There are one or two main denominations, such as, the United Pentecostal Church International, that teach this doctrine, but you will also discover small groups or individuals that accept the belief.
Before we go into details we would say, that although we feel that many of the things those in this grouping teach are not truly Biblical, many believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ and will know the Lord. However, there is not the clear message of salvation by grace, and therefore some can be looking to works, because baptism in the name of Jesus becomes vital for salvation.
To know the differences is helpful but it may not always be necessary to enter in to lengthy discussions with such people unless there are specific circumstances, such as, they could be confusing a young member of your church.
According to Jason Barker
“The founding date of the Oneness Pentecostal movement can be traced to a specific event: a revival meeting in Los Angeles on April 15, 1913. The culmination of the meeting occurred when Canadian revivalist R.E. McAlister baptized converts not according to the Trinitarian formula of the historic Christian Church, but in the name of Jesus only.”
Alan Highers records the following in The Spiritual Sword,
“The first meeting of the United Pentecostal Church, a new organization, occurred on September 25, 1945, but the roots of its beginning go back to a Pentecostal camp meeting in 1913 located just outside Los Angeles, California. Although the UPC claims that ‘a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ came on January 1, 1901, it was not until the Arroyo Seco camp meeting that the distinctive ‘oneness’ identity began to take shape.
“During the camp meeting a man named R. E. McAlister spoke on the subject of water baptism and at the conclusion of his address he remarked that the apostles always baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and never with the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One of those who listened to McAlister, John G. Scheppe, spent the night in prayer and in the early morning hours ran through the camp, shouting that God had revealed to him the truth on baptism in Jesus’ name. Frank J. Ewart, one of those present in the camp meeting, later met and studied with McAlester and he became one of the early leaders of the oneness movement. He first publicly declared his position in a sermon on April 15, 1914. The UPC Manual states, ‘In the year 1914 came the revelation on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’
“The ‘New Issue’ (oneness doctrine – jt) threatened to divide the Assemblies of God and the Pentecostal movement. The council met in 1915 and issued a rather mild statement on the issue, but in the Fourth General Council of the Assemblies of God, meeting in St. Louis in October 1916, the lines were drawn and the ‘Jesus only’ people were forced out of the fellowship.
“Following their exclusion from the fellowship of the assemblies of God the oneness adherents soon formed their own organization in 1917 at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, known as the ‘General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies.’ In 1918, there was a merger with an organization called the ‘Pentecostal Assemblies of the World,’ which name was retained by the merger. In 1914 it was decided to separate along racial lines, and the white contingent took the name ‘Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance.’ In 1932 the name ‘The Pentecostal Church, Incorporated’ was taken by the group. In 1945 ‘The Pentecostal Church, Incorporated’ effected a merger with the ‘Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ,’ which had seceded somewhat from the old ‘Pentecostal Assemblies of the World,’ and the new organization became the ‘United Pentecostal Church.’
“It is noteworthy how the United Pentecostal Church was named, It was decided in the 1945 meeting that the word ‘Pentecostal’ must remain in the name; then someone mentioned the word ‘Unite.’ B. H. Hite, one of the leaders, stood and waving his arm, repeated over and over, ‘Unite! Unite! Unite!’ This is how the organization came to be called the ‘United Pentecostal Church.’ W. T. Witherspoon sat down at the typewriter and wrote out a statement of the ‘Fundamental Doctrine’ of the organization, which still appears, exactly as he wrote it, in the ‘Articles of Faith’ in the UPC Manual. Clanton observed, ‘Surely he was inspired of God that day.’
“The United Pentecostal Church is today a very militant organization in promoting its view of ‘baptism only in the name of Jesus’ and only one person in the Godhead.'” – Vol. 12, No. 3, p.1-3
What is it?
The one area, which gives people who take on this belief their title and their distinctiveness from fundamental Christianity, is that they state that there is only one God but at the same time they accept the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is not a contradiction because they believe that the one God manifests Himself as three distinct persons. This is, however, a denial of the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Trinity which states that there is only one God in three persons.
