Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine of God’
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.
One of the precious doctrines of the faith is the immutability of God. This doctrine teaches us that God does not change. In other words, God does not change like we humans do. He is not “learning” nor is His character based on what happens around Him. God is loving and good no matter what. God is long-suffering toward us. This is all true because of the nature of God and the fact that He does not change (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 12:29). God’s will does not change because His will is based on who He is (Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 46:10).
The positive of this doctrine is that God is not a man. He is not one day happy with me and the next day He is angry toward me. God doesn’t hear my prayers today but He ignores me tomorrow. Because of the nature of God and what He has done regarding our salvation, the Lord will not cast us away tomorrow because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our adoption as children of God comes through Christ Jesus and His eternal work (Hebrews 9:14). The Lord does not cast us aside because He has said that all who come to Him He would not cast away (John 6:37). The promises of God are sure because of the nature of God and the fact that He is immutable.
That said, I don’t fully grasp God. I am thankful for that. I have often said that cults have their god figured out. The Jehovah’s Witnesses can explain their god. Why? Because their god is made in their image. Their god is a false god. Our God, the true and living God, is a mystery to me in many ways. The Bible does not fully reveal God. The Bible reveals enough about God to save us (John 20:31) but even John records about the Lord Jesus that not everything about Him was written down (John 21:25). Enough of Jesus was written down to save us but the biblical record is not revealing all about Jesus. It never could.
God is beyond our logic and understanding. His ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). There is much about the Lord that I don’t fully understand. How can I? He is absolutely holy but I am sinful. My sinfulness gets in the way of my thinking about God. I tend to view God through my own limitedness. I view God through my sinfulness. The biblical record often confronts my sins, my views of God, and my understanding of Him. Whenever I tend to think I have God figured out, the Lord will open His Word to me and show me more about Himself that counters my flesh.
One area of God I have no true understanding about is prayer. In Exodus 32 we read the account of Moses interceding for Israel after their rebellion against the Lord through the golden cafe (Exodus 32:6). The Lord says that He is going to wipe them out for their sins and He will raise up a new nation through Moses (Exodus 32:9-10). Moses goes to praying in Exodus 32:11 and he prays according to the promise that God has given through His servants (Exodus 32:13). Interestingly Moses appeals to the unchangeable nature of God in that He had promised to bless His people through Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. I also point out that Moses uses Israel in verse 13 rather than Jacob. The Lord Himself had changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Moses uses the name of Israel to remind the Lord that He is faithful to keep His promises as He is a covenant keeping God.
Then we come to Exodus 32:14. The Lord changed His mind. This is the New American Standard. The ESV uses “relents” while the KJV uses “repents.” I find it amazing that the Lord changed His mind. The immutable God changed His mind. Some suppose that God did not really change His mind but instead this is anthropomorphic language to describe God. They suppose that God allows the biblical writers to use human language to describe Him who is not human. How can God change His mind? How can the Lord who knows all things from beginning to end change His mind? Is He not an eternal God who dwells outside of time?
Yet the clear reading of Exodus 32:14 is that God is moved by the prayer of Moses. Can prayer really change God’s mind? The divine determinism view of prayer is that prayer is really God working through means to accomplish His will that He has determined beforehand to accomplish. In other words, prayer is not able to move the heart of God. The divine determinist view is that God has fixed what He will do and He even determines the praying of the saints to accomplish His will. Yet when we read Exodus 32:11-14 and we read the prayer of Moses here I don’t see the divine determinism coming into play.
God has said that He will answer prayer. We are to pray according to His will (1 John 5:14-15) but He has said that He will answer prayer (Jeremiah 29:13; 33:3). Jesus taught us to pray because God knows beforehand what we need (Matthew 6:8) and He hears our prayers and responds. I find nothing in Scripture to suggest that prayer is just a religious ritual. I see in the Bible the promise of God that He hears our prayers and He responds.
