|The Gospel According to
By Mike Barden
I need to say right up front that I am not saying that all Pentecostalism is cultic. However, I am convinced that this particular strain of Pentecostalism is a cult. I realize that this is a serious accusation, but it is one I plan to support throughout the remainder of this article.
By way of introduction, the term "Oneness" refers to this movement's view of the Godhead. They believe that the Trinitarian view of the Godhead is pure tritheism, so instead they conclude and teach that Jesus Christ is Himself the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The largest denomination of Oneness Pentecostals is the United Pentecostal Church International (UPC, or UPCI). There are also smaller Oneness groups, such as the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible Way Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ, etc. Oneness churches often call themselves "Apostolic" or "Jesus' name" churches. From the outside, they have been referred to as "Jesus only" churches. My own experience in Oneness Pentecostalism happened to be in a church affiliated with the UPC.
My purpose here is to expose the unbiblical "gospel according to Oneness Pentecostalism," and to present the "gospel according to the Bible." The primary reason I label this movement a cult is their gross perversion of the Bible's message of salvation; secondary reasons would include their unbiblical view of the Godhead, legalism, hyper-experientialism and spiritual elitism.
Since Oneness adherents believe in the full deity of Jesus Christ, it has been difficult for some to label this movement a cult. It's a bit easier to make that assertion of Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses, because they blatantly deny the deity of Jesus. Much has been written to refute these two groups, but very little has been written to refute Oneness Pentecostalism, which has been quite a significant movement since its beginnings in 1914.
In some small way, I hope to make a difference as I present this critique. I hope that some who may not know much about this movement will become informed enough to recognize it, avoid it, and refute its heresy. Also, I hope that others who may now be involved in Oneness Pentecostalism will seriously consider whether their doctrine is truly "Apostolic."
I was raised in a mainline denominational church setting, but had questions and doubts about Christianity as I grew up. I had checked out a few different religious philosophies along the way, but my secular college education resulted in me becoming basically an atheistic skeptic. I eventually came to the conclusion that the Bible was nothing more than a book of ancient stories and myths.
Near the end of my undergraduate experience, a friend from out of town told me some amazing things about a church he was attending. Stories of present-day miracles, and talk of fulfilled Biblical prophecy rekindled my interest in the God of the Bible. I became more fully convinced of the truthfulness of the Bible, and as a result, I ultimately surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.
The church my friend attended was a UPC church, so naturally I sought to find a local extension of this denomination. Once I found one, I began to get wholeheartedly involved with this local assembly.
To solidify my understanding of doctrine,
I studied the Bible for hours each day (under the guidance of UPC
literature by authors such as David Bernard, and the teaching of my
pastor). Over time, I became convinced that to be "born again,"
a person must:
As you might imagine, this three-step "new birth" is quite a process (it can be quick for some, but for others it can take years). However, after a person has experienced this "new birth," they're not quite yet "out of the woods." It is also expected that UPC members consistently comply with several "holiness standards," including, but not limited to, the following:
These "standards" vary a little bit from church to church, but most are consistently taught within the UPC (some of the more "liberal" Oneness churches do not teach these kinds of "standards.")
At the height of my UPC experience, I was fully convinced of the whole Oneness doctrine. I was excited about it; I believed it, I taught it, debated it with Trinitarians, told it to friends, and even helped bring a few other people into the movement.
These "standards" vary a little bit from church to church, but most are consistently taught within the UPC (some of the more "liberal" Oneness churches do not teach these kinds of "standards.")
At the height of my UPC experience, I was fully convinced of the whole Oneness doctrine. I was excited about it; I believed it, I taught it, debated it with Trinitarians, told it to friends, and even helped bring a few other people into the movement.Part 2: How I got out of it.
When I was involved with the UPC, I wasn't much interested in reading literature by non-Oneness "Christian" authors. I figured, If these guys aren't even true "born again" Christians (by the UPC definition), why should I pay any attention to what they have to say?
