The Assemblies of God Reject the Oneness Message
By Fred j. Foster
During the tremendous surge in 1915 toward the Oneness doctrine, a General Council of the Assemblies of God was held in Turner Hall in St. Louis, beginning on October 1. The proper baptismal formula and the Godhead question were the central topics of discussion. Tuesday, October 5, was given completely to this subject. Two speakers were selected to speak on each side of the question, with Bell and Haywood representing the Acts 2:38 formula, and A. C. Collins and Jacob Miller, the Matthew 28:19 formula.
Each of the speakers went to great lengths to substantiate his own personal feelings in the matter. Each endeavored to convince and make followers of the deeply concerned delegates to this conference.
After all the preaching, the general feeling of the great majority was to not decide anything at that time. They would wait a year and possibly results coming forth would determine a course of action.
THE DEEP CONFLICT
Those against the message began fighting it very severely. Great exertions were made to win back those who had gone into Oneness. So the lineup was beginning to take shape: those for and those against. The leaders began exerting great pressure to re-align those who had gone into Oneness, and to keep others behind the Trinitarian teaching. They could very well see the strong possibility of the large majority of the organization going over to the Oneness camp. In harmony with this thinking, one Trinitarian writer, calling the Oneness teaching “Sabellian heresy,”‘ said that “it came within a hair’s breadth of capturing the Assemblies of God.” (2)
So the fight was on, and everywhere the conflict was raging. This teaching must be stopped. Measures must be drawn up to put an end to the doctrine permeating their midst.
In Houston, Texas young Oliver F. Fauss, just back from the Elton, Louisiana Bible Conference, found a large meeting in progress. His mother, worried about the young man’s being recently baptized in Jesus’ name, told some of the Assemblies leaders of her son’s entry into the “terrible New Issue doctrine,” as they called it. Fauss said, “I came into that meeting, thrilled in my heart, life and soul, because I had been buried in the name of Jesus, according to the New Testament plan and pattern as pictured and displayed in the Book of Acts. But when I walked into that building it seemed to me that every ‘big shot’ of the whole organization leveled his gun at me and shot me so full of holes with so many questions until, as I have made the statement many times, ‘I didn’t know whether there was one person in the Godhead, or a dozen.’ (3)
This discouraged the young man tremendously. Men in whom he had great confidence were endeavoring rigidly to swing him back again. In his bedroom at home he diligently sought God for guidance, certainly not wanting to be deceived. Being close friends with Raymond T. Richey and his father E. N. Richey, (4) he visited in their home and together they studied this most important question.
Fauss said that after thorough and complete investigation of the Scripture and church history, he could come to no other conclusion but that the Oneness teaching was totally correct, and that the only way baptism was administered in the first-century church was in the name of Jesus.
This is one illustration of many such happenings over the period of months. Pressures were exercised from many quarters. Deep feelings were manifested on both sides of the issue.
THE STRENGTHENING OF ASSEMBLIES OF GOD DOCTRINE
The loose doctrinal structure of the founding ideas of the Assemblies of God organization was being hammered at now. J. W. Welch, who had been chosen General Chairman at the 1915 General Council, declared, along with others, that “some teeth” must be put into a “Pronouncement of Faith.” The members of the organization who had embraced the Oneness message were very vocal with it, and, so to speak, “They were driving them, Welch and Company, to the wall.” From every corner it seemed they heard of someone else or some church assembly going into this so-called “heresy.”
Steps were initiated to cause the Oneness message to lose its prestige among the fellowship, and if the advocates of such doctrine would not abandon its propagation, then they would exert all means to cause them to leave the group. Welch, J. R. Flower, T. K. Leonard, D. W. Kerr, along with a few others, were the guiding lights in this definite move to bring the idea to a head.
Every crushing, devastating blow which could be administered was forcibly put forward. It was soon seen that only the strong would stand.
Carlyle said, “Every noble work is at first impossible,” (5) and this was the position the Oneness adherents found themselves in at this point. Old friends and a cherished fellowship were seemingly turning a “frigid shoulder” toward them. This was an impossible end to all their sacrifice and zeal for the Lord’s work, but unbearable as it was, the stark reality of it all stared them straight in the face.