The example of Moses here shows that God allows us by His grace to be co-workers with Him in accomplishing His will. No doubt God could do whatever He desires. If God wanted to save everyone He could. If God wanted to damn all He could. If God wanted to save sinners without the preaching of the Word or the prayers of the saints, He could. Yet God has fixed certain conditions that if we meet them, God works through His Church to do His will. For example, the will of God is to save sinners. This is the will of God (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but He will only save those who come to Him in faith (Romans 4:5). The Lord could have sent Jesus to die for all sinners and that one sacrifice could have atoned for all sin and that would end that but God has made faith part of His plan of salvation (John 3:16, 36). We have to have faith in Jesus to be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:9 that he was a co-worker with God for His Church. Paul could not save anyone nor could he build the Church apart from the grace of God. The Lord worked through Paul to save sinners (Acts 16:14-15). Paul preached the gospel and the Lord was faithful to add people to His Church (Acts 2:47; Romans 1:16-17).
In a sense, prayer is our working with God. Intercessory prayer is how God has allowed His children to co-work with Him in this world. The Lord heard the prayers of Moses and He changed His mind. That is mind-blowing in of itself.
In Ezekiel 22:30-31 we read these sad words (NKJV):
30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God.
The Lord has said that He would heed the prayers of the intercessor. That is mind-blowing theology. Yet because none was found, the Lord said He is sending judgment. Not so with Moses in Exodus 32. Moses stood in the gap and he prayed for Israel and the Lord changed His mind.
Only when sin has reached its limit will God not hear the prayers of His saints (Jeremiah 15:1; Ezekiel 14:14, 16). If God has determined the judgment of God because of sin, the prayers of the saints will not change the mind of God.
Prayer is a mystery. God uses the prayers of the saints to do His work. He has called us to prayer (Matthew 9:38). The Church is strongest when she is on her knees. Leonard Ravenhill wrote:
“No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”
If God has said that He would hear our prayers and He would answer our prayers, how can we not pray? How can we waste time with this world when God has called us to co-work with Him through prayer? Imagine Exodus 32 if Moses had not prayed. God no doubt uses the prayers of the saints to do His work but we need people who will be like Moses and stand in the gap for the world. The world is dying and going to hell yet the Lord has called His people to pray for sinners (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The prayers of the saints rises before the throne of God like sweet-smelling incense (Revelation 5:8).
My longing is to pray. I want to stand in the gap for sinners. I want to pray for the Lord to do great things in this world for His glory and honor. I want to be an intercessory for the glory of God. I may never be known in this world and I’m okay with that but I want to be known by the Lord. I want to stand up before His holy throne and cry out to Him and know that He hears my prayers and He answers according to His will (Mark 11:22-24). There is power in prayer because there is power in the Lord. This leads my heart to cry out (Luke 18:1).
Oh let me pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)!
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.
I have often said that whenever the doctrine of the Trinity is denied, the group that does the denying must do something with Jesus. The Father is usually not attacked. The Father is usually held up as the eternal God but groups who deny the doctrine of the Trinity must do something with Jesus and it is Jesus who is usually attacked and demoted. The Holy Spirit is often altogether ignored.
Consider two groups who are similar in many ways: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Oneness Pentecostals. Both are Arians. Both find the theological heritage in Arius and his condemned teachings. Arius said that there was a time when the Son was not. Arius viewed God the Father as the eternal God and the one that we must worship but Jesus is viewed as a created being and less than the Father though still the Son of God. Arius reasoned that since God is one and the Father is God, the Son cannot be God logically lest there be another god. Therefore, the Son is a created being though exalted by the Father.
Now consider the Jehovah’s Witness (JW hereafter). The JW’s teach that Jehovah God alone is God. Jehovah is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the supreme creation of God and He is Michael in the Old Testament. JW’s (after 1954) forbid people for worshipping Jesus Christ. They teach that Jesus is wonderful, our example, our Savior but He is not God. He is a creation of God and the firstborn of Jehovah’s creation (Colossians 1:15). The New World Translation follows the JW bias but denying the Lord Jesus His full deity in passages such as John 1:1. In JW teaching, Jesus is the Son of God but He had a beginning and He has an ending as well when in eternity Jehovah alone will be worshiped as the true and living God (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 15:24). The point here is that Jesus is less than the Father (Jehovah) and He is a created being.
