Dan Scott'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.

DANIEL L. SCOTT, JR., Nashville, Tennessee

[Dan Scott was a missionary and pastor in the UPC and reared in the home of a UPC missionary and pastor. He currently is the Assistant Pastor of Christ Church, a 4000 member congregation in the Nashville area. Dan has presented a paper at the colloquium on C. S. Lewis at Oxford University in England. He also attended the millennium celebration of a thousand years of Orthodoxy in Russia. He is a writer, composer and conference speaker in a wide range of Christian circles.]

Every West Virginian will understand when I say that being born in that state marks one for life. Perhaps that is true for people born anywhere, that all places brand their children. In a certain sense, I know it must be true, but with the possible exception of Texas, no other state in this country claims the life-long loyalty of its children in a way that is so eerie, so irrational, and so completely without justification as does West Virginia.

Like multitudes of West Virginians, I am an expatriate. For twenty-four years, I have lived in other places. Perhaps my exile is the very reason for my attachment. When a fresh snow covers a field of discarded tires and horse manure, it is the visitor, not the native, who looks over the winter serenity from the safety of his lodge on the hill and sighs. The people who must deal with the stuff do not sigh. In the same way, it is much easier to cover the geography of the past with a nostalgic and romantic longing when one does not have to face the harsh reality of what really exists. Those who still live in my home state live in a real place, not a state of mind covered by a dreamy haze. So, a cynic is justified if he asks, "If it is so great a place, then why don't you still live there?"

I suppose the best response is that in a real sense West Virginians always live there, wherever their physical bodies may dwell. Now as to the question, "Why is this so?", I am not sure I have a real answer. The search for one has been something of a reward in itself and has molded many of the opinions I have about life and meaning.

I was not only born a West Virginian, however. I was also born a Pentecostal, and a oneness Pentecostal at that. Pentecostalism, particularly that brand of it, is tenacious. It never lets go. It drives its claim into one's soul, and twists one's personality into its own image. So these two identifying marks, one related to my nationality and ethnicity, the other to my spirituality and religious sub-culture, are deep ones. They are probably beyond human ability to erase from my psyche, should I ever wish to do so.

The plot thickens. I was raised without a television. This singular deprivation, if deprivation it is, was due to my Pentecostal church. It seems that in the late 1950's, some dear brother from Texas, or maybe it was Louisiana, decided that UPC ministers should not have televisions in their homes. Most people in our parts concluded that not having a television "in your home" was not quite the same as not having a television at all. Some built a hut behind their house where they kept their television. Others hid one in the hollow housing of the old air conditioning units that used to stick out of the windows. Still others rented motel rooms to watch a favorite program. In the sort of logic peculiar to legalistic religious folk, these solutions satisfied the law under which UPCers had consented to place themselves. But those solutions did not occur to my Dad, who was an honest man. They also did not occur to some other ministers in West Virginia, though I don't mean that they all complied with the "no TV" rule. Dad complied. Those West Virginians who decided not comply needed no excuse; they just put their televisions in their living rooms and dared anybody to do anything about it. The descendants of people who defied the English crown in Scotland, Ireland, and then again in the mountains of the English Dominion of Virginia, were not about to surrender their spiritual independence to a church manual. (Montani Semper Libre!) So I leaped into the world a West Virginian, a Pentecostal, sans television, the most important socializing agent of our times. Perhaps by now you will understand why I often ask myself if I even belong to the twentieth century.

The Kanawaha River runs through southern West Virginia and empties into the Ohio. I lived the early part of my life on its banks. Our home and church were on that gentle rise we called flatland between the river and the mountains. On either bank of the Kanawaha, the flatland quickly gives way to the Alleghenies, the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Mysterious, dark, wonderful, drastic and irresistible, the Appalachian mountains, more than any other part of the geography I call home, is the source of its enchantment. At the hour of death, if I have time to reflect, I am sure one of my last thoughts will by of those purple giants lifting their heads above the clouds, watching from above the mere mortals beneath who come and go, generation after generation--Mound Builders, Cherokee, Scotch-Irishmen, Germans and Africans; living, loving and dying beneath their beneficent shade. I have always thought that the "Holy hills of heaven," the hills that an Appalachian poet by the name of Dottie Rambo wrote about, would look something like ours. I still think so.

