A Measured Response to Stop the Feud
By Paul D Mooney
Charisma and Christian Life magazine’s recent article (July 2002) by its editor Lee Grady concerning the Oneness sect of the modern Pentecostal movement invoked wide response. My own response is herein added to the heap.
Lee Grady, to his credit, has made public in his editorials the existence of Oneness Pentecostals. I say that because for the most part even the acknowledgement that this segment of the modern Pentecostal movement exists is missing from most discussions about the growth of Pentecostalism in his century. This is a fact that is thankfully changing in the newer additions of history books and directories. Oneness people are more responsible for this, I would suspect, than the historians or scholars. Oneness preachers have traditionally shunned publicity, and most of our organizations have been woefully neglectful in recording and providing an accurate history of our activities. Mr. Grady’s charge of isolationism is, in a certain context, true.
Born and reared as a Oneness Pentecostal, my remarks will be more emotional and biased than scholarly. I don’t think that disqualifies me from speaking. I would argue that it make my thoughts more important for those who might want to understand the Oneness mind-set, so to speak. Let me explain.
Oneness people really believe what they believe. Their doctrine, to them, is not mere positioning or hair-splitting, as Grady claims the “younger type” ministers see this whole matter of the Godhead. First of all, Oneness believers feel no obligation to try and understand the trinity or explain the Godhead from Trinitarian perspective. They do not see any evidence of an unfolding revelation of God explained as three persons in the Old Testament, nor do they see any of the “developed Nicean Trinitarian language” in the New Testament. Also important to the Oneness believers is the theology they attach to the name of Jesus as the revealed Name Above All Names. Doing all in “the Name” is fundamental to their faith. To them, this is not hair-splitting. Oneness people are confidently Pre-Nicean in their whole approach to the subject. This is non-negotiable for Oneness people. They see it as Apostolic Biblical. True. The “mighty God in Christ” is a revelation. There is a huge gap between Oneness thinking and Trinitarian thinking.
The defense that Oneness people give concerning the “Oneness” explanation of the Godhead is not about wanting to divide, nor to be isolationists in an arrogant self-righteous sense, or in some hateful way. Not at all. Oneness people believe what they believe. When they hear Trinitarians say, “one must accept the trinity by faith to be a Christian,” what are they supposed to do?
Grady’s comment, “It may take another decade-and a few more funerals-to end this dispute,” was shocking. I understand that Mr. Grady is a nice guy; personally, I enjoy his monthly editorials, and I wanted to take this statement in the best light but it leaves me cold. I’m disappointed he would offer this viewpoint for a couple reasons.
First of all, it suggests that the young preachers in the Oneness movement (Grady has already alluded to the “younger types”) are all chomping at the bit to get “free” from oppressive old men. But out of respect for their bishops, they are standing by waiting for them to die before they bring the “Oneness folks” into the mainstream. I do not believe this. The army of young preachers worldwide among Oneness people is more dedicated, more talented, more educated, more anointed then ever; and, I might add, as committed to the Oneness message as ever. Hopefully, Grady had not been talking to someone who has given him this impression, or worse, he is not deliberately trying to cause division.
The “funeral” remark is shocking for a second reason. Aside from its unprofessionalism and hurtful nature, it ignores the central component I mentioned earlier. Oneness people are not in a process of ecumenicalism. If certain men among them are, (an issue that needs exploring, in my opinion) it does not reflect the whole. They don’t feel slighted, out of it, denied, and lost, waiting for a great leader or bright young personality to lead them back to the Trinitarian fold. This may sound life exclusivist, but that is neither that attitude nor the sentiment.
That is not to say that we’re right and everyone else is wrong, so let them go jump in the lake; not at all. It is loving what we believe to be the truth. Loving it enough to preach it, declare it, contend for it, stand for it, even if it (the message, not the attitude of the people) separates us from whoever or whatever. I would guess that most Oneness people would wish that everyone would be saved, even if they disagree with their doctrinal interpretation. But is likely also true that they are unwilling to give up their own convictions for the somewhat ambiguous idea that it doesn’t matter how you view anything else as long as you believe that “God sent His Son,” as Mr. Grady suggests.
With respect to the 21st century, I would like for Mr. Grady to explain what is really so wonderful about the 21st century that it would compel “holiness” people to give up and join in, even if that means the sacrifice of certain godly disciplines. In his challenge that “Oneness” people must “join the 21st century,” he cites examples of what he calls isolation. He mentions the Oneness people’s anti TV watching and dress codes, and their definitive position on the Apostle Paul’s command for women to have long hair as not only isolationism but as having created, according to Grady, “dysfunction in many Oneness groups.” Yikes, that sounds serious. Le me examine our stand against television and certain types of immodest dress.
