Answering Gregory Boyd’s
“Sharing Your Faith with a Oneness Pentecostal”
By Mark. W. Bassett
Pastor, Life Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church, Milford, CT
Recently, while perusing the internet, I came across an article written by a gentleman who once attended a United Pentecostal Church, and had left the church. The article is Sharing Your Faith with a Oneness Pentecostal (an article in two parts from the Witnessing Tips column of the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1991 and Spring 1992) and was written by Gregory A. Boyd.
In the article, he seemed disposed to serve as a spokesperson for a presumed body of persons who might have been held captive by doctrinal errors, and espoused testimony of one who had personally escaped from error.
I am sorry for this individual’s loss of sound doctrine, and will stand with his church in praying for his opportunity to be saved. However, this article presents an occasion to examine some arguments against the Apostolic doctrine, and the Church at large. Mr. Boyd’s viewpoint, and the acceptance of that viewpoint by a group that are largely received as “Christian apologists” suggest that the opinions expressed in the article might be regularly propagated, if not commonly held. Thus, there is a likelihood that Oneness Apostolics will encounter these objections, or perhaps even direct derivatives when witnessing, preaching and testifying. Mr. Boyd is a professor of theology at a midwestern school, and may be challenged on these issues from the standpoint of Bible theology, and by questioning his representation of what Oneness Pentecostals believe.
In this article, I would like to answer the issues addressed by Mr. Boyd. Generally, it seems that the extent of Mr. Boyd’s understanding of the doctrines which he says he has rejected was very limited. But before we can dismiss the individual as one who “went out from among us but was not of us” as is so easy to do, we must remember that there are perhaps thousands of individuals who are, at some time, in a state of confusion or partial understanding, and perhaps do not know it.
Observing the manner in which people of tribal backgrounds, utterly unfamiliar with the gospel story are today receiving the Holy Ghost in great numbers, we are reminded that doctrinal purity is hardly a precondition, or even a guarantee of the initial experience of salvation. Near you in the pew of your own church are many people to whom God is ministering in their uncompleted state, through teaching, preaching and exhortation of the Word of God.
As we evaluate Mr. Boyd’s statements, let’s anticipate the same remarks coming from individuals whose lives were the target of the “seed stealer” in the formative months or years of their Christian experience. An interpersonal hurt, a disappointment, or difficult trials can all be reasons for persons to look elsewhere for comfort, and even turn against the ministry and, at the same time, sound doctrine. Our lives are integral, and holistic, and we who have received the fullness of truth as well as the strength to of overcomers ought to be very piteous towards those who are weak and vulnerable. Perhaps our teaching ought to be brought into account in some cases.
The Pentecostal’s Attitude …
In his article, Mr. Boyd addresses:
Areas of distinction between Oneness and Trinitarian theologies
His perception of attitudes among the Oneness people with whom he was familiar
His assessment of the weaknesses in the understanding and experience of the average Oneness Pentecostal.
He lists four theological areas of ” error … which “Oneness Pentecostals hold, … that are especially weak and open to effective refutation. Quoted from the article, they are:
1.their belief that tongues is the necessary sign of salvation;
2.their denial of the pre-existence of Christ;
3.their belief that Jesus was Himself the Father;
4.their belief that baptism “in Jesus’ name” is necessary for salvation.
Attempting to summarize, Mr. Boyd writes:
“Perhaps the most important thing to remember when dialoguing with Oneness Pentecostals is to demonstrate to them the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus Christ. The most problematic aspect of my theology when I was a Oneness Pentecostal was the belief that no one other than us Oneness Pentecostals was going to heaven. Trinitarian Christians simply were not saved! So every time I met Trinitarian Christians who clearly reflected the loving presence of Jesus in their lives by the way they related to me, I confronted more strong evidence that my theology could not be true”
Comment: There are several highlights here. First, Mr. Boyd supposes that a sense and knowledge of God’s love is felt by Oneness peoples to be the exclusive property of the saved. We might speculate that, in his own mind, this feature and this feature alone was the paramount element of salvation. Bible believing Christians read, believe and observe that God’s mercy precedes his dealing with individuals in this era. People’s vastly different ideologies are rightly convinced by both the word and experience that God is primarily merciful, and see in the gospel an unilateral or unconditional act of reconciliation. It seems strange to imagine that anyone would identify emotional comfort, and acceptance of this wonderful aspect of God’s character as equivalent to holding sound doctrine. Almost certainly Mr. Boyd’s own security and salvation were not established during these encounters.
Those who are adamant teachers of doctrine ought to be warned that perfected Christians are fulfilled, joyful, and trusting Christians, who believe that God loves them without having to take a doctrine test. Perfected, or whole Christians are not emotionally susceptible to envy a peace which they themselves lack.
Mr. Boyd: “… confront their misunderstandings of what Trinitarians believe. Like most Oneness Pentecostals, I was firmly convinced that Trinitarians worshipped three separate gods and that they didn’t “really” believe that Jesus Christ was Himself the Lord God Almighty. This is how Oneness Pentecostals are indoctrinated to perceive Trinitarians. Hence, when dialoguing with Oneness Pentecostals it is vitally important to be utterly empathic about your own belief that there is only one God — not three — and that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of this one God.”
