Private revelations. That is what we concentrate on in this third article on the Universal Pentecostal Church (UPC). Having outlined the history and theology of this cult, we now need to discuss some of their distinctive but erroneous teachings. And their claim concerning private revelations is given prominence within the UPC.
‘Revelations’ refers to their claim that important information about, or intimations of, the Lord’s particular purpose is being divinely imparted to a leader in the UPC. The word ‘private’ refers to the mode in which these revelations are supposedly given.
Such revelations do not come through the objective, inspired Word of God, namely, the Bible. Instead, these revelations are claimed to come directly from God by means of visions, dreams, a ‘voice’, a ‘presence’, tongues-speaking, and prophecies.
Illustrations of their claim can be found in the life of Pastor Paul, the founder of UPC. As a young child, for example, it is reported that he heard the Lord Jesus speaking directly to him on several occasions.
The voice said ‘clearly’ to him, ‘I am Jesus’ (The Biography of Pastor Paul, p.1). At the age of eighteen, he claimed ‘a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ’ then, three years later, a further vision in which ‘the Lord Jesus spoke to him’ (pp. 4-5). He often felt the Holy Spirit speaking directly to him in a variety of situations.
The UPC founder refers to some ‘extraordinary experiences’ like ‘standing together with the Lord on the top of a very high mountain’ in direct conversation (p.22). Another weird ‘experience’ was ‘seeing the devil’ in answer to his repeated prayers to the Lord (p.80).
Such private revelations are not confined to Pastor Paul. In fact, the ‘servants of God’ in the UPC are also expected to receive direct messages from heaven. These ‘servants of God’ are those who have joined the ‘full-time ministry’.
To do so, they must first abandon their jobs, houses, money and, if married, even their wives, and then continue to live apart in order to concentrate on the ministry. The office of ‘pastor’ is distinguishable from, although related to, that of a ‘servant of God’. One crucial difference is that to be a ‘pastor’ a man must never have been married.
It is these ‘servants of God’ who lead the UPC and do so in an extremely authoritarian manner. What these people say must be accepted as coming from God. And the reason? Because they are the ones who receive ‘revelations’, visions and dreams, which enable them to instruct the church.
Nor can they be questioned or opposed, since that is viewed as rebellion against God and his servants. Even their reading and teaching of the Bible is deemed to be authoritative because they get ‘revelations’.
Sadly, these leaders are believed to give the ultimate interpretation of everything that is allegedly from God. ‘As the servants of God’, they insist, ‘we give the counsel of God’. And this is one reason why the UPC opposes Bible colleges. After all, with their claim of continuous revelation and what appear to be infallible teachers, they do not perceive a need for faithful and responsible Bible teaching from others.
How should we respond to this claim regarding private, authoritative revelations? First of all, I question some of the claims concerning private revelations given to the UPC founder and others. A careful reading of the biography of Pastor Paul and the circumstances surrounding these ‘revelations’ makes me feel extremely sceptical.
Was the ‘voice’ he heard a subjective but vivid thought in his mind, which he later externalised as a ‘divine voice’? This is probable. One wonders, too, whether what are called ‘visions’ were in fact dreams, for some of these experiences occurred at night or when Pastor Paul was tired.
It is a scientifically established fact that we all dream and that we dream in sleep about every ninety minutes. On average, an individual has five sessions of dreaming per night of sleep. And some dreams can be very vivid and significant.
I accept the principle that God can sovereignly use a dream to speak to an individual. For example, on my first visit to Asia in 1991 I met a Christian who informed me that God first spoke to her in a dream while she was still a Buddhist.
She knew that God was directing her in the dream to go to a nearby Christian church to hear about Jesus Christ. Within a few days of hearing the gospel preached in that church, she had trusted in the Lord Jesus for salvation.
One of my questions to her was this: had God used other dreams to speak to her? Her answer in faltering English was emphatic. ‘Oh no, God only speaks to me in the Bible’. As she held tightly to her well-used Bible, she added, ‘I do not [now] need dreams’. The woman was right. All we need is the Bible and that is where God speaks to us.
Secondly, I have general concerns regarding these private revelations in the UPC. For example, their alleged frequency is disturbing. It leads to high expectations, and even psychological pressure to claim and report extraordinary experiences. The end result is a dependence on these ‘revelations’. This serves to boost the status of the leaders and to reassure members that their messages are infallible and from God.
Then there is the tendency to self-importance. For Pastor Paul the reported visions enhanced his own prestige, and gave an impression to people of his greatness. One illustration of this is his claim to have been granted his request to see the devil.
The UPC founder felt honoured to have been given this answer to prayer. His biographer writes: ‘Well realising that it lay in God’s manifold wisdom not to reveal unsearchable and deep secrets to man, he greatly praised God and glorified Him’ (p.81). The implication is clear. No other humans had been given this experience.
Thirdly, we need to respond biblically to this UPC emphasis. And they challenge us at this point: ‘Even some people of God consider visions, dreams and the voice of God as rare events’ (p.21).
Joel 2:28 is then used to support their position: ‘your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.’ This prophecy, quoted in Acts 2:17-18 and fulfilled at Pentecost, needs to be understood correctly.
In Acts 2:14-21 Peter explains the significance of what happened on the Day of Pentecost. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. It was a unique moment in salvation history.
It marked Christ’s enthronement in heaven (John 7:39) and was also the inauguration of ‘the last days’ (from Pentecost to the return of Christ in glory). It inaugurated the new age of the Spirit, who is poured out in abundance on his people.
There are other reasons why Acts 2 is unique. The Christian church reaches maturity here; it is distinguished from the nation of Israel and becomes international. That is part of the significance of the statement: ‘I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh’. That includes Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slaves and free, men and women, as well as the young and old.
What about the prophecies, visions and dreams mentioned in Acts 2:17-18? The background is Numbers 12:6 and it is important. God revealed himself to Old Testament prophets through visions and dreams, but Moses alone was privileged to have direct communication with him (vv. 7-8).
Notice, therefore, how in Acts 2:17 the three words, ‘prophecy’ (also v.18), ‘visions’ and ‘dreams’ are inseparably related, and are possibly ‘all one thing’ (Luther). ‘Prophecy’ has ‘an umbrella-use’, says John Stott (The Message of Acts, p.74).
Rather than prediction or giving revelation, the meaning of prophecy here is ‘understanding’ (Calvin). Through the gospel of Christ, the Old Testament promise is now fulfilled, namely, that ‘they will all know Me’ (Jeremiah 31:34). Those who know God will forth-tell (‘prophesy’) this good news and witness to Christ.
Acts 2:17-18 does not, therefore, encourage visions and dreams. Not at all, for they are unnecessary. It does something far more glorious; it highlights the fulfilment of rich covenant promises. The most glorious of the promises concerns knowing God. And that is only possible through the Bible.