Still, I had an insatiable appetite for learning the Scripture. If I didn't understand something, I would search and study until I did. I started reading non-Oneness authors, but only to debunk them. I would see a statement like "to be saved, all you have to do is accept Christ as your Lord and Savior," and I would think, "that is not even in the Bible; I have much more Scripture to back up my position than they have to back up theirs!" "Traditional evangelicalism" seemed so much more shallow than the depth of experience and doctrine I had received as a Oneness Pentecostal.
However, as I studied, I ran across a passage in the Bible that shook my whole theological structure; it was the 4th chapter of Romans. When I honestly studied it, and grasped the full significance of it, I realized that I had forced the whole Bible to conform to my own misguided preconception. In light of this highly significant passage, the whole message of the Bible, including Acts 2:38, became startlingly clear. I realized that I had fully embraced "another gospel" than the one in the Bible!
One basic principle of Bible study is that "Scripture interprets Scripture." If one Scripture is clear, and another is unclear, you must interpret the unclear one in light of the clear one, not vice versa. Romans 4 is very clear, as I will show you in part 3. However, I knew that there was some debate about what exactly Acts 2:38 meant, because of the words and grammar of the original Greek text. Still, I had always interpreted this verse in light of Oneness doctrine, and not truly in the light of "the whole counsel of God." Sure, I had lots of "supporting scriptures" to back up my position, but I also misinterpreted them to maintain my Oneness convictions.
I will soon explain the specific message of Romans 4; but for now, suffice it to say that once its truth fully took hold of me, I could no longer stay in this movement.
They say that hindsight is 20/20, and since I've been out of it for a while, I have been able to identify other serious problems with Oneness Pentecostalism, which I will touch on in part 6. The fact is that error always begets more error; when the foundation is flawed (in this case, the basic gospel message), the rest of the structure (the other details of the religion) can never be quite right.
Part 3: How Romans 4 changes everything.
Before we begin to examine specific scriptures, you must remember that Oneness adherents (along with the Churches of Christ, and some others) believe that water baptism is an essential part of spiritual rebirth. According to this interpretation of Acts 2:38, it is through water baptism that one's sins are forgiven (or "remitted," as the King James Version reads).
"Justification by faith alone"
As I said before, the basic teaching of Romans 4 is very clear. The theme of the whole chapter has been called "justification by faith alone," which was a primary principle in the reformers' position against Roman Catholicism. The distinction made by the reformers was the word "alone." In other words, God "justifies" (or declares "not guilty") a sinner the moment he puts his faith in the saving work and authority of Jesus Christ. Works of faith (like baptism, and a holy lifestyle) follow afterward, but these works can never bring about a person's right standing before God.
Like Roman Catholicism, Oneness Pentecostalism would agree with the idea of "justification by faith," but they would not use the word "alone." They believe that in order for faith to take its saving effect, it must first must be demonstrated through certain works. In both Catholicism and Oneness Pentecostalism, the primary work in one's initial salvation is baptism, but subsequent obedience is also necessary to maintain one's standing before God. For Catholicism, it is obedience to the Sacraments; for Oneness Pentecostalism, it is obedience to the "standards of holiness."
The message of Romans 4
As you run across the word "justification," you should know that it was originally a legal term, and that to be "justified" is to be legally declared 'not guilty.' It is a declaration from God that happens at one specific point in time.
Also, keep in mind that the Jews considered themselves "saved" because they were circumcised, in the same way that many Christians consider themselves "saved" because they are baptized. Here is a brief summary of the chapter (you can read the specific verses in your own Bible):
Here are the significant points of this chapter:
Yes, it is also said in James 2:21-23 that Abraham was "justified by works" when he offered up his son as a sacrifice to God. This "justification" obviously took place several years after the justification referred to in Romans 4. God justifies us at the moment of our faith; however, others cannot see our faith until we display it through obedience to God. When we obey God, our invisible faith is made visible, and we are then "justified" in the eyes of those who witness our lives. James 2:21-23 was written to teach that true faith always manifests itself in good works. However, it is still true that justification comes from God before any good works are done.
