It has been my experience that many Jesus Only adherents are disingenuous when it comes to church history. They have no problem quoting an early Church Father when they think it favors their position, yet they claim they need only the Bible when the Fathers do not favor their position. They will use church history to support their doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration, and baptism in the name of Jesus only, but when a Trinitarian uses Church history to support baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, they quickly resort to ad hominem attacks with the intent of discrediting the historian or Church Father’s testimony. They take quote after quote out of context, half quoting some, misquoting others, and giving erroneous definitions for words until they sound as if they actually know what they are talking about. They especially do this with the Bible. They take so many verses out of context it is unbelievable, but this is a necessity for them. Isolating verses and taking them out of context is the only way they can maintain many of their doctrines.
A good example of this would be Oneness author and apologist David Bernard’s horrid attempt at teaching that Jesus was the Father incarnate (Oneness of God, pg. 66-70). He laid John 8:25 and John 8:27 side by side to “prove” that Jesus was calling Himself the Father. Let’s read these two verses.
Joh 8:25 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning.
Joh 8:27 They understood not that he spake to them of the Father.
Please pay attention to the fact that he completely omitted verse 26, but who can blame him, considering it destroys his entire proposition? Here is what verse 26 says:
Joh 8:26 I have many things to say and to judge of you: but HE THAT SENT ME is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of HIM. (emphasis added)
If these three verses are read in their natural order, it becomes clear that verse 27is referring back to the Father Who sent and spoke to Jesus in verse 26! These verses plainly teach a personal distinction between the Father and Jesus, not that Jesus is the Father incarnate! The really sad thing is, the Oneness believers that are reading this propaganda never question Bernard’s underhanded tactics. They swallow everything he says hook, line, and sinker! My prayer is that God would open their eyes that they might see the truth of God’s Word!
With sneaky tactics like these, a Christian who does not know the Scriptures and church history well enough, can be stumped and found struggling to answer the Jesus Only adherent’s arguments sufficiently. Please, do not fall for these underhanded tactics. Do not be intimidated by their much speaking! Most Oneness adherents are doing nothing more than repeating their denomination’s literature or what their preachers told them to say. If the truth be known, many of them are actually struggling to believe the very doctrines they are advocating. It’s just that they are so fearful of tri-theism they won’t move an inch toward true Trinitarianism!
In this lesson I would like to expose the true origin of the Oneness Pentecostal movement, and give you the resources necessary to soundly refute their erroneous historical claims.
A Brief History of the Oneness Pentecostal Movement
Many Oneness believers assert that the doctrine of the Trinity was invented in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea, but this is simply not true. The Council of Nicaea was an assembly in which the early Church Fathers sat down and defined what they already believed. From the Apostles up until the late 2nd century, the triune nature of God was universally assumed by nearly all Christendom. There was no one refuting the belief that God was a Trinity, so they had no reason to systematically define the doctrine. Then certain heretics sprang up, like Arius, Noetus, Praxeas, and Sabellius, teaching doctrines contrary to those of Christ and the Apostles. The Fathers, out of necessity, had to define what the Church believed. They did not invent anything!
I do not deny that the creeds, terminologies, and Theological semantics that we use today have evolved over the years, but that is a far cry from inventing the concept of God consisting of a trinity of self-conscious persons. It would be absurd for me to say my wife is not the same woman today as she was when I first married her, simply because I now know more about her. Likewise, we may have a greater understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity than those that preceded us, but it is foolish to say the Trinity does not exist on that basis. This, as you will see, is just one of many places the Oneness adherents display gross hypocrisy. I doubt that there is a single point of Oneness Theology that has not evolved down through the years, but they conveniently forget things like that when dealing with us.
We may or may not agree with every single point of the Nicene Creed, but that is not really the issue here. The issue is, the Fathers believed in a plurality of persons in the Godhead before the council at Nicaea ever convened. Now don’t get me wrong, that alone does not make the doctrine of the Trinity true, only Scripture can determine what is true and what is not. But the Nicene Council is important because it tells us what was being taught only two hundred and fifty years after the Apostles and their writings.
