It is no secret that Jesus declared himself the way, truth, and the life. This inclusivity of Christianity is well known and since Jesus is the way, the “Jesus Only” movement seems attractive. Movements such as this can seem okay, but in truth we must be weary of the fundamental differences held when looking at the core tenants of Christianity. Why is this important? It is quite simple as the core tenants are what make Christianity, Christianity. The Jesus Only Movement is actually an old heresy with new clothes, which is typically the case with any movement or denomination that springs up and separates from the core tenants of Christianity. This movement is a theological (not sociological) cult and it is important to understand it in order to respond to it. What is the Jesus Only Movement? What do they teach? I plan on touching on this and this will eventually lead up to a discussion on the Trinity and Modalism at a later date.
I. A Brief History
I. A Brief History
The Jesus Only movement is fairly young and the beginning of this movement can be traced to one event in 1913. Known as Oneness Pentecostalism, this movement was born from the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. Originating in California through the sermon by R.E. McAlister on Acts 2:38, a divide between the Assemblies of God arose and the Oneness position left the denomination. After several different merges the Oneness movement landed in the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI), which became the largest of the Oneness denominations. In this it is important to note that Pentecostals are distinct from Oneness Pentecostals. This is something that I felt was necessary to make clear.
Oneness Pentecostals’ foundational belief is the “oneness” of God, which initially doesn’t seem like a problem. In reality, they believe in only one person or personality in the Godhead. While every Christian believes in only one God, Oneness Pentecostals reject the doctrine of the trinity in the belief that Trinitarians are tritheists. They express that those who believe in the doctrine of the trinity claim that God is one, but actually believe that God is three different beings. Oneness Pentecostalism believes that God is indivisible, and therefore hold that God manifests himself in different ways at different times. This view is actually an age old heresy known as Modalism or Sabellianism (http://www.theopedia.com/modalism). For those who have yet to dive into deep theological study, these concepts may have never crossed your mind. These are concepts that you should be evaluating as many Christians hold views of modalism without realizing that it is an erroneous view of God’s nature.
In the beliefs of the Oneness Pentecostals they hold that only Jesus is God and that the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the names of Jesus. In this the deity of Jesus is recognized by this movement, but they hold that God became the Son at Mary’s conception and that the Son is not eternal. “Son” in the bible, according to them, refers to God in human flesh.
Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism, “consists of deliverance from all sin and unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus Christ. The New Testament experience of salvation consists of repentance from sin, water baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, after which the Christian is to live a godly life.”  This is salvation by works and the first requirement for salvation is baptism.
Water Baptism: According to Oneness Pentecostals, baptism is the means by which we are regenerated (or born again). In Oneness theology if you have not been baptized than you cannot be forgiven nor enter God’s kingdom. Furthermore, baptism must be done correctly for salvation, which includes immersion and baptism in Jesus’ name only.
Spirit Baptism: Like Christianity that holds to core tenants, Oneness Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation. This of course is not a work of man and thus does not fall into the works based salvation in itself. The distinctive difference between the Oneness movement and orthodox Christians is the belief that speaking in tongues is the defining evidence that you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. In order to be saved the individual is to speak in tongues in accordance with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues as evidence is safe, but the requirement of the work itself is on the fence in terms of salvations by works. It is also problematic being that some people do not have the gift of tongues.
Holiness: Lastly, the Oneness movement teaches that good works must be maintained to be saved. Standards set by the movement include dress, hygiene, drinking, smoking, and entertainment. Such standards must be met or you risk losing your salvation. According to Oneness Pentecostals, grace is the beginning of salvation, which allows you to enter the kingdom, but not remain there. Your good works are the means by which you have a chance of remaining in the kingdom.
As we examine the beliefs of the Oneness Pentecostal movement the issues arise very quickly and even more so than most believe. It is typically understood that the Oneness Pentecostals are observers of a form of Modalism, however, the work based salvation that they preach is unknown to most Christians. A question that is initially raised when meeting a Oneness Pentecostal is whether or not the trinity is a belief that is necessary for salvation, but without addressing that in detail, the early church throughout history and myself hold that the trinity is vital to knowing God as he is. It is a matter of having the true God, but there is a lot more to the implications of the trinity in Christian theology that will be addressed at a later time. For a young Christian to struggle with Trinitarian views is normal, but it is the desire to accept God’s revelation in scripture that is particularly important.
The more pressing issue within this movement is the works based salvation that they are putting themselves under and teaching others to follow. Aside from the confusion that could arise from a true believer wondering why they haven’t spoken in tongue yet, there are plentiful issues with work based salvation. As this is an informative piece that presupposes the acceptance of proper doctrine of the reader, I will refrain from going into the details regarding the biblical fact that salvation is impossible to attain by works. Aside from the Oneness Pentecostals’ view of tongues, which is questionable in itself, we are faced with individuals striving to meet God’s perfect standard of holiness to remain in the kingdom, which is actually a part of the Gospel to begin with. In truth this means that the imputed righteousness of Christ’s substitutionary death is completely wiped from scripture in Oneness theology. I must admit, I’m not entirely sure what their view is on the imputed righteousness of Christ, but considering that you must work to remain in the kingdom I would assume that it is rejected. This is a prime example of how rejecting or changing doctrine rolls over and changes other doctrines.
A last consideration regarding the issues of Oneness Pentecostals has to be the neglect of proper hermeneutics. In studying the beliefs of Oneness theology and how they support their beliefs it is easy to see that they isolate texts without consideration for the context or the Bible as a whole. In the midst of this reality the Oneness movement ignores texts that show distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and boil down the rejection of the trinity to irrational thought and the misunderstanding of Trinitarianism as a whole. It is a game of trying to have the Oneness Pentecostal deal honestly with texts that conflict with their teachings that makes the dialect difficult.
In conclusion, there are issues speckled throughout the Oneness Pentecostal movement. This movement is actually on the rise and we should be aware of what scripture says in order to help them understand God as he is revealed in His word. From my experience with Oneness Pentecostals I have observed a significant amount of reference to their personal experiences with Jesus, and some of them, if not most, are contrary to scripture and therefore not from Jesus. Furthermore, their expression of the gift of tongues is something we must all consider, and I personally do not hold to a man forced babbling as the gift of tongues. When a dogmatic or orthodox theological position is changed we can assume that it will roll over and affect other aspects of a group’s theology. The best move is understanding these groups, knowing scripture, and being led by the Holy Spirit in how to help correct such teachings as per 2 Timothy 3:16.
Due to the trending nature of this discussion it follows that my next post will be regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. A part of that post will be eliminating the false information surrounding the Council of Nicaea and the origin of the Trinity. Addressing the Council of Nicaea is important as most anti-Trinitarian groups are quick to cite this event despite that their history leads them wrong. I hope to develop a well-researched post on the Trinity and I hope this information is helpful to you. I am sure that this post in itself is going to shake things up a bit, but as Martin Luther said, “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Leave some comments, concerns, questions below and feel free to share this work with others. God bless you all.