Comment: (At first glance, it might seem that Mr. Boyd is saying that Oneness people are in fact, poorly educated Trinitarians. He seems to think that, if they knew what Trinitarians believed, It would be identical to their own beliefs. However, I don’t suppose that he would long agree in that position, seeing that his mentors at CRI hold Oneness Pentecostals to be heretics.)
In some respects, I agree with Mr. Boyd. Among Oneness Pentecostals are a number of people who are not educated as to the various notions which are held by those who would claim to be Trinitarians. In fact, from the “New England Trinitarianism” of Bushnell, where the economy of identities is Apostolic, to the radical trinitarianism of Swaggart, Copeland, and Hagin, Trinitarians are hardly uniform in belief. Orthodoxy dictates that there is a plural of “persons” in the godhead while the creedal formulation of Nicea refers to Jesus Christ as “One Lord … God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God”. So, needless to say, Oneness Pentecostals may very well be not at all informed concerning what a particular Trinitarian conceives as the godhead. Depending upon the extent to which the scriptures have provided illumination on that subject, a self described Trinitarian may very well hold a oneness belief. For example, when I discovered the true deity of Jesus Christ in scripture, and expressed it to casual Trinitarian relatives, they said, “Of course, we believe there is no other God but Jesus also!”. A trained Trinitarian theologian would have corrected them, however. The discussion of “persons” in the godhead is irrational without a determination of whether the person advocating “persons” intends “persona” (appearance or face as in 2 Cor 2:10), or hupostasis( foundation or basic identity as in Heb 1:3). Either way, it is impossible to propose a division of the eternal being of God without approaching technical polytheism.
It is at this point that the issue is clarified. Oneness Pentecostals should not be indoctrinated that Trinitarians “believe” in three gods, but rather that they make extra-scriptural expressions, and abide by creeds and post-apostolic formulations which emphasize an essentially plural deity. As a result, issues arise concerning:
Worship given to the Father apart from Jesus Christ
The identity of the indwelling Spirit
The Christian baptismal formula
The Identification of the Church
Extra-scriptural terminology, and the tendency to entrust the formal expression of spiritual truths to post-apostolic councils, rather than the appointed Apostolic witnesses causes these imbalances, and many
more. Thus, Apostolic Christians are encouraged to know the nature of the godhead based on the clear statements of scripture, and admonished to avoid interpreting scripture based on influences other than the scripture itself, and prayerful meditation in the word. In a very serious sense, acceptance of a formal creed and unity with those who espouse it are a powerful definition of one’s belief. Whatever Trinitarians do actually “believe”, the Apostolic will agree with the Apostles on this and other profoundly important matters.
In John 4, involved in a discussion with a woman whose familiarity with tradition far exceeded here expectation for true understanding, Jesus presented a startling contrast: “We know what we worship”. By reason, and statistical evidence, the Trinitarian dogma allows for numerous means by which to cause three to equal one. No one denies that Trinitarians will not for any price abandon the label of monotheism, but virtue of Deut 6:4. However, Apostolics point out that one means one, not three. History has shown that the Trinitarian tradition has indeed expressed itself in artforms showing three distinct deities which are assigned oneness of necessity to remain within the Judeo-Christian monotheistic framework. While a mystery appears when we consider the identity of the humanity (the Son), and who he might have been had a will other than the will of God appeared in Him, we cannot find a distinction between Jesus Christ and the Eternal God who
indwelled Him on earth. His comment says it clearly: “I and the Father are one”. A prayer encounter with the True God reveals this one God, with the face (personality) of Jesus Christ. Where there is judgment in the Father, and mercy in Jesus Christ – so the scripture reveals Judgment committed to Jesus, and mercy in the Father which endures forever. We simply cannot distinguish the deity of Jesus Christ and the Fullness of God.
Contrary to the meaningful conversation which Mr. Boyd alludes to, conversations with aggressively evangelistic Trinitarians who seek to “convert” Oneness Pentecostals reveal that they are not happy to affirm One God, but pause there only to press toward the need for a confession of tripartite personhood.
Mr. Boyd: “If need be, explain to them that the Trinitarian creedallanguage about God existing in “three persons” does not literally mean that there are three “people” who are God. It is rather simply a shorthand way of saying that God eternally exists in three personally distinct ways (who would deny that God is _capable_ of that?).”
Comment: That would be enough to realize an oddity concerning the dogma of trinitarianism. The Bible teaches that God, a Spirit, was manifest in the flesh at a certain point in time. The concept of “eternal sonship” was disputed and denied by CRI’s own founder, Walter Martin. If God is capable of existing in three persons (which of course, He is), then He is also capable of dwelling fulling in the Son, and remaining One which is what Bible monotheism teaches.
Wishing to unseat the imagined pride of Apostolics …
Mr. Boyd: “Most importantly, emphasize as strongly as possible that Jesus Christ is the very center of your faith and life. Oneness Pentecostals honestly believe that _they_ are the only ones for whom this is true. When I as a Oneness Pentecostal first confronted some informed Trinitarians who successfully conveyed this to me, it effectively loosened the grip which my elitist theology had on me.”
