Oneness Pentecostalism – An Old Heresy Dressed up in New Clothes
by Steve Langella
What does T.D. Jakes, Tommy Tenney, Philips Craig & Dean, Mickey Mangnun, The Pentecostals of Alexandria, Geron Davis, and Wayne and Elizabeth Goodine all have in common? They are all Oneness Pentecostals who deny the Trinity. Yet there are many Christians today who consider Oneness Pentecostalism to be just another denomination. While they may have some sense of the differing beliefs espoused by Oneness Pentecostals, most Christians would still regard them as fellow believers. On the surface, Oneness Pentecostals appear to be in line with orthodox Christianity. They believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They believe in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But a closer examination of their theology reveals that Oneness Pentecostals are anything but “Christian”.
Oneness Pentecostal Theology, also known as Modalism, can be traced as far back as the 3rd Century. Modalism denies the Tri-Unity of God, the pre-existence of the Son, and salvation by grace through faith alone. These beliefs do not fall into the category of non-essentials such as baptism by immersion or sprinkling; they actually distort the very core of orthodox Christianity, which must begin with a correct biblical view of the Triune Godhead. Therefore, orthodox Christians should not embrace Oneness Pentecostals as fellow believers because they adhere to a heretical system that denies the biblical doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, and Soteriology.
Should Christians Embrace Oneness Pentecostals as Fellow Believers?
Christians should not embrace Oneness Pentecostals as fellow believers because they deny the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. According to David Bernard, a prominent Oneness Pentecostal theologian, the Trinity was not taught by early church fathers of the second century. Instead, he argues, the doctrine of the Trinity gained popularity and was not established until well into the fourth century:
“… the early Christian leaders in the days immediately following the apostolic age held Oneness views. It is certain that they did not teach the doctrine of the trinity as it later developed and as it exists today. Even after the emergence of the trinitarian doctrine in the latter part of the second century, it did not replace Oneness as the dominant belief until around A.D. 300, and it did not become universally established until late in the fourth century” (Bernard, God 238).
According to Oneness Pentecostals, The Trinity is a Roman Catholic doctrine that was embraced by the church at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Athanasius, the main proponent of this doctrine, was involved in a doctrinal dispute with Arius over the Deity of Christ. Arius believed that Jesus was a created being. After hearing both sides, the Counsel sided with Athanasius. It was at this time according to Bernard that the Trinity became the dominant position within the church:
“The view of Athanasius prevailed at the first ecumenical council, held in Nicea in 325, making him the father of trinitarian orthodoxy” (Bernard, Trinity 174).
When examining these bold claims made by Oneness Pentecostals, it doesn’t take too long to find out that history shows a completely different story. The concept of a Triune God has always been held by early Church Fathers. The second-century apologist Athenagoros (c. 177 A.D.) wrote:
“Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? … to be accounted pious; while men who reckon the present life of very small worth indeed, and who are conducted to the future life by this one thing alone, that they know God and His Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what the communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son, the Father, and their distinction in unity” (Carpenter 292).
The first mention of the word Trinity is found in the writings of the early church father Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch in 190 A.D.:
“In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom” (Robertson, Donaldson, and Coxe, 2:101).
It’s apparent by this statement, that the concept of Trinity was not something that was foreign to Christianity. In Alexandria (c. A.D. 212), Christian apologist Tertullian wrote a scathing letter against the heretic Praxaes, who taught a modalist view of the Godhead. Tertullian writes,
“… especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (Robertson, Donaldson, and Coxe.3:598).
Even though Tertullian was the first to coin the phrase “Trinity”, in 212 A.D., and it is agreed that the word Trinity is not in the Bible, the concept of a Triune God cannot be denied. The argument to refute the Oneness belief that the Trinity was an invention of the Council of Nicaea is easily refuted by scripture. The strength of the argument does not rest on what early church Fathers did or did not believe; the strength of the argument rests on the Scriptures Alone. The truth that God is a Triune being who eternally exists in three Persons is clearly seen in the Gospel of Luke at the baptism of Jesus. Luke writes:
“Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3.21-22).
Oneness Pentecostals have a hard time dancing around this verse. Here the Bible records that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all together in one place. It seems Luke went out of his way to make sure that he mentioned that the Holy Spirit descended in “bodily form” as a dove. The Bible records that God the Son was standing in the Jordan River, while God the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the bodily form of a dove as God the Father spoke from Heaven. There is no clearer picture of the Trinity in all of Scripture. Since Oneness Pentecostals believe that they will:
“definitely see only one divine being in heaven: Jesus Christ” (Bernard, Trinity 15),
Another problematic verse for the Oneness is found in Revelation chapter five. John writes that Jesus, The Lamb who was slain, is standing next to the throne where God the Father is seated:
“And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (Rev. 5.4).
