This sermon is number 13 in a series of 14
Strongholds Shaken - Part 13
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
John chapter 17, and this is a prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ to His Father, and we only want to read a couple of verses - verse 23 through to the end of the chapter, verse 26. We'll read verse 21 to get the context and the flow, the Lord Jesus prays for His people and He asks: "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them".
Now if you have a pen and a piece of paper, it would be advisable that you use them, and if you don't I would encourage you to get the tape recording because there is no way that you will remember everything that you'll hear tonight, because I'm going to cover an awful lot of ground - but to do justice to this study, I feel it is necessary. We're considering tonight what is really a title which is an umbrella term, 'Oneness Pentecostalism'. Those who really come under the category of this definition could be the churches which call themselves 'Jesus-Only Churches', some of them title themselves 'The Apostolic Pentecostals', others acknowledge that they are belonging to the 'Oneness Movement'. There are others who call themselves 'The Jesus' Name Movement', and of course in our own province here in Ulster and indeed in Ireland the Oneness Pentecostal movement is found in the 'Church of God in Ulster'. Now, do not misunderstand who those folk are this evening, that is not the Church of God that belong to the general Brethren movement, which sometimes are called 'The Needed Truth Organisation'. It is not them, though they call themselves the 'Church of God'. Neither is it 'Armstrongism', founded by Herbert Armstrong, which did believe the oneness doctrine but I am led to believe that they have testified that they have recanted that doctrine, and many other of their heretic doctrines - I'm not too sure of the validity of all that, I haven't had time to study it, but nevertheless that is what they claim.
What we're considering tonight in our own context of Ulster is the 'Church of God', the most local one to us would be the Church of God at Glenmachen - but there are several right across the province. Now let me say before I go on any further: it is not my desire tonight to offend anyone. In fact, many of you will have friends and families that belong, perhaps, to Glenmachen or to other churches of God - I certainly have some very dear and good friends belong to this movement. But as I preach the word of God, as I hope that you would expect of me always, I must preach the truth irrespective of persons - whoever those persons may be.
Even in reaction to the announcement of this subject in the Belfast Telegraph, I've received messages which really ask the question: 'How can you lump Oneness Pentecostalism in among all the other subjects that you're considering in this Strongholds of Satan series, confusing cults and false faiths?'. The reason why that question comes is because often people view the Church of God in Ulster and Oneness Pentecostalism in general as an orthodox group of people, because they do appear at a casual glance to be orthodox in their belief particularly because of their strict monotheism. They believe in one true and living God, and that is the foundation of the Oneness faith and the Oneness teaching.
In fact, unlike many of the other cults and false faiths, they do very strenuously defend the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is God manifest in flesh. There is no doubt to them of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, right away, to the appearance of many Christians, they don't see anything wrong with the theology - on the contrary, many are even attracted by the theology of the Oneness movement. But the fact of the matter is, we must look at the claims of the Oneness movement itself, and the Church of God at Glenmachen styles itself in its advertisements and even on its website as, I quote: 'A friendly, evangelical, Pentecostal Church'. A friendly, evangelical, Pentecostal Church - now whilst it certainly is friendly, and I have no issue with them on that, and it caters tremendously for family and children and so on: is the rest of the claim, to be both Pentecostal and evangelistic or evangelical, is that an authentic claim?
Well, certainly in their understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit they could be classed, in a sense, as Pentecostal. But the fact of the matter is, if you study church history, you find that the Oneness movement and the Church of God differ significantly from classic Pentecostalism; on account, particularly, of its belief on the Godhead, its Oneness doctrine regarding the nature of God. Now, most people look back in time to the modern Pentecostal movement having its beginning in the year 1901 in a chapel prayer meeting in Topeka, Kansas led by this man, Charles Parham, who was a teacher at Bethel Bible College. Later, after that 1901 meeting, in 1906 there was the Pentecostal experience in this particular church that you see here, the speaking in tongues and baptism of the Spirit, as they claim, that burst onto the scene during what has been said to be a revival meeting in an African-American Baptist Church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. These were said to be the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement, and Pentecostal preachers and doctrines spread from that moment very rapidly.