Comment: It is difficult to argue with Mr. Boyd, as he is advocating for Trinitarians exactly the same experience that Apostolics would. It is not a great problem to realize that people progress in their experience toward God. For example, Apollos was mighty in the scriptures, and yet Aquilla and his wife took Apollosinto their care, and taught him the way more perfectly. In Acts 19, the Ephesian disciples were not reprimanded or cursed, but simply presented with the truth of the Apostolic doctrine which they readily accepted. AS we have noted, Mr. Boyd has put his finger on the matter of real importance. An individual who holds his achievement in doctrine as a means to disdain others not as blessed is nothing more than a Pharisee, and will certainly become the target of condemnation in this spiritual pride. The answer to this real phariseeism is to become earnestly subject to the reality of the word, and not to pause in considering one’s position relative to others.
Oneness Pentecostals do not believe they are “the only one’s saved”. They believe there is one way to be saved, and that God has revealed it through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and has both articulated the way and helped us to travel it through the instruction of the Apostles. Oneness Apostolics believe that others must travel on the revealed path of salvation in order to be saved, and that unsaved man, failing to find that gate, will be lost. There is a very big difference between what Apostolics believe and what Mr. Boyd resentfully voices they believe. It bears repeating that Mr. Boyd might very well have held himself in the untenable position of spiritual pride, becoming weak and indefensible as a result.
Let’s now look at the theological issues which Mr. Boyd declares are a weakness to Oneness Pentecostals. A quick observation will show them to be some principle distinguishing marks of Biblical Apostolic theology. There are more, and Mr. Boyd would certainly list them if his article were extended. We certainly do not deny that the Apostolic doctrine is not equivalent to orthodoxy, and find it surprising that Mr. Boyd would suggest that every non-orthodox issue was by definition, a weakness. The remainder of this article will not address every issue in detail. Rather, I will answer the contentions simply by scripture and point to
the preponderance of excellent material which Mr. Boyd certainly had,
and has access to.
“…their belief that tongues is the necessary sign of salvation”
First, the issue of tongues as evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and it’s essentiality to salvation.
Mr. Boyd:”1. Oneness Pentecostals believe that unless one has spoken in tongues, one does not _have_ the Holy Spirit (not just the _fulness_ of the Holy Spirit, as certain other Pentecostals hold). And, since a person cannot be saved without the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), it follows that only those who have spoken in tongues are truly saved. This belief is (loosely) based on the fact that speaking in tongues is mentioned in three of the four accounts of people receiving the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts (2:4; 10:46; 19:6).”
This is true. The evidence and Bible teaching exceeds what he lists however. It should also be known that virtually every one of the Classical Pentecostal organizations held in their articles of faith that tongues is the unique, universal and apostolic evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Insomuch as it cannot be shown from scripture that there is another means of the impartation of the Holy Spirit for it’s subsequent indwelling and abiding, the belief in the essentiality of the Holy Ghost baptism has grown stronger with passing years.
We have seen that nothing except …
an absence of belief in the promise
an absence repentance, or
a lack of hunger for God prohibits any individual from receiving the Holy Ghost exactly in the manner depicted in Acts 2.
Mr. Boyd: “The Oneness Pentecostal position frequently results in sincere believers “seeking for the Holy Ghost” for days, weeks, and even years (I’ve seen some die yet seeking!). These poor souls are literally begging God to save them. The reason they do not receive the Holy Spirit, and hence salvation, is presumably because they lack sufficient faith, or they have unacknowledged sin in their lives. In a loving way, ask Oneness Pentecostals if they have ever wondered why there is no biblical precedent for this sad phenomenon (I assure you, they have!).”
Answering from the end, it is not secret that church goers often fail to apprehend that unrepented sin comes with consequences. Boyd’s comment might be examined from the standpoint of asking what effect unrepented sin might be expected to have under another “Christian” system of doctrine.
In describing the revival at Samaria, Acts chapter 8 clearly distinguishes the experience of believing in Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. These individuals spent a period of time after their mental and emotional experience before they received the promised Spirit. The same is true of the Ephesian disciples who Paul asked “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?”
The early church waited in a sitting position on the day of Pentecost for the outpouring of the Spirit. When it came, the house was first filled, and then the disciples, Mary and 108 others received it.
Actually, Mr. Boyd, being a poor student of the scriptures wondered. To one who finds the bread of life “profitable for doctrine”, the need to “receive” is evident.
It is also true that people who are inhibited for one reason are another do sometimes become “chronic seekers” but this is the rare exception. This last Friday night in Morgantown West Virginia, I saw a man who had been seeking the Baptism of the Holy Ghost for over 30 years, receive a wonderful experience with his personal Pentecost. At the same time, 35 or so people many of whom had NEVER been around a Pentecostal service were also filled with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.
I cannot say whether Mr. Boyd received the experience or not since he does not testify in this article. It was a period of six months after I began to seek God that I finally surrendered to Him and let His Spirit take control, and I was “born of the Spirit””Why is salvation so “easy” in the Bible? And if sinners must first believe “sufficiently” and cleanse themselves “sufficiently” in order to receive (as a reward?) the Holy Spirit, why does the New Testament portray faith and sanctification as the _result, not the basis, of receiving the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13)?”
