Jason's United Pentecostal Church Experience
I was not raised in any kind of church. The only church experience I had was that I occasionally went to a Full Gospel church with my relatives when I was younger. Though they were a Full Gospel church, it wasn't very Pentecostal-like. The church was literally a log cabin and had been there for years. Those times that I went, the church probably ran no more than 15 people. It was quiet and lifeless, though I do remember a few times that I went when I was very young (5 or 6) and people would dance in the spirit and speak in tongues.
By the time I was 14, I hadn't been to that church in a few years and was at a difficult time in my life. My best friends at school had moved away and I was sort of alone. I began losing interest in school and started hanging around the wrong crowd. I was wearing an earring, ripped t-shirts and ripped blue jeans, a rat tail and using tobacco and booze anytime I could get my hands on it.
In the summer of 1988, my sister invited me to a small, country United Pentecostal Church that she had recently started attending and I obliged, very reluctantly. I went with her on a Sunday morning, and to my surprise, I really enjoyed the service. I accepted my sister's offer to return that night to the evening service.
When the evening service began to commence, I, to my surprise, really started liking it. The preacher preached something that had nothing to do with me, but by the time the altar call came, I practically ran to the front of the church, kneeled at the altar and cried like a baby.
Months later, when I finally was baptized and had received the Holy Spirit, I had become the poster-boy Pentecostal teen. Everyone in church would repeatedly tell me how they had never seen a teenager so on-fire for God. I would jump, clap, run and lead the amen corner. People that had been in the church for 30 years would come to me for advice. Parents would tell their kids to hang around me and to do what I did.
At the age of 16, I felt an overwhelming calling to the ministry. I spoke with my pastor about it and he said that God had been dealing with him about it too. It seems that after that moment, everywhere I went people would ask me, "Are you a preacher?" Or say to me, "You look like a preacher."
By this time, I was certified UPC. I quit wearing short-sleeves and would never wear even a long-sleeved shirt without a t-shirt underneath it, even in sweltering August heat. If my mom turned the TV on, I'd leave the room. I no longer saw many of my female relatives as Christians they cut their hair, put on make-up and wore pants. My Grandmother whom today I have come to recognize as one of the greatest Christians I've ever known was deceived and hell-bound.
I carried my Bible to school and spent my lunches trying to make converts, especially amongst those that called themselves Christians. I would often visit the pastors of the local Methodist and Southern Baptist churches to show them the error of their ways. To me, I knew I was probably just wasting my time because they were fakes, frauds and phonies, just as every non-UPC Christian was to me for the most part.
By 17, I had become the UPC incarnate. I would, literally, read for hours memorizing all the UPC verses on standards, salvation, Oneness, tongues and anything else that would make me more UPC. I am not exaggerating at all, but I even memorized all of the UPC pastor's names within about a 40-mile radius of where I lived and would go out of my way to introduce myself to them at all district events.
This is when it all came crashing down on me. I had become so great in the mind of all of those I went to church with and in my own mind, that I broke under the pressure and fell hard. I ran from God as fast as I could. I still loved Him and still believed UPC doctrine with all of my heart, but I just couldn't serve Him anymore.
I went off to college and became very involved in the college scene. That lasted for about 3 years and I dropped out of school and decided to pursue a career in computers. I quickly found myself to be pretty good in that particular area of expertise and began climbing the corporate ladder. By age 22, I had been promoted to being Director of Information Systems for a hospital.
It was at this hospital that I met my soon-to-be wife, Sarah. She was the sweetest, kindest most innocent thing I had ever met, and then I found it out she was Baptist. ;) Despite that, we quickly became friends. To my surprise, she was one of the most dedicated and fervent Christians that I had ever met. She truly epitomized the Beatitudes and she was a Trinitarian! I still had a lot of the college frat-boy mentality in me and she knew that, and I soon became the subject of her prayers.
My best friend at that time was also my roommate. His father was the Pastor of an independent Pentecostal/Charismatic church in the town where I grew up. Late one Saturday night, he had a very bad "partying" experience that forever changed him. The following day, he went to see his father and he prayed through, speaking in tongues. This had a profound impact on me as well. I came to the conclusion (with God's help of course) that living in the world was not all that it was cracked up to be. The following week, I went back to the UPC church where I had first been saved and I, too, prayed back through to God.
I quickly began to make myself UPC again. Suddenly, I was not just Sarah's project - she was mine too. I was determined to convert her and eventually did. She began attending church with me and shortly thereafter, we got married.
We soon left my old church for a UPC church that was closer to where we lived. Sarah, of course, had quit cutting her hair and wearing pants, make-up and jewelry. She admitted to not completely understanding these things, but believed that they were the right things to do none-the-less.
Over the next few years, we moved around a lot because of my job and attended many UPC churches. I really began to struggle with God. It seemed every time we went to church, the sermons were about Pentecostal worship or Acts 2:38 or standards or Trinitarians. Of course, the implications were always that people that did not believe these things exactly as the UPC teaches them, or that were Trinitarians, were lost. Every time these things were preached, I would think about how my wife had been a "Trinitarian," didn't worship the Pentecostal way or wear skirts before she met me, yet she never acted like the implications of what these preachers were saying bothered her. This woman showed more love than five of your average Pentecostals put together. She was more dedicated to witnessing and helping those in need than most Pentecostals I knew. Despite all of my attempts, I couldn't shake the tough questions about standards.
I had begun to get very angry with myself for even having questions. I went and bought a bunch of David Bernard's books and I read them. By the time I was done, I was once again completely convinced that the UPC was right about standards and that I shouldn't be asking myself such silly questions. I expended a lot of energy into remaking myself back into a ferocious standards apologist. This worked quite well for a time.
About a year ago, I got a job offer in Tulsa and we decided to move. Feeling reinvigorated and confident in UPC teachings, I decided to put any questions that I had to bed forever and believed that in so doing, I could simultaneously eradicate any lingering doubts that my wife might have had as well. I decided to launch a massive, in-depth study into standards like no one had ever done before. I set out to study standards from not just the Scriptural aspects but also the historical and cultural aspects. I had no doubt in my mind that I would be proven absolutely correct.
It didn't take me long to run face-first into a brick wall. When I began to research Deuteronomy 22:5 and look at the original Hebrew, I was stunned at what I found a clear contradiction to UPC teachings. I immediately ceased my studies indefinitely, concluding that no good could come of it.
For the next few weeks, I became very distraught. I had always felt that one day I would be a UPC preacher. If I were to discover errors in the teachings on holiness, I could never hold a UPC license because I could not in good conscience say that I believed something that I didn't. Worst still, I would have to admit that I was wrong to a lot of people.
I finally concluded that I had no choice but to proceed with my studies. I told God that no matter what he showed me, I would accept it, regardless of the personal cost. And well, here I am today.
"Standards" are a funny thing. They are like a house of cards. If you disprove one of them, the rest come crumbling down. The reason is that standards are the result of a certain mindset that one's righteousness can be measured. Standards serve as sort of a righteousness yardstick that can be held up to a person that professes Christianity and measure if they are truly a Christian or not. Though I hate to admit it, early on when I began to see the error of standards I genuinely struggled with the fact that without standards, I had no way of looking at someone and being able to tell if they were a Christian. I still had it in my head that somehow the Bible taught that one would know that another was a Christian by how they looked.
Oh, the mercy of God! There is no feeling of freedom like knowing that Jesus Christ is our righteousness, not our clothes. We are saved because of His Grace, not because of our good works!
Posted April 11, 2002
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August 23, 1997
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