A Journey Out of the UPC
By Lawrence “Buddy” Martin
There is much to be said for the spiritual core values that are deeply embedded in Pentecostalism. The desire to live a holy life, an unwavering devotion to Jesus Christ, and a passion to reach lost souls were instilled in me early on. In the deep of my heart I will always love and appreciate my Pentecostal heritage. Note: We just celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary. At the end of this entry is a video of the Martin family.
My earnest hope is simply that my testimony will help others to see how Oneness Pentecostalism has managed to mismanage the gospel of Jesus Christ. (I speak as a former United Pentecostal pastor and evangelist.)
Some time back I did research on issues of mental health to better educate myself for the purpose of pastoral ministry. I came across findings that had been conducted about mental patients in California. It stated that the largest religious groups of patients in mental institutions in California were from a Pentecostal background.
In picking up my research again I came across a major study by K. G. Meador and others. It was reported in ‘Hospital and Community Psychiatry,’ a monthly journal of the American Psychiatric Association.
Having researched several thousand cases, Meador concluded that there was a greater rate of depression in Pentecostals than in any other religious affiliation. Here is the quote:
“[We found the] rate of major depression in Pentecostals was three times greater than for any other affiliations.”
The statistics also show that Pentecostals have the highest rate of divorce, in addition to the highest rate of emotional and mental disturbances of any Protestant group.
Note: Place your cursor over a Scripture reference and it will appear.
The big question is Why?
Why do Pentecostals suffer greater mental duress than other Christian groups? Hopefully I can offer some things to think about. While my concern is largely with Oneness Pentecostalism, it should be understood that Pentecostals in general share in some of the same troublesome issues.
Before we look at the why, let me share …
A Bit of Personal Information
My family roots are in Louisiana. The Martins have been here since Billy Martin, a Revolutionary Soldier and his Indian wife came here in 1804. Billy Martin was Methodist.
My mother was born into a Oneness Pentecostal family in 1920. (Early period of the Pentecostal movement. Twenty-five years before the United Pentecostal church formed in 1945.)
As a young woman my mom played the piano for an evangelism team made up of her family. Her older sister was an evangelist.
After mom married at age 15, she left the world of the Pentecostal. Mom and dad moved to Portsmouth, Virginia during World War II, where they worked in the Naval ship yards in support of the war effort. (I was one month old when we moved.)
Later mom and dad divorced, and she moved to California where some of her siblings had located. (My mom was from a family of twelve children.)
Mom always carried in her heart both a love and a concern for the things of the Lord. She wanted me to know the Lord, but not in the way of Pentecostalism. (Many people do not care for the emotional extremes that Pentecostalism is noted for.)
A Mother Teaches her Son
My earliest childhood memory is of my mom teaching me to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” In this childlike way she taught me to call upon the Lord. Some years later I would come to fully experience Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I would also come to fully realize who I had called upon as a child.
That childhood prayer holds a special place in my heart. As a child I could sense the goodness of the Lord in those moments of prayer. My mother had taught me a Davidic type prayer.
“You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.” (Psa 4:7-8 NASB)
There is no question in my mind that ever since childhood the Lord has kept a watch over my life. My name had already been inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life. Yes, I am one of the ‘beloveds’ of the Lord. (All true believers are.)
My Formative Years
Several of my mother’s siblings had also left Pentecostalism. (Seven of the twelve.)
I spent almost nine years of my childhood years between Virginia and California. I was too young to remember Virginia. My earliest childhood memories are of California. We lived there five years. We moved back to Louisiana in May, 1949. (I was almost nine at the time. I am 73 now.)
I had my first meet with Pentecostalism in 1949. It was mysterious and strange. People were falling out, and shouting, and dancing. The preaching and singing were filled with passion. Pentecostalism was an awesome world to me.
The emotionalism was captivating. It did not dawn on me until years later just how many of these dancers and shouters would take their leave from Pentecostalism and be later found in more traditional churches. I think this was due to the emotional burn out such as my mother experienced.
Anyway, during the next ten years my exposure to religion would alternate between the United Pentecostal Church and the Church of God – Anderson. But like many young people my interest in religion began to lessen over time. I enlisted in the Navy at age 18, and served from 1959 to 1963. (Age 18 to 22.)
