'Jesus Only' Isn't Enough
Where exactly do "Oneness" Pentecostals stand in relation to orthodoxy? Are they in or out?—Fred Askins, Commerce City, Colorado
The decisive word in the origins of "Jesus only" (or Oneness) Pentecostals is probably apostolic. Beginning about 1913, certain Pentecostal ministers began to ask, "What is the correct apostolic formula for baptizing believers?" Several ministers concluded that the correct formula, the one used by the apostles themselves, was found in Acts 2:38, where Peter proclaims, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."
Attentive Bible readers will immediately ask, "But didn't Jesus command the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?" Indeed, that formula is found in Matthew 28:19. But Oneness Pentecostals have chosen to focus on the Acts 2:38 formula because, they say, that is the actual formula used by the apostles. In fact, they are correct in observing that the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 is never again mentioned, while several references are made to baptism in the name of Jesus (see Acts 10:48, 19:5). The earliest Oneness Pentecostals felt so strongly about the baptismal formula that many of them chose to be rebaptized in the name of Jesus only, which led to splits in congregations and denominations. The greatest divide among Pentecostals today is between orthodox Pentecostals and Oneness Pentecostals.
This difference in the matter of words used during baptisms represents something far more important: a different view of the nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—what orthodox Christians refer to as the Trinity. If asked if they believe in God the Father, Son, and Spirit, all Oneness Pentecostals would answer yes. Like all Pentecostals, Oneness Pentecostals place great emphasis on the role of the Spirit in the Christian life. But to them, the traditional Christian view of the Trinity is dangerously close to tritheism—belief in three distinct gods. Their view is, as one of their authors has put it, "Christian monotheism."
But orthodox Christian theologians believe Oneness theology is guilty of the heresy of modalism. While orthodox Christian theologians often refer to the three "Persons" in the Trinity, Oneness authors speak of the three "manifestations" (or "offices") of the one God. They tend to connect the term person with the modern conception of the word—that is, a person is a distinct individual—which is why they see the orthodox view as being close to tritheism. Believing strongly in one undivided God, Oneness authors teach that the whole essential Godhead is present in Jesus (an idea supported by Colossians 2:9 and other passages). God, the one divine Being, is the Father in the Son, and is Spirit through the Son. Fairly early in Christian History this belief was condemned as heresy. Mainstream Christian theology continues to reject modalism because it does not do justice to the Bible's view of God as three distinct Persons.
This view of the Trinity is connected with Oneness Pentecostals' Christology. They place much emphasis on the name of God. They believe that the name of the Lord Jesus is, under the new covenant, God's means of self-revelation and salvation. They cite Colossians 2:9, with Paul's declaration that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." In their view, traditional Trinitarianism minimizes the full revelation of God in Christ. Their aim is to elevate the Son to his proper place in the Godhead. Consequently, Jesus is elevated to the point that one might as well say, "God is Jesus."