Universal Pentecostal Church (4)
Two years ago a respected pastor in the UPC died. His name was Pastor C. K. Lazarus. Years earlier, as a young man, he informed his UPC leaders that he had decided ‘to do the ministry remaining unmarried’ (The Voice of Pentecost, February 2000, p.6).
He received a positive response: ‘The gospel workers of the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission (the old name of our Mission) are consecrated servants of God; you may join them and do the ministry’.
The UPC founder, Pastor Paul, agreed that, ‘Lazarus is a chosen one for the ministry’. Promptly, Lazarus sold all his possessions and entered the ministry. Soon after, he claimed to have had a dream in which the Lord Jesus laid his hand on him and blessed him.
It was during the UPC Toronto 1998 meetings that another would-be pastor, Menayeto Mankita, says he ‘stood up to dedicate [himself] to serve the Lord full-time’ (The Voice of Pentecost, May 2000, p.15).
Mankita’s family was unhappy with his decision even to join the UPC. One relative thought that ‘the pastors at the church were brain-washing’ him, while his mother ‘thought that this church was a cult’.
Opposition from his family continued until he ‘was taken for the ministry at the Ohio convention in 1999’. Mankita claims he also received prophecies and dreams during this period.
These two examples illustrate what it means to be a ‘minister’ or ‘servant’ of God in the UPC. Both men claimed to have received prophecies and dreams, and the UPC teaches that to such ‘servants are revealed the mysteries of the kingdom of God’ (The Voice of Pentecost, August 1998, p.16).
All UPC ‘servants’ are expected to have private revelations (other members, including children, are also expected to have visions, dreams, speak in tongues and prophesy). But pastors must also remain unmarried and forsake all material possessions. Only such people, we are told, are worthy to preach the gospel. Pastors Lazarus and Mankita, therefore, met all these requirements.
My correspondent found these demands ‘difficult to understand’ and was unsure of their biblical basis. The UPC is uncompromising in this respect: ‘Ministers of the Gospel cannot have any inheritance in the world’ (Power Divine, October-December 1997, p.13). Why?
One argument is that ‘the Levites had no inheritance, because they bear the ark of the Lord’. The reference is to Deuteronomy 10:8-9. Obviously, the primary application of that verse is to the Old Testament. The Levites were to ‘stand before the Lord to minister to him’ and assist the priests in their duties at the tabernacle. But the Levitical order, the Aaronic priesthood, and all their ceremonial duties, have been abolished by the New Covenant in Christ (Hebrews 8).
Their second argument is based on the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:33). The context here is extremely important.
Three times our Lord repeats the statement, ‘he cannot be my disciple’ (vv. 26, 27, 33). And there is an important reason for that. In verse 25 we are informed that ‘great multitudes went with him’ and it was to these people, excited about Jesus and interested in following him, that he spoke.
He was not speaking, therefore, to prospective ‘pastors’ or ‘servants’, but to all kinds of people who expressed an interest in becoming Christians and following Christ. The first principle to learn here is that verses 26-35 apply to everyone who becomes a Christian, not just to a privileged group of ‘servants’ or ‘pastors’.
A second major principle is that those considering becoming Christians must recognise the cost involved in following Christ, especially in terms of changed priorities. That is the thrust of verses 26-33.
Four major priorities are mentioned here by the Lord, namely, the priority of Christ over relatives, over one’s own personal life (v.26), and over possessions (v.33), together with a willingness to suffer for him (v.27). Just as a builder ensures he has all the materials he needs to complete building a tower, or a king calculates whether he has enough soldiers and weapons to win a war (vv. 28-31), so people should ‘count the cost’ before professing to follow Christ.
What is emphasised here is the preparedness of heart, on the part of each Christian, to put Christ before everything and everyone else. And there are regular situations and relationships where this preparedness needs to be expressed. Here is the challenge to all Christians.
The Lord Jesus himself showed the way. For example, ‘he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’, where he would die for sinners on the cross (Luke 9:51). This statement is a watershed in Luke’s Gospel. That was his mission; his priorities were all related to this one unique task — ‘to save’ (v.56).
He allowed nothing and no one to hinder him from accomplishing this divine mission. It was a glorious mission for, on the cross, God the Father ‘made [Jesus], who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Those who, by faith, receive Christ and his salvation, must consequently live under Christ’s lordship. That is the challenge of Luke 14 and it applies to all believers. There are no exceptions.
But must pastors remain unmarried, as the UPC claims? Not according to the Bible. Many of the Lord’s servants in the Old Testament were married. That was also true of the apostles, for example, Peter (Mark 1:30) and evangelists, like Philip (Acts 21:9).
Elders, too, who pastor churches and teach and rule by the Word, are to be ‘the husband of one wife’ (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). Some may voluntarily choose singleness (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:7) to be more free to serve the Lord, but that is neither mandatory nor the norm.
In this concluding article on the UPC, the question remains: what are the cultic characteristics of the UPC? One characteristic is their extremely authoritative leadership; to oppose or even question their ‘servants’ is viewed as opposing God.
Related to this, their leaders claim to be infallible in their teaching. Another cultic feature is the ‘heavy shepherding’ that takes place within the organisation. According to one reliable inside source, ‘members are coerced and pressured into revealing every aspect of their lives to leaders. The reason given for this is that, as shepherds, they need to know the state of the flock’.
Everything an individual member does needs a ‘covering’, that is, permission from the leadership. ‘To do something outside of this covering’, one member informs me, ‘denotes an independent and wrong spirit’.
A further cultic characteristic must be mentioned, namely, their doctrine of separation. This involves ‘keeping the unbelieving friend, colleague, neighbour and relative on the other side … the line of partition should be drawn carefully’.
Then, in an irresponsible re-interpretation of the terms ‘fatherless’ and ‘widows’, they add: ‘To visit the fatherless (those who are without God) and widows (those who once had God with them) is important, but to keep oneself unspotted from this world is as important’ (The Voice of Pentecost, June 2000, p.15).
Separation in practice
But what does ‘separation’ mean for them in practice? UPC members are not allowed to mix with Christians from other Bible-believing churches, not even Pentecostal churches. To attend any church other than the UPC means you have ‘become unequally yoked’ or ‘spiritual gypsies’.
This doctrine of separation, and other doctrines and rules (such as forbidding medical treatment and the wearing of jewellery) are strictly applied to all their members. Nor must members be in touch with ‘backsliders’ who leave the church.
This feature of withdrawal from (and ‘protest’ against) society, governments, and even families, is cultic. The constant pressure on members to conform leads to a sense of dependence on the group. Consequently, members experience fear as well as feelings of guilt if they leave. These are typical cultic characteristics and express varying degrees of control over members by the leadership.
To conclude, the Bible does teach separation from sin and the world (Romans 12:2; Galatians 1:4; 1 John 2:15-17). Christians should live in obedience to the Word and with radically different priorities, standards and aims, from those of unbelievers. But such holy living requires our engagement in society, not withdrawal from it!