Arminian Today

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Short Thoughts on Oneness Pentecostalism

I grew up in the Assemblies of God, a Trinitarian Pentecostal group.  I was aware even as a child of the “other” Pentecostals out there who were called “Jesus Only” Pentecostals.  My dad explained them to me once saying that they only believed in Jesus and not in the Father or the Holy Spirit.  That was not entirely true but it was the best he understood.  Over the years I have had very few encounters with Oneness folks.  I visited a Oneness church only twice in my life and both for observation.

The Oneness movement is much older than Oneness Pentecostals like to believe.  They like to believe that God restored the Oneness doctrine of God in 1913-14 with the split from Trinitarian Pentecostals.  The Assemblies of God called the new teaching “the new issue” and rejected the Oneness teachings in 1916.  Many AG pastors left the Assemblies of God over the issue.  The largest Oneness Pentecostal group is the United Pentecostal Church International based out of Hazelwood, Missouri.  The UPC is rejects the historic doctrine of the Trinity and holds to the Oneness doctrine.

The teaching is essentially the old heresy of Sabellianism from the 2nd century.  The teaching is also called Modalism.  Modalism teaches that there is only one God who reveals Himself in different “modes” such as the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.  These three modes are not three persons but rather manifestations of the one true God.  The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus is the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) and that Jesus is the Father and Jesus is the Son and Jesus is the Holy Ghost.  Jesus is all three!  Jesus only is God.  There is no Father who is God nor a Son who is God nor the Spirit who is God but rather there is only one Person in the Godhead and His name is Jesus.  Oneness Pentecostals go to Matthew 28:19 and they see baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and they point out that the Name of God is revealed to us in Acts 2:38 when Peter used the keys given to him by Jesus to preach the truth of the Godhead, that the Name of God is Jesus.  It is this Name (Acts 4:12) that saves us and only those who are baptized in the name of Jesus are truly saved (Romans 6:1-4).

In reality, the Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father who is named Jesus is truly the eternal God.  They would agree with the Arians, that the Son has a beginning in the incarnation (Luke 1:35) and the Son will have an ending (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).  They love to use the word “begotten” in John 3:16 to prove that Jesus the Son was begotten by the Father.  While this is a poor usage of the Greek term here (see the NIV for example here), Oneness Pentecostals have argued effectively to poorly taught Trinitarians about the nature the Son.  They also love to point out that the words “Trinity” nor “God the Son” nor “the Eternal Son” are found in the New Testament and to them, this proves that Jesus as the Son was not eternally the Son of the Father but rather He had a beginning in Bethlehem.

So what do Oneness Pentecostals do with the Lord Jesus in the Gospels where He over and over again refers to “My Father” or “the Father?”  Or what about where Jesus prays to the Father such has in John 17?  Or what about Jesus’ baptism where all three persons (or manifestations in the Oneness mind) appear in Matthew 3:13-17?  They believe that the key to understanding the life of Jesus is to understand that at times He was speaking as the Son and sometimes as God who is the Father.  The Son, they teach, always refers to Jesus’ humanity and not to His divinity.  When the Son is praying or eating or sleeping, He is doing so as the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).  They believe that the Father (who is Jesus as the mighty God) wrapped Himself in flesh (John 1:14, 18) but the Son was not God only He was a man, the Son of God.  So when Jesus was praying, He was praying from His human side to His divine side.  And when Jesus was baptized, God, being God, chose to reveal all three manifestations at the same time which He can do if He wants.  When we read of Jesus now in the presence of God at His right hand such as in Acts 2:34-36 or Hebrews 1:3, this is speaking of Jesus in His human manifestation before the eternal Father who is Jesus the divine side.  To me it is very confusing and doesn’t allow the texts to read freely but nonetheless Oneness Pentecostals believe this is the key to reading and studying and understanding the Bible.  It is their own unique hermeneutic if you will.

Oneness Pentecostals use three major texts to prove that Jesus is God the Father.  First, they read Isaiah 9:6 and believe that the words “eternal Father” are referring to the Father.  Secondly, they point to John 10:30 and point out that Jesus Himself here says that He and the Father are one.  Third, they point to John 14:9 where Jesus answers Philip and says that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.

