Former Youth Leader's Experience

I have read through several of your web pages. I admire your presentation- this does not appear to me to be a "vendetta."

I have seen testimonies from other "ex-UPC" members whose experience amounted to only 2 or 3 years. Your longer experience, I think, gives you much more credibility.

One year ago I met with my district board and resigned my elected office and advised them that I would be resigning from the ministry as well. I had served in a variety of both official and unofficial positions, and had served as district youth president.  I was honored to be in official meetings with the leaders of the fellowship. I was also in a position to see how the money raised through the various programs (SFC, CFC, etc.) was disbursed. I have served on the committees that decided which roof was replaced on which Home Missions church.

When it comes to the UPC, I think I can say- "Been there, done that."

I have a story about when I met Brother Urshan for the first time. Just before Christmas Sister Urshan invited those of us working late (mostly young Bible college students) to come next door (the General Sup's house sits right next to the Publishing House, or the "Pub" as we called it then). She had a large holiday spread set out and as we stuffed ourselves Brother Urshan arrived and greeted us. In the past whenever someone would criticize the UPC I would tell them how the UPC couldn't be all that bad if someone like me could have the opportunity to meet the General Superintendent while I was busy literally rummaging through his kitchen for something to eat.

I once wrote a paper on grace and legalism. My only point was to try and show that there are many issues around these topics that can be reduced to the old paradox of free will and determinism.

The UPC says you must be baptized to be saved, "Save yourselves . . . " (Acts 2:40). The emphasis is on our responsibility.

Ephesians 1:4 says the believer was saved, "in Christ", not only before baptism but also, before the world began! When was your fate more helplessly out of your hands then before your own existence?

Too hard of a push one way and we would become legalistic. Too much the other way and we are forced into Calvin's five points, including the doctrine of limited atonement- i.e.: that Christ did not die for the sins of the world, just the sins of the elect whom he "fore-knew" before the foundations of the world.

Both views are supported in Scripture, and so are their reasonable gradations. The important thing to remember is that the Bible doesn't close on either view, rather on an admonition that frail humanity would not be able to view the completeness of God's plan, not in this life.

Trying to balance grace with responsibility is like trying to see both sides of a coin at the same time. The more closely you focus on one side, the more the other side is obscured from view. I have observed many people settle on an emphasis of one view without any apparent appreciation for the paradox involved.

In my own ministry I found a great deal of power in my preaching after I began to apply a more deterministic approach (grace). The last message I preached in my church was greeted by a standing ovation from the entire congregation, people running the aisles, dancing where there was room, you know the scene. The marvel is that, technically at least, I was at variance with UPC doctrine. Yet I dare say, no matter who was there, not one leader of the UPC would have had a problem with anything I said.

Therein lies another paradox. Most UPC minister (in my experience) don't hold to the style of condemnation that they are known for.

My major problem was that I was never "supposed to be" involved the way I was. There were a few men who through their own failings, not my alleged gifts, were passed over in the ministry. These people and those they would from time to time infect plagued me through more than a decade of official ministry. The fact that they had the money to turn the pastor's head, didn't help my "career."

I know what it's like to preach a campmeeting and see a great response. I also know what its like to have the regular Sunday morning adult Bible Study interrupted by the church "pillars" shouting me down. One time the pastor's wife disrupted the Sunday evening service by calling out from her pew attempting to shout me down and to espouse her (at the time) pet doctrine.

With incredible irony, a week later the Forward arrived (the UPC ministerial magazine) with a feature article condemning anyone who held to the pastor's wife's opinion on the issue of "the half shekel" doctrine. (That's the doctrine which states that if you pay your "tithe plus five (percent)" you would be healed from all diseases, experience prosperity, buy your way into God's graces, you know the drill (Segraves wrote that article too ;) so he can't be all bad).

That night I wasn't even speaking on the subject of the shekel nonsense. I was just trying to encourage people to reach out to others, not because they have to, but because of the wonderful opportunity it would present. Yet even looking at one of the "have to do's" in a positive way set off alarms in the minds of some who are convinced that if you are doing something you enjoy- it must be wrong. Even if you enjoy fulfilling the commandments of God- something must be wrong!

After each episode of attacks I would always go back and dig deeper to try and get a firm hold onto something solid. The result, in retrospect, was that I would come away refreshed and encouraged, my preaching would improve, and response to my preaching would improve. But the growth would only make some of the people around me angrier and more bitter.

I look back now and see myself as a malleable metal being hammered around the form of the anvil. The shape I was ultimately beaten into was quite surprising.

I have not even listed the false prophecies my pastor and others have told. And yet shamelessly, they mount the pulpit the next week and preach as if they were never wrong. Time would fail to tell of all the correct interpretations to Bible passages that God is said to have revealed. Yet when confronted with their error, they offer no explanations, no corrections, nothing. Good thing we have carpet and not cobblestones on our floors (Deuteronomy 18).

"And how shall we know the word which the LORD hath spoken . . . ?"

Another puzzling thing is how I am criticized for my rebellion against authority. But if I were to take the Bible seriously would I keep company with false teachers, false prophets, liars, and brawlers (I have been physically attacked by my brethren on at least a half dozen occasions yet never in my ministry by an unbeliever)?


Posted March 7, 1998

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