Connecting with One Another - March 2019

By David K. Bernard     In twenty-first century culture, there is less respect for authority, less loyalty to tradition, and less trust in institutions. This attitude can be positive when it motivates people to move beyond unbiblical or unproductive modes of operation, but it can be negative when it translates into less commitment to the kingdom of God. In this environment, we need to make a strong case for individuals to be committed to the local church and for churches and ministers to be committed to an organized fellowship of ministers and churches such as the UPCI.

My primary reason for being part of our organization is stated at the very beginning of its General Constitution: “The purpose of the United Pentecostal Church International is to carry the whole gospel to the whole world by the whole church.” As a Christian and as a preacher of the gospel, I have a personal responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20, in which Jesus commanded us to evangelize and make disciples of all nations and ethnic groups. There is no way that one minister or one local church can fulfill this commission in isolation; therefore, we must work together. The reason why I am part of the UPCI is not because of what I can personally receive but because of what we can accomplish through the UPCI as we unite with others of “like precious faith” (II Peter 1:1).

The UPCI isn’t the only possible organization, but I believe that, even with its imperfections, it is the best Oneness Pentecostal church. It is the most effective vehicle we have for promoting Apostolic missions worldwide, planting Apostolic churches, training Apostolic ministers, producing Apostolic publications, providing Apostolic education, and developing Apostolic resources for ministry to children, youth, women, and men. It provides a sound structure by which we can fulfill the Great Commission while also implementing scriptural qualifications for ministers and scriptural instructions to work together with proper spiritual authority and accountability.

Those who work independently are not nearly as effective. They still need some association, so they develop an informal network in which the structure is undefined, unstated, or ambiguous. It is better to have an organization with clear leadership, qualifications, guidelines, policies, and procedures; with input from every member; and with the ability to make changes from the grass roots. Of course, for the UPCI to be fully effective, it must be consistent in following its policies and procedures, transparent in its operations, open to influence from its members, and responsive to changing circumstances and needs. To the extent that it is not, we must work to improve it.

Although overhead, bureaucracy, red tape, and mistakes are part of any human organization, our combined resources go much further, are safeguarded more carefully, and have more lasting results than if we tried to work without organization. For instance, many well-intentioned people have spent large sums on mission endeavors with few lasting results for the kingdom of God because they were not able to verify doctrinal integrity, provide oversight, or establish long-term accountability for the recipients.

A second reason why I belong to the UPCI is to follow biblical principles of unity, accountability, and submission to authority. (See, for example, Acts 15:1–32; I Corinthians 12:12–28; I Thessalonians 5:11–14; Titus 1:5–9; Hebrews 13:7, 17.) It is evident that the New Testament saints believed in and participated in an organization beyond the local church. Here is a description of Paul’s missionary team as they traveled to various local churches: “As they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:4–5).

While the New Testament does not specify a detailed form of organization, it teaches important principles for church government, ministerial qualifications, oversight, and working together, and we must have some means of fulfilling these scriptural requirements. Those of us who are ministers aren’t exempt from the principles that we teach our church members. We need the fellowship, accountability, and leadership that the UPCI provides.

The diversity of the UPCI is good for me also. If I restricted my fellowship to those who thought exactly like me, I would lose balance and perspective. If I submitted only to leaders of my personal choosing, I would not fully implement biblical principles of instruction, admonition, and submission. The various gifts, talents, and ministries fostered by the UPCI help our ministers and churches to become well rounded and mature.

By participating in a fellowship such as the UPCI, we are “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” even as we grow into maturity until “we all come in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:3, 13). As the second paragraph of the Fundamental Doctrine of the UPCI pledges: “We shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of the faith.”