Notice that Romans 5:1 states that it is "justification" that gives a believer peace with God; also notice that water baptism is not mentioned once in this entire passage. In fact, the whole idea that God requires water baptism for the forgiveness of sins is incompatible with the teaching of Romans 4. Forgiveness from God and peace with God come before a person could ever be baptized in water.
Another observation should be mentioned about justification. It is a declaration that comes from God at one specific point in time. Before God justifies a person, they are guilty of all their sins, and are considered to be children of the devil (John 8:44). However, after God has justified a person, they are freed from all guilt, and they are considered to be children of God (John 1:12-13). Either a person is saved, or they are not; there is a universe of difference between these two conditions, and the only thing that makes the difference is God's justification of the sinner.
The reason I bring this up is because according to the Oneness gospel, there are three "steps" in the new birth: Repentance, baptism in Jesus' name, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, evidenced by speaking in tongues. If someone has not completed all three of these "steps," they are still "in the process" of their new birth. For example, if a person has repented and spoken in tongues, yet they haven't been baptized "correctly" ("in the name of Jesus Christ"), they would not be considered born again. If a person has repented, and been baptized "correctly," yet they have never spoken in "tongues," they would still not be considered born again.
This unbiblical view of salvation creates great and unnecessary spiritual frustration for anyone seeking salvation. Instead of understanding the amazing grace of God that immediately frees a undeserving sinner from the guilt of their sin, people in Oneness churches are taught that they are not yet saved if they haven't spoken in tongues. Oneness Pentecostals also cannot believe that any non-Oneness Christian is really saved, because they haven't been baptized "correctly." In Oneness thinking, to be baptized "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" is the equivalent of not being baptized at all. A common saying among Oneness Pentecostals is, "If you were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all you got was wet."
The doctrine of justification by faith alone, as it is clearly presented in Romans 4, completely disassembles every false religious system of "salvation by grace through works of faith," including the whole "gospel" according to Oneness Pentecostalism.
Because the teaching of this chapter is so powerful and so clear, we must now interpret the rest of Scripture in light of it. We must keep this fact in mind as we interpret other verses, like Acts 2:38, that speak of conversion, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. But first, we will consider another significant "proof text" for the Oneness view of salvation -- John 3:5.
Part 4: "water and the Spirit"
According to John 3:5, Jesus told the Jewish teacher Nicodemus that no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are "born of water and the Spirit."
Oneness adherents see this as a clear parallel to Acts 2:38, where both water baptism and the Holy Spirit are mentioned. According to this view, unless one is baptized ("in the name of Jesus") AND they give evidence of the Holy Spirit (i.e. speaking in tongues), they are not born again, and they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Let's take a look at these terms Jesus used in John 3:5:
In Oneness thinking, the "water" of this verse is a direct reference to water baptism. The exact meaning of the phrase "born of water" has been a point of debate for centuries, but in light of the teaching of Romans 4 (i.e. that one is forgiven when they believe God, before they could ever obey God in a work like baptism), we cannot take this phrase as a reference to Christian water baptism. It is true that John the Baptist was already baptizing people at that time, and that both Jesus and Nicodemus were aware of that fact, but neither John nor Jesus taught that this baptism was a "new birth," or the entrance into the kingdom of God.
It has also been theorized that "born of water" is a reference to natural childbirth. A person is born once, after their mother's "water" breaks; but in order to be saved, one must also be born "of the Spirit," referring to Christian conversion. This interpretation seems a bit weak, since natural childbirth is never referred to as a birth "of water" anywhere else in the Bible, or in any normal figures of speech.
The better interpretation of this phrase comes from first understanding that this was a conversation between two highly trained and intelligent Jewish teachers. In spiritual matters, their common point of reference would have been the Hebrew scriptures, or what Christians call the Old Testament.