It must be said that the Oneness propagators were busy in their tasks also. Under tents and brush arbors; in churches and missions; everywhere a listening ear could be found, they were preaching and telling the story, although it was the desire of those who were members of the Assemblies of God to stay in that fellowship, since doctrine was not a basis on which it had been founded. They remembered very well that the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was the deciding factor at Hot Springs in 1914.
The pressure would now be put upon those who were the most influential in calling the Hot Springs convention in the first place, namely, Bell, Goss and D. C. O. Opperman. All three had joyfully embraced the “New Issue,” and were propagating it everywhere they went.
THE ST. LOUIS MEETING
At last in the June 1916 “Evangel” Welch stated, concerning the coming General Council in the fall, that it would be a decisive meeting, and the Oneness situation would be aired to its fullest extent, with definite lines being drawn. The council was to be held in a small church in St. Louis, Bethel Chapel, from October 1 through, 7, 1916.
Almost everyone in attendance felt “this was it.” Something would definitely be decided here. Nervous anxiety was in the air as the first session opened.
T. K. Leonard, S. A. Jamieson, S. H. Frodsham, E. N. Bell and D. W. Kerr were the appointees to a committee which was to draw up a statement of fundamental truths. Bell was chosen to serve on this committee because the leaders detected a wavering on his part as to not taking quite as strong a position on the Oneness doctrine as he had originally.
In committee discussion Kerr seemed to have most of the ready answers, as he had been studying for months how best to refute the Oneness theology. He himself had a few months before almost capitulated to it, but had held tenaciously to the Trinitarian theory, and would now become one of the guiding figures of this convention.
When the committee reported to the council, there was immediate opposition from the Oneness section. They hopefully wanted to stay with this group, and would do all in their power to remain. They desperately endeavored to strike the strong Trinitarian ideas from these “statements,” but they, in turn, were met with the most offensive type of struggle. The die had already been cast, and this naturally was against Goss, Haywood, Opperman and cohorts.
On one occasion “T. K. Leonard facetiously referred to the Oneness doctrine of G. T. Haywood and his colleagues as ‘hay, wood and stubble,’ with the further remark, “They are all in the wilderness and they have a voice in the wilderness’ (referring to the periodical published by Haywood, entitled a ‘Voice in the Wilderness’). Haywood turned pale and started to rise to his feet for an answer but was pulled back into his chair by those sitting near him. Voices from both sides were raised in protest, and it was minutes before things quieted down and the reading of the report was continued. From that time on, the advocates of the new doctrine took little part in the discussions, having come to the conclusion that opposition would be futile: the tide had definitely turned against them. The prophecy was made, however, that this action of the Council would split the Assemblies of God in two.” (6)
THE END OF FELLOWSHIP
The passing of the strong Trinitarian report soon was to mark the end of the close fellowship many had been accustomed to for years. “The Oneness brethren retired to the front of the meeting place, and began to study what they should do. The strong feeling was, “Where shall we go from here?” While they were discussing what steps to take, and which way to turn, the assembly in the hall was singing the old hymn, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Blessed Trinity.'” (7)
“By the adoption of the statement of basic beliefs, this 1916 council forced the Oneness adherents to propagate their message from outside the Assemblies of God. The list of ordained ministers plummeted from 585 to 429, and the missionary giving shrank proportionately.” (8)
One hundred fifty-six ministers and numerous assemblies were expelled that day, to which Oneness men of that hour, still living, say, “It was not because of not believing in healing, holiness, the coming of the Lord, ‘or the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues, but because of the exalting of the name of Jesus according to Scripture.”
Bell wavered and stayed with the Assemblies, but Opperman and Goss took their stand. These were the two members of the Executive Presbytery to resign their offices because they could not give up their convictions on Oneness. They were to play a large hand in future years of Oneness history.
1 Pearlman, “Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible,” p. 70.
2 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 210.
3 Fauss, “Buy the truth, and Sell It Not,” p. 36.
4 A prominent Trinitarian in Houston.
5 “The Dictionary of Thoughts,” p. 477.
6 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 208.
7 Fauss, “Buy the Truth, and Sell It Not,” p. 34.
8 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 209.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM 20th CENTURY PENTECOSTALS AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1980, PAGES 110-117. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.