The Church Fathers wrote many articles and letters to each other. They debated heretical teachings and were very open about their beliefs. Because of that, we have much evidence of their Theological position on the Godhead. Remember, Oneness believers will tell you that the concept of the Trinity was invented in 325 A.D., that the Church held to the Oneness doctrine up until that time. The problem with this assertion is that historical documentation proves otherwise.
During the first nineteen years of the church, with the exception of a short space of time between 180 and 300 A.D., the Oneness movement is basically invisible. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Church Fathers clearly taught a plurality in the Godhead, if not outright Trinitarianism. Here are a few examples:
70 A.D. – A book called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”, or “The Didache” (di-dah-kay), gives solid evidence of the early church’s belief in the triune God. This is remarkable considering Paul wrote several of his epistles between 60 and 64 A.D., which means only six to ten years had expired between the two. It is cited by Eusebius who lived from (260-341 A.D) and Athanasius (293-373 A.D.). Historically, they were Trinitarians in 70 A.D.
The following is a list of church fathers who taught there was a plurality of persons in the Godhead, as well as the resources I found this information in:
110 A.D. – Ignatius of Antioch (Epistle to the Ephesians, 0:0).
151 A.D. – Justin Martyr (First Apology 13:5–6).
181 A.D. – Theophilus of Antioch (A letter to Autolycus 2:15).
189 A.D. – Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1:10:1).
216 A.D. – Tertullian (Against Praxeas 2).
225 A.D. – Origen (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:4:1).
228 A.D. – Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies 10:29).
235 A.D. – Novatian (Treatise on the Trinity 11).
262 A.D. – Dionysius (Letter to Dionysius of Alexandria 1).
265 A.D. – Gregory the Wonderworker (Declaration of Faith).
325 A.D. – The Trinitarian view was affirmed as an article of faith by the Nicene.
381 A.D. – The Trinitarian view was again affirmed as an article of faith in Constantinople.
My only purpose for listing these Church Fathers and their writings is to support my proposition that the early church’s belief in the Trinity existed long before 325 A.D.
I would like to ask the Jesus Only adherents a few questions. If the Oneness doctrine was the principle doctrine of the early Church as you propose, why do the Father’s speak in a manner that indicates a general and common knowledge of the Trinity? Why was there no uproar when all these Trinitarians came on the scene teaching this “new” heresy, trying to destroy the church? How could the Trinitarian “heresy” take over so quickly, thoroughly, and quietly? How did these Trinitarian “heretics” completely hijack the entire church, its history, and doctrines without a peep from anyone? And why is it that when the Oneness heresy appeared in the late second and early third centuries there WAS a massive uproar? The answer is simple. The Jesus Only doctrine did not exist in Christendom up until then!
One may ask: “If the majority of our Church Fathers were Trinitarian, then where did the Oneness doctrine originate?” Well, that’s a good question!
Monarchianism (190 A.D.)
When studying the Oneness doctrine and its origin, I have noticed certain words and terminologies repeatedly coming up. Words like Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Modalism, and Patripassionism. Although these words are technically different, they ultimately describe the same thing.
Previously, I told you that the reason the council at Nicaea convened and placed their beliefs on the Godhead into articles of faith, was that heretics began to spring up teaching doctrines contrary to the Apostles’ teachings. One of those false teachers was Theodotus of Byzantine. In 190 A.D. he began teaching what would be labeled by Tertullian as Monarchianism. The word Monarchianism is derived from a Greek word that means “the rule of one man”. Monarchianism is basically the belief that God the Father is the only person in the Godhead. Theodotus (also known as Artemon), claimed this was the true apostolic teaching, but Hippolytus challenged that claim. Later, Paul of Samosata became the chief promoter of it, creating a more advanced system.
Around the same time (ca. 190 A.D.), a Monarchian by the name of Noetus rose up. In a council at Smyrna he lied about his belief in Monarchianism, asserting he was an orthodox Trinitarian. Later, in another council meeting, after winning a few converts, he confessed his Monarchian dogma and was ultimately condemned and excommunicated as a heretic. It is said he believed he was Moses and his brother was Aaron (Morey, Robert, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, pg. 510). Monarchianism was eventually condemned by the Synod (an assembly of clergy) of Antioch in 268 A.D.