After I got out of the Navy, I relocated to Colorado, where I was to meet my beautiful wife to be. My wife’s father was a UPC minister.
I served on the police department in Grand Junction, Colorado, and afterwards as a police officer in Moab, Utah.
Then in 1964, I answered the call of God. For the next ten years I would fill various roles in the United Pentecostal ministry including that of pastor and as an evangelist. (In 1965, Betty and I and our firstborn son, Nathan, moved back to Louisiana.)
The Moment that Set the Stage
It was in 1971. Betty and I had pastored a UPC Church and afterwards went into full-time evangelistic ministry.
We then decided to move to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to set up a UPC home mission work. Much of what changed my thinking about Pentecostalism began there.
And so Betty and me, with our two sons, Nathan and André, made our venture to New Mexico.
It was in Los Alamos that we became acquainted with some non-Pentecostal believers. While they did not attend any of our services, oddly enough they befriended us. (One of those God arrangements.)
I could not help but notice how these non-Pentecostals seemed so different. There was a spiritual composure in their life that stirred my heart. Little did I know that these believers were carrying the signs of a composed walk of righteousness. They were secure in their salvation.
It reminded me of what the Prophet Isaiah said,
And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.”(Isa 32:17 NASB)
I thought to myself, ‘How could these people who did not speak in tongues know Jesus?’
The Lord was going to use these believers to put me on my knees.
Where were we missing it?
I knew something did not fit, so I began an intense heart search of the Scriptures. The more I studied the more I began to realize that the gospel we Pentecostals were preaching was not what the apostles preached.
The doctrine of speaking in tongues as the Biblical evidence of salvation or that it is the definitive sign of having received the Holy Spirit was never taught by Jesus, nor was it taught by any apostle, nor by the early Christians, nor was it ever taught in the history of the Church. It is Pentecostalism short and simple.
(Many do not realize that the doctrine of speaking in tongues is based almost exclusively on three detached incidences in the Acts of the Apostles, where in each instance the speaking in other languages was without forethought or expectation. All three instances were sovereign acts of God. Acts covers 35+ years of early church transitional history.)
Paul explained the gospel that was preached by the apostles in Romans 10:8-13. Compare this to Galatians 1:8,9.)
Why had I not seen this before?
My Spiritual Eyes Were Opened
I soon began to realized that the gospel message of salvation is based entirely upon faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else. True salvation can only be measured in the heart. Out of the cross comes a life exchange. Jesus exchanged lives with us. He took our place and in turn gave us His standing with heaven. (The heart exchange is why you will find born-again believers in every Christian denomination.)
Troubled in spirit, Betty and I and our two sons left the mission work and evangelized for a short time. Our last revival saw twenty-five people baptized.
As the altars filled, my heart was breaking. Seekers were begging God to save them. It wasn’t as though you could kneel by a seeker and explain how true salvation works. The seekers had largely been brought up under the influence of Pentecostal teachings.
In God’s guidance and care, the next three years found us in a local congregation. It was a UPC church, but the pastor was a gentle and compassionate man. August 1971 through August 1974 was our season of healings. I preached out from the local church but my major need was to get my belief system fully in accord with God’s word.
An interesting thing happened. The church we were attending had just gone through a split. The pastor who was also a presbyter with the UPC, asked me to help him rebuild. When I told him that I did not believe a person had to speak in tongues to be saved, he surprised me.
The pastor said that when the UPC first formed, many of the ministers of one of the forming groups believed the way that I believe, that a person did not have to speak in tongues to be saved. This belief eventually disappeared under the stricter, ‘you-must-speak-in-tongues-to-be-saved’, teaching of the other forming group. We agreed to disagree. I worked with this godly man for three years.
It was also during this time that the Lord gave us a beautiful daughter. Shana came as a direct promise from the Lord. (A testimony of its own.)
I formally left the UPC in 1974. [In heart in 1971]
[Note: I urge any Oneness Pentecostal to secure the book, 'Christianity Without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism,' by Thomas A. Fudge. It is an eye opener for those who do not understand the real history of the United Pentecostal Church.]
