Given the recent controversy involving the question of the Trinity in Oneness Pentecostalism and whether or not someone can reject the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and be in true fellowship with God, I think it is a good idea to raise this discussion up a level. One thing that concerns me about this discussion is that Christians may be misled into believing that the only issue with Oneness Pentecostalism is their doctrine of the Trinity. This is certainly not the case.
On the Trinity
What is Oneness Pentecostalism? “Oneness theology builds its alternative to the traditional Trinitarian doctrine of the nature of God on three theological principles. First, the nature of God is a simple dialectic of transcendence and immanence. The only distinction within the Godhead is otherness and expressibility. Second, the “personhood” of God is reserved for his immanent and incarnate presence in Jesus while Spirit designates God in his transcendence. Third, the threefold divine reality is defined as “three manifestations” of the one Spirit in the person of Jesus…As a form of modalism, it preserves the radical monarchy of God and affirms the triune revelation.” [Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements]
Essentially, Oneness Pentecostals deny historic Trinitarian Christianity. They claim that God was not three persons, but three manifestations of one person. This is also known as Modalism. This view was condemned in its various forms at the Nicene Council in 325. From that decisive point forward, the Christian Church has always esteemed any rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity to be heresy. This controversy also reared its head at the leadership and prompting of Faust Sozzini, also known as, Socinianism. The Christian Church has condemned Oneness theology as heresy dating all the way back to 325.
If someone claims to follow Christ and yet denies this doctrine, the believer should walk that person through the appropriate texts of Scripture, give the person the true gospel, and ask them to recant and repent. If help is needed, ask one of your leaders or pastors to get involved. The one thing you cannot do is pretend this person is a true believer who just happens to understand the nature of God a little different from you. That is exactly what you should not do.
Here is one statement of faith chapter on salvation from this link: Oneness Pentecostal
We believe that salvation is based solely on the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and is completely an undeserved gift of God. The Biblical experience of salvation consists of: faith, repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.
Salvation is not by grace alone, through faith alone. Instead, repentance, water baptism by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and speaking in tongues are all required.
Here is another one from Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith International:
In the necessity of baptism in water in Jesus’ name according to Acts 2:38, and the in-filling of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues according to Acts 2:4. This constitutes the new birth spoken of by the Lord Jesus Christ in St. John 3:5
Oneness Pentecostalism, in its theology of the name, forms a unique approach to salvation consisting of three stages. First, repentance is defined as faith acting in obedience. If you have genuine faith you will go on to obey specific commands. A test of true obedience, the second stage of conversion or salvation is baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, hence their theology of the name. If you have been baptized under the historic Trinitarian formula, you must be re-baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The third stage is the giving of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Some Oneness groups would disagree with the three-stage approach, claiming that conversion is first, then one is baptized, and then a second work of grace happens with one is filled with the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues. Oneness Pentecostals claim that the “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is “Jesus Christ.” And hence, Matthew 18:29 is teaching the same thing literally as Acts 2:38. [Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements]
Oneness Pentecostalism promulgates heretical views of God. This means that what they teach about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is also heresy. So their views on the nature of God and the persons of the Godhead are heretical. Oneness Pentecostalism also holds to a heretical soteriology. Mixing works like repentance, baptism, and speaking in tongues with regeneration is spiritually destructive. In order for someone to join a Oneness Pentecostal community, due to the nature of their basic beliefs, that person would have to understand and affirm a heretical doctrine of the God along with a false gospel and in addition hold to an obvious heretical soteriology. It is difficult to imagine how someone could be truly saved in an environment where the gospel is not present.
How should we answer this question? Can a person be saved and reject the doctrine of the Trinity? I have to answer in the negative. No, you cannot. When the lady called into The Line of Fire, perhaps it would have been best to just answer that way. It is biblical. It has 2,000 years of Church history behind it. And it happens to be true. And if ever I have a friend who makes the mistake of not just answering the question directly and clearly, I will love him enough to tell him so. And I will hold him to account for fixing that error because it is an important mistake. Just speak honestly to the Oneness Pentecostal. We love you, but you cannot reject the Trinity and have true fellowship with God or his church. Teach them the truth and if God is regenerating them, they will leave the heresy behind just like the adulterer flees from his or her adultery. To jump through hoops on a question like this is to run the risk of having people think that this is not that big of a deal and that grace will cover heresy. Well, according to Paul, it won’t: I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
When you are asked about the necessity of believing in the Trinity, you could answer it in a way that completely compromises and belittles the doctrine, like this:
Or you could be more direct and clear and sure and biblically, like John MacArthur: