Archive for the ‘poor theology’ 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.
When I was a boy, I was raised in the Assemblies of God. My family attended an AG church that was miles from us and we would wake up on Sunday mornings and drive over an hour to church. We did it twice on Sunday and then again on Wednesday evening. Eventually they planted an AG church on our side of town and we ceased driving that far.
In those days, our AG churches were clearly AG. Every AG church had the name “Assembly of God” somewhere in their name. Whether it was Airport Assembly of God, Trinity Assembly of God, Calvary Assembly of God, Northeast Christian Assembly of God, etc., the name “Assembly of God” was incorporated into the church. I remember the first AG church to not use “AG” in their name (Christian Outreach Center) and it was controversial to say the least. I remember hearing people say that COC was compromising and they were moving away from being Pentecostal.
Fast forward to today. In my city there are about 10 AG churches. Only two have the AG name. COC is gone but after COC, other churches begin to drop the AG name. This moved started in the late 1990’s when Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church was making its rounds among AG pastors. Soon they too were dropping the AG name in favor of “community church” names or just “Trinity Church.”
Now in fairness, I don’t think they all did this to be popular. Some would still gladly claim to be AG while not using AG in their names. Some were pragmatic and did see the “community church” movement and jumped in. I see it a different way and I’ll explain in this post.
First, in the late 1990’s there were two “moves” among the AG churches I was familiar with. There was the revival movement coming out from Brownsville Assembly in Pensacola, FL. Many thought Brownsville would drop the AG name or even leave the Assemblies of God altogether but they never did and still remain to this day in the AG with the name “Brownsville Assembly of God.” The Brownsville revival died out around 2002 and the other stream took over. This was the Rick Warren stream. Warren had even been invited to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the first non-Pentecostal speaker ever to the Assemblies of God. Warren did not know it but he became the chief of church growth to many in the AG churches. I still remember pastors at AG ministers meetings I would attend in those days all boasting about reading and implementing Warren’s purpose driven styles. Some AG pastors I knew were even following Warren’s preaching style to the point of wearing Hawaiian shirts like Warren did. They dropped preaching out of the King James Version in favor of the New Living Translation because of Warren.
Secondly, this led to churches uniting around methodology and not theology. When I was a boy, the Assemblies of God were clearly Pentecostal churches. Our church was very Pentecostal in the worship and in the preaching. I remember talking to my father about the Baptist or Presbyterian churches and he would tell me they were indeed Christians but they didn’t know much about the Holy Ghost. Pentecostal theology was vital. I still remember hearing a Pentecostal pastor preach, “I fear the day when we will be Pentecostal in theology but not experience.” At every turn, Pentecostal theology was taught and emphasized. When a person got saved at our church, they were baptized in water and they told to seek God for the Holy Ghost. The wording might be wrong but they clearly knew their theology even if you don’t agree.
Fast forward to today. Most AG churches I am familiar with no longer emphasize doctrine at all. In fact, doctrine is often avoided at all costs. I personally have had an AG pastor tell me that theology does not matter. He felt doctrine was not livable and so he wanted to preach “life application sermons” rather than theology to his church. Where does this come from? Rick Warren!
I had another AG pastor friend who was going to plant an AG church. What did he do? In the old days, the AG’s would set up a tent and have the preacher hold tent meetings. This would usually draw small crowds at first and the preacher would preach on the need of the people to be saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost. Those who came and got saved or baptized in the Spirit were then included in the new church plant. The preacher would work until the church could support him (most stayed bi-vocational their entire lives). Now AG church planters usually get some money from the District and plant the church. They will attend numerous church growth conferences to learn the latest gimmicks to church growth. Gone are the days of fasting and prayer (though they say they still pray). In my friends case, he traveled to all sorts of churches many of them non-AG to learn their gimmicks. At one point I asked him (after he traveled to a large seeker church in the West) why he would want to learn from them since they are theological different than the AG’s? He replied, “Because they are growing and we can learn from them.” The bottom line is this: growth is desire and whoever is growing is who we look to. Theology is not the issue. Prayer and preaching is not the issue. Pragmatism is.
Now my point here is not to boaster the Assemblies of God. I have no dog in the fight. I am simply observing the church world from the bleachers. I understand the desire of pastors to be full-time. I was there. I am thankful I am not now. The pressure to grow your church (and yes its viewed as “your” church) is immense. Rather than learning how to preach, how to pray, how to fast, how to evangelize, etc. the emphasis is on the latest gimmicks to get people in the door. My friend above who planted an AG church uses every gimmick you can imagine from dropping Easter eggs from helicopters (thanks to Steven Furtick for that gimmick) to offering free movie tickets to attendees to giving away a new car. All gimmicks designed to get people in the door. Once they are there, he preaches goofy sermon series’ designed to “get them hooked to church.” Sin, repentance, holiness, even AG doctrines such as the baptism in the Spirit are not emphasized. Their “worship”service is am emotional rollercoaster full of sappy love songs to Jesus and make you feel like your a 14 year old at a junior high school dance rather than church. And my friend has one goal: numbers. It’s all about the growth. His mentors are all seeker sensitive pastors and he idolizes men such as Perry Noble and Andy Stanley.
