United Pentecostal Church International

Last updated
United Pentecostal Church International
Classification Pentecostal
Orientation Holiness
Oneness Pentecostalism
Polity Congregational
Leader David K. Bernard
(General Superintendent)
Merger of Pentecostal Church
Incorporated and Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ
SeparationsWorldwide Pentecostal Fellowship
Kingdom of Jesus Christ
Official website upci.org

The United Pentecostal Church International (or UPCI) is the world's largest Apostolic (Oneness) Pentecostal Christian denomination, headquartered in Weldon Spring, Missouri. [1] The church adheres to the non-trinitarian theology of Oneness, and was formed in 1945 by a merger of the former Pentecostal Church and the Incorporated and Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ.


The UPCI began with 521 churches and has grown, according to their own figures, to more than 42,000 churches (including daughter works and preaching points), 41,000 credentialed ministers, and a total worldwide constituency of around 5.1 million. [2] The international fellowship consists of national organizations that are united as the Global Council of the UPCI, which is chaired by the general superintendent of the UPCI, David K. Bernard.

The UPCI emphasizes holy living in all aspects of one's life. It derives its soteriology in part from Acts 2:37-39 and John 3:3–5 (Other key texts include Acts 2:4; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17) It believes that in order to receive biblical salvation, a person must obey the gospel by being spiritually born again. This is accomplished through repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance (resurrection). Thus, the UPCI does not share the soteriology advanced by most Evangelical Protestants, namely that belief or faith in Christ alone is the sole requirement for salvation.


The UPCI emerged from the Pentecostal Movement, which traces its origins to the teachings of Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas, and the Azusa Street Revival led by William J. Seymour in 1906. The UPCI traces its organizational roots to 1916, when a large group of Pentecostal ministers began to unite around the teaching of the oneness of God and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. [3] Several Oneness ministers met in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and on January 2, 1917, formed a Oneness Pentecostal organization called the General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies.

The General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies merged with another church, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW) and accepted the leadership of G. T. Haywood, an African-American. This group held the first meeting in Eureka Springs in 1918. This interracial organization adopted the PAW name and remained the only Oneness Pentecostal body until late 1924. Southern Jim Crow laws and racial hatred resulted in many white leaders withdrawing from the PAW rather than remaining under African-American leadership. Many local congregations in the South, however, remained integrated while attempting to comply with local segregation laws.

In 1925, three new Oneness churches were formed: the Apostolic Churches of Jesus Christ, the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance, and Emmanuel's Church in Jesus Christ. In 1927, steps were taken toward reunifying these organizations. Meeting in a joint convention in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Emmanuel's Church in Jesus Christ and the Apostolic Churches of Jesus Christ merged, taking the name the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. This merger united about 400 Oneness Pentecostal ministers. In 1931, a unity conference with representatives from four Oneness organizations met in Columbus, Ohio attempting to bring all Oneness Pentecostals together. The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance voted to merge with the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, but the terms of the proposed merger were rejected by that body. Nevertheless, a union between the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and the PAW was consummated in November 1931. The new body retained the name of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

In 1932, the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance changed its name to the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated to reflect its organizational structure. In 1936, Pentecostal Church, Incorporated ministers voted to work toward an amalgamation with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. Final union, however, proved elusive until 1945 when these two Oneness Pentecostal organizations combined to form the United Pentecostal Church International. The merger of these two Oneness Pentecostal bodies brought together 521 churches. [4]

In global missions the UPCI has long followed a dual strategy of inclusion and targeted outreach. Consequently, the UPCI has believers in 212 nations and territories, and the vast majority of its total constituency is nonwhite. It has multicultural, multiracial churches in large cities around the world.