Oneness Pentecostals are not much different. They will declare that Jesus is God which makes them separate from JW’s but Jesus the Son is not eternal. Only the Father is eternal. In Oneness teaching, there is only one God (which is biblically true) and since there is only one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all the same God (true) but not persons but instead are manifestations of the one true God (this is a heresy called Sabellianism). Jesus is the one true God in Oneness Pentecostal teaching but only Jesus is God. Thus Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, and Jesus is the Holy Ghost. Jesus the Father alone is eternal. The Son had a beginning in Oneness teaching. The Son is not eternal but only came to be in Luke 1:35. Until Jesus the Son was born in Bethlehem, He did not exist as the Son but only as the Father. So the Son is not the eternal God but only the Father is the eternal God (Jehovah).
Do you see the link? The JW’s teach that Jehovah alone is God (the Father) and the Oneness Pentecostals teach that only Jesus the Father is eternal. Both deny that the Son is eternal. Both teach that the Son had a beginning and has an ending. Jesus the Son is not important as much as the Father is.
In Trinitarian theology, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the one true and living God. There is only one God and He is revealed in Scripture as three persons in the one Godhead. While the mystery of the Trinity is not easy to grasp, we must do something with Jesus. Jesus is called God in the Bible (John 1:1, 14, 18; 20:28; Romans 9:5) and He shares in many aspects of divinity along with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus spoke of His Father as distant from Him but He never made Himself less than the Father. Jesus viewed Himself equal to His Father (John 10:30) and yet as the Messiah, He was perfectly obedient to His Father (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus said He came from heaven (John 3:13) and He said He came from the Father (John 17:5). Hebrews 1:3 says that the Father created the entire worlds though Jesus Christ the Son. If Jesus is a created being, how can this be? Philippians 2:5-11 is clear that Jesus is equal to God and He took upon Himself the form of a servant to do the will of His Father.
Time does not permit me to defend the deity of the Spirit but He too shares in the personality of God. The Spirit is not a force as in JW teaching or a part of Jesus the Father but instead the Spirit is very much a Person who does the works of God. The Spirit is co-equal, co-eternal with the Father and with the Son.
Jesus is where we find our problems. Those who deny the Trinity must denounce and dethrone Jesus. Jesus has to become less than the Father or less than God. In Islam, Jesus is a great prophet but certainly not God. In JW, Jesus is a created being but not the eternal God. In Oneness Pentecostalism, Jesus is the name of the one true God but Jesus the Son only came to be when the Holy Ghost caused Mary to be impregnated. In Mormonism, Jesus is a son of God like we all are and in fact He is a son along with Lucifer. In Arianism, Jesus was a created being who is less than the Father. In Sabellianism Jesus is part of a manifestation or mode of God but certainly there is no Trinity.
We stumble over Jesus just as Scripture predicts (1 Peter 2:6-8). We must do something with Jesus. I choose to worship Him and adore Him and praise Him and preach Him (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
I have been studying the doctrine of the holy Trinity now for some time. I love the doctrine! It is amazing how Scripture opens up when you begin to study the nature of God. Fred Sanders is correct, “The trinity changes everything.” The holy Trinity changes our understanding of love, creation, humanity, order, prayer, worship, and salvation. Without the Trinity, these doctrines become confusing and twisted.
In my studies, I have been reading books from the Oneness camps to see where they are coming from. I have listened to many hours of lectures and sermons from Oneness Pentecostals. Some of the sermons were just normal sermons while most of them I tried to pick that focused on my studies. I will not, for the sake of time, try to dive into the Oneness views regarding their view of God. It is suffice to say that Oneness Pentecostals are “Jesus only” meaning that, in the words of one of their preachers, “Jesus is everything.” In Oneness Pentecostalism, Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Spirit. There is more to it than just that but they hold that Jesus is God and that there is only one God and thus Jesus is the only person of the Godhead and He alone is all three modes or manifestations of God that we read in the Bible.