The website of the United Pentecostal Church International tells us that,
“In distinction to the doctrine of the Trinity, the UPCI holds to a oneness view of God. It views the Trinitarian concept of God, that of God eternally existing as three distinctive persons, as inadequate and a departure from the consistent and emphatic biblical revelation of God being one.
The UPCI teaches that the one God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament as Jehovah revealed himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ was and is God. In other words, Jesus is the one true God manifested in flesh, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (John 1:1-14; I Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9).
While fully God, Jesus was also fully man, possessing a full and true humanity. He was both God and man. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is God with us and in us. Thus God is manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration.”
The Let us Reason website helps a little more with our understanding.
“Oneness theology teaches that there is only one God. That God is numerically singular, and that Jesus Christ is that one God. With Deut.6:4 as their proclamation, they reject any concept of unity that would change the numerical one from its strict singular meaning. Oneness theology tries to explain the Oneness of God at the expense of the threeness. By using this as their beginning premise they can only come to the conclusion that the three who are called God, the Father, Son and Spirit can only be singular in person. Interpreting that God is one as a strict numerical statement of his person, God becomes something he is not described as in Scripture. With both the Father and the Son being in the Old and New Testament, Oneness must come up with explaining the relationship of both the Father and the Son in some other fashion. While Oneness holds to the affirmation of Jesus being fully God and fully man, however they reinterpret this as the Father being the deity in the Son who is strictly the humanity. To be put simply, the Son is not God, but only the man whom God the Father dwelt in.
“David Bernard a Oneness Pentecostal and one of their premier apologists says, ‘Modalism is the same as the modern doctrine of Oneness.’ (the Oneness of God p.318 ) As we examine history we will see this is not so, today’s modalism is synthesized from diverse views held centuries before.
“There are various forms of Modalism but all agree God is strictly one person. One version is that God was the Father who then became the Son, and then the spirit in different dispensations. (Different periods of time). Another version is that there are three manifestations of the one Spirit who is God. That the one person who is God shares the titles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and as Spirit can manifest to be all three. While we agree that God is an eternal Spirit, the difficulty that arises is how he is that one Spirit and who is that one. The Oneness view denies that the distinctions are real, saying that they are only roles God plays for different functions”
In the final analysis this is as difficult to grasp with our heads as the true definition of the Trinity, which is a matter of the heart anyway. On one website the explanation of what happened when Jesus was baptised by John was,
“The one, omnipresent God used three simultaneous manifestations. Only one divine person was present–Jesus Christ the Lord.”
There are other areas that distinguish this group from mainstream Christianity but they will be dealt with in the next section.
BELIEFS AND ANSWERS
Only one person in the Godhead, namely Jesus Christ
This doctrine comes from the heresy of modalism, taught in the third century by Sabellius. He taught that God progressively revealed Himself through the offices of the Trinity. Because of this Sabellius was excommunicated from the Church.
However, we believe that Scripture shows something completely different. Firstly we need to underline what both groups would believe in; that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all shown to be God within Scripture.
The Father is God is taught by many Scriptures, including Ephesians 1:3 and 4:6
Jesus is God is taught by Scriptures such as John1:1 and 20:28.
The Holy Spirit being God is seen from Acts 5:3-4 among other Scriptures.
But beyond this we believe that Scripture teaches something that Oneness people can not accept; that all three are eternal and have always been in existence at the same time. They are not a progressive revelation.
Genesis 1:1 shows that when the beginning began God the Father was already there, eternally existent.
However, John 1:1 shows the very same thing of Jesus the Son, He was in existence when the beginning began. He did not come into existence at a later date when the Father ‘evolved’ into the Son. This eternal position is also shown through such Scriptures as Micah 5:2 and Hebrews 13:8
That the Holy Spirit is also eternal and has always been in existence is shown by Hebrews 9:14.
This simple but clear revelation of Scripture shows all three have always been in existence and all three are in existence at the same time. Not to accept that this is the revelation of Scripture is to deny much of the Word of God. The only explanation is of course the revelation of the Trinity that whereas the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, all three are seen to be eternal God with no beginning and no end.
Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ vital for salvation
Oneness teaches that salvation depends upon being baptised solely in the name of Jesus. They would refer to Acts 4:12 as evidence for this.
The website of the United Pentecostal Church International argues that,
“Christian water baptism is an ordinance instituted by Jesus Christ. If it is not important in the plan of God, why did Jesus command it in Matthew 28:19? And why did Peter follow up by saying, ‘Be baptized every one of you,’ and by commanding the Gentiles to be baptized (Acts 2:38; 10:48)? We must remember two points about the importance of water baptism. First, whatever Christ definitely established and ordained cannot be unimportant, whether we understand its significance or not. Second, Christ and the apostles showed the importance of this ordinance by observing it. Jesus walked many miles to be baptized, though He was without sin, saying, ‘For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness’ (See Matthew 3:13-16.)
“It is true that water itself does not contain any saving virtue, but God has chosen to include it in His plan of salvation. Peter explained, ‘Baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (I Peter 3:21). According to Luke 7:30, ‘the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized.'”
That baptism is important is not in dispute but we have two issues to look at; first is it vital for salvation and second must it be in the name of Jesus only.
First, there are some verses in the Bible that give a positive declaration of salvation without baptism and Oneness has problems in explaining them.
Luke 23:42-43 records the repentance of the thief on the cross. He is told that he will be with the Lord that day and yet he never received baptism. Baptism was certainly not essential to the salvation of that man. This also highlights the teaching of Jesus concerning salvation and baptism. He was baptised under John’s baptism but He did not teach that if anyone was to be saved they must be baptised. We have declarations such as John 3:16, where a clear promise of salvation and deliverance is made providing there is an acting on what the person has heard. No mention is made at all of baptism and yet the Word of God says this person will not perish but have everlasting life.
We can see a similar incident in Romans 10:9-10, 13. Here Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that if we call on the Lord we will be saved. If we confess with our mouth and believe in our heart we shall be saved. This is God’s word and cannot be added to or subtracted from and it gives a clear promise of salvation without baptism.
This same situation is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 where Paul makes known the essentials of the gospel. These were the things that were of first importance. In a chapter where he was going to use an illustration of those who baptised for the dead, I am sure he would have not left out baptism if it was essential. However, the definition is all about the person of Christ and not about baptism. Christ died, He was buried, He rose again and He appeared. This is the gospel, centred in the person and the work of Jesus Christ, not what I can do.
Such a presentation should lay the foundation for talking about verses in Scripture that may appear to show that baptism is essential for salvation.
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
If this verse is taken out of context it could possibly mean that you need to be baptised to be saved. Initially it does link ‘remission of sins’ with both repentance and baptism. However, the phrase ‘for the remission of sins’, does not mean ‘in order to’, be saved but rather ‘with a view to a letting go of sins’ (Young’s Concise Critical Bible Commentary). Peter was talking to Jews in whose mind actions always followed faith. In such a context it would be natural therefore for Peter to talk about the action as well as the faith. However, what is also very instructive is to note that on other occasions, for instance Acts 2:21 and 3:19, he did not mention baptism. The common factors, always mentioned, are the repenting and calling on the Lord. These are shown to be the essentials of the gospel. We must always consider the whole of Scripture and does that mean that John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-10 along with the other Scriptures mentioned are only half truths? No, God does not make such mistakes. He ensures that the essential elements of the gospel are always preached.
“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
There are several baptisms mentioned in the Scriptures and each has three elements.
1. The person doing the baptising.
2. The person being baptised.
3. The medium into which they are baptised.
Romans 6 is not talking about a literal baptism into water but being ‘baptised into Christ’. These verses are not talking about an outward act that takes place in water but rather an inward act that takes place when you receive Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 3:21
“And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
This Scripture, at first glance, may appear to say that baptism now saves you, but note in the previous verses what it is corresponding to. Baptism saving you corresponds to the flood. We need to discover two things; what actually saved the people from the flood and what was the salvation from and what was it to.
