience, I began wearing dresses and skirts exclusively, occasionally wearing culottes. I always felt that the culottes were often not as modest as some pants, in that the culottes have a way of hugging a woman's bottom that to me is very revealing, especially in larger women. I did, years later, begin to wear sweat pants and cut-off overalls around the house for garden work. We lived in the country. I rarely swam, but when I did, I chose a modest one-piece suit and always wore a cover-up unless I was going in the water. I always felt the mixed bathing rule was legalism. The confusion in UPC is rampant. I've heard of churches that taught against pink shirts on men, short sleeves on women, open-toed shoes, hair bows in women, dark hose on women, etc.
If you want to go to the extreme with the "let's not cause our brothers to sin" mode of dressing, we might as well adopt the hard-line Moslem dress and cover everything, because there are men that are excited by any part of the female body. Certainly, we should dress modestly and not intentionally be seductive, but I always thought it ridiculous that a man might be "turned-on" by my toes or elbows. I felt that that was his spiritual problem, not mine.
A perfect example of this is a married brother in my church who was always too friendly to me (a married woman). He sang on the platform and was what I considered part of the pastor's clique (I think there is a strong tendency for this in UPC churches). I always felt uncomfortable by his too-friendly advances. I would be cordial, but find excuses to go talk to one of the women. I heard years later from a reliable source that his marriage almost ended because of adultery. He still sings on the platform.
I was never a flashy jewelry person or heavy makeup wearer, so it was easy for me to put away my few stud earrings and delicate necklaces. I always found it confusing to see women in the church who wore diamond watches and ornate wedding rings.
I stopped wearing makeup immediately and it took me a long time to adjust to looking so pale. I have fair coloring and I felt so drab. Still, I knew some of the older, highly accepted women in the church that wore make-up base to hide their freckled complexions. I found this confusing. It was clear from day one that if you want to belong in this brotherhood, you conform or you are considered an outsider in all but the most cursory ways.
I grew up going to the walk-in movie. As a teen, young people would meet there and "make out," so the admonition to avoid theatres was understandable from a historical point-of-view. However, when VCRs became common in homes, I knew UPC members and pastors who would rent videos (many that I would not watch anywhere). They watched them in their homes, but wouldn't be caught dead walking in a modern movie theatre where families are watching the same movie. Kids don't go to the movie theatre anymore to experiment with kissing and petting. It's a different world out there and if the teaching on holiness is true, then our selection of worldly entertainment should be based on atmosphere and content.
My brother is a UPC pastor now and rents videos when he goes to his country house away from the eyes of his church. He's also very verbally abusive to his wife. He refused to help our elderly widowed mother when she desperately needed some financial assistance. That, to me, is hypocrisy.
I've also known of UPC families that use the excuse "the TV belongs to the kids." Well, mom and dad, if it's sin, it doesn't matter whose it is, get rid of it. I never felt that a television was a sin, but what the believer allows his/her eyes to watch. That's the sin. Not the piece of equipment.
My own mother who is deeply entrenched in all of the legalism of UPC would die before she'd go see a Disney movie at the walk-in, but I recently went to visit her and she was watching a talk show. They were discussing disgusting sexual perversions. When I asked my mother why she was watching such trash, her answer was "Well, there's nothing else to watch."
As far as carnivals, skating, etc. I think, and have always felt, that you can make sin out of anything if your heart is not right with the Lord. For the brother that I mentioned earlier, going to church was sin because he was lusting after another man's wife and a sister in the church.
Baptism, Holy Ghost, and Oneness
I still believe in baptism in Jesus Name. I think the Godhead is a great mystery of three-in-one and one-in-three. I don't even try to figure it out. I simply stand in awe of it. I know in Whom I have believed. I stand on the Blood of Jesus, my only redemption. The power of the Holy Ghost has given me strength to walk a life for Christ. I cannot imagine living in this present world without it.