In the U.S. and Canada the UPCI has traditionally reflected the majority culture with the majority of its constituency being Caucasian and Anglo-American. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, the UPCI became more intentional about the inclusion of every race and culture in North America. Consequently, over the years the UPCI of the U.S. and Canada has established several important ministries that focus on the evangelism of minority groups. As of 2013 these ministries have made significant progress and are led by representatives of the various ethnicities. Spanish Evangelism Ministry reported over 700 Spanish-speaking ministers and about 350 Spanish-language congregations. Building the Bridge Ministry develops strategies for cross-cultural ministry, urban ministry, and particularly evangelism into the African-American community. Its leaders estimated that the UPCI had about 500 Black ministers and 250 Black pastors. Multicultural Ministries coordinates outreach to eighteen language and ethnic groups, encompassing 186 ministers and 195 works. Based on these statistics in 2013 about 1,400 ministers were from minority groups, or fifteen percent of the total, and about 800 churches were ministering primarily to ethnic minorities, or eighteen percent of the total. In addition, most UPCI churches have significant involvement by ethnic minorities, especially larger churches, growing churches, and churches in urban areas. This involvement was an estimated ten to fifteen percent of constituency. In sum, as of 2013 an estimated twenty-five to thirty percent of UPCI constituency in the U.S. and Canada was nonwhite. [5]

This diversity is increasingly reflected in leadership. For example, according to a 2012 survey of the fifty-five districts in the U.S. and Canada, thirty-one had minorities as department heads and thirty-nine had minorities in some leadership position. Of these, eleven had African-American or black board members; five had Asian, Pacific Island, or Native American board members; and five had Hispanic board members. The Board of General Presbyters (General Board), which is the governing body under the General Conference, has African-American or black, Hispanic, and Asian members. The work of the organization is conducted by eight general divisions (major ministries), and each of them has minority representation on its general committee or board. For several divisions such as Youth, Sunday School, and North American Missions, the participation is twenty percent or more. Significantly, these leaders were not chosen on the basis of ethnicity, but they have risen through the ranks and have been elected by their peers based on involvement, qualifications, and abilities. [5]



The UPCI adheres to a "oneness" concept of the Godhead, in contrast to orthodox belief in the Trinity. Hence, an understanding of Oneness doctrine over against Trinitarian doctrine is critical in any analysis of UPCI beliefs.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three consubstantial persons, [6] or hypostases [7] —the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit; "one God in three persons". The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature". [8] In this context, a "nature" is what one is, while a "person" is who one is. [9] [10] [11]

Oneness believers, by contrast, hold that God is absolutely and indivisibly one. They also affirm that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and that Jesus is the only name given for salvation (Colossians 2:9). The Father was revealed to the world in the name of Jesus, the Son was given the name of Jesus at birth, and the Holy Spirit comes to believers in the name of Jesus. Thus they believe the apostles correctly fulfilled Christ's command to baptize “in the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” by baptizing all converts with the invocation of the name of Jesus (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16). [12]

Oneness believers affirm that God has revealed Himself as Father (in parental relationship to humanity), in the Son (in human flesh), and as the Holy Spirit (in spiritual action). They acknowledge that the one God existed as Father, Word, and Holy Spirit before His incarnation as Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and that while Jesus walked on earth as God Himself incarnate, the Spirit of God continued to be omnipresent. [13]


The UPCI derives its soteriology in part from Acts 2:37-39 and John 3:3–5 (Other key texts include Acts 2:4; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). [14] Defining the gospel as "the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again," [14] it believes that in order to receive biblical salvation, a person must obey the gospel by being spiritually born again. This is accomplished through repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance (resurrection). [14]

Thus, the UPCI does not share the soteriology advanced by most Evangelical Protestants, namely that belief or faith in Christ alone is the sole requirement for salvation. Although many Evangelicals would characterize this as "works salvation", [15] the UPCI insists that "salvation comes by grace through faith based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ." [14]


The UPCI believes that repentance is essential to salvation, as indicated in Luke 13:5 and Acts 2:38. Repentance is defined as a complete turning away from sin and toward God. According to the UPCI, repentance requires the repentant sinner to take the next biblical steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation to God: water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. [16] [ full citation needed ] Furthermore, repentance must be accompanied by "Godly sorrow". This is not merely regret, but a genuine inward taste of God's displeasure over one's sinful lifestyle,we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23, which in turn breaks his or her heart and leads to a determination to utterly forsake sin with no regrets or second thoughts. [17] [ full citation needed ]