Comment: There is a great difference between repenting and believing, and being sanctified. Mr. Boyd is correct in asserting that sanctification is the result of the touch of God. However the Spirit of God is received by faith, and only by those who obey God, believing on and worshipping Jesus Christ (Gal 3:2, 14; Acts 5:32).
Mr. Boyd refers to salvation as “easy”, thereby suggesting that the Acts 2-style Pentecostal experiences described in the Bible were difficult! Does anyone read Acts 10 and find Cornelius’ family having a hard time receiving the Spirit? Undoubtedly The repentance experience by many residents of Jerusalem was harrowing on the day of Pentecost as they cried “What shall we do” (loosely interpreted “How can we get out of this?”), but God is the one who declared that the crooked paths must be made straight, not us. Repentance is the only path to God, and that is generally held throughout classical Christendom.
Mr. Boyd:2. The “tongues” doctrine of Oneness Pentecostalism is a doctrine based entirely on a historical record, not on an explicit teaching.
Comment: That is untrue. Tongues figures as
A fulfillment of prophecy (Isa 28:10-12)
A demonstration of control of the most unruly member (James 3:8)
A means of communicating in the Spirit (1 Cor 14:2)
An audible sign (John 3:8, 1 Cor 14:22)
The historic record demonstrates the prominent place which the early church gave this phenomenon in their practice and experience, as it is the record of what GOD did, and what the Apostles observed.
Mr. Boyd:”Explain to your Oneness friend that by all recognized scholarly standards this constitutes very unsound hermeneutics (Bible interpretation). One can no more base a doctrine about the necessity of tongues on a historical report about tongues than one can base a doctrine about the necessity of communal sharing of property in the church on Luke’s historical report about it in the early church (Acts 4:32-37). To say that something occurred is very different from saying that this something should always occur.”
Comment: According to the historic record, this was something that the Apostles believed should always occur. (Acts 10:46; 11:15, John 3:8, Mark 16:17)
Mr. Boyd: “Ask the Oneness Pentecostal why — if it is in fact so clearly taught in the Bible that salvation itself hangs on believing it — no one throughout church history has ever arrived at the Oneness Pentecostal position on tongues until the twentieth century?”
Comment: Would it surprise Mr. Boyd if he found that he was not the only one unfamiliar with the numerous remnants of records of “tongues speakers”? Histories of peoples who were persecuted and destroyed by powerful religious orders of the middle ages are somewhat scarce, but not nonexistent. In any case, while Mr. Boyd’s sense that none had discovered the Pentecostal experience is in error, we soberly remember that the Lord admonishes seeking truth without praise for the majority, or the traditions of men.
The historic record indicates that those seeking a deeper experience in Jesus Christ have regularly experienced utterances in tongues they did not learn or understand. If we were only commending that the seeker of God ought to seek a deeper experience, we would not be in error to see tongues as significant. But, knowing humanity, it is wise to remember that people are self-satisfied, and the “deeper experience”, from their relative perspective of ease, may well be a narrow escape of hell.
Mr. Boyd: “3. If your Oneness Pentecostal friend persists in maintaining that Acts is a blueprint for all church history, ask him to show you where in the Book of Acts does one find individuals seeking for the Holy Spirit and expecting to receive tongues as the sign that He’s come? This is the standard way the “baptism of the Spirit” occurs among Oneness Pentecostals, but it has no parallel in Acts.”
Comment: This demonstrates my proposal that Mr. Boyd was, while in the Apostolic church, a very poor student of scripture. If he were properly familiar with scripture he would not make this comment. Acts 10:46 shows clearly that Peter and his ministry team was surprised but convinced that Cornelius and household had received the Holy Ghost. The evidence was the manifestation of tongues, exactly in the manner which they had experienced in Jerusalem, on Pentecost, and many times thereafter. Since the occurrence is significant as regards the experience at Pentecost, Jesus prediction (Mark 16:17), the issue of the sound all foreshadowed in anticipatory conversation, all amounted to accounting tongues as that sign which they would look for thereafter.
Mr. Boyd: “In Acts, the Holy Spirit always falls on entire groups who are not expecting tongues (or any other sign). So the Oneness Pentecostals do not even follow their own (misguided) hermeneutic.”
Comment: Mr. Boyd’s intent is unclear here. Certainly his reference to scripture is not exactly correct. If Peter and John prayed for the Samarians with expectation of knowing when the people had received the Holy Ghost (such that it impressed Simon barJesus enough to want to buy the power), as Paul did at Ephesus (Acts 19) it stands to reason that they knew what they were looking for.
Now, if his point is that people received the Holy Ghost without expecting the tongues, yes, that is true. It is an unfortunate error that some have taught that one must seek after the sign, rather than to fervently praise and worship the Lord Jesus submitting to the Spirit, and then experience the baptism of the Holy Ghost. We would agree that this “cart before the horse” conception is wrong and detrimental to the seeker, but – the fact is, people still get it. I tell people that they WILL speak in tongues, so that they allow it to happen and don’t “clam up” upon the strange feeling of the Spirit dominating their tongues. The idea is “Its all right! Let God have his way and don’t be embarrassed!”