The Bible says that Jesus, the Lamb, reaches out and takes the scroll from the Father who is seated on the throne. This speaks of two distinct personalities interacting with one another. It is a verse that many Oneness Pentecostals avoid altogether because it is contrary to their unbiblical, anti-Trinitarian doctrine. Therefore, the argument that the early church did not believe in the Trinity is a ridiculous assumption seeing that the Bible itself attests to the Trinity.
Another reason that orthodox Christians should not embrace Oneness Pentecostals as fellow believers is because they deny the pre-existence of the Son of God. Oneness adherents believe that Jesus Christ exist in eternity past as the Father. The Son therefore, had his beginning in Mary’s womb at conception. Gregory Boyd, and ex-Oneness Pentecostal writes:
“Hence, while Jesus Christ existed from eternity as the Father, according to Oneness theology, Jesus Christ the Son had a define beginning in time-a beginning that dates from his conception in the womb of Mary” (Boyd 26).
In his book A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology, Edward Dalcour writes the following:
“Thus, since all Oneness teachers assert that God is unipersonal, only Jesus as the Father; they conclude, existed before time. Categorically, Oneness believers reject the idea that the Son preexisted with the Father. They further argue that the Son cannot be eternal for the Bible says He was “begotten on a certain day” (Dalcour 55).
What about the passages in the Bible that seem to suggest that the Son was pre-existent apart from the Father? Oneness adherents would have to reinterpret large portions of scriptures to explain away the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the pre-existence of Jesus Christ as the Eternal Son of God. And that is exactly what David Bernard does; he reinterprets Scripture to fit his theology. R.C. Sproul gives some excellent advice to those who seek to reinterpret the bible:
If upon reading a particular passage you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two-thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation – R.C. Sproul
In handling John 1:1 which reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, David Bernard states the following:
The Word or Logos can mean the plan, thought, or mind of God. The Incarnation was a predestined plan—an absolutely certain future event—and therefore it had a reality attached to it that no human thought could ever have. The Word can also mean the plan or thought of God as expressed in the flesh, that is, in the Son. What is the difference, therefore, between the two terms “Word” and “Son”? The Word had preexistence and the Word was God (the Father), so we can use this term without reference to humanity. However, the Son always refers to the Incarnation, and we cannot speak of the Son in the absence of the human element. Except as a foreordained plan in the mind of God, the Son did not have preexistence before the conception in the womb of Mary. The Son of God preexisted in thought but not in substance. The Bible calls this foreordained revelation the Word (Bernard God 102-3).
The early church Fathers, which by the way David Bernard consistently claims held to a Oneness position, would not agree with David Bernard’s interpretation of John 1:1. Clement of Alexandria in (c. A.D. 195) wrote the following:
That which was from the beginning,” he touches upon the generation without beginning of the Son, who is co-existent with the Father. There was; then, a Word importing an unbeginning eternity; as also the Word itself, that is, the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreated. That He was always the Word, is signified by saying, “In the beginning was the Word. (Robertson, Donaldson, and Coxe, 3:574).
It would be a good idea for David Bernard and Oneness adherents to take the advice of R.C. Sproul. The Scriptures and Church history clearly proclaim Jesus as the Eternal Son of God. He existed in eternity past as the Word of God. To suggest that Jesus pre-existed, as the Father is to adopt another second century heretical view called modalistic monarchianism, which, according to The Moody Handbook of Theology, is called Patripassianism, (from Latin patri- “father” and passio “suffering”):
A second form of Monarchianism was modalistic monarchianism, the more popular of the two. It also sought to preserve the unity of God but additionally emphasized the deity of Christ. It was also called patripassianism, out of the belief that the Father was the one who became incarnate, suffered, and died. It was further known as Sabellianism after Sabellius, its proponent in the east (Ennis 419).
In reality, Oneness Pentecostal Theology distorts the Christology of Scripture, by teaching that Jesus is the Father wearing a different mask. Oneness Pentecostal Theology is guilty of the heresy of patripassianism, which must be rejected by Christians.
Yet and additional reason that orthodox Christians should not embrace Oneness Pentecostals as fellow believers is because they deny salvation by grace through faith. According to Oneness Theolog:
“baptism is a prerequisite for salvation, and second, the Oneness teaching that baptism must be administered using the formula “in Jesus’ name” (Boyd 134).
This type of soteriology is called “Baptismal Regeneration”. It is a false doctrine, which teaches that a person is saved through the act of water baptism. Baptismal Regeneration is a works based salvation because it requires that a person must do something in order to obtain salvation. Again Gregory Boyd states:
“Oneness Pentecostals teach that baptism in water is an absolute prerequisite for salvation. This position is commonly called “baptismal regeneration” because it holds that one is “regenerated” only when he or she is baptized” (134).
This is in direct contrary to the Bible’s view of salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith alone:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast: (Eph. 2.8-9).
The Reformers called this the Doctrine of Sola Fide, which means faith alone. One has to go no further than the plain reading of scripture to see that the Oneness teaching that salvation is the result of being baptized in Jesus name only results in salvation:
“even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2.5);
“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3.5);
“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2.16).
