Archive for the ‘Christian Apologetics’ Category
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.
I highly recommend you listen to Dr. James White debating a Hebrew Israelite. This is a subject I have never encountered. I once heard these guys “preaching” on the streets of New York City and when I walked by one of them pointed at me and called me “white devil.” That was my brief encounter with these guys. Their theology is radically off from biblical Christianity as Dr. White clearly shows.
My prayer is that the Church will rise up and answer the Hebrew Israelite movement. They are racist, anti-Christ, and false teachers. They need to be shown their errors and I pray that they repent. As I listened to the above debate, I prayed for God to open this man’s eyes to his sins and that he would be brought to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
I greatly appreciated the end of the debate where Dr. White clearly preaches the gospel. He preaches that Jesus is calling all sinners to repent (Acts 17:30-31) and He will save people from every nation as He has promised (Revelation 5:9-10). The gospel is not just for Jews but for all people (Acts 13:44-52; Ephesians 2).
Charles Dickens opens A Christmas Carol by stating that old Marley was dead and this fact, writes Dickens, must be understood lest anything wonderful is to come of this story. Dickens goes on to say that Marley was as “dead as a doornail.” In other words, Marley was truly dead. The rest of the story would be nothing without this fact.
The same is true of the resurrection of Jesus. Before the empty tomb, there is a cross. Jesus had to die. He had to be truly dead. If Jesus is not dead, the resurrection is not true. The story of the resurrection is only wonderful if Jesus is truly dead.
The Gospel writers go to great lengths to prove that Jesus is dead. Let us just quickly go through how the Gospel writers present the death of Jesus.
- Matthew – Matthew presents Jesus first being scourged by the Romans (Matthew 27:26) which was a violet process of whipping with a whip with bones on the end. Many died at this point as their skin was ripped of their backs and their inner organs were often exposed. Jesus is next taken to the governor’s headquarters were He is mocked and beaten by the soldiers (Matthew 27:27-31). Finally Jesus is led away to be crucified (Matthew 27:32-44) and He finally dies after hanging on the cross for several intense hours (Matthew 27:50). Pilate orders the body of Jesus to be given to Joseph of Arimathea who places Him in his own new tomb (Matthew 27:57-61).
- Mark – After Jesus’ arrest, He is led before the Jewish council where they mock Him and beat Him (Mark 14:53-65). Mark records that the Jews hand Jesus over to Pilate so that He might be killed. Pilate releases Barabbas instead of Christ and has Jesus scourged before His crucifixion (Mark 15:1-15). The Roman soldiers mock Jesus (Mark 15:16-20) before taking Him to crucify Him (Mark 15:21-32). Jesus hangs on the cross for several hours before dying (Mark 15:33-39). Pilate, who is surprised to hear that Jesus is dead already, orders His body to be given to Joseph who buries Him (Mark 15:42-47).
- Luke – Like Mark, Luke records that the Jews mock and beat Jesus (Luke 22:63-65). The Jews condemn Jesus to death (Luke 22:66-71) and bring Him before Pilate (as Jews could not put anyone to death because of the Romans). Pilate sends Jesus before Herod since that is his jurisdiction but Herod mocks Jesus as well (Luke 23:6-12). Pilate releases Barabbas (an insurrectionist and murderer) instead of Jesus (Luke 23:18-25). Jesus is led away to be crucified (Luke 23:26-38). Darkness falls over the land for three hours while Jesus hangs on the cross (Luke 23:44-45). Jesus dies (Luke 23:46). Pilate releases the body of Jesus to Joseph who buries Him (Luke 23:50-56).