Mr. Boyd: “This insight was a wound to my pride as a Oneness Pentecostal, for the belief that “we alone do it just like the Bible says” (!) is the essence of the Oneness Pentecostal position”
Comment: Mr. Boyd’s experience with spiritual pride comes into the picture again, but this time in the first person. We are commended by the same scripture and same Lord who leads us in the path of salvation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. There is no place for “we alone do it” thinking, though it may be true. We are in this world for a witness of truth, and do not suppose that God disdains those who have not yet experienced the fullness of truth. We, being His servants, certainly cannot please Him while maintaining such airs.
Boyd’s accusation of the Oneness denial of the preexistence of Christ
“(1) Unlike orthodox Christianity, members of the United Pentecostal Church and other Oneness groups do not believe that Jesus existed as the Son of God from all eternity. Since they deny that there are three eternal persons in the Godhead, the only sense in which Jesus could have existed prior to His human birth in Bethlehem is either as God the Father or as an idea in the Father’s mind (viz., as an aspect of God’s foreknowledge).”
Comment: We do not deny the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. We do believe that the sonship commenced at Bethlehem when flesh was made from the nature of a woman, to be a vessel for the Eternal God to dwell
in. With the ancients, we say that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but one person, as Jesus said “I and the Father are one”. We see no evidence of a plurality of individuals in the godhead throughout the Old Testament, and neither did the Jews.
Mr. Boyd: “This position is central to Oneness theology, but it is easily refuted by pointing out to Oneness believers that there are many places in Scripture that clearly speak of Jesus as existing with (not as) God the Father prior to His earthly existence, and not as a mere idea in God’s mind! For example, John 1:1 explicitly identifies “the Word” (Jesus Christ, v. 14) who is God and who from eternity is with God.”
Comment: The word “logos” applied in John 1:1 refers to the expression of God, and the pattern by which all creation was made. In the sense that God is the essence of truth, and reveals Himself in self-expression from the foundations of time, God’s word is indeed eternal. In Jesus Christ the word is manifest or imprinted for all to see and know in the flesh of mankind.
Mr. Boyd: “This could not refer to a mere idea in God’s mind since the Word _is_ God (and God is certainly no mere idea).”
Comment: Exactly! Neither was it an offspring. What Mr. Boyd is left with is the conclusion that ancient scholars improperly considered the logos to be a “person”.
Mr. Boyd: “Moreover, the same one who was “in the beginning” and who is creator (can a mere idea create?) is said to have come to His own world and to have been rejected by it — an unambiguous reference to the real Jesus Christ (vv. 10-14).”
Comment: Mr. Boyd was must certainly have been taught that God and God’s Word are not distinct beings. The identity of Jesus Christ is indeed that of the creator, but this in no way implies a pair of characters in eternity past. God’s persona; expression finally appeared in His own creation.
Mr. Boyd: “In this same context we find John the Baptist referring to Christ’s real preexistence (John 1:15, 31), as well as Jesus Himself making reference to the same thing. Jesus notes how He shall ascend up to the Father where He was “before” (6:62). He says, numerous times, that He has “come forth” from the Father, is “going back” to the Father, has “come down from heaven” and “come into the world” — all statements which clearly presuppose that He really existed with the Father prior to His earthly birth (John 3:13, 31; 6:33, 38, 41, 46, 51, 57-58; 8:42; 13:3; 16:27-28)”
Comment: It is hard to understand the dilemma. Jesus Christ has pre-existence in His deity. By virtue of deity alone, Jesus innermost nature is not temporal. It is eternal. He is God forever, and came forth from the Everlasting one, appearing in this world in time and space, a temporal man, by the miracle of incarnation.
Mr. Boyd: “In conjunction with these verses one should lead the Oneness believer through a careful reading of such passages as Colossians 1:16-17, 1 Corinthians 8:6, and Hebrews 1:2-10 which clearly speak of Jesus as the Son of God creating the world. From my own experience as a Oneness believer, I can assure you that these verses are extremely troublesome to the Oneness position”.
Comment: This is amazing! These scriptures are the meat of the Oneness doctrines! Boyd’s experience and understanding was subnormal, to say the very least. Pastors should study this comment and make an effort to conceive how such a shortcoming could persist in a person under their ministry.
“…Their belief that Jesus was the Father as well as the Son;”
“The most forceful response to the Oneness claim that Jesus is the Father as well as the Son is to simply point out how contrary this belief is to the general teaching of the New Testament.”
Comment: We would indeed welcome instruction if the mutual identity Jesus Christ and the Eternal God were only know by rote understanding of dogma. However, it is the New Testement which draws us to inquire about the identity of Jesus Christ. Thomas and Philip both learned the answer from the source of our New Testement. Jesus did not reveal a distinction from God when the Father was sought after. Thomas conclusion that He is Lord and God is a good starting point for anyone still anxious about Jesus identity. So far as we can see, the New Testement did not introduce two additional individuals into the godhead.
Mr. Boyd: “Help your Oneness friend to see that, while Jesus is never once explicitly called “Father” in the New Testament, He is explicitly referred to as “the Son” (of God, of man, etc.) over 200 times. What is more, the Father is referred to as distinct from Jesus the Son throughout the New Testament over 200 times. And over 50 times, Jesus the Son and the Father are juxtaposed within the same verse.”