In Ezekiel 36:25-27, God promises a spiritual restoration to the wayward Jews; this restoration includes both a cleansing from sin (with "clean water"), as well as the gift of a new "spirit," which would be loving and obedient to God, instead of hardened and disobedient. Nicodemus would have immediately recognized this terminology as a reference to God's prophetic promise of spiritual restoration to the Jews.
When Nicodemus responded by saying, "How can these things be?" (v. 9), Jesus responded, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?" (v. 10) It wasn't that Nicodemus didn't know the Scripture; he just couldn't comprehend how a person could be "born again," or spiritually re-created, once they were old and set in their sinful ways. Jesus was noting that Nicodemus had a difficult time comprehending the spiritual reality of this promise.
Before examining "the Spirit" Jesus spoke of, we should quickly look at other verses that are commonly used by Oneness Pentecostals (and others) to show that water baptism is essential to salvation. Let me first say that the Bible does indeed teach that new believers should be baptized, but it does not teach that water baptism is a requirement for salvation.
As we look at these other verses, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Romans 4; that is, that one is justified and forgiven by God at the first moment of real faith. If we believe that the Scripture never contradicts itself, Romans 4 alone is enough to make it impossible for any other Scripture to teach salvation through water baptism. Still, we should examine these verses closely to see if any of them clearly teach that water baptism is an essential component of salvation:
Titus 3:5 and 1 Corinthians 6:11
Titus 3:5 states that "He saved us ... by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit," and 1 Corinthians 6:11 uses similar language. These verses clearly refer to the spiritual cleansing that happens when a person is forgiven and restored by God, and it would be a bit of a stretch to say that they are referring to water baptism. If they do somehow refer to water baptism, they do so rather figuratively; for that reason, these verses should not be used to teach salvation through water baptism.
We now need to ask, Do these two verses clearly teach that water baptism is an essential component of salvation? The answer is, No.
Because of the wording of this verse, it has caused some confusion in debates about baptism. However, an easy way to clear up this confusion is to temporarily replace "baptism" with some other Christian activity, like "generous giving." Jesus could have said, "He that believeth and giveth generously shall be saved; but he who believeth not shall be damned." That would be a perfectly true statement, and we wouldn't need to interpret it to mean that generous giving is essential to salvation. Only belief is clearly said to be essential to salvation. In this verse, Jesus is emphasizing belief as the pivotal issue of salvation, not baptism; He links condemnation with unbelief, not a lack of water baptism.
Does this verse clearly teach that water baptism is an essential component of salvation? Again, the answer is, No.
Notice that there are two separate commands in this verse: 1)"be baptized, and 2) wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." The washing away of sins is done by "calling on the name of the Lord"; "be baptized" is a separate command, and it is not connected to the washing of one's sins.
Does this verse clearly teach that water baptism is an essential component of salvation? The answer is, No.
In this verse, the waters of the worldwide flood are said to have "saved" Noah and seven others; this is seen as a predictive picture of Christian baptism, which "doth also now save us." Because of this terminology, this passage is often used as rock-solid proof that water baptism is essential to salvation.
However, before jumping to that conclusion, we need to notice two things: 1) How water "saved" Noah and his family, and 2) Peter's own qualification of his statement that water baptism now "saves" us.
First, let's look at Noah's salvation by "water." Noah's faith caused him to spend many years building the ark that would protect his family from the Genesis flood. When the water came, he and his family were "saved" from God's judgment against the sin of the world. However, notice that Noah's external salvation by "water" is not the same as his real, spiritual salvation by God's grace. Before he ever began building the ark, Noah had already "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." (Genesis 6:8) Clearly, Noah's safety during the flood was the outward confirmation of the grace he had already received from God years earlier. In the same way, a Christian's water baptism is also the outward confirmation of the grace he or she receives when they first put their trust in God's promise of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Second, let's look at Peter's qualification of his own statement. He parenthetically writes that water baptism's "salvation" comes not from "the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God." In other words, it is not the external act that saves; the only significance that water baptism has is when it is done out of a clear conscience toward God. The only way we can possibly have a "clear conscience" before God is if we already know our sins have been forgiven. Of course, this happens at the moment of justification, when a person first puts their faith in God's promise of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The most wooden, literalistic interpretation of Peter's statement that "baptism now doth also save us," would be that water baptism is our savior. No one would reasonably argue that view. However, neither is Peter teaching that water baptism is the required means of God's saving grace.