Go back 50 years and not one AG pastor would have listened to a Perry Noble or Andy Stanley. Why? Because they were not Pentecostals! Pentecostals only listened to Pentecostals in those days. The attitude was that Pentecostals have the baptism in the Holy Ghost and Baptists do not.
Some see all of this “unity” as good. I don’t. Again, I’m not arguing for Pentecostal theology. In many ways, my theology is more Wesleyan now than Pentecostal. I still love Pentecostal people and while I do see theological errors among them (mainly among those who claim Pentecostal such as those in the Word-Faith camp), I would not classify myself as Pentecostal. What I see taking place is not unity around the gospel. I see unity around methods. John MacArthur warned that churches today are uniting around methodology and not theology. I agree. The lines are not blurred between the distinctives of the Pentecostal movement and those in the Baptist churches. Yet it is not theological unity that is taking place. It is emotional experiences that are unifying them.
There is no doubt that Jesus prayed for unity of His body in John 17:22-23. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul the Apostle emphasized unity in theology. The people of God are unified who have been saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:14-21). Jesus is Head over His Church (Colossians 1:15-20). Jesus also knows those who are His own (John 10:27; 2 Timothy 2:19). Unity in the local church must be around theology. We must know what we believe and speak the same beliefs. Obviously, as sinful humans, we are not perfect in our understanding and we all need correction. This is why we need the church. The church helps us to know what we believe and maintain that belief through faithfulness and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). The elders of the church help us to obtain this unity by teaching us the Word of God (Ephesians 4:11-16). Doctrine does matter (1 Timothy 4:16).
The balance of all this is to have both sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and sound experiences. I don’t want to go to church to hear a theological lecture every time. We need a balance of sound doctrine with practical living. Notice this is how Paul taught in his epistles. He would teach theology and how to put it into practice. For example, Ephesians is six chapters. The first three chapters of Ephesians are theological in nature. The last three are application in nature. Our theology transforms our lives for better or for worst. This is why Paul would issue such a condemnation as in Galatians 1:6-9 over the issue of the gospel. Without sound doctrine, the gospel is lost. Salvation is gone. The Lordship of Jesus is robbed. Life is hopeless.
My friends, I urge you to pray for the Church of Jesus Christ. Pray for God to show us the need for sound doctrine. Pray for the Lord to us godly elders who are not leading for gain but for the love of Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5). Peter the Apostle wrote in 1 Peter 4:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” I want all this for myself and the church of God.
May the Lord be glorified in and among His Church!
There are those who want to deny that Jesus is God. They teach that only the Father is God and that He alone is one true and living God but Jesus is just a man, albeit an anointed man used by God and even the Messiah but certainly not divine. These groups will often claim that they hold that Jesus is the true Messiah and that He was born of the virgin Mary by the power of God but they deny that He was God or even claimed to be God. Some of them believe Jesus was the Son of God but not eternally existent with the Father and distinct from the Father in any way. The Oneness Pentecostals, for example, deny that the Son of God is eternal but rather that He came to exist in Bethlehem (Luke 1:35; Galatians 4:4).
You’ll find many of the Hebrews Roots Movement teachers denying that Jesus is God. They hold to modalism but only that Yahweh is God but not Yeshua. They teach that Jesus is the Messiah but He was not God nor did He claim to be God. They view Jesus as anointed by Yahweh and the servant of Yahweh but He is not Yahweh and He is not divine. Jesus is our example, a mighty prophet of God, the Messiah sent by Yahweh, but Jesus is not divine in their teachings. They believe this protects the monotheism of Judaism and does not elevate a man above Yahweh.
Others teach, like the Oneness Pentecostals but in different terms, that the Father alone is God. They point out the word of Jesus in such passages as Mark 12:29-30 or John 20:17. It seems that Jesus is giving honor to the Father and alone to the Father thus He is not claiming equality with God nor is claiming to receive worship but He is pointing others to the Father who alone is God.
Let us briefly examine these claims.
Jesus Is Assigned Old Testament Designations of Yahweh.
