By Tal Davis
Official Names and Membership (estimates):
Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God (AOHCG)-13,000
Assemblies of the Lord Jesus, Inc. (ALJI)-50,000
Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide, Inc. (Bible
Church of Our Lord Jesus of the Apostolic Faith (COLJF)-30,000
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW)-1,000,000 reported
Pentecostal Church of Apostolic Faith (PCAF)-25,000
United Church of Jesus Christ (Apostolic) (UCJC-A)-100,000
United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI)-500,000 (1.5 million
Other Designations: "Jesus Only" churches; "Apostolic
Pentecostals"; The "Oneness Movement"; The "Jesus Name" Movement
Pentecostal Herald (UPCI)
The Global Witness (UPCI)
The Bible Way News Voice (Bible Way)
The People's Mouthpiece (AOHCG)
The Contender for the Faith (COLJF)
Christian Outlook (PAW)
AOHCG: Berean Christian Bible College-Birmingham, Ala.
PAW: Aenon Bible School-Indianapolis, Ind.
UCJC: Institute of Biblical Studies-Baltimore, Md.
UPCI: Apostolic Bible Institute-St. Paul, Minn.
Apostolic Missionary Institute-Oshawa, Ont.
Christian Life College-Stockton, Calif.
Indiana Bible College-Seymour, Ind.
Texas Bible College-Houston, Texas
This Belief Bulletin presents basic Oneness Pentecostal history and
doctrines and provides a biblical analysis and response.
The modern Pentecostal movement is generally regarded to have begun in 1901
in a chapel prayer meeting in Topeka, Kan., led by Charles Parham, a teacher at
Bethel Bible College.
In 1906, the Pentecostal experience of "speaking in tongues" burst on the
scene during a revival in an African-American Baptist church on Azuza Street in
Los Angeles, Calif. Following these beginnings, Pentecostal preachers and
churches spread rapidly coalescing into various denominations and factions.
In 1913, one popular teacher, R.E. McAlister of Toronto, Ont., began
teaching that the Trinity doctrine was untrue and that baptism should be done
correctly in Jesus' name only-not in the traditional trinitarian formula. Other
preachers, such as Frank J. Ewart and John G. Scheppe, joined McAlister in his
By 1916, "oneness" views were being expounded by some ministers in the
Assemblies of God (AOG) denomination. They were strongly rejected by the
denomination's council that year, and the AOG adopted a strong trinitarian
stance in its statement of faith. More than 160 oneness ministers who were
expelled from the AOG quickly formed their own alliances to promote their
After that time, a number of oneness sects formed, most of which were
predominately African-American. The largest oneness movements today are the
United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and the Pentecostal Assemblies
of the World (PAW). The UPCI was organized in 1945 with the union of two
predominately white groups started earlier in the century. Its headquarters and
publishing firm, the Pentecostal Publishing House, is located at 8855 Dunn
Road, Hazelwood, MO 63042.
The PAW formed in 1918, but split along racial lines in 1924. Today it is
predominately African-American and is headquartered in Indianapolis,
Oneness Pentecostal Sources of Authority
Oneness Pentecostals of all branches affirm the authority of the Bible for
doctrine. Many, however, utilize only the King James Version to proof text
their unique doctrines. In addition, many Oneness advocates rely on the
unbiblical revelations received by various Oneness leaders whom they regard as
divinely inspired or anointed interpreters of the Bible. For example, many in
UPCI consider the writings of Frank Ewart and John G. Scheppe as
Biblical Response: The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and
infallible Word of God (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is the final
authority for the Christian on all matters of faith and doctrine. No single
translation or human interpretation can be regarded as infallible. All modern
writings or "revelations" must be analyzed in light of sound principles of
Only One God:
Oneness Pentecostals declare that the Godhead consists of only one Person
and deny the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. They maintain that the only
real "person" in the Godhead is Jesus. Thus, they are often referred to as the
"Jesus Only" Movement. They maintain that God exists in two modes, as the
Father in heaven, and as Jesus the Son on earth. Nevertheless, they are the
same person, not two separate persons. The Holy Spirit is not regarded as a
person at all, merely a manifestation of Jesus' power or a synonym for Him.
Several verses are quoted to establish this view, such as Colossians 2:9
(NKJV), "For in Him (Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
Oneness theologians would argue that if the Father and the Son were separate,
then the Godhead could not fully dwell in Christ. Matthew 28:19 also affirms
their views that Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize in the "name"
(singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is said to have two natures: human and divine. Thus, when He died,
only His human nature died. Also, when Jesus prayed, it was His human nature
praying to His divine nature-not to a separate Father in heaven.
Biblical Response: The Oneness Pentecostal view of God is
similar to the ancient heresy of Modalism. Modalism is the belief that one God
existed in time in three distinct modes of being: first as the Father in
heaven; second, bodily as the Son on earth; and finally as the Holy Spirit.
The Bible indeed teaches the existence of only one God (Deut. 6:4).
Nonetheless, historic Christianity maintains that the doctrine of the Trinity
(or tri-unity of God) is taught in Scripture. The Bible teaches that the one
God exists eternally in three separate and distinct Persons of the Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit.
Colossians 2:9 does not teach that the totality of the Godhead was in the
body of Jesus, but rather that Jesus embodied the totality of the divine nature
and God is totally revealed in Him. If the Father and the Son are the same
person, then the Oneness teachers have a difficult job explaining how the
Father and the Son can love each other (See Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 3:35; 5:20;
2 Pet. 1:17), talk to each other (see John 11:41-42; 12:28; 17:1-26), and know
each other (see Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 7:29).
Matthew 28:19 clearly reflects the trinitarian concept that the "name"
(authority and characteristics) of the one God is incorporated in the three
Persons of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4-6; 2
Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). (See the following verses affirming the
personality and deity of the Holy Spirit: Luke 12:12; John 15:26; Acts 5:3-10;
13:2-4; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:7.)
Four-fold Legal Requirement
The Oneness Pentecostal movements generally teach that to receive and
maintain salvation, a person must adhere to four essential requirements.
1. Faith in Jesus Only
Oneness teachers would agree that salvation requires putting one's full
faith in the Jesus of Oneness doctrine, that is the Jesus who is the totality
of the Godhead, who died on the cross as an atonement for sin, and who rose
again from the dead.
2. Repentance and Baptism in the "Name of Jesus"
Acts 2:38 is used as evidence that the early church baptized only in the
name of Jesus. They maintain that baptism in the trinitarian formula is invalid
since it implies belief in three gods. They claim Matthew 28:19 is not to be
taken as a command to baptize in that formula.
3. Speaking in Tongues
Like most traditional Pentecostals and charismatics, Oneness Pentecostals
teach that speaking in tongues is a gift to be exercised today. However, unlike
most traditionalists, the Oneness movements maintain that speaking in tongues
is not just a post-conversion indicator of the filling or baptism of the Holy
Spirit, but an essential ingredient in the salvation experience itself.
4. Adherence to Holiness Standards
Most Oneness Pentecostals teach that once salvation is gained initially by
the preceding ingredients, it must be maintained by daily adherence to
legalistic codes of personal behavior. Alcohol and tobacco are prohibited.
Women are not allowed to cut their hair, wear short dresses or slacks, use
make-up, or wear jewelry. Men are expected to dress conservatively (white
shirts and dark slacks), be clean shaven, and have short haircuts. Violations
of these codes may result in a loss of salvation and exclusion from church
Some small Oneness groups also practice handling poisonous snakes or
drinking poison to demonstrate their faith and holiness based on Mark 16:18 in
the King James Version.
Biblical Response: Salvation is "by grace through faith" in
Jesus Christ alone (see Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
Baptism is not essential to one's reception of salvation. It is a symbol of
one's identification with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The proper mode is immersion in the triune name of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 must be read in context and in light of Jesus' clear
command in Matthew 28:19.
Speaking in tongues, like all other gifts, is distributed sovereignly by the
Holy Spirit to those He wills for the equipping and edification of the whole
body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12-14). There is no indication that it, or any other
spiritual gift, is required to receive God's gift of salvation by grace or to
be filled with His Holy Spirit (see Eph. 5:18).
Oneness movements' emphases on personal holiness and healthy lifestyles are
commendable. Nevertheless, the requirements for outward adherence to a strict
moral code in order to maintain salvation inevitably leads to legalism and a
lack of assurance of eternal life.
No amount of good works, moral living, or church membership guarantees
salvation. Salvation is entirely based on grace through faith in Christ. Good
works and holy living are the natural responses of salvation already
received-not its cause (see Eph. 2:10). Salvation is eternally assured for
those who have accepted Christ as personal Lord and Savior (see John 1:12;
5:24; 1 John 5:13).
Mark 16:18 is part of a disputed portion of Mark's text. Regardless,
handling snakes or drinking poison is a misuse of that Scripture and has
resulted in the deaths of many practitioners.
Oneness Pentecostals have an anti-trinitarian view of God, an unbiblical
doctrine of Jesus Christ, and unbiblical requirements for salvation (speaking
in tongues, water baptism in "Jesus' name," and a legalistic moral code). Thus,
those churches adhering to its basic doctrines cannot be regarded as
authentically Christian. Any group or church that claims to be Christian yet
deviates at any point from historical Christian faith is, by definition, a
cult. Oneness Pentecostal churches are, therefore, cultic in nature and outside
the theological parameters of historic Christianity.
Witnessing to Oneness Pentecostals:
1. Have a clear understanding of your faith and the Bible.
2. Acquire a basic knowledge of Oneness Pentecostals' beliefs and
3. Seek to build a personal and respectful relationship with the Oneness
4. Focus the discussion on the essential elements of the Christian faith. Do
not get sidetracked defending your denomination.
5. Be prepared to cite (in context) and explain specific biblical passages
supporting Christian doctrines, particularly the biblical basis for the
Trinity, the historic understanding of the nature and work of Christ, and
salvation by grace through faith.
6. Share your personal testimony of God's grace and your faith in Jesus
Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.
7. The Oneness Pentecostal may try to convince you that you need to speak in
tongues, be baptized in Jesus' name, and live according to their strict moral
code. Be prepared to explain biblically why you do not believe these are
necessary ingredients for salvation or eternal security.
8. Present the basic plan of salvation and encourage the Oneness Pentecostal
to receive Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior.
9. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you as you share.
Beisner, E. Cal. "Jesus Only" Churches. Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1998.
Bowman, Robert M., Jr. "Oneness Pentecostals and the Name of Jesus," paper.
Atlanta: Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project, 1994.
Melton, J. Gordon. Encyclopedia of American Religions. 6th ed.
Detroit: Gale Research, 1999.Dictionary of Christianity in America.
Edited by Daniel G. Reid. Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
Scripture quotation marked NKJV is from The New King James Version.
Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.