- John – After His arrest, Jesus is led before the Jewish rulers who question Him (John 18:12-14). The Jews condemn Jesus and send Him before Pilate (John 18:28-32). Pilate questions Jesus and releases Barabbas instead of Jesus (John 18:33-40). Pilate has Jesus flogged (John 19:1) and the Romans mock Him (John 19:2-5) and the Jews join in with this mockery (John 19:6-16). Jesus is taken and crucified (John 19:17-27). Jesus finally dies after hanging on the cross for several hours (John 19:28-30). Pilate orders the legs to be broken of those on the cross which would ensure their death by suffocation (John 19:31-33). A soldier sees Jesus is dead and to make sure he pierces Jesus’ side (John 19:34). This likely pierced the sack around Jesus’ heart and revealed that He was dead. Jesus is buried by Joseph in his own tomb (John 19:38-42).
All four Gospels reveal that Jesus is dead. People have often come up with various theories about the death of Jesus and most are still with us this day. For example, many Muslims believe the Gnostic theory that Jesus did not die on the cross but it was made to seem that way and many Muslims believe that Judas and not Jesus died on the cross but God made Judas to appear to look like Jesus. This theory is simply false without any historical basis. All four Gospels record that it was Jesus who died on the cross. Even unbelieving historians acknowledge that Jesus died on the cross. It is the resurrection they doubt.
Others teach the “swoon theory” in which Jesus merely passes out. I like the reply J. Vernon McGee gave to a woman about the swoon theory:
A woman wrote J. Vernon McGee, “Our preacher said that on Easter Jesus just swooned on the cross, and the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think?”
McGee replied, “Dear Sister, beat your preacher with a leather whip for thirty-nine heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross. Hang him in the sun for six hours. Run a spear through his heart. Embalm him. Put him in an airless tomb for three days. Then see what happens.”
To be fair. Jesus was not embalmed. Instead, probably about 75 pounds of spices were wrapped with His body to prevent smelling during the decay process (John 19:39-40). Yet still Jesus suffered much and for Him to rise up, take off the 75 pounds, roll away the stone, fight off the Roman guards placed there by Pilate himself, and be clean and in good health when He appears to the women on Sunday morning is a feat unto itself.
The truth is that the Gospels record the death of Jesus. Some suppose He remains dead. I believe with all that is in me that Jesus rose from the dead and He now sits at the right hand of God till His enemies be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1). I believe that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 9:28). I believe that Jesus has conquered death by His resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). I believe that Jesus arose bodily from the dead and He is alive forevermore (Revelation 1:17-18).
Dr. James White often refers to what he calls the “mere Christianity” movement where people try to make Christianity as small as you can make it. In the 2000 years of the Church, orthodoxy has been the standard for what is deemed as Christian. I grant you that at times this has not always been clear and sometimes people made non-essentials as essentials of the gospel. In our day, mere Christianity has come to simply believe that if you affirm Jesus, you are a Christian.
I have been following a blogger for some time who I have seen him drifting this way. His view is that Jesus is what matters yet it seems to me that he does not care what people believe about Jesus so long as they say they love Jesus and desire to follow Him. While this blogger seems to affirm that the Bible is the Word of God (though I’m not sure if he holds to inerrancy or infallibility), he often muddles the water by using the liberal “red letter Christian” mantras. It is as if this blogger makes Jesus someone that we should merely copy (and by that I mean be a hippie and be focused on “peace and love man”). This blogger even has been writing about how he has seen Jesus in a Muslim friend of his and how this Muslim has taught him more about Jesus than many Christians.
This is the mere Christianity movement. There is no focus on the doctrine of Christ nor about His atonement. There is little emphasis placed on His perfection for our salvation. There is nothing said about His death, His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father where He lives to make intercession for the saints. There is nothing said about His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. In fact, mere Christianity makes Jesus just someone that we should copy and imitate to have a better life. Jesus becomes nothing more than a “great teacher” along with other “great teachers.” Jesus’ own declarations are ignored.
I don’t assume that someone is a Christian simply because they name the name of Jesus. Jesus Himself said that many would come in His name (Matthew 24:4-5). John the Beloved wrote that many antichrists had come (1 John 2:18). Antichrists are false christs. Paul the Apostle issued curses on those who preach a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Thus we can see that there are false christs and false gospels.