Comment: One again, Mr. Boyd’s own misunderstanding of the Oneness theology comes into view. We concur that the visible presence of God to whom Jesus refereed as “the Father” is distinctly the Son, that is, the express image of the invisible God (Heb 1:3). If he or others have heard one Oneness Apostolics say explicitly “the Son is the Father”, then they have heard an error. We do not say “The Father is the Son”, but rather “The Father is in the Son”. The Terminology “Son of God refers explicitly to the humanity of Christ. We call the man Jesus, the Christ. In so saying, we affirm that He is not only the inheritor of the name and the Spirit of His Father and source of being (i.e. the One True God), but that his innermost identity is indistinguishable from the deity.
To truly know Jesus Christ, means knowing a God. Jesus, through the scripture teaches the relationship plainly, as it effects our knowledge:”All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” -Luke 10:22
The identity of “the Father” is not to be presumed. He is known ONLY through the Son. The identity of the Son, if it is conceived to be distinct, is known only of the Father. God has not allowed for any knowledge of God, except as Jesus is the portal to the revelation of Him. All other conceptualization of God, or attempts to ascribe to Him an identity are vain.
Of course, the phrases “the Father” and “Jesus Christ” are juxtaposed throughout the New Testament. The great enlightenment which occurred in the advent of the incarnation was exclaimed by Paul in this way:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16
For the first time, in the New Testament, God is referred to commonly as “the Father”. We notice that this appellation was introduced by Jesus Christ. Generally, the phrase “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” appears where a full connective juxtaposition occurs. The Apostles were thrilled to know and preach that the Almighty God had been incarnated and revealed before the world in the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who now became all of mankind’s access to the once hidden and inaccessible God. In fact, the doctrine of identifying Jesus Christ with God Eternal can be said to be the capital and central doctrine of the Apostolic generation, and Christian religion – according to the scripture.
Mr. Boyd: “Ask your Oneness friend why there is this overwhelming (indeed, unanimous) emphasis on Jesus being the Son of God and being distinct from the Father if in fact Scripture also wants to teach us that Jesus is Himself the Father?”
Comment: The whole message of the New Testament surrounds the arrival of the Son of God in the world for redemption and salvation. As God said in prophecy “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me” – Ps 40:7. Hebrews 11:1-2 elaborates the focus of the New Testament upon the Son: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”
Mr. Boyd: “Why is Scripture so clear on the first point and yet so silent on the second?It is also helpful to point out to a Oneness believer why the arguments they have for the “Fatherhood” of Jesus simply do not hold water. Oneness believers have splendid arguments for the deity of Christ, and this they believe also proves that Jesus is the Father. Reassure your Oneness friends that you fully accept the position that Jesus is Himself God Almighty, but remind them that this does not itself prove that He is therefore God the Father.”
Comment: We must remember that the pretense of the existence of a trinity of persons in the Godhead allows for Mr. Boyd to assert that Jesus might be deity and yet not be the Father. Without this pretense of tradition one who determines that Jesus Christ is God to be worshipped, finds no alternative but to identify Him with the Holy Creator, Lawgiver and Judge of all flesh. Clarifying, Oneness theology starts with the irremovable doctrine of One God without reason for division, and sees deity in Jesus Christ by His statements, His works, and His character. We accept the testimony of the Apostles concerning Him. Now, by this we do not arrive at the conclusion that “the Son is the Father”, but that the revealed identity of Jesus Christ, and the God of whom he came to testify alongside all the prophet, are one and the same. We do NOT say that the humanity of Jesus Christ is deity, and with the Apostles, do retain the distinction of the Son and deity.
The scriptures indicate that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is “the highest name”. To enter into the inevitable, though oft denied, subordinatism of plurality we must also qualify passages such as Phil 2:9-11, and Matt 28:18, in effect presuming greater wisdom than the writer.
Mr. Boyd: “What is more, the verses that Oneness believers misuse to demonstrate that Christ is the Father simply speak either of His parental (“fatherly”) love (Isa. 9:6; John 14:18), or of Christ’s unity with the Father, not His identity as the Father (e.g., John 10:30; 14:7-9).”
Comment: It is only prejudice that allows Mr. Boyd to classify belief as “misuse”. Isaiah 9:6 for example says that Jesus would be called the Everlasting Father, pure and simple. Neither God nor His Apostles require that we must borrow from man-made theology to read the Bible. If the prophet said that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Father, then He is the Eternal Father. All subsequent interpretation should be careful to hold the prophets as authority, rather than relegating them to commentators on the later inventions of the religious.
“…Their belief that one must be baptized “in Jesus’ name” in order to be saved.”
“The Oneness belief that baptism must be “in Jesus name for the remission of sins” can be refuted by four brief considerations. First, at least 60 times the New Testament speaks of salvation by faith alone without mentioning baptism. ”
Comment: The indwelling Spirit, repentance from dead works, the atoning power of the blood, and the advocacy of the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ are all instrumental in salvation also. Like baptism, none are accessible except through faith. Neither are these elements mentioned every time salvation is mentioned, but this in no way relegates the their power and importance to salvation.
Mr. Boyd: “If baptism is in fact necessary for salvation, why is there this emphasis on faith for salvation but not on baptism in Scripture?”