A Step Back in Time
I think it is important to share how I actually came to realize Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It was 1963. I had just gotten out of the Navy. A cousin kept insisting that I go to church with her. So I did. It was in church that I first saw my wife to be. In short order I fell in love with this beautiful Pentecostal girl. We married that same year. (That was 50 years ago.)
Not many months afterwards I found myself in the world of the Pentecostal altar. Revival after revival found me in the altar. My heart was so thirsty.
Then it happened. One Sunday afternoon I am sitting in our living room with my Bible in my hands, reading from the book of John. When I came to John 14, I saw that the questions being asked of Jesus were my very own questions. I need to know who Jesus really was and why I needed to place my faith in Him.
It seemed as though I was being drawn right there with the disciples. The Holy Spirit was opening my ears to hear.
When Philip asked the Lord to show them the Father, the Lord spoke directly into my heart. Jesus said,
Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Buddy? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Shew us the Father?’ Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me…” (John 14:9,10 kjv)
I became suddenly aware of the divine presence. My childhood prayer of, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep’, had become a reality. The Lord spoke faith into my heart. (Cf. Rom10:17)
Tears fell on my open Bible. Jesus was the very Lord that my mother had taught me to pray to as a child. But this time I knew who He really was. Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. Jesus was and is God.
At that moment the Lord sealed my heart for eternity. And that very same consciousness of the Lord that I felt as a child was now fully manifested in my heart.
Yes, it was at that very moment that I came to believe in Jesus Christ with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength. I was birthed into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. He placed a seal upon my heart. (Eph1:13)
I have carried the testimony of Jesus in my heart ever since that day. (Rom8:15-17) Jesus made Himself real to me. I loved Him then. I love Him now. I have never at one time questioned my salvation. It remains my constant want to only do those things that He gives me to do, whether it is teaching, preaching or anything else that pertains to life. And even in all my failures, my love for Jesus never changes. (John 10:4,5,14,27-29)
That brings me to ...
The Witness of the Heart
Paul said it this way:
“For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” (Rom 10:10-11 NASB)
This accords with what God said through the prophet Ezekiel:
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you…” (Eze36:26,27 nasb)
And this from the prophet Jeremiah:
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days … They will not teach again, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them … for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer31:33,34)
But there was a problem. Sometimes our heart and our head are not in the same place. I knew that Jesus was Lord and I believed in Him. Yet I was still under the influence of the Pentecostal altar. My true understanding of Biblical salvation was severely limited.
This is where Paul’s statement about Israel’s attempt to prove their own righteousness can be seen in Pentecostalism. Cf. Rom10:1-4.
Rather than fully trusting in Jesus Christ for their salvation, Pentecostals are placing their faith in speaking in tongues. They have missed the gospel message of salvation by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.
And so you have the sad note in Pentecostalism.
Concerning the Pentecostal altar
The UPC has such a stress on having to speak in tongues to be saved that an altar service can seem to be a total frenzy.
(At least to an outsider. There is nothing in a Pentecostal altar service that even faintly resembles what happened in Acts. The three times in Acts where people spoke in other languages, it was always in a group setting. It was always without expectation. — There was no seeking — Each instance was a sovereign act of God. That is not at all what you see in Pentecostalism today.)
And the sad side of Pentecostalism continues.
It is not uncommon to hear seekers crying and begging God to save them. You can hear people shouting, “Just say, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, over and over, real fast.’” Or, “Say ‘hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah over and over real fast.‘“ Some are saying, “Turn loose!” Still others are saying, “Hang on!”
The person in the altar is being drawn into a highly emotionally charged atmosphere.
Sometimes a circle will form around the seeker. He finds himself being moved around. His eyes are often tightly closed. The very moment the seeker makes any sound that seems not to be English, someone will shout, “He’s got it! He’s got it! He’s got the Holy Ghost!“ In turn he gives in to all his emotions. So does everyone else.
Shouting and dancing is the norm. Laughter abounds. Then a moment of calmness starts to replace the emotionalism. Everyone is smiling. It is time to relax. The battle is over. But is it really?