If this was to teach us that New Testament baptism saves, then we would need to see that it was the water that saved Noah and his family. However, the water did not save them; rather the opposite – it nearly destroyed them. What actually saved them was the ark. We need to discover in New Testament terms what or whom the Old Testament picture of the ark represents, and the answer is not baptism but Jesus Christ. Being put into water does not save us; our safety comes from being in Christ and having a sure relationship with Him.
What sort of salvation was this? Are we talking about the salvation of receiving Christ into the life? No, in Old Testament terms, they needed that relationship before they got into the ark. This was a salvation that would take them out of one world system into another. Salvation is not being used here in the sense of being born again. It is a full deliverance, through God’s judgement, into the new world order that Christ has yet to set up on earth.
“He who has believed and been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
Note in this verse that condemnation does not come because of lack of baptism but because of not believing. There is no evidence, from this verse, to show that baptism is essential for salvation, but it does show that believing is essential. This verse also needs to be compared with Matthew 28:19. Here the disciples – those who had already repented and entered Christ’s school – are then baptised.
There is also one other important Scripture to note.
1 Corinthians 1:17
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.”
Paul explains here that he was sent by the Lord to preach the gospel, to bring the message of true salvation to the Gentiles. However, he also clearly says that he was not sent to baptise! I believe that this verse shows beyond any doubt that baptism is not essential for salvation. The way Paul speaks about the two acts shows that baptism is not included in the good news of the gospel. This as we have already seen fits in with his definition of the main declaration of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.
The above makes it clear that Scripture does not teach that baptism is essential for salvation but what about using the name of Jesus only?
Matthew 28:19 seems to be the heart of the matter because here Jesus commands us to go with His authority and baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Oneness followers would reject this and would draw our attention to such verses as Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48 and 19:5 which talk about being baptised in the name of Jesus. What, however, needs to be understood is that none of these passages are a command of what to say when baptising someone, but rather a description of what happened to people who were baptised. Indeed, there is no passage in the New Testament that records what was actually said over someone as they were baptised.
In Matthew 28 we see that all authority was given to Jesus and it was in the authority of that name that baptism was commanded. There were other baptisms in the world in which the Apostles lived, and using the phrase, in the name of Jesus, showed the hearers and the readers just which baptism this was.
All have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues
The website of the United Pentecostal Church International states that,
“The new birth, consisting of water and Spirit, was never set forth as being optional or unessential. ” Ye must be born again” are the words of Jesus in John 3:7. Until a person is born of the Spirit, he cannot be called a “son” of God… There are two major evidences of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The initial, outward evidence is speaking with tongues, which means speaking miraculously in languages the speaker does not know.”
The claim of Oneness people is that you are not saved until you are baptised in the Holy Spirit and you cannot be baptised in the Holy Spirit without the sign of speaking in tongues. Thus, it is deduced, that unless a person speaks in tongues, he or she is not saved. But there are many Biblical accounts of conversions that do not describe receiving the gift of tongues. Oneness Pentecostals are erroneously attempting to argue that something that occasionally occurred should therefore always occur; it is impossible to argue this point when the Bible does not make such a claim.
We are not discussing here if all Christians should speak in tongues but do I have to speak in tongues to be saved. I believe a look at 1 Corinthians 12 is enough to show that this is not a Biblical teaching. Paul reveals in verses 29 onwards that not everyone has the same gifting within the Body Christ. And amongst this he indicates that there are some within the Body of Christ, those that are truly saved that do not speak in tongues. Saved but not tongue speakers.
1. Whereas much of this doctrine may not hinder someone from coming to know Christ as their Saviour it must hinder growth in the true knowledge of the Word of God.
2. There can be a moving towards salvation by works because of the teaching that baptism is essential for salvation. It will often be important when talking to these people to discern, and that is not always easy, whether the person is saved or not.
3. In the end the Oneness movement is preaching a false gospel and one that can cause doubt in many people’s lives. There are many Christians who do not speak in tongues but who know Christ as their true Saviour; but if they listened to this gospel they would have to question if they were truly saved.