However, I've never been foolish enough to tell myself that no one but UPC folks are the only ones that will be in heaven. I think there will be many surprises on that day. God is sovereign. How dare silly men try to say whom God is going to save and who He isn't. Shame on you, UPC! Please look deeply into your hearts and ask yourself if this pleases God.
I tithed 10% of my salary while a member of UPC, as do many of the members. I've never heard of an accounting of funds for a UPC fellowship. Our church NEVER hired anyone to provide nursery so women could enjoy service. It would also (I was appalled by this) divide the women into teams and the women would have to go clean the church on Saturdays, most of them older, arthritic women. Where is mercy?
Yet, these same women, would without complaint watch this pastor live the high life, wearing very expensive clothes, travel extensively, and his children sport luxury cars. If UPC is truly apostolic, then do what the first church did- divide the wealth among the members. Hmm...think about it.
The events that led to my leaving the UPC were not of my own making. I became very ill and lost my job. We eventually lost everything but my husband's old car. We were not living over our head; in fact, we had a two year plan to be debt free. I made a very good salary in a professional job. It was devastating. In two years of being very sick, virtually home bound and unable to attend church, my pastor, nor his wife, never ONCE called me to inquire about me or my family's welfare or offer to pray with me. This was a relatively small church. Is this the way of Jesus? Jesus, our example, was quick to seek the hurting and suffering. Some of the scales from my eyes began to fall away and I know now that God was scooting me along on my faith journey into a newer and deeper place.
As my health and life fell apart, my church family went about their lives. A couple of sisters called to tell me that "they missed me at church." Only one sister prayed with me by phone or offered any other emotional or spiritual support. The pastor and his wife went on cruises and long vacation skiing trips, shopping trips, etc. but they never once drove to my home to see how I was doing. I had been in the UPC for 13 years. Isn't that sad?
Years earlier, my former husband began beating on me. Our marriage ended; he abandoned my son and I. At that time, church members at the UPC church I was attending began withdrawing their warmth from me. I felt truly abandoned. When I needed caring from my church family the most, it was taken from me. Thanks be to God, that He is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
For the most part, I was treated as if I'd dropped off the face of the earth after my illness and disability. There's much more, but to be more specific might reveal who/where this church is. It's not my intent to point fingers. I simply want others to know that bondage has many faces and that God is faithful. He sees your heart. Trust that.
So, during this time of sickness and trial, I had much time to look at my life and Christian walk. I realized that the UPC way is not what I want. I don't want to put God in a box. This "we are the only ones saved" mentality is wrong. MY God is much bigger than that. I wouldn't dare try to point to people and say who is and is not going to heaven. That's God's work, not mine.
This past summer, my husband (yes, God sent me a gentle, dear man who loves Jesus!) and I were at a library. My husband had on some loose, knee length shorts (we live a hot southern state). A brother in the church that we used to attend walked up. I saw him, but my husband did not, as my hubby was busy at the circulation desk. This brother did not go up and greet him; he did not ask how we were doing. He walked up behind my precious, God-fearing husband and looked down at his legs like he had leprosy. I was so hurt by this. I pray that this brother sees his judgmental attitude before it's too late.
As I said in the beginning, my spiritual walk has been a journey. As I grow older, I realize that I cannot define God. He reveals Himself to me as he sees fit. I must simply live my life as I know in my heart is right. In short, I am working out my own salvation with fear and trembling. God does not look at my hair or any simple, tasteful adornment, he looks at my heart.
We are now looking for a new church home. We want to find a place where God is allowed to convict the heart of man. If God can hurl galaxies into space, form man from dirt, and bring life out of death, He can reach down and prick the heart of a sincere human being. I know; He reached down a pulled me out of the pit.
I am praying for the UPC organization. I pray that God will open His children's eyes and show them the beauty of Holy freedom. Whom the Son has set free is free indeed! Praise the Name of Jesus!
Posted December 3, 1999
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August 23, 1997
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