The seeker is often told something like this; “Tomorrow morning when you wake up, the devil is going to tell you that you did not get anything. You just tell him that he is a liar.” This is another part of the Pentecostal pattern. (Been there. Done that. Done it all. Been in the circle and one of those forming the circle.)
Why do they need tell the seeker this? The reason is the next morning the emotions will have subsided. It won’t be very long before the questions begin.
Where is the excitement? Where is the joy? Why am I having such doubts? It was so real last night. Why is it not real now? Was I really saved? Did I really speak in tongues?
This isn’t something the devil is telling him. These doubts are coming from within him.
The new Pentecostal has entered into a religious world where doubt and fear will pretty much be the norm. In Pentecostalism the idea of the security of the believer is never taught. This person will now have to learn to live on these emotional pushes.
The point is why would you need to tell a person who has received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that the next morning they’ll wake up feeling like nothing has happened. Salvation is not an emotional work up. It is a heart-exchange.
When the Holy Spirit enters the heart of a believing one, the Spirit will be there tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and the next tomorrow. This is called the testimony of the Spirit. Every true believer carries this testimony throughout their life.
Why so Many Pentecostals struggle
When you are brought up in a religious system such as the UPC, you don’t know anything else. Everything a Oneness Pentecostal person is taught revolves around a single Scripture, where Peter said,
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”(Acts 2:38 KJV. Of course they often tack on the end, ”…with the evidence of speaking in tongues.”)
Many Pentecostals are surprised to find that the statement, ‘with the evidence of speaking in tongues’is not part of Acts 2:38. It is not to be found anywhere in the Bible.
And this is part of what distorts the gospel message that they preach. However, there is much more.
I need to point out that those who leave the UPC often enter a time of culture shock. The greater world of Christianity is unlike anything they are used to. Oneness Pentecostalism is a sub-culture with its own distinctive control factors, where fear itself is the primary control cause. Fear of leaving the UPC is deeply ingrained in them. Fear of losing their salvation is instilled.
In my own struggles I use to say to my wife,
“Honey, I feel like I’m caught in a net and I don’t know what it is.”
Yes, I truly loved the Lord with all my heart. What I did not know was that the net was the misguided teachings of the UPC. No one can experience their true freedom in Christ while laboring under misguided doctrines.
Especially for the Women
Let me mention one other item that is important. The ones who generally endure the most under the UPC yoke are the women. The rules largely apply to them. Without naming all that is required of the women, let me simply say that much of what the UPC calls ‘standards’ have little and often no real Bible base. Paul speaks of these rules as self-made religion.
A quote from one of our ‘safety-net’ members (FormerUPC):
“I’ve been thinking about how hard it is for women to leave the UPC, and I believe it is because, usually, their only friends are their female relatives that have been raised UPC all their lives or female friends in the church. That is where they feel accepted and comfortable with others of the same belief. For a man it seems to be a little bit easier because they have friends from other beliefs in their daily lives. UPC women usually have other UPC women as friends and they also know that when a woman leaves the UPC she will be shunned by those she has always thought of as her closest friends.
So, Are You Struggling?
I can simply tell you that the Lord knows exactly where you are. He knows what you need to hear. He knows what your next step needs to be. God has a plan for your life. Don’t be afraid to trust Him with all the details. He will show you what to do at the proper time.
If any of this fits your world and you need someone to talk to, feel free to contact me by email: Buddy@ChristianChallenge.org.
Personal Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BuddyMartin
There are two support groups in place for those with a Oneness Pentecostal background who may be questioning certain UPC doctrines. Go to Yahoo site:
Former UPCI Ministers or Adherents to Pentecostalism
Lois Gibson, former UPC minister: http://www.spiritualabuse.org/issues.html
Jenni Baier, former Pentecostal: http://unvarnishedgrace.com/for-the-hurting/
Bill Iskra, former Pentecostal: http://formerunitedpentecostals.blogspot.com/
Would You Like to Meet the Martins
My wife and I just celebrated out 50th Wedding Anniversary. Here is a video that you may enjoy. It contains pictures of our family.
The Lord bless you,
In Christ Always, Buddy
You can drop me a line in the form below. (Confidential)
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