BIBLE DIGEST - Number 23                                                                                  January 1993

by Allon Maxwell

Early this century, during the infancy of the growth of Pentecostalism, there was a major division between the "orthodox" Trinitarian mainstream and others who adopted the "Oneness" theology. This division persists to the present time.

Both streams claim the "gift" of speaking in tongues as the sign which validates their other claim to have received the same "Baptism with the Holy Spirit" as those first century disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Both claim miracles and other signs and wonders in support of their mutually exclusive and unique positions.

To an observer, there is no visible difference between their "gifts", except that in one case they come from the Trinitarian Christ, and in the other, from the Oneness Christ.

The "Oneness" theology about the person of Christ represents a re-emergence of a stream with diverse origins, which can be traced back to the early centuries of the church. It carries various theological labels such as, "Modalism", "Monarchianism", or "Sabellianism". It was, in fact, a source of contention at the same time as the Arian debate, in the fourth century. However, at that time, under the pressures of political expediency, the opponents temporarily submerged their differences to join forces against the common Arian foe.

The "Oneness" teaching rejects the Trinitarian concept of three separate and distinct persons in the Godhead and claims instead that Jesus alone is the one God of the Bible. It is this Jesus who reveals himself in different forms, or "modes", at different times, as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. All three are simply the same person, Jesus, appearing in the "mode" appropriate to the occasion.

This counterfeit Christ is both Father and Son at the same time. Although He is spoken of as a "man", He is in truth, unlike any other man who has ever lived, in that He has two separate natures, one human, one divine. He was confined to earth as a man, and yet at the same time, in Heaven and omnipresent as God. 

As the "human" Jesus He worships and prays to the divinity within Himself. 

On the cross only His human nature "died", since in His second divine nature, as God, He could not die.

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is made into a total farce. They say that although His human nature was tempted, He could not sin at all because of His second divine nature.

Because of their belief in only one person as God, these churches usually also insist that baptism "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit", (Matt 28:19), is not valid. To be acceptable to their "oneness" God (and to these men) it must be "in the name of Jesus" (only). Anyone baptised in the threefold name of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit", must renounce that baptism and be rebaptised with the right words said over them, before they can be regarded as really baptised. 

However, even then, salvation is not complete and the new birth is not regarded as accomplished until the person concerned has spoken in tongues, as evidence of their "Baptism with the Holy Spirit".

For honest hearts, this "Oneness" doctrine is sadly lacking in logic.

For eyes and ears open to simple Bible truth, this Jesus simply cannot be a REAL MAN. The Oneness churches do pay lip service to the word "man" in relation to Jesus, but no matter how we attempt to rationalise this, their two natured Jesus is actually a God, very different to other men. Their Jesus is in reality, a modern version of that first century spirit of Antichrist, which is the subject of John's first and second epistles.

John uses hard words about this. So must we. But let us be careful to use those words from John's epistle reluctantly, cautiously, and in love, without hatred or bitterness.

To put it simply, using John's words, the Oneness teaching about the person of Jesus, IS A LIE which denies both the real meaning of the relationship between Father and Son, and the true identity of the Christ. (1 John 2:22)

John says very bluntly that no such lie is of the Truth, (1 John 2:21), and that any spirit which insists that Jesus is not really a man, is NOT the Spirit of Truth, but is instead, the Spirit of Error. (1 John 4:6)

John labels all such as DECEIVERS, (2 John 7), and FALSE PROPHETS, (1 John 4:1). 

All who follow these teachers are still OF THE WORLD. (1 John 4:5)

If we accept John's warning, all of this raises many serious questions.

Can we regard any baptism, administered in the name of the Oneness Christ, and received on the basis of acceptance of that false Christ, as a valid baptism?

Can we regard any belief in the false Gospel which insists that no one is really saved or born again, until they have spoken in tongues, as a saving faith? Is it not much more likely that these people who have received "a different Jesus" and "a different Gospel", have also been "led astray from pure devotion to (the real) Christ". (2 Cor 11:3-4)

Where does this fit in relation to what Paul says about false Gospels? 

How do we apply TO OURSELVES, Paul's warning about those who pervert the Gospel of Christ? (Gal 1:6-10)

Perhaps the most serious implication is this. Any "spirit" and any "gift" received in the name of that false Oneness Christ, accompanied by the false Gospel of salvation, must surely be identified as that Spirit of Error to which John refers.

If that is the case, then why should I believe that it can possibly be true that the real Jesus is confirming their dangerous errors, through any sign or wonder offered in support of their claims? Is it not much more likely that such signs and wonders are amongst those described in Deut 13:1-2?

When we are faced with such "signs", we will do well to remember that what is really happening is that the Lord our God is testing us, to know whether we love Him with all our heart and with all our soul, and so that we may learn better to obey His voice, serve Him and cleave to Him alone. (Deut 13:3-4)