What is the draw then to Oneness Pentecostalism? I think the appeal is the same as the draw to Trinitarian Pentecostalism in many ways. First, there is the focus on experience. Oneness Pentecostalism is very emotional. The worship is dramatic. People often shake, dance, run, lift their hands, speak in tongues, etc. in their worship services. The God of Oneness churches is a very personal God who wants to interact with his people.
Secondly, the preaching is more dramatic than the average evangelical sermon. While I enjoy a good expository sermon, I detest a lifeless one. I want a preacher who preaches with passion the truth of God with sound exegesis. However, the average evangelical pulpit is often shallow and lifeless. Not so with many Oneness Pentecostal churches. They preach with power (anointing they would say). While their message is often shallow and not based on exegesis, they preach with conviction and shouting and fire that is often missing in evangelical churches.
Third, they present themselves as the keepers of the truth. Oneness Pentecostals (most of them I have listened to) believe that all are lost but Oneness Pentecostals. If you have not been saved according to their view of Acts 2:38, you are lost. This would be all Trinitarians including Trinitarian Pentecostals. You must be baptized in the name of Jesus to have your sins forgiven. To be baptized in any other way is damnation. This twisting of Acts 2:38 leads Oneness Pentecostals to feel that they alone are the keepers of the truth of God. Their duty is to evangelize all who are not Oneness. This “cause” helps people find purpose in their existence.
Lastly, simple answers. People want to know who is God. Oneness Pentecostals are ready with an answer: Jesus is God. Of course, Trinitarians believe the same but Oneness groups don’t teach that the one God is three persons but rather they teach that Jesus is God and He alone is God and He alone has always been God and He alone will forever be God. There are no persons in the Godhead but only Jesus (Colossians 2:9). If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:8-9). Oneness groups provide answers for who is God and what is He like. Like cults, they have answers for God where confusing may exist. They have their God figured out.
Sadly, many Trinitarian Pentecostals often fall into prey with Oneness Pentecostals. The reason is that pragmatism abounds among the Trinitarian Pentecostals. One could easily attend a Trinitarian Pentecostal church and never know that it was Pentecostal. This is not so with Oneness Pentecostals. They have the feel of the old Pentecostal services where the music is jumping, the people are jumping, and the sermons are “anointed.” The average Trinitarian Pentecostal looking for an “experience” with Jesus will find one in Oneness churches and will remind them of “the good old days.” Due to pragmatism, doctrine among many Trinitarian Pentecostals is weak and thus a Trinitarian Pentecostal is easily drawn into the Oneness groups and led astray.
For more information on Oneness Pentecostals, I recommend this book.