All Peter is saying in this passage is that as Noah's salvation was confirmed through an experience with water, so our salvation is confirmed with an experience with water.
The question remains, does this passage clearly teach that water baptism is an essential component of salvation? Again, the answer is, No.
Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12, and Galatians 3:27
These verses are often used to teach salvation through water baptism, but none of these passages mention water. It would be more biblically consistent to take them as references to baptism into the body of Christ, which can only be done by the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit baptism will be discussed in more detail in the next section.
Do any of these verses clearly teach that water baptism is an essential component of salvation? Again, the answer is, No.
Let's now look at the other term Jesus used:
The Holy Spirit is called "the Holy Ghost" in the King James Version, but I'll stick with the term "Holy Spirit," since the word "ghost" sounds a little "spooky" in our modern English.
Both "spirit" and "ghost" are translated from the Greek word pneuma, which refers to the breath (wind), or life principle of a living being; it can also refer to someone's personality. "Holy" means morally unblemished, or perfect. "The Holy Spirit," therefore, refers to God Himself, actively relating to humans in this world.
The Holy Spirit works in a multitude of ways in the life of every Christian; here are some examples:
Obviously, the Holy Spirit does some of these things before a person becomes a Christian (conviction), some of these happen when a person becomes a Christian (regeneration, baptism, sealing), and some of these happen after a person becomes a Christian (help with prayer, spiritual transformation).
For the sake of this article, I will focus on the Holy Spirit's baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13). This spiritual baptism is an essential aspect of a person's salvation; if a person does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not saved (Romans 8:9).
It is the Spirit baptism, not water baptism, that unites a sinner with Christ. There are a few verses that teach this fact, but unfortunately they often get applied to water baptism, even though water is never mentioned. These verses include Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27, and Colossians 2:12, and were discussed in the previous section.
It is clear from 1 Corinthians 12:13 and these other verses that the "Spirit baptism" is an essential component of the whole salvation package. Oneness Pentecostals would agree with this assertion. Now the question is, Is speaking in tongues the universally expected, initial evidence of this baptism? Oneness adherents would say, Yes. Let's see what the Bible says.
Jesus briefly mentioned "tongues" in Mark 16:17 as a sign that would accompany future Christian believers. Oneness Pentecostals see this as an indication that every believer should speak in tongues. This was, in fact, a miraculous sign that was recorded in the book of Acts. However, other signs mentioned by Jesus included:
Again, these signs were fulfilled through certain people in the early church, but no one could reasonably argue that all of these signs are expected to accompany every Christian. Still, Oneness Pentecostals maintain that "speaking in tongues" must accompany the conversion of every genuine Christian.
The crucial question to ask here is, Does this verse clearly teach that "tongues" is expected to accompany the conversion of every Christian? Once we look at it in context, the answer is, No.
Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19
"Speaking in tongues" is specifically mentioned in chapters 2, 10, and 19 of the book of Acts, and it is implied in chapter 8. In the book of Acts, speaking in tongues was the supernatural ability to speak in unlearned, yet understandable languages (which, as a side note, I have never heard in my entire Pentecostal experience; most of what passes for "tongues" is nonsensical gibberish).
"Tongues" is presented in Acts as a miraculous occurrence that accompanied the conversion of some people in the early years of the Christian church. Thousands of people were converted, but only a relative few of these people are reported to have spoken in tongues.
In Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19, we can find a very specific purpose for each of the supernatural confirmations. In Acts 2, God confirms His acceptance of the Jews, who rejected their Messiah; in Acts 8, He confirms His acceptance of the Samaritans, who were considered by Jews to be outside the will of God; in Acts 10, He confirms His acceptance of the Gentiles, who were considered by Jews to be "uncircumcised" and therefore hated by God; and in Acts 19, He confirms His acceptance of the disciples of John, who were true believers, but were not aware of the Pentecostal outpouring. Each of these events were unique, crucial moments in the church, wherein God made His acceptance of all people very clear.