The mountains of West Virginia breed a fiercely independent folk. They speak their own dialect of English and care little about contact with others. For three hundred years, the five hundred families of Scotch-Irishmen who crossed the Atlantic in so-called "coffin boats," and walked across the Blue Ridge, have lived there in relative obscurity and isolation from the rest of the nation. That is changing. Wide highways have been cut into the face of the mountains in my own lifetime. Now, one can travel in a couple of hours into a very different environment. Airplanes take off for far away places from an airstrip designed in Hell and constructed on the side of a hill overlooking Charleston. Satellite dishes litter every village in the state. So, southern West Virginia is no longer isolated, and neither are its people. The old way of life is disappearing. The isolationism traditional to our once isolated valley has become impossible to maintain.

I was born in that isolated valley. Since then, I have learned to speak new languages, so that I can communicate with people from France, Spain and Ohio. I have enjoyed broadening my formal education as well, and have met believers and unbelievers from a wide spectrum of human culture. For good or ill, I have joined the twentieth century, (though I have planted my roots deep into that alternative civilization which St. Augustine called the City of God).

A similar thing happened to me in regard to oneness Pentecostalism. I have not so much repudiated it as I have enveloped it within a much wider context. I found out that our group had misrepresented other Christians: they did not believe in three gods after all. I found out that other Christians have existed in many nations and in every century since Christ. I found out that they have died for Him, that they have written wonderful books, poems and hymns in his honor, and that they have, in his name, undertaken missionary work through terrible sacrifice. I also found out that they faced faith-denying heresies in the early ages, and that in defense of the gospel, developed little poetic statements called creeds to define orthodox Christian faith. I found out that these poetical statements contained nothing contrary to what I believed, even as a oneness Pentecostal. The truth is, they wonderfully sum up what my fathers in the Lord taught me that Christian faith was all about. I had to face the fact that my little valley, hidden away as it was from everyone else, and precious in its own way, was simply cut off from a much larger Christian world. I heard that larger world calling to me.

There were several questions that finally broke down my resistance, and which provided a pathway for me out of my isolation. Among the questions were these:

1. Do I accept the canon of Holy Scripture as contained in the Old and New Testaments, that is, those writings which the Christian Church officially declares to be Holy Scripture? Why?
2. How, when, and by whom was this canon of Scripture decided?
3. If the people who made the decisions concerning the canon had the mind of the Holy Spirit, was that either the first or the last time they demonstrated that authority and spiritual sensitivity? Had they decided anything else of importance?
4. What are the implications of the fact that believers recited the Apostles' Creed as a standard of faith before the Church decided which writings would make up the New Testament? For example, could I, with intellectual and spiritual integrity, reject the creeds and still retain my faith in the authority of the New Testament?
5. On what basis does authority rest in the Christian Church?
6. Were the Protestant Reformers guilty of rebellion, or were they justified in leaving a movement they believed to be out of sorts with the Word of God? If they were justified, then on what basis could any person or group of persons resist their denominational authority? Do the same rules apply to the members of all movements, including ours?
7. Was I willing to live by the implications of the answers I gave to these questions?

Questions like these were the roads that took me out of my isolated group. I had, and have, no intentions of de-Christianizing my heritage. I have come across more heresy, even down right apostasy, in America's mainline churches than I ever found in oneness Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, I have chosen to live in contact with the saints of all times and with their spiritual descendants. I claim as elders in the Lord, Wesley, Luther, Polycarp, St. Francis, and Billy Graham as well as Bishop Haywood, Howard Goss and R. J. Cook. (These last three brothers are in heaven, and they agree with me now!) So while I am glad to honor its gifts to me, I will never again be confined to the sectarian religious heritage of my youth. I will visit it in memory and bless those who choose to remain in it, because it was there I met Christ. But I will no longer be confined there, just as I will no longer be confined within the borders of my beloved, but isolated native land.

I faced many lonely days because of my decision to live in the broader Christian world. Some of my old friends and colleagues would not allow me to do that and remain in fellowship with them. That was their loss as well as mine, because I would have enjoyed making this journey of faith in their company. My relationship with Christ has deepened however, and so has my appreciation of the breadth of the Holy Spirit's work on the earth. I still sing Bishop Haywood's songs at tender moments, but I also sing Luther's, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." I still enjoy moving my feet to the sound of a Hammond organ, but I also enjoy preparing for communion from the Book of Common Prayer. I still appreciate the missionaries in the UPC who lived godly lives before me, and I will carry with me to the grave the lessons they taught me. They knew and loved Jesus. But they were wrong about one thing: we are not alone, and we cannot remain unaccountable to the whole Christian Church, past and present. The journey out was painful, but not nearly as painful as remaining isolated (and perpetuating that isolation for my children). So I cannot conclude this vignette without saying that, thanks be to God, the pain is soon swallowed up in the unspeakable joy that comes from living in the undivided company of the communion of saints.


"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

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