The love of God is a biblical truth. I adore the God of the Bible because He has revealed Himself as loving and good. Psalm 145:8 says that God is abounding in steadfast love. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. Some believe that love is an attribute of God. However, I agree with others such as A.W. Tower who said that love flows from God and is part of His personage. Love then is not an attribute of God but is freely given by Him toward His creation. Truth is said to be a part of God but we would not say that truth is an attribute of God nor should we say this about God’s love. God loves because He chooses to love. God has demonstrated His love toward us sinners by the giving of His Son (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
I do think that we can make too much about the love of God. Of course, I rejoice that God is love. I rejoice that God has sent His Son to die for our sins and to rise again on the third day where the Son now sits at the Father’s right hand till His enemies be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1). I rejoice that the Christian message is one of love as we point to the cross as the greatest example of true love (Galatians 2:20). I rejoice that God has revealed His great love for us sinners (1 John 4:10). This love should flow from God into our lives and we in turn are to love others (1 John 4:11). Jesus said that loving others was the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39). Jesus said that His disciples would be marked by loving others (John 13:34-35). He told His disciples in Matthew 5:43-48 that we were to be perfect in love as our Father is. John Wesley defined this love as “perfected love that flows from the God of love.” Wesley said that this type of love can only be found in the grace of God and His Spirit working within us to perfect this love. Perfect in love then was Wesley’s preferred term for entire sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
The love of God drips from the pages of the Bible. We see God’s love demonstrated toward Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:14-15, 21). We see God’s love in the calling out of the Israelites from Egypt into the promised land. God Himself even says that it was His love that motivated Him to choose Israel and not because of the Israelites themselves (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). It was the love of God that called the prophets in the Old Testament to call His people to repentance (see Hosea as an example). It was the love of God that motivated Him to promise the Messiah and then to send His one and only Son to earth (Isaiah 9:6-7; Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 14, 17). Jesus was God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) and He fully revealed God to us (John 14:9). Jesus never said He was the Father nor did He say He was the Spirit but instead He fully revealed the fullness of God to us (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is the exact representation of God (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:3). What do we see when we see Jesus? We see Him “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). We see Jesus coming not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We see Jesus coming to call sinners to repentance (Luke 19:10). We see Jesus telling the Pharisees that God goes looking for the one sheep out of the ninety-nine who turns and is lost (Luke 15:1-7).
There is no doubt that God is love. There is no doubt that Jesus has revealed the love of God. There is no doubt that Jesus shows us that God is good and that He desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:5-6; 2 Peter 3:9). There is no doubt that the love of God flows throughout the Bible.
But I do want to place a warning. Just a fire across the bow if you will. Again, I am one of those who gladly preaches the love of God. I gladly preach Arminianism because I see that the love of God is limited in Calvinism. In fact, I don’t see a loving God when I study Calvinism but instead I see the overwhelming issue being either the sovereignty of God (in this case the all-power of God in Calvinism) or the glory of God (wherein God must determine all things lest He share His glory). The love of God is seen as a part of God’s sovereignty either in choosing the elect by arbitrary means rather than love but in some form of love nonetheless or the love of God is seen as part of His glory. Calvinism diminishes the love of God by failing to proclaim the truth of the unlimited atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh yes, His atonement is infinite in value and could atone for the sins of the world but instead the sovereign God has chosen that He will place His love only on the elect. To me, this doesn’t match either the biblical view of God as loving and good nor does it fit with the parables of Jesus such as found in Luke 10:25-37.
Let me fire this shot though across the bow. This is a friendly shot to us Arminians. I do believe in the love of God but let us not exalt the love of God above other truths about God. For example, God’s wrath or God’s justice or His holiness. The open theist, in my estimation and I know I have some brothers and sisters who read this blog who are open theists, elevate the love of God above all other truth about God. The same might could be said about the conditional immortality holders (whom I likewise regard as brethren in the kingdom). Others want to lift up the transcendence of God. Some want to exalt the power of God (my charismatic brethren might fall here).
My point is that we must seek balance. There is no doubt that God is love. There is no doubt also that God is holy. There is no doubt that God is sovereign. There is no doubt that God is powerful and He does hear our cries and can demonstrate His power. Yet we tend to uplift the truth about God that we love the most. Arminians might be guilty of doing this with God’s love. Calvinists might be guilty of exalting the sovereignty of God (or actually the omnipotence of God). I pray that we would simply make sure that when we preach that we don’t make a god in our image. This is what cults do. Their gods are figured out but our God is beyond our understanding. God has revealed Himself in the Bible but not exhaustively.
I pray that we preach to sinners both the love of God (that He has demonstrated His love toward sinners through the cross) and the wrath of God against sin (Romans 1:18). Both are true. God loves but God also hates. God cannot tolerate sin in His presence so let us preach the truth of His holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16). Let us preach that God desires the sinner to come to repentance but let us also preach that all who reject His love remain under His just wrath (John 3:36).
I rejoice in the love of God, the goodness of God, the grace of God. I also preach the biblical truths of His holiness, His justice, His sovereignty, His transcendence, His wrath. May we be balanced in our preaching.