Comment: There is a undeniable attachment of the remission of sins and the new birth to water baptism through the scriptures. No such shifting of focus can deny that, or attempt to extricate baptism which the Apostles practiced with constancy, from the plan of salvation.
Mr. Boyd: “Second, the phrase “for the remission of sins,” used by Peter in Acts 2:38, is also used to describe John the Baptist’s baptism (Luke 3:3; Mark 1:4), but noone supposes that his baptism literally washed away people’s sins (why would they need to later be rebaptized? Cf. Acts 19:1-6). The word “for” in the Greek (eis) need only mean “with a view toward,” for we know that the Jews baptized people “for” such things as “freedom,” “God’s justice,” etc”
Comment: Having investigated this issue extensively, I must agree that “The word ‘for’ in the Greek need only mean ‘with a view toward'”. However, the verse is not the final authority on the ordinance of baptism. We have
The commandment of Jesus Christ to baptize (Matt 28:19),
Jesus’ unbreakable connection between believing unto salvation and baptism (Mark 16:16),
The record of the apostle’s practice, and
There are many, many reasons that baptism is central to the operation of God in conveying salvation to mankind. In a brief article we cannot comment on the conveyance of the name, the laying of hands on the scapegoat, the passing through the water, the adaptive name and so on. Focusing on just two scriptures:
“For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” – Acts 22:15-16
2. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” – 1Pe 3:21
Modern Protestantism has introduced a definition of faith which is purported to eradicate the effect of “works of faith”, disqualifying actions which are performed in response to the grace of God as utterly distinct from program of salvation and useless. However, the apostolic witnesses believe no such thing! Ananias told Paul to wash away his sins calling upon the name of the Lord in baptism. Peter indicated the essentially of obedience to the apostolic call to be buried with Christ, identified by His name, and thus born of the water. Baptism was in the minds of the Apostle’s, the circumcision made without hands (Col 2:11), and the sign of the covenant by which the manifold benefits of Jesus’ shed blood were applied to ANY believer. James disqualified a pretense of faith without such obedience as dead, like a body without a spirit. (2:20,26). Baptism is the ordained way to “believe God”.
Furthermore, remission of sins is accomplished by the power of name of Jesus , in legally connecting to the price of redemption (i.e. the shed blood of Jesus Christ).
Mr. Boyd now addresses the baptismal formula:
Mr. Boyd: “Third, the Oneness insistence that the words “in Jesus name” have to be said over a person while he or she is being baptized is also without scriptural justification. When this phrase is used in Acts (e. g., 10:45-48), it only means “in the authority of” or “for the sake of.” It is not a formula (which is why it never occurs the exact same way twice in Acts). We are commanded to do all things “in the name of Jesus,” but this obviously does not mean we have to say “in Jesus name” before we do anything (Col. 3:17)”.
Comment: The issue here is the meaning and form of Christian baptism. We read the book of Acts as a historical record. It will be addressed below in more detail, but why should the writer continually cite the authority which is already implicit in the act? The important note which Mr. Boyd’s objection overlooks is that the authority is that of Jesus Christ, NOT the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and it was so stated publicly.
However, I have noted that Mr. Boyd’s objection is not only to the baptismal formula, but also to the nature of baptism. Thus, an answer to the formula issue will be dismissed as overemphasis of an insignificant thing. Realizing this disposition, I point to the scripture: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12
Evidently the Apostle’s held to this, and we also insistent that it be known by what name the operations of their faith were accomplished. As we evaluate the fact that Mr. Boyd’s objections have left no room for a significant consistent baptismal practice, I have to ask, “What objection is there to showing the same honor and prominence to the name of Jesus Christ as did the Apostle’s, if you see no compelling
Mr. Boyd: “Again, the Jews baptized people “in the name of” many things (Mt. Gerizim, a rabbi, etc.), but they placed no significance on saying these words while performing the ceremony.”
Comment: How is this relevant to the discussion? Perhaps Mr. Boyd would prefer to believe the details of scripture are increasingly insignificant. If so, then ought we to prefer the less significant details of religious tradition?
Mr. Boyd: ” Finally, Jesus tells us to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), and there is simply no reason to think that Jesus was here cryptically referring to Himself. The fact that next to no one throughout history has understood Jesus to be doing this itself shows that either the Oneness interpretation is wrong, or Jesus is a very poor communicator (and on a point which supposedly affects our salvation!)”
Comment: Jesus is a very effective communicator. We might ask Mr. Boyd how he comes to question whether anything which Jesus said might not effect our salvation in one way or another. After all, Jesus is “God become salvation”. We notice that Eusebius (Church History), in quoting Matt 28:19 says “in His name”. They may not wish to comment, but we are inclined to believe that modern Trinitarians would not have made the mistake which they accuse Peter and the others of. If they had written scripture we would find at Acts 2:38 – “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. IN Acts 10:48 we would read, “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The visit of Peter and John to Samaria would have been cited in this way in Acts 8: 15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive he Holy Ghost: 16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.)
