Framing the Debate

On Friday nights we have elders classes/meetings at my pastor’s house. A couple of weeks ago we were discussing the Eucharist and somehow or another we got into the subject of humility. He wanted us to watch a variety of YouTube videos and discuss the different preachers or something like that. One of the preachers on the list was T. D. Jakes, and I made the comment in passing that he’s a heretic, which he is, and that sparked up a debate I’ve been having with my pastor for years, i.e., the “are Oneness Pentecostals saved?” debate.

Well, he proceeded to tell everyone else at the table that nobody gets saved believing in the Trinity, rather they get saved calling on Jesus, and most Oneness believers don’t know about Oneness doctrine, so he’s not willing to say that they’re not saved, unless of course they’re extremely legalistic and make things such as baptism and speaking in tongues a requirement for salvation. He then told them that I “put them all in hell” for not believing in the Trinity. So, of course, when framed that way, I look like the bad guy who’s unwilling to compromise or allow for any exceptions to the rule.

I had to explain that (1) I don’t have a hell to put anyone in, and that (2) rather than focusing on what Oneness believers don’t believe, I prefer to focus on what they do believe. When I frame the debate I don’t appeal to knowledge of the Trinity as necessary for salvation. Any real salvation experience is Trinitarian through and through, but most folks wouldn’t know it. That doesn’t mean much of anything to be honest. I don’t doubt someone’s salvation if they’re ignorant of the Trinity. I do question the salvation of anyone who’s been presented with the Trinity and outright denies it. But more to the point, I don’t focus on the Trinity so much as I focus on Oneness theology positively stated.

What do Oneness believers believe about God? Well, they believe that God is one person: Jesus. Jesus is at the same time Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father is Jesus’ divine nature while the Son is Jesus’ human nature and the Spirit is a way of speaking about Jesus’ immanence in the world. The problem with all of this is that it’s contrary to God’s revelation of himself in Scripture. It’s likewise contrary to our experience of salvation, but again, most of us are ignorant of the Trinitarian nature of salvation anyway, so…

So let’s forget what Oneness believers don’t believe for a second and discuss what they do believe. Is that belief what the Bible speaks about with reference to salvation? Is that the picture of the divine economy that we see in Scripture? If not then why would we make allowances for Oneness believers when we wouldn’t make them for Jehovah’s Witnesses based on their aberrant views of God and Christ? Or Mormons based on theirs? And that’s a point I always return to with my pastor. He’s quite happy to exclude Mormons and JWs but not so happy to exclude Oneness believers. Why? It’s inconsistent.

But let me close with this—and it’s something I’ve said on this blog plenty of times before—ignorance covers a multitude of sins. I’ll grant that there are plenty of folks sitting in Oneness churches who have never so much as heard anything about Oneness theology. They’ve probably heard plenty about Jesus without ever getting into the finer points. If we’re only talking about those folks then fine. I won’t deny them salvation for believing in Jesus. But it’s never those folks I’m talking about. I’m talking about the folks who know what they believe and why they believe it. I’m talking about the folks who actively deny the Trinity because the Trinity isn’t the God they love and worship. Can they be saved? Of course! But it will require repentance from idolatry and a turning toward the Trinity.

B”H

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4 thoughts on “Framing the Debate

  1. Hi Nick: I usually enjoy your columns and often look up and sometimes purchase the books that you mention. I don’t really like the columns when you seem (and I use the word “seem” lightly) to be judging others. In fact, in my Greek learning process I have been learning to read parts of the Sermon on the Mount in Greek and was concentrating on Matthew 7:1 this afternoon.

    I have neighbors and friends who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholics and Jews (one family member is Jewish), plus 7th Day Adventists. And my parents were Unitarians. I am an Episcopalian (Episcopagan as some would say) and have never heard of Oneness, but I kind of like what you described as “oneness.” I will have to look into it more.

    I firmly believe in Romans 10:9 etc and can recite it all in Greek. And I do prefer the words “made whole” rather than “saved.” And you know enough Greek (more than I do) to realize that being “made whole” is another good definition of “sozo.” Being healed is a better definition also than being “saved.” Saved from what? if you don’t believe in hell. I sure don’t and I wouldn’t want to believe in a God who would send anyone to such a place. God is completely and totally unconditional love, love without any reservations.

    Thanks for your columns and comments Nick.

  2. I think Scripture says if you confess with your lips and believe in your heart … I think Oneness Pente’s do believe that Jesus is God and therefore I wouldn’t exclude them from salvation. As for T.D Jakes; while I am not enamoured towards him and he does have a oneness pentecostal back ground, he does actually have more of a Trinitarian leaning then he does wear the oneness hat.

    I can’t access it now, but, I did read a transcript of a interview he did here in Australia a few years back when he was here for a Hillsong Conference, where he openly spoke about his coming to know the Lord through a oneness church, and like so many of us, his faith journey has progressed a lot in his knowledge of the God head and his ways.

  3. Hey Nick, what would you think of your pastor’s salvation if he affirmed the salvation of a oneness pentecostal and knew that the oneness pentecostal knowingly rejected the Trinity?

  4. Laurence: First, I’m glad to hear that you usually enjoy my posts and sometimes purchase books I mention. I mention them usually because I think they’re worth reading.

    With that said, I won’t deny that I’m offering a judgment here, but I think it’s in keeping with Jesus command to not judge according to appearance but rather offer a righteous judgment (John 7:24). This is an issue that I’ve studied for years. I’ve prayed about it for years. I’ve interacted with Oneness Pentecostals in person and online for the better part of a decade. I don’t hold my opinion lightly and I didn’t arrive at it hastily.

    I’d also like to say something about Matthew 7. If you’ll notice, judging others isn’t the issue. The issue is judging in hypocrisy. We shouldn’t worry about a speck of dust in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own. But notice how Jesus goes on to say that once the log is removed from our eye we’ll be able to see clearly how to take the dust out of the other person’s eye. Jesus is saying that we should judge; just not as hypocrites.

    We have opposing views on Hell but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

    Craig: JWs and Mormons believe that Jesus is in some sense God as well. I don’t know how you view them in particular, but it seems to me that if we make allowances for one we should make allowances for the others. Jakes’ most recent dealings with the subject of the Trinity came at the Elephant Room conference last year. I listened to what he said and he polished his language a little bit, but he never actually affirmed Trinitarianism. He denied being a Modalist of the Sabellian variety, i.e., believing that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are successive manifestations of God. The problem is that Oneness theology isn’t properly Sabellian. Jakes denies this belief along with every other Oneness Pentecostal. But that’s a far cry from actually affirming the Trinity.

    Joshua: I wouldn’t think anything of his salvation. I’d simply question his judgment on the issue.

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