Donna Fisher's United Pentecostal Church Experience

The follow has been taken from "The Journey Out of the United Pentecostal Church" by Daniel J. Lewis, copyright 1994. See below for further details. Note that Conqueror's Bible College closed in the 1980s & Jackson College of Ministries closed years ago.

DONNA FISHER, Vancouver, Washington

[Donna Fisher was the wife of the Vice-President of Jackson College of Ministries. She and her husband, Donald, came to Jackson from the headquarters of the United Pentecostal Church, where they worked for a dozen years or so in the Youth Department, the Foreign Missions Department, and Word Aflame Publications. After leaving Jackson in 1981, they went to Portland, Oregon to accept the presidency of Conquerors Bible College, another United Pentecostal Church Bible college. Eventually, they left the United Pentecostal Church altogether. Donna now lives in Vancouver, Washington, where she works as an editor for an evangelical home schooling publishing company.]

On the journey out. I'll have to admit that up to now it's a subject I've boxed up and set aside, for the most part. Perhaps it's time to open the box and examine the contents. We have all traveled along unique trails to the present. Even though we may seem to be together in the present, we had to travel our own routes to get here.

In looking back, I can see that the journey out began a long time ago. We moved to St. Louis, to UPC "headquarters,"[1] as a young family. We came from the Pacific Northwest, where a variety of theological positions was allowed and accommodated. We were introduced into a circle that, likewise, embraced a variety of positions. Our goals were to unite for the common cause of furthering the Kingdom.

It was obvious that the element of self, against which the Holy Spirit does battle, was present in this quest. It was evidenced in a struggle for power and control over others. It was there only as a small germ, perhaps--like a virus. It seemed that rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to have dominion in and among us, some found it necessary to control His property for Him. Someone had to decide what we stood for, what we could and could not do, what was our personal code of holy living, and so forth.

The balance between living in harmony and unity, and not compromising truth is a hard one to achieve. And so the virus found a place to survive. It's a strange thing.... The loud voices were the ones which, more and more, garnered support. They were not necessarily those of leaders at headquarters--but the leaders needed to keep their positions intact; they needed support for their programs. That seemed to mean showing support for the vocal ones. I had a hard time accepting such ideas, ideas that an area of the United States or the world had yet to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ only because we hadn't taken it there. I saw clamps put on those of us who made gestures of fellowship to others outside our own organization. Missionaries could and did get away with some amount of such Christian fellowship overseas, but not at home! Control can't be kept in that way. So, the virus spread. We had the whole truth? No place for growth! We alone had the whole truth? The whole of Christendom was in heresy (excluding the UPC).

The virus became stronger, since it seemed that the majority of us gave assent and place to the radical force in the fellowship. This force found that it is possible to gain control by being persistent and forceful. The rest of us allowed it to happen. Perhaps we weren't wise enough to see where that path was leading. We didn't agree, but we let them have their say--and that convinced them that they were leaders in power. (In truth, we gave it to them.) This fed their appetite for control and power, all in the name of defending the truth and holiness, of course. The virus spread.

I have seen this desire for control, this quest for power over others, at work on every level. Small churches felt it from their pastors. Congregations of every size, as well as sectional, district, and national leaders, were prey to this virus. Personally, I think this self-enthroned virus was the force that drove us out, more than specific theological positions. However, I realize that those two forces are not separable. What one believes is what one lives. All other ideas must be opposed as error.

I don't know how much influence all of this had in our decision to go to Jackson College of Ministries in Mississippi. It seemed to be where the Holy Spirit was directing us to go. I do know we had an underlying belief that educating youth to think and study was the way to strengthen the Kingdom, rather than in the implementation of denominational programs. It also seemed to be a way to combat the spread of the virus--to keep the Kingdom as a work of the Spirit, rather than a carnal effort. Also, it seemed to be necessary to be going toward a goal; walking away from something was not enough. Initially when we went to Jackson, it seemed to be working.

However, the need for control was already at Jackson, too. In time, it became evident that the virus was alive and at work in the educational effort. There, it took the form of seeing education as indoctrination, not learning. We could see that if we stayed, we must play the game by their rules. We left.

Then, we met the same kind of power in our beloved Pacific Northwest. We saw that the same kinds of capitulation had taken place there, also. My husband repeatedly was called before District Boards to answer and satisfy petty questions, and the inquisition grew very tiring.[2] Though the questions were always answered, we seemed to remain on the list of suspicious characters. "They" were always looking for something over which to accuse us, rather than seeking ways in which we could have fellowship. We realized that if we were to continue to grow personally, we had to move toward the light God had given us.

We made the journey out. Actually, we didn't come out, we were compelled to leave. We did attempt to turn in our fellowship card [ordination credential], but it was rejected. "They" preferred, rather, to put us out "under question." That way, we were not welcome among them. It was another power and control ploy. It seemed that our goals at the Bible college in Portland were doomed all too quickly.

We didn't come out unscathed, I regret to say. I wish I could say that we immediately walked away from all that into a new, clear day. But the infection--the virus of power and control with which we could not live--unfortunately had found a seedbed in our own family. I think in our family, the symptom was one of feeling that one had within him/herself the ability to "pull this out," to "make it work." None of us is immune to spiritual attack, even those of us who seem to be strong and balanced. The virus can cover over the fact that spiritual warfare is never fought successfully with fleshly weapons. Strength is so easily converted to pride. Forgetting the real source of spiritual strength prepares the breeding ground for the virus. It can spread from one body organ to another, or from one body system to another. It did.

Our coming out was accompanied by such supreme personal cost to me that I have difficulty sorting it all out, even yet. I have ceased trying to take apart the strands. It seems to be an exercise in futility, and I can't change what has happened. Still, I have discovered that the infection finds no lines or boundaries. Leaving the UPC does not mean a full escape from all those who are infected. The desire for control and power finds a fertile seedbed in many places, and the UPC is only one of them. So, it is necessary to be on guard, even after one has made the journey out. The journey is not a panacea for all ills.

Another thing I've observed is that the journey out is equally difficult for those people who are not in ministry. I've met many lay people who have left in order to avoid the infection. They were exhausted with being a pawn to the power seekers. They, too, have suffered and gone through the withdrawal struggle. They need to be heard. They, too, sometimes have succumbed to the disease.

My counsel is to give yourself time. Be certain you're for something, not only against something. You will eventually realize that you have indeed entered into a new, clear day. Your vision will clear progressively. However, deprogramming is probably a necessary part of any person's trek back to the mainstream. Christ will continue to reveal to you what you should keep and what you should discard. He will help you to avoid "throwing out the baby with the bath water." Even when your mind and spirit have been enlightened, your system will still lean toward tenets to which you've been loyal in the past. Give yourself time.

Something else....there are many sincere believers who have not walked as far along the trail as you have. They are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. They may not extend the same courtesy to you as you do to them....but the fact of our membership in Christ is nevertheless true--just as true for them as for anyone in any organization with which one does not agree. They deserve your love, your prayers, and your concern. You are responsible, before God, to give them that courtesy.

[1] The central offices of the denomination are colloquially called "headquarters," a word that conjures up military images but which has been so used for many decades by members of the UPC [Ed.].

[2] It is hard to escape the impression that officials in the UPC Districts of Oregon and Washington were "out to get" Don Fisher. It seems he was repeatedly called upon to defend his views about petty holiness standards and theological issues before these District Officials [Ed.].

"The Journey Out of the United Pentecostal Church" by Daniel J. Lewis may be accessed for free in PDF format here. Much thanks to Dan Lewis for permission to distribute his book.

Posted June 20, 2014


August 23, 1997
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