Not everyone who says Jesus is truly His (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus said that those who are His are those who hear His words and put them into practice, who build their lives on His teachings (Matthew 7:24-27). A disciple of Jesus is one who abides in His teachings (John 8:31-32). This means that the disciple not only reads the Word of God (and not merely the “red letters”) but they study it as well. I study God’s Word to know God, to love Him more and to obey Him better all by His Spirit and His grace.
So many claim Christ but they don’t even know the first thing about Him. They don’t know His Word. They don’t read His Word. They don’t study His Word. They don’t care to study His Word nor do they truly care to know Him because Jesus doesn’t fit our views when we read and study Him. The perfect Son of God is not like us in that He is absolutely perfect, holy, blameless, and His ways are beyond our ways. We seek to imitate Him (1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 John 2:6) but we recognize that He alone is perfect. He is perfect for our salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because He remains forever perfect, He now stands before the Father in our defense (Hebrews 7:22-25). As we abide in Jesus through faith (Romans 5:1; 1 John 2:24-25), we find that He is faithful to wash our sins away (1 John 1:7, 9).
The mere Christianity movement wants to place Jesus among others. Jesus is far above all others (Colossians 1:15-20). Every knee will bow to His glory alone (Philippians 2:5-11). This includes all false teachers, all false prophets, all false religions. Jesus is not equal among others. Jesus is God (John 1:1, 18; Romans 9:5) and He is to be worshiped as God.
The mere Christianity movement has to dethrone Jesus to make Him equal among others. For example, the Muslim view of Jesus is not at all equal with the biblical view. The Quran teaches that Jesus is not God, that He is not even the Son of God. Yes Islam says that Jesus is the Messiah but they deny His divinity and the Quran condemns to hell those who would say that God is a man or has a son. The Quran falsely believes that the doctrine of the Trinity includes Mary. The Quran denies that Jesus died for our sins. Most Muslims believe that Jesus didn’t even die on the cross but rather Allah made someone else to appear as Jesus on the cross such as Judas. While Islam teaches that Jesus will return, they believe that He will return and set up an Islamic kingdom on the earth. The Islamic confession of faith is focused on Mohammad and not on Jesus.
And yet mere Christianity says that since a Muslim claims to love Jesus (the Jesus of the Quran and not the Jesus of the Bible), then they are “saved.” If a Muslim denies the Quran’s teaching on Jesus and embraces the biblical view of Jesus then I would submit that they are not a Muslim but a Christian. Of course, true salvation requires faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38-39; 3:19-20; 17:30-31).
One final point. The mere Christianity movement especially detests evangelism. After all, the evangelist is preaching that Jesus alone saves (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and He alone is our mediator before a holy God (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The evangelist preaches that faith and repentance are necessary for eternal life (Luke 13:5; John 5:24-25; 6:29; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 5:13). This goes against the mere Christian view that all religions are essentially good so long as they love Jesus. It also goes against the postmodern mindset that there is no absolute truth since Jesus Himself claims to be the truth of God (John 14:6). When religious people are confronted with their sins and with the truth of Jesus, they always strike back with a vengeance. I have witnessed this myself. People don’t mind if you preach a peace and love Jesus but the moment you preach that a person must repent, they quickly turn on you. People love Jesus but the Jesus they create in their own images but not the biblical Jesus.
I am often confronted by the biblical Jesus as I read. I am confronted with my sins. I am confronted with my lack of being like Jesus in all I do. I am confronted with how wonderful Jesus truly is and the more that I study Him and the more that I seek Him, the more I find that I am not like Him, that He is God and worthy to be praised, and I will never truly grasp Him in this life. Jesus is simply too wonderful, too mighty, too holy for me to perfectly understand but what I do know is this: He died for my sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18) and He is coming again in glory (2 Timothy 4:1). I long to see Him and worship Him forever. I will continue to preach the biblical Jesus and preach against the false christs of this world.