Skip Paynter'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 Jackson College of Ministries closed years ago.

SKIP PAYNTER, Portland, Oregon

[Skip Paynter was reared in the Ohio District of the UPC. After graduating from Jackson College of Ministries, he finished his B.A. and M.A. at Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon. He is currently the Associate Pastor of Christ for the People Community Church in Portland. He also serves as a vocational counselor at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon.]

My Oneness Pentecostal journey began under the pew of Calvary Apostolic Church in Columbus, Ohio. Yes, "under." Some of my earliest recollections as a child were Sunday night services with my family during which I occupied myself with what most children my age did at around six or seven years of age. I played with toys and read books and slept under the pew, much like my six-year old daughter has done during our own church services. I must have been about eight years old when my mother told me on the way to church one Sunday evening that she thought I was old enough to begin paying attention to the preaching during the service instead of "checking out" after song service. According to the best of my recollection at this point, it seems that almost instantly I began to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit in my heart, maybe even that very night. I remember going to the altar of that old, converted armory auditorium to repent of my sins and to ask God to "fill me with the Holy Ghost." I was taught that the only way to be saved was to repent of my sins, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ by immersion and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost speaking in other tongues.

I also remember "seeking" for the Holy Ghost for what seemed like a long time. One night, while we were leaving the church after a particularly long altar service, one of the men of the church asked my parents whether I had received the Holy Ghost. My mother responded that I had experienced "stammering lips" and that I was close to getting the experience. This report is significant, because I recall the tremendous effort I put into "getting the baptism." After her comment I thought how hard it was going to be to receive the Holy Ghost, and even after everyone else claimed that I had the genuine article, I often doubted whether I really did receive it or whether I had lost it. This brings to mind the lack of emphasis on faith for salvation and the enormous stress put on experience, particularly the tongues experience. Such an emphasis played a big part in my faith for a long time.

I was a faithful young person, very dedicated to the church and to the Lord. I have never doubted that the one constant factor in my life through all the changes, theologically and otherwise, has been the presence of the Lord. He has never changed, though my own understanding of Him has gone through quite a metamorphosis. I always felt as though Christ was very close to me. I grew up getting involved in the normal things in which any dedicated UPC young person would be involved: youth camp, Bible quizzing, youth services, sectional youth rallies, and so forth. One day a friend of mine tried to convince me that I should attend Bible college. I was eighteen years old at the time and was becoming ensconced in the world of work, making money, dating and just having a good time with life. I remember him telling me that if I didn't go now, at this stage in my life, I might never go at all. As I reflect on that conversation, I believe that the Lord used him to help me realize what my life was all about: living for God's glory and preparing myself for lifelong ministry.

When my friend spoke to me, he was trying to get me to attend the Apostolic Bible Institute, a school known for cranking out ministers of the gospel. (This was also the school that my mother had attended. I have always wondered if she had a hand in having him talk to me.) At the time, I felt that God wanted me to be in music ministry, so it was only natural that I attend the school of our denomination which was known for its tremendous music program, Jackson College of Ministries. So, I prepared to attend Jackson College of Ministries.

I was only at JCM a short time when I began to realize that God had his hand on my life for another purpose. I soon felt strongly that he wanted me to be in the ministry of teaching and preaching his Word. There were so many things that seemed to happen quickly in that first year of Bible college. But, among them all was a strong hunger to understand the Word. And, along with that hungering, I began to hear, over the next three years, concepts like "being open to the Holy Spirit" and allowing God to speak to me about truth and its nature. I began to see that it was possible that the United Pentecostal Church was not the only bearer of truth to the world, that God was doing things in and through other denominations and Christian groups. I started to see that there were other ways to approach truth and that what I had thought was being educated in my faith was really no more than indoctrination into a denomination.

The real turning point came as a senior at Jackson when I began to study the book of Romans along with my classmates in an exegesis class taught by Joseph Howell. I remember discovering from Romans that "the just shall live by faith" and that salvation was not by works but by grace through faith. One day in the dorm room I was talking with my roommate, Phil Yadon, and some other friends about these issues. I distinctly remember saying that "If what the book of Romans says is true about salvation, then what about what we have been taught about repentance, water baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost speaking in other tongues?" It was almost as if I had a vision at that moment, for I remember getting the feeling that the ground dropped out from under my doctrinal foundation right in front of me. I felt as though I had to make a "leap of faith" from where I was over the huge chasm of UPC doctrine to the truth of genuine faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. I suddenly realized that nothing I did could add to what Christ had already done. He had paid the price for my sin, and I had but to accept by faith what He alone did on the cross. Yes, baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit were parts of the Christian life, but they were just that-parts of the Christian life, things subsequent to salvation, not things done to be saved.

The real break from the UPC came during my first ministry out of Bible college. Susan, my new wife, and I moved to Lancaster, Ohio, to take a youth pastorate. As we continued to study the new-found truths we had discovered while in college, we found ourselves more and more at odds with the denomination. The church in which we served was going through some re-examining of old truths and traditions, mostly questions about the old standards of dress. But, we found it increasingly difficult teaching the young people without openly undermining the "tried and true" doctrines and having kids approach us with questions about such things.

The issue that was the catalyst for our exit was the issue of authority. We diligently studied the Scripture and sought answers to what we were experiencing through our relationship to the pastor under whom we served. As we studied the Scripture I saw that no one stood between the Christian and God. Yet, there were pastors who acted as though they, rather than the Word of God, were the supreme authority in the life of the Christian. This was the issue that gave me reason to leave the church at which I was working and, ultimately, the denomination which supported this authoritarian approach to leadership.

Since I left over ten years ago, I have discovered the wider body of Christ. I have had the opportunity to rub shoulders with and fellowship with many members of the body of Christ who have not experienced some of the things the oneness folk say are essential to salvation. These are believers who have obeyed the scripture in believing on Christ and following in Christian baptism. These are people whose lives clearly evidence the fruit of the Spirit. These are people who are faithful to a local assembly where they hear the Word of God preached and taught. These are people who love Jesus with all their hearts and who seek to please Him only. These are faithful Christians who long for the coming of our Lord and who faithfully proclaim the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to a lost and dying world. I have seen their faith, their commitment, their love and their compassion. Many of them outstrip some of the people I was reared with in the United Pentecostal Church in terms of their Christian testimony and clean, holy living. I am so happy that I can declare them my brothers and sisters in Christ.


"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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