When we compare the Old Testament texts with their New Testament fulfillment in Christ, we see that Jesus is indeed Yahweh. Consider Matthew 1:23 from Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 3:3 with Isaiah 40:3; John 3:31 with Psalm 97:9; John 12:38-41 with Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1; Acts 3:14 with 1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Corinthians 1:30 with Isaiah 43:24 and Jeremiah 23:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:8 with Psalm 24:7-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10 with Ecclesiastes 12:14; Ephesians 4:7-8 with Psalm 68:18; Philippians 2:9-11 with Isaiah 45:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 with Isaiah 2:10-19; Titus 2:13 with Hosea 1:7; Hebrews 1:8-9 with Psalm 45:6-7; Hebrews 13:20 with Isaiah 40:10-11; 1 Peter 3:15 with Isaiah 8:13; Revelation 1:17 with Isaiah 44:6.
Jesus Is Superior to Men and Angels.
Jesus is above men and angels. He is not part of them. The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is Michael from the Old Testament. The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus the Son is but a man and not the eternal God. The Hebrews Roots Movement teaches that Jesus is a great prophet and even the Messiah of God but He is not God but is part of God’s creation. Consider these texts: John 1:17; Ephesians 1:19-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:17-18; Colossians 2:10; Hebrews 1:4-6, 13; Hebrews 2:5-8; Hebrews 3:3; 1 Peter 3:21-22; Revelation 1:5.
Jesus Receives Prayer, Praise, and Worship.
How can Jesus receive prayer, praise, and worship if He is not God? This would violate the clear teachings of the Old Testament that forbids the people of God from praying to anyone but Yahweh (see Deuteronomy 4:39; 5:7-9; 13:1-5; Isaiah 43:11; 44:6-8; 45:22; etc.). The Bible is clear that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and there are no other gods. So if Jesus received prayer, praise, and worship and He is not God, then men are praying, praising, and worshiping a man (even an exalted man by Yahweh but Yahweh alone is to receive worship). This would be utter blasphemy (as Muslims point out) if Jesus is just a prophet, just a created being, even just the Messiah. If Jesus is not God, why pray to Him or praise Him or worship Him? This would be sinful. Yet Scripture is clear that people did pray, praise, and worshipped Him:
Acts 3:16; 7:59-60; 22:16; Romans 1:7; 10:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9; Galatians 1:3-5; 6:18; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:10-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 1:2, 12; 2 Timothy 4:18, 23; Hebrews 1:6; 13:20-21; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 5:14; 7:9-10; 15:3-4.
Consider the strong words of Matthew 28:17, “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” The Apostles worshiped Jesus? These faithful Jewish men worshiped the Jewish Jesus.
One cannot read the New Testament and see that Jesus is distinct from His Father. He speaks of His Father, prays to His Father, and says that He has come to do the will of His Father. Jesus said that His food “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Jesus said that He does not nothing by His own initiative but He only spoke the things as His Father taught Him (John 8:28). Jesus said that He proceeds from the Father to do the Father’s will (John 8:42).
And on and on it goes. The Lord Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God, equal with the Father (John 10:30) but He is never said to be the Father. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet the Bible affirms that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:4-6). 1 Corinthians 8:6 has stumbled some but John MacArthur writes:
Paul repeats the truth that there is but one God. He is the one from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. There is only one true God. He has come to us in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, and we are brought to the Father through the divine Son. Everything comes from the Father, and all believers exist for the Father. Everything is by the Son, and everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Son. This is a powerful and clear affirmation of the equality of essence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 8:6, rather than denying the Lordship and exaltation and deity of Jesus Christ, actually makes Him equal with the Father.
In Hebrews 1:2 tells us that God the Father made the world through the Lord Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 1:3 it is Jesus who upholds the universe by His Word. In Hebrews 1:8 the Father says about the Son that He is God. In Hebrews 1:10 we read that Jesus is Yahweh (see Psalm 102:25-27).
So the question is whether Jesus is His own Father? The Oneness Pentecostals and other modalists insist that Jesus as the Son is less than the Father and that the Father alone is truly the eternal God. The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Ghost. In Oneness teachings, Jesus is God but He alone is God and God is unipersonal (meaning that there is only one Person in the Godhead; Colossians 2:9). Trinitarians teach that there is only one God but we believe in three persons (unitarian versus trinitarian). I reject the Oneness view that Jesus is His own Father. I find nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jesus is His own Father nor can one find a passage without extreme twisting.
The closest text we have is Isaiah 9:6. Oneness Pentecostals will quickly quote this verse when defending the idea that the Father is Jesus and Jesus is the Father. They teach that one of the titles of the Lord Jesus would be “eternal Father.” Yet Oneness Pentecostals are alone in their unique view of Isaiah 9:6. The titles found in Isaiah 9:6 are part of who Jesus would be. He would be like a wonderful counselor. Jesus would be the mighty God. Jesus would be like an eternal Father speaking of HIs Fatherly role as our Redeemer, and He would be the Prince of Peace. These are not offices Jesus would be fulfilling but titles He would take upon Himself.