Of course, I have meddled here. The consistent record is “in the name of the Lord [Jesus Christ]”. Why does an author whose very acceptance depends on faith, cite the authority for baptism over and over again, while other acts (i.e. anointing prayer cloths, praying, and prophesying) are done without stating the authority for doing so? The reason is that it was the name which brought the offense, because it was the name which was attached to remission of sins, and which abrogated the need of the intercessory Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices toward atonement. To downplay the preeminent place which the Holy Ghost gave the recitation of the name in association with Christian baptism is irresponsible, and denies the authority and example of both the Apostles and their conveyance.
The Apostles obviously did indeed interpret that the name of the Lord was to be applied. Let’s ask this: If Mr. Boyd’s classic objection were credible would Matt 28:19 represent a formula at all? Consider:
1. The words “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” ask for fulfillment. This might not be so if Matt 28:19 excluded the phrase “and of the Son”. But, above all, we do know the name of the Son. The appearance of a title and preposition here is nothing more that an unbalanced equation. The Christian confesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, receiving entry to the everlasting God through his embrace and declaration! (Matt 10:33, Luke 12:8). So, while citation of the “name of the Holy Ghost” is a problem for the Trinitarian, and “the name of the Father” will bring disputes, the Apostolic believes the word, as Jesus said he had come in, and revealed the name of the Father (John 5:43, 17:6) and that the Holy Ghost is no distinct person, but is mutually identified with Jesus Christ (John 14:26). If Matt 28:19 is a formula of interest, the naming of the person (singular) behind the
titles applied to that person is an obvious issue. It is hardy cryptic. Peter chose to baptize into that name.
- If it is contended that “in the name of” does not propose a formula, then neither does Matt 28:19, and consequently, the whole of traditional Christian practice of baptism is not only in error, but baseless. If it is said that the words “in the name of Jesus Christ”, or “in the name of the Lord” are given only to express the authority by which an act is accomplished, the how is Matt 28:19 different? I don’t think this answer, often given by representatives of ortodoxy, is acceptable to the same authorities.
All in all, several things stand out from the reading of Mr. Boyd’s comments and attempting to make a brief answer to them.
Gregory Boyd’s own experience in the United Pentecostal Church is very much in question to me. While CRI may be pleased to have gotten a prize “I was a UPC’er who escaped” subject, Mr. Boyd does not display evidence of the kind of knowledge and depth which is common among most laymen, much less someone of his academic credentials. Specific questions of interest are:
What period of time did he fellowship in the UPC?
Was he subject and obedient to a teaching ministry for a reasonable period of time?
Did he receive the Holy Ghost in a genuine and fulfilling experience?
Did he maintain a prayer life, and a harmonious relationship with his church body?
Were there deficiencies in the spiritual life of the church or churches where Mr. Boyd fellowshipped?
Was Mr. Boyd lifted to a place of more responsibility than he was ready to assume to quickly? and finally,
Did he bring controversies with him into his experience, which were
never resolved in a spiritual atmosphere?
With an eye to what we can do for the prosperity of the saints entrusted to our discipleship, as Christians, let’s focus on the last of these questions.
As a people, we are greatly in need of applied communication skills in the church. Our need of having a shepherd’s heart is enunciated in the title of Rev. Ralph Reynolds’ book, If the Sheep Could Speak. How many people are allowed to drift in and out of our churches without ever having had a means to explore issues which may disturb them within, but remain hidden, together with a man of God? People do not arrive in the church without preconception, and are certainly not without influences in this very religious climate.
When we look at the continent of Africa, and see the great revivals occurring in contrast to our own harvest field, perhaps it would inspire a reconsideration of the opposition to the gospel. Paul fingers the author of blindness: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” – 2Co 4:4
So many victorious situations projected in the gospel accounts, were not huge evangelistic meetings, but one on one ministry situations, where the truth residing in Jesus Christ was brought into comparison with the god of the residents of this world. At the well, Jesus obliterated the verbal fencing, and broke an ideological standoff by exposing the reality of spiritual thirst. Nicodemus was quickly allowed to remove to a seat of instruction, disarmed of his notion of being “a leader of the Jews”. A hated tax collector is given a private audience with the Lord, and a chance to pledge restitution before ears that honored the pledge. Most wonderfully, the disciples came away alone to hear the controversial meaning of his parables. There the effects of the words could make gradual impact, and in the shelter of loving counsel, Peter could grow with minimal hurt.
I fear that we have thrown up our hands in attempting to “people manage” in a realm apart from the instruction in the scriptures. Despite what challenges it brings to a minister’s vision of his work for God, the best and in fact the only sure and effective counsel for spiritual growth occurs in sitting down together, and opening the scriptures together. This is where lasting foundations are laid; where mean and women are relieved of seditious and ungodly precepts; It is where trust and harmony are built forming a godly relationship between pastor, or minister and the church body.
The man of God will minister the word of God to those who have need, or he will experience human nature set at enmity with God, within the walls of the church.
I don’t write these comments to condemn anyone, but out of concern for the many surprising departures from sound doctrine which have been witnessed. Looking forward to unprecedented growth and revival in these very last times, we expect to be teaching more than ever. In fact one man recently said that we would be doing nothing but teaching, and hungry souls are led to truth by many converging witnesses. If that is true, then we had better acquire an understanding of what happens in the lives of people like Gregory Boyd and find enough compassion in the Holy Ghost to rediscover the power of the taught word of God and rescue the slipping soul.