There were a few different forms of Monarchianism, they had some similarities, but were distinct enough to be opposed to each other. First, there was Adoptive Monarchianism. This is the belief that Christ was merely a man until His baptism, when the Holy Ghost MADE Him the Son of God by adoption. In John 1:1 the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We know that the Word (or Logos) is Christ Jesus, but Theodotus believed the Word was the wisdom of God indwelling the human Jesus. He also promoted the teaching that the Holy Ghost was not a person, but simply a manifestation of the grace of the Father.
The second form of Monarchianism I want to mention was possibly started by Simon Magus, a magician in Samaria who professed conversion in Acts 8:9; you may know him better as Simon the Sorcerer. He was denounced by Peter for trying to buy the gifts of the Spirit, which is now called the Sin of Simony. He stated that God was one person acting out three different roles in the same drama. He taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were masks that God hid behind. It was the idea that God appeared not in three different persons, but in three different modes, hence, we have the word modalism. Modalism is based on the Platonic doctrine that God was an indivisible monad and could not be divided into three distinct persons.
Not only did Simon Magus teach that there was only one person in the Godhead, he was so wicked that he claimed he was that person! He claimed to be the Father in Samaria, the Son in Judea, and the Holy Ghost to the rest of the nations (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 pgs. 347-348).
Although many dangers are prevalent in this modalistic concept of God, I consider one of them to be the most dangerous. If the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were merely three roles or masks, we would never really know who God is. Although we would know something about His “parts” or “roles”, we would never know the God behind the masks, which falls just short of agnosticism!
Sabellianism (200-400 A.D.)
Between 200 A.D. and 400 A.D. another form of Modalistic Monarchianism sprang up: Sabellianism. Sabellianism was a Christian heresy named after Sabellius, a priest excommunicated by Pope Callistus I in 220 A.D. He vehemently denied the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Sabellius contended that God was three only in relation to the world. He, too, said God manifested Himself in different "modes." Where Adoptive Monarchianism taught that Christ was born merely a human and then made the Son of God, Sabellius taught that Christ was actually the Father indwelling a physical body. So Jesus was not the second person of the Godhead, He was God the Father in the mode of the Son! Although it is hard to believe, they taught that God became His own Son! Sabellianism ultimately evolved into what the Apostolics and UPC adherents believe today.
Praxeas and Patripassionism (190-262 A.D.)
Sabellius, like his counterparts, taught that Jesus did not exist before the incarnation and, because the Father and Jesus are the same person, it was actually the Father that suffered on the cross of Calvary. This view is called “Patripassionism” from the words patri, which means “father”, and passion, which means “to suffer”. It was first taught by a man named Praxeas (in Rome) in approximately 190 A.D., and then condemned by a synod of Rome in 262 A.D.
In Carthage, Tertullian was able to convince Praxeas of the errors of his Oneness doctrine, which resulted in Praxeas making a public recantation (Morey, Robert, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, pg. 509). Unfortunately, Praxeas was once again overcome by this heresy and became a Oneness champion. Some historians believe Praxeas and Sabellius were one and the same person (Letham, Robert, The Holy Trinity, pg. 108).
So, to simplify this as much as possible, these heretics taught that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were merely three titles, actions, or modes of the same person. They taught that He was one person who appeared in the Old Testament as Father, in the Gospels as Son, and to the Church as Holy Ghost. They taught that God revealed Himself as Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Ghost in regeneration. This is, more or less, the same position that today’s Oneness adherents hold to. To the Oneness adherent, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is what God does. To the Trinitarian the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are who God is.
Middle Ages (ca. 400 A.D. to 1500 A.D.)
As far as the Middle Ages go, Oneness believers are even harder to find than they were in the first three centuries. The Oneness doctrine basically lay silent for over twelve hundred years. David Bernard said there were many people living in the Middle Ages that opposed Trinitarianism, but could only list three: (1) Abelard (1079-1142 A.D.); (2) Michael Servetus (1511-1553 A.D.); and (3) Emanuel Swedenborg (1668-1772 A.D.). He said John Clowes (1828 A.D.) was “possibly” a Modalist. He then listed three more men that some Oneness writers “think” could have been Modalists (but even Bernard would not put his signature on those three)! In fact, Bernard could only list about a dozen “so-called” Oneness adherents from the days of the Apostles to the early 1900's, and the vast majority of them had question marks over their heads (Oneness of God, pgs. 241-242)!
