By J. T. Pugh
I had my first exposure to Pentecost in the summer of 1934. This was only nineteen years after the revival of Jesus Name baptism. In the last seventy-three years I have observed truth moving across multiple thresholds in a fast-changing world. On the wall of Pastor Paul M. Cook’s office hangs a picture of a general conference of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. A few years ago I counted the number of people present at that conference. Exactly 200 people can be counted there. I recognized myself, a very young man, sitting in that conference. The year was 1940. Five years later this group of about 900 preachers merged with the Pentecostal Church Incorporated to form the United Pentecostal Church.
I have reflected back many times on the daring visionary energy that attracted these two groups of preachers to merge into a new organization. Personal sacrifice was involved. Approximately one half of all the office holders of the two groups would, without a doubt, be without an official position. The entire venture was a bold act of faith. However, there was much hunger for growth, movement, and kingdom advancement. Vision was strong sixty-two years ago in spite of different emphases placed on certain doctrinal points. By faith we were assured that since this was God’s will and God’s church, He would take care of the amalgamation. And He did. At the merger conference in St. Louis, I slept at night on a cot in the basement of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church. I was energized by expectancy, vision, and hope for the future. I was soon to find out; however, that visionary change has its challenges.
During this time I pastored the church in Wichita Falls, Texas. There were other Oneness Pentecostal ministers in the area who hotly opposed the merger. I received a visit by a couple of men who were active in this group. They told me of their plans to form their own fellowship inasmuch as `”the merger” was an unacceptable compromise. They had gained control of the Pentecostal Outlook, which was the official monthly publication of the former Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, and they continued to publish it using the original format. They worked hard to cause division in the new United Pentecostal Church. When I chose not to join them, they tried to influence my small struggling church to break away from this newly formed Oneness organization. Their hostile influence took its toll on the small group I was attempting to serve. In desperation, I went to the home of a pastor who had influence on a family under my pastorate. I crawled across the floor to him and begged that he not bother my church. My neighboring pastor in Vernon, Texas was forced out of his pastorate. Some of the people went with him and remained with the United Pentecostal Church. I traveled to and from Vernon, doing what I could to help build a building for these people.
I share some personal experience connected with the birth of The United Pentecostal Church to illustrate that even if you do the right thing in managing change, the stress factor is still there. Even though Noah was doing the will of God, he still felt the heavy fog of stress.
Noah was warned of a pending catastrophic transition so drastic that the ecology of the entire earth would change. This was a totally unknown experience, “things not seen as yet” (Hebrews 11:7). He was “moved with fear.” This major threshold changed his entire life in abrupt and drastic ways. For 120 years he lived with this transitional process. The flood introduced a more explicit and defined relation-ship between God and His creation.
Two hundred years later the obedience of Abraham signaled the dispensation of promise. It is written that Abraham, in obedience to God, “went out not knowing where he went.” Eight hundred years later Moses led Israel across the threshold of the law. Paul explains the motivation of Moses: “He endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). He saw things that the crowd did not sense nor see.
It was God’s will that the New Testament church emerge out of the monotheistic concept of Jewish faith. But alas, the Jewish culture did not allow the transition. At the end of His ministry, Jesus cried out in tearful lament, “0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold. your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).
The first Oneness Pentecostal church I entered in 1934 was different in many ways from the Oneness Pentecostal church in which I now worship. The fundamental doctrine is absolutely the same. Acts 2:38 still is strongly recognized as the new birth message. Holiness is still upheld and practiced. But procedure and worship are executed and communicated in a different way. The great patriarch of the Old Testament, David, was said to have “served his own generation”(Acts 13:36). He seemed to have felt responsible for his own generation. To effectively and correctly communicate an unchanging gospel to a changing world is the responsibility of each generation. We live in a stressful world. It is stressed by constant change. However, the flux of all this constitutes a more likely environment for all-out decision making for hungry desperate people.
In 1976 our youth group in Odessa was blessed by the aggressive leadership of Monty Showalter. More than a thousand teenagers would gather on the coliseum parking to teach Friday night. It was a loose, promiscuous, gathering. Drugs, alcohol, and sex were part of the attraction. Brother Showalter led a daring hot-hearted group of young people into the center of the sinful maelstrom on a specially constructed “Gospel Wagon.” In that hellish environment young people knelt, repented of their sins, and received the Holy Ghost, The apostolic church must never forget that God pastured His church hard by the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).
I thank God often for the United Pentecostal Church. I thank God for selfless committed leaders of that time who chose not to hunker in the bunker, but boldly created something better than what we had. I thank God for the vision, the faith, and the courage of the elders of 1945.
Long ago I read of a plaque that hung in a public building in the West. The words inscribed tersely upon it reveal the commitment that settled the West:
“The cowards never started.The weak died by the way. But the brave will find a home in any land.”
I have vivid memories of the daring simplicity of the merger sixty-two years ago. But it is the rising sun of a new day that now smites my fore-head. I would like so much to talk to you about tomorrow.
The article The Merger written by J. T. Pugh is excerpted from Forward Magazine the 2007 September/October edition.