Repentance is also a prerequisite for receiving the Holy Ghost. UPCI sources emphasize that no one can repent on his or her own power; it requires a supernatural gift of God's grace. [18] [ full citation needed ] It does not bring by itself the full power of salvation, and unless it is followed up with baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of tongues, it may be lost. Also, a child may not be baptized until the child knows right from wrong, because the child can not repent of the sins they have as a baby. Being that all are born into sin, we all have sin when we are born. [19] [ full citation needed ] Furthermore, the ability to repent is temporary and may only be accomplished while one is alive. [20] Luke 13:3

Jesus' Name Baptism

Baptism is a second essential component of UPCI doctrine. Members of the UPCI affirm an indispensable need for baptism, citing John 3:5, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38 and Matthew 28:19. They point to Matthew 3:13–16 as evidence that even Jesus himself was baptized. The UPCI mode of baptism is complete immersion in water, completed in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.

This Jesus' Name doctrine is a point of contention between the UPCI and Trinitarian Christians. Like other Oneness believers, the UPCI baptizes "in the Name of Jesus Christ", while Trinitarians use "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Both sides utilize Matthew 28:19 to support their claims, with the UPCI holding that the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is Jesus. They insist that the word name in the scripture is singular, and that implies all three titles refer to Jesus. Other Oneness believers assert that Matthew 28:19 was changed to the traditional Triune formula by the Catholic Church in 325 AD in the counsel of Nicaea. The Jesus' Name belief originates from Acts 2:38, and members also stress Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5, and Acts 22:16, and 1 John 2:12, claiming that these are the only scriptures showing how the early Church performed baptisms, and that there is no scripture in the Word that shows anyone ever being baptized in the titles of God, and that the Bible authorizes no departure from that formula. [21] [ full citation needed ]Even that the early priest state that the early church only baptized in Jesus name and the latter formula was applied after 325AD by the Catholic church.

Speaking in tongues

The UPCI embraces the view that speaking in tongues is the immediate, outward, observable, and audible evidence of the initial infilling of the Holy Ghost (spirit), 1 Cor. 14:22, Acts 2:33, and is the fulfillment of Jesus' commandment to be "born of the Spirit" in John 3:5. As defined by the church, speaking in tongues constitutes speaking in a language that one has never learned before,as the spirit gives them utterance, Acts 2:4, [22] [ full citation needed ] UPCI beliefs on this subject are derived from Acts 2:4, 17, 38–39; 10:46; 19:6; and I Corinthians 12:13, Mark 16:17, 1 Cor. 14:18, 1 Cor. 14:22.

In UPCI theology, the tongue becomes the device of expression for the Holy Ghost (James 3), and symbolizes God's complete control over the believer. Joel 2:28, Isa. 28:11. UPCI doctrine distinguishes between the initial act of speaking in tongues that accompanies one's baptism in the Spirit, and the gift of "divers kinds of tongues" spoken of by Paul. While the former is considered indispensable evidence of one's baptism by the Holy Ghost (as spoken of in Isaiah 28:11, John 3:5; also Matthew 3:11, Acts 1:5, 2:4, 10:45–46 and 19:6, according to UPCI doctrine), the latter gift is not necessarily held by all believers once they have initially spoken in tongues, it is the interpretation of tongues. [23] [ full citation needed ] The incidents of tongues speaking described in Acts,are different in operation and purpose than the tongues spoken of in I Corinthians 12–14. The latter are given to selected believers as the Spirit decides. Acts 2:3, Acts 2:11, 1 Cor. 12:10, 12:28,1 Cor. 14:21, James 3:8.

UPCI doctrine also distinguishes between the fruit of the Spirit, as mentioned in Galatians 5:22–23, and the initial act of speaking in tongues. The fruit of the Spirit takes time to develop or cultivate and therefore does not qualify as an immediate, outward and identifiable sign of receiving the Holy Ghost. Speaking in other tongues, on the other hand, does serve as that sign and is therefore considered an indispensable part of any person's salvation process. Acts 10:44-48, they knew they had the Holy Ghost because they could hear them speak with tongues. 1 Cor. 14:22, tongues is for a sign, not to them that believe but to them that believe not.