Many Oneness people do in fact forgo the owning of a television. They join with millions of other Americans who are tired of the MTV indoctrination of our children. They choose not to have as their main source of information that clearly biased ideas of the liberal press, (a concern well documented by many who themselves have served in the media.) They attempt to live free from the constant immoral babble that attempts to teach society that the abnormal is normal, that the right is wrong, that the evil is good. Personally I am proud of every Oneness family that has chosen to have a TV-free zone for their children. Some do not make this choice, but those who do have nothing to apologize for. Oneness people, Mr. Grady says, “must allow the Holy Spirit to season their message with grace.” We preach, he says further, “a toxic form of salvation by works.”
I have heard this charge all my life. It does not seem to matter how carefully you think explain your position; critics nevertheless insist on saying that we believe that you must do this or not do that to be saved, I’ve never heard a sermon that tried to teach people that tried to teach people that to do any kind of “works” alone would save them, or that one could go to heaven through their mere compliance to certain disciplines.
What Oneness people teach is a lifestyle that reflects the grace of God that is working in their lives. (Since I’m not doing a Bible study, I’m going to forego piling up scriptural references). Anyway, for Oneness people, Christian living involves disciplines, separating from the world, and obedience to biblical principles. Do some Oneness people get fired up in overemphasizing certain pet issues to the division of the body? Sadly, yes. Do some preachers become judgmental even toward other Oneness people? Sadly, yes. Is preaching a separated and holy lifestyle contrary to the scripture? Of course not, and every preacher knows in his heart that moral instruction I appropriate.
Is teaching our young ladies that they should not wear clothing that is lewd and sexually suggestive, but rather that they should dress in a manner that is modest and emphasizes their femininity and the distinctive beauty of their sex, a teaching that causes dysfunction? How absurd.
Unisexism is a dysfunction. Bisexualism is a dysfunction. How people live or dress has never been irrelevant. Teaching them they will be saved simply because they do this or that, indeed, would be unscriptural and misleading. Teaching them that they must be born again of the water and the Spirit, which they have access to by God’s grace, is what Oneness people believe and practice.
It is probably rue that some people do indeed marginalize Oneness folks because of their dress codes, but this is no legitimate reason to forsake modesty in manners and dress. One could argue that the politically correct crowd dismisses any Christians who preach about the homosexual lifestyle being unnatural. Should we capitulate on this issue because the world disagrees? No, but unfortunately many have.
As a side note here, one might wonder to what degree the world marginalizes many charismatic TV personalities with their pancake make-up absurd hairdos, glitter-studded clothing, greasy looking long-hair male prophets, huge gold rings and neck chains, glided studio sets, not to mention the never ending sermons on “seed offerings.” It is not judgmentalism to say this negative imagery needs to be cleaned up because the Gaudiness of it all does not represent godliness, grace or eve good taste. Help!
The real danger of our age is not disagreements or strong contentions for the Faith. In fact, the matter of Christians disagreeing and searching for a deeper understanding of the truth, even debating and fussing a bit, should not be a big concern or a negative. It reflects, I think, that the existence of Truth and absolutes that we are striving to attain really do exist. To reach the “full measure” is the goal. Challenging one another, even trying to concert one another, is a good thing. The give horror of horrors is thinking that Truth is unknowable. Or worse, believing that it doesn’t matter what one believes (a form of belief). Or that only sincerity counts. Under those rules there would be no stopping the slide into perdition. There would be no standard. No accountability. By what then would one judge a false teacher? The floor would be yielded to the cunning and the crafty. The hearts of the people would be prey for the deceivers and the selfish.
The Truth and the search for the Truth is a noble pursuit. Neutralizing all debate in the interest of some false concept of love is dangerous. This has become the real agenda fro some later-day prophets. This sort would choose to give up all contentions to have a sort of blanket neutrality on all issues. They advocate no doctrine, no lines, and no absolutes. Be warned, there are real motives for this position; it condemns no one, it challenges no one, it sharpens no one, and conversely it creates a huge pseudo-Christian atmosphere that lacks verse and conviction but creates a huge market place. (A subject for another time.)
Is there a sense in which all Christians are tied together, including Oneness people? Yes. How God works and moves the world toward His purposes and will is complicated and humbling. No one should be arrogant or disrespectful. I know that some preach Jesus for their own self-promotion, others for political reasons, many for wealth and fame, but wherever the Name of Jesus is lifted up, perhaps men will look to Him for hope. In this desire, we all must walk humbly.
This article “A Measured Response To Stop The Feud” by Paul D. Mooney is excerpted from Apostolic World Report, September-December 2002 Edition