Again, the question must be asked, Is there any solid teaching or implication in the book of Acts that "tongues" is expected to accompany the conversion of every Christian? Again, the answer is, No!
1 Corinthians 12-14
Tongues are again mentioned in chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians. In these chapters, "speaking in tongues" was a supernatural gift given to certain believers. In order for this gift to have any validity, however, the language must have been interpreted and clarified by someone else in the church (14:27).
We must answer the same question about these chapters: Is there any solid teaching or implication in 1 Corinthians that "tongues" was expected to accompany the conversion of every Christian? Again, the obvious answer is, No!
The rest of the Bible
Paul applies Isaiah 28:11-12 to the Corinthian "tongues" problem, to show that they are a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21). Aside from this Old Testament reference, "tongues" are not mentioned anywhere else in the entire Bible (though some verses are unconvincingly applied to tongues, like Romans 8:26, James 3:5-10, and Jude 20).
As we survey the rest of the Scripture, is there any solid teaching or implication in the whole Bible that "tongues" is expected to accompany the conversion of every Christian? Again, the answer is, NO!
The only biblically taught, universally expected sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the transformed character of the believer. Where there once was selfishness, there is now selflessness. Where there once was hatred, there is now love. Where there once was recklessness, there is now self-control. These attributes are known as "the fruit of the Spirit," and they are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities can only come from God; unlike "tongues" they cannot be faked. The "fruit of the Spirit" is the only positive outward evidence that a person has been "born again."
The conclusion is this: A person is baptized by the Holy Spirit, into the body of Christ, as an invisible, inaudible work of God. No miraculous evidence of "speaking in tongues" is to be sought or expected.
Recap: The simple meaning of John 3:5
When Jesus spoke of being "born of water and the Spirit," He was not trying to mysteriously communicate to Nicodemus the essentiality of water baptism to one's salvation. He was simply using recognizable, Old Testament prophetic terminology to describe the supernatural transformation that happens to a person who humbly trusts God's promise of salvation.
Part 5: So what exactly does Acts 2:38 mean?
When we correctly understand the meaning of Acts 2:38, the whole Oneness "gospel" gets dismantled; it cannot exist without misinterpreting this verse.
Let's look at this verse, phrase by phrase, in light of all that has already been established about water and Spirit baptism (I'll use the King James Version, as would most Oneness Pentecostals):
When we see the real, simple message of Acts 2:38, we see that it does not at all support the "gospel according to Oneness Pentecostalism," but that it teaches a simple, powerful message of the grace and love of God to those who would come to Him.
Now that we've examined the heart of Oneness Pentecostalism's error, we can now more easily understand some of the other "bitter fruit" that grows out of this false "gospel."
Part 6: Other problems with Oneness Pentecostalism
As I said before, error begets error. Because of this basic false teaching in Oneness Pentecostalism, all other areas of spiritual life are affected. I will conclude this article with a few of the problems that usually exist in Oneness church groups.
Unbiblical teaching about the Godhead
The modern Oneness movement began at a Pentecostal camp meeting in April 1913 with one man's "revelation" that baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) was the correct fulfillment of Jesus' command to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). It is this basic misunderstanding of baptism that led certain others to conclude that Jesus Christ is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
To a Oneness Pentecostal, this is a defining issue. They believe that the Trinitarian view of the Godhead is a pagan invention of the early church councils of 325 and 381 AD. Because the majority of Christian churches hold to this view of the Godhead, they feel that all Trinitarian churches are paganized, tritheistic descendants of the Roman Catholic church.
As was mentioned before, the term "Oneness" comes from a "Modalist" view of the Godhead; that is, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are "modes," or "manifestations" of God in various activities. In creation, God is in the "Father" mode; in the incarnation, God is in the "Son" mode; and when working in people, God is in the "Holy Spirit" mode. Any relationship between the Father and the Son is between Jesus' deity and Jesus' humanity (in other words, when Jesus prays, He's really talking to Himself). Otherwise, there is no real distinction or relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because "God is one"; any personal relationship between these "modes" of God is not real, but only apparent.
This understanding of the Godhead creates a multitude of problems when interpreting verses like John 14:26, in which Jesus says:
In Oneness understanding, the Holy Ghost is really Jesus Himself, and the Father is really Jesus Himself. In other words, what Jesus really meant was this:
As you can see, this kind of interpretation completely negates any distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that Jesus was obviously trying to express. Here's another example of something Jesus said, this time taken from John 14:23:
If Jesus believed that He was the Father, why would He have confused the issue by using plural terms like "we" and "our"? If Jesus was trying to teach the Oneness view of the Godhead, He certainly had a confusing way of doing it.
As mentioned before, Oneness Pentecostals believe that the Trinitarian view of God is no less than pagan polytheism. However, the Trinitarian view is this: There is only one God; The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; yet, there is a biblically defined distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well as a clear personal relationship between them. This is a fully biblical view, consistent with the teaching of Jesus. Biblical Trinitarians do not view God as a "committee" or "counsel" of Gods.
Despite these differences between Oneness Pentecostals and Trinitarians, there are some points of agreement. Oneness Pentecostals see Jesus as the incarnate Word of God; so do Trinitarians. Oneness Pentecostals see Jesus as the only mediator between God and man; so do Trinitarians. Oneness Pentecostals see Jesus as fully God and fully man; so do Trinitarians.
There is much more to study along these lines, but suffice it to say that because of an unbiblical view of water baptism, Oneness Pentecostalism has adopted an unbiblical view of God that makes the teachings of Jesus cryptic and confusing.
For those who are interested in further study on this topic, it is covered in much more detail in Gregory Boyd's book, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity, ©1992, Baker Books.
(I write this section recognizing that not all Oneness churches are of the same mind in this area; however, many are, and I will address this issue as it relates to the UPC in particular.)
The Oneness doctrine is legalistic to the core, beginning with a works-based teaching of salvation. A person must first repent, then be baptized correctly, then give evidence of baptism of the Holy Spirit by speaking in "tongues." These steps are necessary to even be considered a true Christian.
Upon finally becoming "truly" born again, the new convert to Oneness Pentecostalism is quickly instructed in the "standards of holiness," which have been already been mentioned in this article. Such "standards" are usually taught under the banner of "separation" from the sinful ways of modern society. standards of holiness," which have been already been mentioned in this article. Such "standards" are usually taught under the banner of "separation" from the sinful ways of modern society.
This is a touchy issue, because for some, such personal restrictions may truly be strong personal convictions, and we should not encourage or teach such people to violate their conscience by ignoring their convictions (Romans 14:1-6).
The problem in such churches is that these "standards" are taught as black-and-white, biblical issues of morality. In other words, to compromise these standards is akin to committing a clear moral sin, like stealing or murder.
In the case that a "standard" is not clearly biblical (like wearing wedding rings, for example), they must still be followed if the local pastor expects it. This kind of authoritarianism is similar to the Catholic view that if the Bible isn't clear, you should just do what the spiritual authority says.
Of course the Bible teaches submission to spiritual authorities, like pastors (Hebrews 13:7). However, pastors are only to teach biblical doctrine, not personal convictions (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Christians are only to follow their spiritual leaders insofar as they are following Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The problem with these "standards" is that none of them are internal issues of true holiness; they are all in the area of external appearance. Oneness Pentecostals are constantly taught to appear holy and separated from the world. When external issues are emphasized, it may well be because the true internal holiness is lacking. The Pharisees were classic examples of this problem, and Jesus was in clear opposition to the practice of "external holiness" (Matthew 23:25-28).