I was amazed that Bernard even listed Emanuel Swedenborg as a Oneness advocate! That only showed me how desperate he was to find some “proof” of their existence before the 1900's. Swedenborg is said to have been an occultic medium whose teachings were adopted by the Free Masons. He taught that adultery with concubines and mistresses was okay in certain circumstances. He is attributed with reviving the ancient heresy of the Son being the human nature of Jesus, and the Father being the divine nature of Jesus (Morey, Robert, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, pg. 513). I’d like to ask all of you Oneness/Jesus Only adherents how it feels to know your doctrine on the hypostatic union was revived by a warlock?
As far as historical information dealing with the Oneness movement up until the 1900's is concerned, this is the best I can do. Even David Bernard confessed, “It appears that most Oneness believers did not leave a written record” (Oneness of God, pg. 241). I had to laugh when I read that. Not only was it convenient, it was very true! Oneness believers would have had to actually exist in order for them to have written something!
Modern Day Oneness Pentecostalism (Apostolic, UPC, Jesus Name Churches, etc.)
It is well documented that the modern day Oneness Pentecostal movement (Apostolic, UPC Churches) is merely a split off of the Assemblies of God. It all started in 1913at the World-Wide Apostolic Camp Meeting held in Arroyo Seco, California, funded by a man named R. J. Scott (Liardon, Roberts, God’s Generals, pg. 65-66). He was excited about the things he had heard about a woman preacher named Maria Woodworth-Etter. He thought she could rekindle the fires of Azusa Street and bring a unified supernatural work back to the Los Angeles area. Many of its attendees referred to it as a continuation and reviving of the original Azusa Street meeting.
A Canadian named R.E. McAlister, an Assemblies of God minister, preached a message on water baptism in Jesus’ Name. John G. Schaepe was so stirred by the sermon, he claimed to have prayed and read the Bible all night. In the morning he ran through the camp shouting that he had received a revelation on the power of Jesus’ name. A great division came about, and from there several of them began baptizing in Jesus’ name only. Ultimately, from this 1913 fiasco, the Oneness Pentecostal movement was spawned!
According to E. Calvin Beisner, R.E. McAlister was not the only Assemblies of God preacher gone astray. He was accompanied by the likes of Frank J. Ewart, Glenn A. Cook, and Garfield T. Haywood (“Jesus Only” Churches, pg. 7). Beisner states that in 1915 the Assemblies of God, after being prompted by J. Roswell Flower’s opposition to Oneness Theology, held a general council and opposed the Oneness teaching. In 1916 they held a fourth general council at which they adopted a “Statement of Fundamental Truths” that emphatically held to the doctrine of the Trinity. This resulted in the banning of 156 of the Assembly of God’s 585 ministers.
On January 3, 1916, several of the Oneness ministers that had been disbarred by the Assembly of God’s “Statement of Fundamental Truths” (including Howard A. Goss, H.G. Rodgers, and D.C.O Opperman) formed the General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies. From that organization, the Apostolic and UPC movement evolved and grew into what it is today. So, as you can plainly see, today’s Oneness Pentecostal movement is nothing more than chaff sifted off of Trinitarian wheat.
Just for the record, in 1919 they suffered the embarrassment of having R.E. McAlister renounce what he had previously taught concerning the Oneness doctrine and baptism in Jesus’ Name. He became one of Canada’s great orthodox Trinitarian champions (Fudge, Thomas, Christianity Without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness, pg. 61).
In summary, the Apostolic and United Pentecostal Churches proudly reject the doctrine of the Trinity. They, like Sabellius, do not believe the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct persons. They believe they are merely three manifestations of the one uni-personal God.
Today’s Oneness doctrine originated with men that departed from the faith, men that gave heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. It is nothing more than a revival of Sabellianism.
The Oneness doctrine has always been considered heresy, and will always be heresy. Not because the council at Nicaea said so, but because the Bible plainly teaches that God is a Trinity of persons, not parts, modes, or manifestations!
Copyright 2009 by David Lamb