Esther Peden'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 the name of the Bible College was Conqueror's Bible College, which closed in the 1980s.

ESTHER PEDEN, Stockton, California

[Esther Peden is the wife of Jerry Peden, whose reflections on the journey out you have just read. She was reared in the UPC in Montana and California before meeting Jerry while attending the Bible college in Portland, Oregon. Her reflections, following that of her husband's, are equally insightful.]

When the pain of staying the same becomes more intense than the pain of change, change is inevitable. Such a myriad of thoughts pass across the horizon of memory, and some memories, like an insidious crabgrass root, must be forced aside or they will spring to life, sullying our souls with bitterness. These tentacles of the past seem to have a reproductive system of their own. Just about the time one feels free of the past, another tentacle entrenches itself in one's spirit with a stranglehold that demands a renewed fight for freedom.

Having grown up within the framework of the United Pentecostal Church, it never occurred to me to question the teachings and regulations with which we had been indoctrinated. Some of this oblivion can be attributed to our fear of parental censure, and in a greater degree, to our fear of divine censure. It never seemed an option to do other than attend an endorsed UPC Bible college. I still marvel that we spent a whole term studying Romans and an entire year exploring the other epistles without understanding the gospel of justification by faith and the grace of God. We were cautioned to leave the interpretation of the "difficult passages" to those whom God had given greater enlightenment. We held the doctrines, as they were interpreted for us, to be self-evident.

One of the most difficult thought patterns with which we dealt was that in order to be anything other than a second-class citizen (translated "layperson"), it was necessary to either aspire to the ministry, or for girls, to marry into the ministry. The desire for recognition, the struggle to "be someone," permeated the fabric of our lives. We hovered on the fringe of that exalted state, hoping for a break that would allow us to slip into a position of pseudo-importance. All the while, we enlarged the pedestal of those whom we hoped to emulate, so that it was ever higher and more unattainable. We struggled and hoped and strived on an endless treadmill of great expectations.

In northern Arkansas, Jerry and I tenaciously labored at our project of planting a church in the midst of heavy criticism. The beginning of the end came slowly and without a conscious understanding of where we were headed. Two things contributed to and helped to finalize our thinking. One was our discovery of the Book of Romans. In spite of our Bible college brainwashing, we found that we were able to comprehend the "difficult passages." The other thing, and it was related to the first, was our discovery of the New International Version of the Bible. This was a very daring endeavor, since we had always been coached, "If the King James Version was good enough for Paul, it was certainly good enough for us."

After much soul-searching and study of the Scripture, Jerry was prepared to make a break from our entrapment. However, at about that same time, we were invited to go to Portland, Oregon and work on staff at the Bible college with Don Fisher, the new president. Hindsight is better than foresight, but we decided to delay the momentous break until later. Later, it was taken out of our hands.

Because we were never really part of the "in crowd," it never occurred to us that a vendetta would be waged against us that was vicious and personal. We immediately were confronted with a well organized and unethical opposition. Vindictiveness was directed at us because we happened to be related to those already branded as heretics, Don Fisher and Dan Lewis. The next months were some of the most stressful and heartbreaking of our entire lives. It was like the scent of blood had aroused the hue and cry. As Jerry attended meeting after meeting with Don Fisher and watched the inquisition, he determined that he would never allow himself to be subjected to such torture. Heresy charges were made but unsubstantiated. To make matters worse, the college was in deep financial trouble due to the warring factions in the controlling districts[1] and the many years of poor financial judgments on the part of the administrators. When we traveled to represent the college for student recruitment, our "sins" had gone before us. We were refused access to camp meetings in some states. In other areas, we were deliberately not recognized though other Bible colleges were recognized. Insinuation and innuendo followed our recruitment efforts.

Long months of struggle finally brought peace and healing. Still, the past is only a thought away. Yet every memory causes us to thank God and to depend upon his grace.

[1] The Bible college in Portland, Oregon was at this time under the jurisdiction of the Oregon, Washington and Idaho Districts of the UPC [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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