The United Pentecostal Church
By. Fred J. Foster
The various events of the years following the Oneness twentieth-century advent into organizational effort would naturally develop into resolute feelings for a united endeavor to proclaim the Biblical message.
The mutually strong love for the Biblical truths of the fullness of the Godhead in Christ and baptism in the name of Jesus were a constant source of drawing these people together. Oneness adherents readily admit that many who have come into the movement have not appreciated the value of the message as fully as others, but emphasize that most converts have ardently loved the truth. It was this holding to beliefs not generally accepted or fully valued by the multitudes that caused a oneness of feeling and affections of kinship toward people of like precious faith.
It was in the year 1939; the place, Houston, Texas. An automobile driven by O. F. Fauss was headed in the direction of the depot, and in the back seat sat two men, deeply engrossed in conversation. Fauss remembers the meeting well and, speaking of it, said, “W. T. Witherspoon, General Chairman of the P.A. of J.C., was preaching for me here in Houston, and I thought it would be a good idea, since the P.C.I. headquarters were located here, to get Brother Witherspoon and the General Superintendent of the P.C.I., H. A. Goss, together for a visit. So, while taking Brother Witherspoon to the train depot, I stopped by the P.C.I. office and invited Brother Goss to accompany me to see Brother Witherspoon off. ” (l)
Fauss remembered, with a twinkle in his eye, that this short visit between these two influential leaders helped cement strengthening ties between them, and thus to bring their two divergent churches closer together.
THE ST. LOUIS CONFERENCE
In late September, 1944, the General Conference of the P.A. of J.C. was convening in Pastor Walter S. Guinn’s White Way Tabernacle in St. Louis, Missouri. Harry Branding, an honored leader of the P.C.I., who also pastored another thriving church in the city, visited in this convention. Knowing Fauss had quite a lot of influence, he approached him with the idea of a merger. His words were, “Why not get together?” He told Fauss that if the P.A. of J.C. would pass some kind of legislation toward it, he would use all the power he had to accomplish the same end in the next conference of the P.C.I.
This made Fauss extremely happy, and he, along with others, set the machinery to rolling. The resolution committee reported to the convention on September 30, and under the able guidance of General Chairman W. T. Witherspoon, the conference, after strong questioning, many doubts and close observation, passed a resolution extending an invitation to the P.C.I. for a meeting with the officials of the P.A. of J.C.
Action on this resolution caused a sudden wave of speculation and questioning, but for the most part it was enthusiastically received, and the P.A. of J.C. began looking forward to the P.C.I. conference, less than a month from that time.
THE JONESBORO, ARKANSAS CONFERENCE
News travels fast, but not all the delegates to the Jonesboro conference knew of the P.A. of J.C. invitation. Talk of such a union had smoldered for years, but definite action to consider was a surprising factor at this convention being held in Bible Hour Tabernacle (pastored by T. Richard Reed), and presided over by the General Superintendent, H. A. Goss.
As ministers and delegates from various parts of the country began arriving, the invitation immediately became the foremost point of conversation. Everything became secondary in the face of such a possibility.
When finally the resolution was presented for acceptance of the invitation from the officials of the two church groups to meet for an exploratory session, it had already been pretty thoroughly discussed, pro and con. Now on the floor it received close scrutiny also. As was the prior feeling in the P.A. of J.C. conference, it was the generally accepted sentiment that nothing could be lost by a meeting such as this, and always the great possibility loomed that this could be one of the best things that could happen.
“On October 27, a resolution was duly adopted to accept the invitation from the P.A. of J.C., and authorizing a committee of officials to meet with the officials of the P.A. of J.C. to discuss the terms of agreement.” (2)
HINDRANCES TO SUCH A MERGER
There were many strong ties between these two churches which would have a natural tendency to draw them together. These were discussed often, and always led individuals in both churches to sentimentally long for some type of co-operative effort.
On the other hand, there were other feelings between them that had succeeded in dividing them, when most of the older ones came out of the P.A.W. in 1924, and had kept them apart up until this time.
THE NEW BIRTH QUESTION
Back in the late teens and mid twenties, there arose two different beliefs concerning the essentially of water baptism in the name of Jesus. Some believed it to be an essential element in the new birth, while others, believing it to be Bible truth, did not believe it to be essential to a new birth experience.
Either side of the question would bring them to a belief of who would make up the bride of Christ? Those who took the stand for the essentiality of water baptism naturally were persuaded that only those who had obeyed the complete Acts 2:38 plan could be ready as the bride to go in the rapture of the church. Those who did not take this position felt that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was the essential ingredient needed, and that all people, whether Oneness or not, who had received this experience, would make the rapture.
