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.