Consider this: does the New Testament ever say that Jesus is the Father or the Father is Jesus?
The Oneness view destroys so many precious doctrines. The Person of Jesus suffers. One has to read the New Testament with a weird “key” of trying to figure out if Jesus is speaking as the Father (as God) or as a man (as the Son). The sacrifice of Jesus is not infinite in its value because Jesus is just a man who is dying on the cross for our sins rather than God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14). The nature of true love is lost because the Lord Jesus is but a created being of the Father (who alone is God). Prayer suffers as we pray to Jesus (the Father, the eternal God) in the name of Jesus (the Son, the flesh but not God) rather than seeing that Jesus is God the Son praying for the saint before the throne of God the Father through the power of God the Spirit.
In closing, let me state that as I write this I am listening to a oneness Pentecostal preacher preaching. Ironically, he is shouting over and over again that Jesus is God, that Jesus alone is God, and that there is no God but Jesus. Yet he is borrowing from a trinitarian presupposition by borrowing our language to speak of God. He speaks of the Father and he preaches about praying in the name of Jesus and worshiping God through Jesus but all of this involves having to “split” Jesus up. The oneness Pentecostal must borrow from the trinitarian view to make their theology work but they then must hate the Trinity lest they be a trinitarian (which condemns the sinner). They must speak of Jesus as a unipersonal being with dual personalities (at least while on earth).
I rejoice in the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a precious doctrine. The Trinity makes sense of the Bible and helps us to see the infinite value of the atonement of Christ. Further, the work of sanctification in the disciple is enhanced by understanding that the entire Trinity is involved not just in my salvation but in my sanctification. I worship God and rejoice that He is wonderful and worthy.
There was a time when Bible teachers would find theology dripping on every page. Great truths of the Word of God ranging from theology proper (God) to other forms of biblical theology were the focus. Sermons (even open air sermons) were focused on theology and how we can learn about God from the text. After all, the Bible was given to us to reveal the Lord Jesus (John 20:31; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21).
Yet today I find that modern evangelicalism is finding psychiatric help on every page of the Bible. Sermon series are now designed around how we can not learn about God or about sound doctrine but about “life lessons” from the text. In the passion for “real and relevancy” to the masses, the church has abandoned looking for God on every page to looking for psychiatric help on every page. Churches take stories from the lives of saints such as Moses or Elijah and make them fit into this psychiatric flow so that now we can read the story of Moses or Daniel or Paul and we can learn how God wants us to have an awesome life too. God just wants to bless our socks off and He wants to teach how to have a great marriage, how to be a better person, five steps to a new me, ten steps to raising godly children. The entire focus seems to be on making us all better now that we come to realize that our biggest struggle isn’t sin but self-esteem and so God’s Word helps me see myself as God sees me.
The entire focus of the church service seems to flow toward that one goal: to make a new me. The songs are focused on my dating relationship with God (with no thought if the song is biblical or not). The prayers are for those who had a tough week and need grace just to make it through. The sermons are focused on my felt needs and what I need to hear from God to make me a better person.
And tossed out is the gospel. Tossed out is sound doctrine. Stop and ponder this for a moment: when was the last time you heard a sound theological sermon at your church? When was the last time you heard the church teaching on the holiness of God? On sin? On justification by faith? When was the last time you heard a sermon on the Trinity? What about a sound theology of prayer? When was the last time you heard someone defending the deity of Christ from the pulpit by looking to the Word of God?
Instead we get sermons focused not on God proper but upon how God can help us. Even salvation is summed up with “the sinner’s prayer” or altar calls. Salvation as a doctrine is not examined.
We must get back to glorifying God in our teaching. I rejoice that not every church is like the above. Most I know of are. Theology is vital because what we think about God shows in our actions (Psalm 14). 1 Timothy 4:16 is a key text as is John 8:31-32. To merely claim to know God but not truly know God is foolishness (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Wisdom begins in fearing God (Proverbs 1:7) but the user-friendly god we find preached today is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible has a wonderful plan for your life: come and die (Luke 9:23-25). Lay down yourself (Luke 14:25-35). The God of the Bible calls you to look to eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) and not to the here and now. The God of the Bible even demands that you hate all things (including yourself) in your love for Him. God is to be first and foremost (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6). The God of the Bible calls us to holiness (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
But like those in Romans 1:18-32, we don’t want a God like that. We want a god we can control. We want a friendly god. We want a loving god who does not care what we do or how we act. We want a god who looks like us, talks like us, walks like us, and is there for us. We have so removed ourselves from the God of the Bible that we can’t even recognize Him anymore. He is fading from our memories and has been replaced by this false god who does not save. I pray that we all lay down our idols (Isaiah 40:18-23). We need genuine repentance.