The above paragraph presents the general idea in the divergent opinion concerning Bible salvation. Other doctrinal points contributed to a difference of feeling also. The “light” message was held by many, and in this it was believed that God required of you, concerning the new birth, only according to the amount of light which had been revealed to you. Repentance was all right if the light on water baptism in Jesus’ name and Spirit baptism with the initial sign of speaking in tongues had not as yet been seen. The requirement was that as light was revealed, it must be accepted and walked in.
Holiness standards concerning modest attire and worldly pleasures were other points of differences in some localities too, but the major point of distinction at this time was over the new birth question. The word “compromiser” was very loosely thrown around in those days, and was used against almost anyone who did not see things quite so strongly as the other person involved.
As a whole, the P.A. of J.C. took a firmer stand on the new birth; and while the P.C.I. did not take as strong a stand, there was a large segment in their church that believed similarly as the P.A. of J.C. majority.
WHAT WAS THE ANSWER
These were the dividing lines, and how to work them out was the big question. But it turned out that this was not to be as difficult as first believed. After pursuing several involved areas, general agreement began materializing.
Inge said, “The wise man is he who knows the relative value of things.” (3) So it was that this capacity to see the value of harmoniously striving for the same end, would develop into one of the leading factors of merger.
All believed that the Acts 2:38 message must be propagated to the ends of the earth. All believed this could best be done with the joint effort of the two churches. All believed, because God was with them, that they could work together so the world could be touched with the Oneness message. With these noble ideals in mind, they began their approach to the other problems.
AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY
What about this new birth problem? What about the holiness ideas? These serious issues must be faced, and wisely they must be considered. As each organization began its close scrutiny of the other, it was discovered by the majority what others had known and seen for some time: that there were people and beliefs in the* own group on a comparative line with those in the other group. If they could fellowship those in their own organization, why couldn’t they show the same brotherly respect to those in the other? If they would accept them in the fellowship they were already a part of, why couldn’t they somehow find a way to do the same to godly men from the other church?
These were questions they pondered, long and hard’ recognizing that so much depended on their ability, as men of God, to answer these questions properly. The future depended upon the decision that eventually would come from this thinking. Young preachers, some just beginning their ministries, while others were yet “growing on the vine,” would be affected all their lives by the resultant agreement or disunity. These were essentially the considerations pondered deeply by all concerned.
THE SUMMIT MEETING
The spring of 1945 was to be a time of vast importance. The meeting of the officials of both organizations was to be convened, and the momentous discussion of merger would envelop them. The future of many thousands of people hinged upon what would come out of these discussions. Thousands of souls yet to be won in subsequent years would be affected by the events breaking forth from this vital summit meeting of Pentecostal ecclesiastical leaders.
Representing the P.A. of J.C. were W. T. Witherspoon, General Chairman; Stanley R. Hanby, General Secretary-Treasurer; and O. F. Fauss. Representing the P.C.I. were Howard A. Goss, General Superintendent; Oscar Vouga, General Secretary-Treasurer, and B. H. Hite.
Witherspoon, Goss and Fauss have already had an introduction to this history, but Hanby, Vouga and Hite are newly thrust upon the scene. They were not strangers on the Pentecostal scene, however, as each had labored diligently in the past, and from that faithful service had been called upon to shoulder the heavy responsibility they carried into this meeting. Later in the merged United Pentecostal Church, Vouga would become an Assistant General Superintendent and then the Director of Foreign Missions. Hanby would later become the first Director of Home Missions. Hite did not live long after the union of the two churches, but was to have an honored place in formulating the merger. He was a former General Superintendent of the P.C.I.
The meeting was held in the city of St. Louis at the Milner Hotel in 1945. Some apprehension was felt on both sides, as feelings had been expressed that nothing could be acceptably worked out between them, so a tenseness was in the atmosphere. After some time of deliberation, with seemingly not too much accomplished, Hanby stood and asked a simple question which seemed to clear the air and pave the way to thinking along the same lines expressed in both churches’ General Conferences.
His question was, “Do you really want to unite? Is there actually a desire for a merger of our two churches?” Stunned, the brethren plunged deeply into the question, for inspiration of the past which had given each of them aspirations for such a move, had brought them to this place of contemplation.
THE FUNDAMENTAL DOCTRINE
Hearts began to warm, and the lofty ideals of past discussions began throbbing again. Seemingly a fierce determination gripped each of them to see this through. The old adage, “Where there is a will there
is a way,” became uppermost.
Finally Witherspoon retired to a private room for awhile with pen and paper, coming out shortly with the Fundamental Doctrine Statement, which all immediately seized upon as from the Lord. It read, “The basic and fundamental doctrine of this organization shall be the Bible standard of full salvation, which is repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.