Time doesn’t permit me to answer the entire charges here and to be fair, Oneness Pentecostal have other texts they turn to prove their doctrine.  In short, Isaiah 9:6 is not speaking of necessarily titles of the Lord Jesus.  Nowhere in the New Testament are these titles worked out though they are true of Him.  The concept of God as our Father is not fully developed in the Old Testament though spoken of a few times.  Yet here the understanding could be “Father of eternity” in that the One to be born (Isaiah 7:14) is from ancient times (Micah 5:2).  Jesus is eternal and thus He is the Father of eternity but this doesn’t mean that He is the Father.  Secondly, the Greek text of John 10:30 is clear that Jesus is not speaking of unipersonal but essence when He says that He and the Father are one.  The Greek says, “One we are.”  There are very specific Greek words John could have used to show us that Jesus is the Father but instead He uses a Greek phrase that simply makes Jesus of the same kind as the Father.  Third, even Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe that when Jesus the Man was saying to Philip that if he’d seen Him, he’d seen the Father that they were seeing at that very moment the Father.  Oneness Pentecostals hold that the Father is a spirit and invisible to us (Colossians 1:15) but instead Jesus is saying that when the Apostles saw Jesus, they were seeing God the Father in that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.  Not once in the New Testament does Jesus ever say that He is the Father though He refers to His Father or the Father or My Father hundreds of times.

Finally, a word about the Oneness view of salvation.  This is the key for me.  Oneness Pentecostals teach that a person must believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, be baptized in water by immersion “in the name of Jesus” for the forgiveness of sins, and then must receive the infilling of the Holy Ghost by the initial, physical evidence of speaking in tongues.  A person is not justified by faith alone in the Oneness mind.  A person must do all the above to be saved.  Now sometimes in the Oneness church, a person will get the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues before being baptized in Jesus’ name but they point to Acts 10:43-48 as proof that this is okay.

Also it’s not enough to just believe in Jesus, be baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Ghost with evidence of tongues, one must also live a holy life till the end lest they “lose their salvation.”  Holiness includes the holiness codes set up by many Oneness churches including women wearing dresses, not cutting their hair, no makeup or jewelry, and men must be clean-shaven, short hair, avoid alcohol and tobacco and live a holy life.  It is amounts to works-righteousness though Oneness folks will argue that they do it with joy.

In closing, Oneness Pentecostals are nice folks but being nice is not the standard of truth.  The Word of God is the final authority and they would agree.  I have been meeting a Oneness pastor from time to time to talk theology and he is a bright, loving man.  He wants me to accept him merely because he loves Jesus.  That, he says, should unite us.  But I disagree.  I am not mean to him but the Jesus he says that he worships and loves is the not the Jesus of the Bible.  I know that hurts but its true.  The Jesus he says that he worships is not the same as the Jesus I worship.  He believes that since Oneness Pentecostals speak in tongues the same as Trinitarian Pentecostals speak in tongues, this must prove that God accepts them both despite someone being wrong about the Godhead. He also believes that since Oneness Pentecostals teach and preach that Jesus is God, what is the big deal?

There are obviously many errors.  For just one.  Consider the atonement.  In Oneness theology the saving work of Christ is not God dying in my place, standing condemned for my sins.  Instead, we have the Father wrapped in flesh but not really a man.  Instead Jesus only appears as a man but the true Jesus is still the eternal Father.  In other words, the divine payment for our sins is not payed by the Lord God but instead by a mere man albeit a perfect one because the Father was inside of the man.  The payment is not God redeeming us through the divine Son but instead it is the human Jesus paying the penalty for our sins to the Father Jesus.  How weird.  In Trinitarian theology, the second person of the holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus, bears our sins on the cross and redeems us from the holy wrath of God.  God is truly in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) because the Son is offering His life for our sins to the glory of the Father who sent Him into the world (John 3:16).

Over even consider Jesus is our high priest who offers Himself before the Father to pray for us sinners (Hebrews 4:14-15).  Hebrews 7:22-28 speaks of Jesus being our high priest before the Father.  Jesus, as our faithful high priest, offered Himself to God (Hebrews 9:24-28) and He now sits at the Father’s right hand to ever live to pray for us.  In Oneness theology, Jesus as the Father hears Jesus the flesh (the Son) when we pray to Him.  In Trinitarian theology, the text is allowed to speak for itself: Jesus the Son prays for us sinner before the holy Father.  Jesus is truly our high priest in every since of the word.  A time will come when this will end at the consummation of the ages but this doesn’t mean that Jesus will cease to be the Son of God nor will He cease to reign as our Savior (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

And I could write much more.  I have gone too long.  I close by simply pointing out that Oneness Pentecostals fall short of the truth of Scripture.  While I admire them for their zeal and for holding to monotheism and to the authority of the Bible, I find much of their theology lacking.  I pray that God will help us, as biblical Trinitarians, to know what we believe about God and why the Trinity is not an optional doctrine.  The Trinity is vital.

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  1. Full and, in my opinion, fair treatment of Oneness Pentecostalism. A few years ago my family and I considered them when we were working through Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” and I posted reports on our discussion at my blog. Here are links to the posts, the first on Sabellianism and the second on Oneness Pentecostalism:
    https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/the-trinity-modalism-part-1/
    https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/the-trinity-modalism-part-2/

    Bob Hunter

    03/10/2017 at 11:40 PM


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