The scripture is crystal clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and is never a result of an external act or formula. Therefore, the soteriology of Oneness Pentecostal Theology fails the test of orthodoxy. In fact the Apostle Paul calls it another gospel:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1.6-7).
When Oneness Pentecostal Theology is compared to the Word of God, and the writings of the early Church, it clearly falls outside the lines of the historical Christian faith. Their views regarding the Trinity, Christology, and Soteriology are clearly heretical and should not be embraced by orthodox Christianity. Yet many Christians continue to embrace these anti-Trinitarians as brothers and sisters in Christ all in the name of love and unity. When truth is cast aside for the sake of unity, the church becomes prey to heresy and false teachers. Jude said it best:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1.3-4).
Philips, Craig, and Dean
Oneness Pentecostal teachers have crept into the church unbeknownst too many and are perverting the grace of God with their false doctrines. This is clearly seen in regards to Philips, Craig, and Dean. Three Oneness Pentecostals who deny the Trinity. Randy Philips served along-side his father for many years as a pastor at Promise Land Church in Austin Texas during his tenure with Philips, Craig and Dean. Promise Land has posted a downloadable study guide entitled The Enquirer’s Handbook on the Resources page of their website. Here are some excerpts from that handbook:
Here, Randy Philips affirms the heretical Oneness Pentecostal teaching that water baptism is required for salvation.
‘Just as the two elements, water and spirit, are vital to the natural birth, the Bible teaches that they are also vital to the Spiritual birth. The only scriptural way to be born again is to be properly baptized in water and to be baptized, or filled, with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).” – Enquirer’s Handbook, pg. 26
“The baptism of water is necessary for every person’s sins to be washed away (Acts 22:16), and the baptism of the Holy Ghost is man’s vital link with God.” – Enquirer’s Handbook, pg. 26
Here, Randy Philips affirms the heretical Oneness Pentecostal teaching that Jesus is the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit. In Oneness Theology there is only one God. Therefore, Jesus is just another name for the Father as well as the Holy Spirit:
“Jesus is not only the name of the Son (Matthew 1:21) but the Father as well. This is consistent with all scriptures in the Bible.” – Enquirer’s Handbook, pg. 39
“The apostles understood that the name of the Father and of the Son was Jesus, and they also understood Jesus to be the name of the Holy Ghost….The Holy Ghost is actually the Spirit of the Lord (Romans 8:9) and always bears His name – Jesus.” – Enquirer’s Handbook, pg. 39
Here, Randy Philips clearly affirms Modalism, the teaching that God is One and that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same person who are basically wearing different masks and performing different roles. For Randy Philips, the concept of a Triune God consisting of three distinct Persons simply does not exist:
“The Bible does indeed speak of a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit; but a closer look at the Scriptures will reveal that the fullness of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost dwells totally and completely in the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:10-11). “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9); and “Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Mat. 28:18).
This is the reason that John saw only one person on one throne and not three persons. In Jesus dwells the fullness of God, and all the power of heaven and earth is resting in Him. Since the death of John and the other eleven original apostles, many concepts and teachings have arisen that do not necessarily coincide with the “one God” teaching of the early church. In the year
A.D. 180, Tertullian began using the term “trinity” from which was born the Catholic doctrine of three Gods, co-equal, co-existent and co-eternal. The Roman Emperor Constantine in the year A.D. 325 incorporated the “doctrine of the trinity” into the Catholic Church where it has remained ever since, and most Protestant churches have accepted this doctrine without thorough examination. The “trinity”, however, generates confusion and is not in total harmony with the Scriptures. To say that there are three separate persons who somehow comprise “one God” is like trying to connect opposing sides of two magnets. When you add 1+1+1, it must equal three; and there cannot, under any circumstances, be more than one God.”
One of the primary sources of confusion in this matter is related to the word “persons.” The doctrine of the trinity states that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three “persons” who make up one God.
In actuality, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three manifestations of one God. This word manifestation means “to appear”, and it is quite scriptural. The Bible tells us that, “God was manifest in the flesh . . .” (I Timothy 3:16). In other words, God appeared in the flesh (as a son).” – Enquirer’s Handbook, pg. 60
Download Enquirer’s Handbook (here) and read for yourself. Any discerning Christian will immediately see that the Jesus portrayed by Randy Philips and his father at Promise Land Church is not the Jesus of the Bible. And the Gospel that is portrayed by Randy Philips and his father at Promise Land Church is not the Gospel that Jesus, Paul, or the rest of the New Testament Authors preached. In fact, it is a different Gospel.
It is time for the Church to stand up for the truth of the Gospel and refuse to embrace anyone as fellow believers who do not follow sound biblical orthodox doctrine. Christians are called to content for the faith, not compromise it.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9
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Sproul, R.C. – Ligonier Ministries