“We shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of the faith, at the same time admonishing all brethren that they shall not contend for their different views to the disunity of the body.” (4)
It was fully agreed that this should be acceptable to all as a declaration for Oneness people everywhere. A feeling of victory permeated the room now, and carried on into other discussions upon serious angles to be worked out suitably.
THE NEW NAME
The question of a name was to take some time, because everyone recognized that “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” (5) Several names were presented, with each receiving its due regard. Someone presented the question: would it be better to get away from the word Pentecostal? This was thoroughly gone into, with the final verdict falling that the word Pentecostal must stay. All these years they had been known as Pentecostals, with most of the Oneness organizations they had been associated with identifying themselves with that particular name. The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, The Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and The Pentecostal Church Incorporated had all used this name, and propagated it far and wide.
Then someone mentioned the word “United.” All that they were endeavoring to accomplish was wrapped up in the one word, and it began getting a hold on each of them. Suddenly Hite stood, and tremblingly began to speak. He was overcome with emotion. Sitting here these hours, deliberating upon such a noble work, and now this word “United” injected at such an opportune time! He could not keep the tears back, and with tear-glistened cheek, his large arm slowly rising and falling, over and over he repeated this magical word, “United! United! United!”
As one man, all those in the room caught the spirit of this oration, and soon all were humbled by the feeling of a united Pentecostal church. Openly there was weeping, for all knew they probably were participating in one of the most important moments of the* lives.
There was no question now about any of the deliberations of the past few hours and various meetings prior to this. A united Pentecostal church it must be, and what could be a grander name than that. It was then decided that they would recommend the new organization to be called the United Pentecostal Church. This name was destined to be carried into the far reaches of the earth.
The General Conferences of the two organizations were to meet simultaneously in St. Louis, the latter part of September, 1945. They were to convene in separate locations to ratify the terms of the merger, and then come together for their first sessions as a united body.
In the meantime, a committee was appointed to harmonize the Manual. They were to prepare this agreement of the Articles of Faith and Constitution to be presented at these conventions for ratification. Those chosen from the P.C.I. were Goss and Vouga, and those on this committee from the P.A. of J.C. were Fauss and Ermin Bradley. These men worked seriously on this most important aspect of this genesis of harmony between these two churches. Finally they were ready to read the
fruit of these hours of work.
Pastor Guinn’s church was again the site of the P.A. of J.C. conference. The P.C.I. was to meet in the spacious Kiel Auditorium. Then, when both churches ratified the merger, they were to come together for their first joint sessions in this auditorium.
Coming together in the same confines of the last General Conference, the P.A. of J.C. tackled the task before them. Soon, after hearing all the recommended propositions of the merger, they voted to ratify all the terms, and made preparation to move to the site of the initial meeting of the United Pentecostal Church.
Down in Kiel Auditorium anticipation was running high also. The P.C.I. felt a little lost in the vastness of this large building, but knew that if all went well, the new organization would shortly be filling to capacity and overflowing this hall, and others similar to it across the nation from year to year.
All did go well, as they too ratified all the terms of merger, and now awaited the coming of the others of their newly-organized church. Thus the birth of the United Pentecostal Church came to pass.
THE FIRST MEETING OF THE UNITED PENTECOSTAL CHURCH
The first gathering of this new church was held September 25, 1945. Brethren who had prayed desperately for such a union now rejoiced as they greeted one another. Tears were openly seen as men fell upon each other’s shoulders, weeping with joy at the* newly-found fellowship, and considering the prospects of the future. They were wise enough to know that many problems of adjustment would arise, but knew also that the strength derived from coming together would override any such disappointments. A sense of profound anticipation was felt throughout the united meeting.
“The first business session of the merged organization was held on Tuesday, September 25, 1945.”6 This was to be the election of officers, and it was natural that each mind was questioning itself on who these would be. “The following were elected: Howard A. Goss, General Superintendent; W. T. Witherspoon, Assistant General Superintendent; Stanley W. Chambers, General Secretary-Treasurer; T. R. Dungan, Assistant General Secretary-Treasurer; and Wynn T. Stairs, Foreign Missionary Secretary.” (7)
The conference lasted 2 days after the merger, and was a definite success, with almost all feeling new energy to take back to their respective places of labor. There were, by this merger, approximately 1,800 ministers and 900 churches combined for Biblical Oneness propagation. This was to grow considerably in the two decades that brings its history to the present moment.
1 Private interview with O.F. Fauss, April 9, 1964.
3 William Ralph Inge, “New Dictionary of Thoughts,” p. 728.
4 Manual, United Pentecostal Church, 1964, p. 19.
5 Proverbs 22:1
6 Letter from S. W. Chambers, General Secretary-Treasurer United Pentecostal Church.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM 20th CENTURY PENTECOSTALS AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1980, PAGES 140-152. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.