In short, Oneness Pentecostalism begins and ends with a constant obstacle course of rules. Those who can't keep up this game of appearances will often drop out of the movement, bringing accusations of "backsliding" from those in the church. It is easy for such a "backslider" to become more hardened to biblical Christianity, which offers a true cleansing, and a love for real holiness, which is manifested in the true "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23).
In Oneness Pentecostalism, the first real "spiritual" experience one has is that of "speaking in tongues." This is usually the result of the unbiblical practice of "seeking" or "tarrying", which was mentioned before, and can include any number of postures and activities. "seeking" or "tarrying", which was mentioned before, and can include any number of postures and activities.
Once a person gets "supernatural" results from this "seeking" procedure, he or she will notice that when they continue this process, they can re-live that original ecstatic "rush" of "finding God." Believing that these mystical experiences are the equivalent of getting in "the presence of God," such a person begins on a long journey of seeking "more" of God through "deeper" experiences.
These "deeper" experiences may be practiced at church, at home, or anywhere that's convenient. As this practice is perfected, such a person may have some very bizarre things happen to them. In their mind, they may "see visions," "hear God," "receive a prophecy," etc. On the outside, they may have physical reactions such as being "slain in the Spirit," laughing, crying, weeping, shouting, convulsing, etc.
These type of hyper-experientialism is not encouraged or taught anywhere in the Bible, but it has been practiced for centuries in primitive occult religions. Unfortunately, they are also practiced regularly in many Pentecostal (both Oneness and Trinitarian) and Charismatic churches.
Of course, there are legitimate, God-given, supernatural experiences, along with legitimate forms of Christian worship that include the raising of hands, clapping, shouting, and dancing. The distinction is this: Legitimate Christian worship experience is characterized by self-control, which is a sign of the Holy Spirit's work (Galatians 5:23); hyper-experientialism is characterized by a lack of self-control, which is a sign of Satan's work (1 Corinthians 7:5).
In short, because the Oneness view of spirituality is experience-based, rather than truth-based, it tends quite easily toward an unbiblical hyper-experientialism.
Oneness Pentecostals see themselves as the only ones who teach the "full truth of God." Other Christians, who may have been truly transformed by the Spirit of God, and love and serve the God of the Bible, are seen as "on the way" to the full truth, but not quite there.
One who believes the gospel according to Oneness Pentecostalism has no choice but to see themselves as more right, more holy, and more spiritual than everyone else. That is pure elitism; after all, they are the "only church" who preaches the "Apostolic doctrine" of "the first church."
The reason I know this is that I used to believe this myself; I fellowshipped exclusively with other "Apostolics" for long enough to know that they really do believe that they are the only ones who really "live by the Bible."
It was only when I admitted that I could be wrong that my elitist mentality began to break. When I stopped studying the Bible in order to support what I believed, and started studying it in order to learn what to believe, I realized how wrong I was.
God is the only good One (Matthew 19:17), and we are all sinners, all equally far from God and no better than anyone else (Romans 3:9). It is fully by His grace that we can have eternal life or understand any spiritual truth.
Even now, my flesh wants to think that I am smarter, more knowledgeable, and more spiritual than others. The truth is that I am innately no better than anyone else, whether they would be a Oneness Pentecostal, a Baptist, an atheist, a Catholic, or a Muslim; on the other hand, they are also no better than I am.
It is only when we realize we are the lowest that God brings us to a higher place (Matthew 5:3, 23:12; James 4:10).
It is my hope and prayer that this information will serve to expose the basic problems and dangers of Oneness Pentecostalism.
If you are not involved with this movement, I hope you will use this information to avoid its pitfalls, and to warn someone who may be considering getting involved with it.
If you are now involved with Oneness Pentecostalism, I hope that this information will be a catalyst for your own deeper study. Find out if what you believe is really biblical, and if perhaps you might have been mistaken in some of your beliefs.
The real truth of Christianity is greater and more powerful than any counterfeit, no matter how "right" it may now seem. I pray that you will discover that for yourself.