Holiness living

The UPCI emphasizes that salvation is accomplished by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). This faith is coupled with obedience to his command to be "born of water and of the Spirit" (John 3:5). Even though no amount of obedience to laws saves anyone (Ephesians 2:8–9, Titus 3:5), the Scriptures also state that those who are saved have been created in order to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). [24]

Given this Scriptural principle, the UPCI teaches that one should live a life that demonstrates Christ's attributes. [25] Inward holiness, such as demonstration of the fruits of the Spirit in the Christian's life, is to be accompanied by outward signs of holiness, according to the UPCI. The UPCI also maintains the teaching of gender roles, including a belief that women should not cut their hair (1 Corinthians 11:3-15) or wear pants. Inward and outward modesty applies to women and men alike, though UPCI men have fewer dress codes than their female counterparts. Members are discouraged from adorning themselves outwardly with cosmetics or jewelry, biblically defined as "gold, or pearls, or costly array," and should instead show their beauty by their actions (I Timothy 2:8-10).


The basic governmental structure of the UPCI is congregational at the local church level and presbyterian at higher organizational levels. Local churches are autonomous, electing their own pastors and other leaders, owning their own property, deciding their own budgets, establishing their membership, and conducting all necessary local business. [26] The central organization embraces a modified presbyterian system: ministers meet in sectional, district, and general conferences to elect officers and to conduct the church's affairs. The annual General Conference is the highest authority in the UPCI, with power to determine articles of faith, elect officers and determine policy. A General Superintendent is elected to preside over the church as a whole. On October 1, 2009, David K. Bernard was announced as the new General Superintendent. [27]

According to the UPCI, in the United States and Canada it has grown from 521 member churches in 1945 to 4,819 churches (including daughter works and preaching points) 10,627 ministers, and 750,000 constituents in the United States and Canada in 2019. Outside the U.S. and Canada it has 34,779 churches and preaching points, 25,292 licensed ministers, 970 missionaries, and a constituency of 3.25 million in 195 nations and 35 territories. The international fellowship consists of national organizations that are united as the Global Council of the UPCI, which is chaired by the general superintendent of the UPCI, David K. Bernard. Total worldwide membership, including North America, is at more than 5 million. [28]

Ministers at all levels are allowed to marry and have children. Homosexuality is considered contrary to biblical teaching and the UPCI opposes homosexual acts and homosexual marriage just as it opposes unbiblical heterosexual conduct such as adultery and fornication. [29] The UPCI has made it clear, however, that it affirms the worth and dignity of every human being and opposes bigotry and hatred. [30] [ relevant? ]

General Conference

At the annual conference of the United Pentecostal Church International, attendees conduct business, receive training, network with colleagues, participate in worship sessions, and raise funds for various ministries. [31]

North American Youth Congress (NAYC)

NAYC is a church gathering primarily for the youth of the UPCI, held every other year since 1979, in various locations around North America.

It was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2017, in the city of Indianapolis, IN. The meeting was one of the largest to date, with over 34,000 youths attending. This is the first time NAYC has been held in a football stadium. The meeting was given the title "This is That, stylized as THIS THAT. The meeting received a letter from the Vice President of the United States of America, Mike Pence, who was also the former governor of Indiana. The letter encouraged the meeting, and assured the congregation that Vice President Pence and President Trump would continue to fight for the continued right of religious expression for Christians.

NAYC 2019 took place from July 31 to August 2, 2019 in The Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri. More than 36,000 people were in attendance. [32]

Educational institutions

The UPCI operates the only Oneness Pentecostal seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools: [33] Urshan Graduate School of Theology was granted the status of Candidate for Accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in June 2018. [34]

The UPCI launched a Christian liberal arts college in Fall of 2012. Urshan College was granted the status of Candidate for Accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in June 2018. [34]

In addition, the UPCI endorses several unaccredited bible college type institutions: [35]

Currently, there are only two accredited colleges endorsed by the UPCI:

Notes and references

  1. "United Pentecostal Church, Inc". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  2. "About the UPCI". www.upci.org. Retrieved 2019-08-30.
  3. UPCI. "UPCI | About the UPCI". www.upci.org. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  4. Bernard, David (1999). A History of Christian Doctrine, Volume Three: The Twentieth Century A.D. 1900–2000. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press. p. 98.
  5. 1 2 "UPCI | Members".
  6. The Family Bible Encyclopedia, 1972 p. 3790
  7. See discussion in Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Person"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  8. Definition of the Fourth Lateran Council quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 253
  9. "Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity". Ignatiusinsight.com. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  10. "Understanding the Trinity". Credoindeum.org. 16 May 2012. Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  11. "Baltimore Catechism, No. 1, Lesson 7". Quizlet.com. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  12. Bernard, David K. (2011). The Apostolic Life. Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press. p. 99.
  13. Bernard, David K. (2011). The Apostolic Life. Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press. pp. 99–100.
  14. 1 2 3 4 "Our Beliefs". UPCI. United Pentecostal Church International. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  15. See, for instance, Thomas A. Fudge: Christianity Without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecotalism. Universal Publishers, 2003.
  16. See under headings "Repentance and Emotion" and "Relationship to Water and Spirit Baptism" in Bernard, David K.
  17. See under heading "Contrition for Sin" in Bernard, David K.
  18. See under heading "The Source of Repentance" in Bernard, David K.
  19. See under heading "Relationship to Water and Spirit Baptism" in Bernard, David K.
  20. "Except Ye Repent". United Pentecostal Church International. Retrieved 2006-06-21.
  21. See Chapter 7, "Baptismal Formula: In the Name of Jesus", in Bernard, David K.
  22. See under heading "Speaking in Tongues Defined" in Bernard, David K.
  23. See under heading "After the Baptism of the Spirit" in Bernard, David K.
  24. See Essential Doctrines of the Bible, "New Testament Salvation", subheading "Salvation by grace through faith", Word Aflame Press, 1979.
  25. See An Overview of Basic Doctrines, Section IV "Holiness and Christian Living," Word Aflame Press, 1979. Contains numerous scriptural references for specific UPCI standards.
  26. Retrieved on 17 July 2008.
  27. "gc2009 - News". www.unitedpentecostal.net. Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  28. Jack Zavada. "United Pentecostal Church International". About.com Religion & Spirituality. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  29. "Homosexuality". United Pentecostal Church. Archived from the original on 16 October 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2013.
  30. "RESPONSE TO SUPREME COURT DECISION REDEFINING MARRIAGE". United Pentecostal Church International. Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  31. UPCI General Conference http://www.upcigc.com/ . Retrieved 2018-07-24.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. Parke, Caleb (2019-08-16). "Over 36,000 Christian students help serve disaster victims at youth conference". Fox News. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  33. "ATS - Member Schools". Archived from the original on 9 June 2008.
  34. 1 2 "Accreditation Information". Higher Learning Commission. Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  35. "Bible College". edu.upci.org. Retrieved 2016-09-30.
  36. https://clc.edu/accreditation/

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The Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry (JMCIM) is an Apostolic (Oneness) Pentecostal religious group in the Philippines which believes particularly in the promotion of miracles, and faith in God for healing. They currently claim 1,500,000 members in the Philippines and 15 other countries. With only 36 assemblies outside the Philippines, the bulk of their membership is within the country. It has members in the Philippines, the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Singapore, Japan, China, and other parts of Asia. JMCIM is the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization in the Philippines, holding several services weekly at the Amoranto Sports Complex in Quezon City, Metro Manila, with Sunday attendance in the tens of thousands at that location alone. Their 40th Anniversary celebration in 2015 saw 300,000 people gather at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City, Metro Manila.

The Jesus' Name doctrine or the Oneness doctrine upholds that baptism is to be performed "in the name of Jesus Christ," rather than the Trinitarian formula "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It is most commonly associated with Oneness Christology and Oneness Pentecostalism, however, some Trinitarians also baptise in Jesus' name.

David K. Bernard is a Oneness Pentecostal theologian and currently serves as the general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization with constituents worldwide. He currently teaches as a Professor of Biblical Studies and Apostolic Leadership at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.