Now the history of the Oneness Movement comes out of Pentecostalism, for in 1913 one very popular Pentecostal teacher by the name of R.E. McAlister of Toronto, Ontario, began teaching that the doctrine of the Trinity was untrue. He began to teach that Jesus was the only God, and the three manifestations, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were just manifestations of the Lord Jesus. He also taught that baptism should be done correctly in the name of Jesus only, and in fact he went as far as to claim that through Acts chapter 2 and verse 38, where it says: 'Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost' - through that text God gave him a revelation, a new revelation that people should be baptised in the name of Jesus only and not in the formula of the Trinity in Matthew 28, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Well, from that teaching other preachers joined McAlister, and by 1916 Oneness views were being expounded by some of the ministers in the Assemblies of God movement - which is one of the largest, if not the largest Pentecostal denomination in America. Now, to the compliment of the AOG movement, they strongly rejected the doctrine of the Oneness. In fact, their Denominational Council that year, 1916, adopted a very Trinitarian stance in its statement of faith. More than 160 of those who confessed the Oneness doctrine, ministers among the Assemblies of God, were expelled. Those 160 expelled ministers formed alliances in order to propagate this Oneness doctrine, and one of the major alliances was the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.
So, in a strict sense, they couldn't lump themselves among the Pentecostal denomination, although they are somewhat Pentecostal in their doctrine. But let's come a little bit nearer to home to assess the historical situation, how the church of God movement came into being here in Ulster. Well, according to this publication - which is the Jubilee Booklet celebrating 50 years, from 1940 to 1990, of the Church of God movement here in Ulster - the roots of the movement here are to be found in those men who attended what is called in the book 'The Belfast Tabernacle and Bible College' in the 1930s. Among them were two names which people in the Church of God will know well, James Forsythe and Gordon Magee - this is a photograph of Gordon Magee.
After the demise of this Bible College due to the difficult financial situation in the 30s, the men wanted to continue fellowship with one another, and eventually they rented a hall in Carnforth Street, which you'll be familiar with, off the Albert Bridge Road. To cut a long story short, the first leaders of that particular fellowship were Forsythe and Magee. Now, I hasten to add that at this time the movement was Trinitarian - it was Pentecostal but it was also Trinitarian. It was moving among Elim circles, Pentecostal churches, taking missions around our province. Eventually it started other works from Carnforth Street around the province in Ballymoney and Armagh, and of course in Devon Parade which later would become the Glenmachen church.
You might ask the question: what happened, if they began as Trinitarian and Pentecostal, what happened in their doctrine? How did this Oneness doctrine, 'Jesus Only' teaching, enter? Well the divergence begins in the 1950s. Gordon Magee travelled to the United States, I think for work purposes, and whilst he was away the denomination started to thrive here in Ulster in Craven Street off the Shankhill, on the Lisburn Road and in Whitewell. During the mid-50s Magee returned from the United States to help to develop and to disciple these new congregations. But he brought with him from the States this new Oneness doctrine, which was foreign to the people in the province - not just the Pentecostals, but Christianity at large.
The sad story is that all the churches, as far as I'm aware, embraced it - and that is the reason why it is in the churches to this day, and they have Gordon Magee to thank for it. So we're going to ask the question tonight: what is this doctrine of Oneness? And perhaps more importantly to us this evening: why should every Christian have a problem with it? Now there are several doctrines for us to consider tonight in the Church of God and Oneness movement, all showing, I believe, their claim to be evangelical to be a dubious one. But we're going to take the most time looking at this particular teaching of the Oneness doctrine this evening.
What is the 'Oneness Doctrine'? The Oneness doctrine is simply the belief that there are no distinctions in the Godhead. That though the Bible speaks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, those are just designations for representations of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Spirit, Jesus is all three. The belief espouses that in eternity past Christ was a uni-personal God. In other words, there was no Father as such or Spirit, there was just the Lord Jesus Christ. In time Christ begot a human Son, the human Jesus who was born in Bethlehem.
Let me break it down a little bit for you to help you to understand. They differentiate in this way: in time the divine nature of Christ became known as God the Father. That part of Jesus that was God became known as God the Father, but the human nature of Jesus, His flesh, is designated as the Son of God. So His divine nature is God the Father, His bodily human nature is God the Son. And 'Who is the Holy Spirit?', you may ask, well that is simply Jesus in a spiritual form dwelling in the midst of His people. They explain it this way: in the same way as Jesus is Prophet, and Priest, and King; so the Lord Jesus Christ is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are different offices of the one person, Jesus: Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Spirit.
Now because of this they actually deny the eternal sonship, which is a doctrine taught, I believe, in the New Testament. They tell us that sonship, the concept of it, only relates to the human nature. You can only have a son if you're in humanity, and therefore because this is a human term it speaks as a figure of time, it also speaks of inferiority. The Lord Jesus Christ could not have had this before He came into humanity - it was, in other words, part of His humiliation, coming to live among men as a man. I believe that that is very contrary to the teaching of the word of God, as we shall see later. But can I just shoot an arrow of warning across everyone's bow here this evening: I believe the downfall of the Oneness Pentecostal movement is simply first and foremost this: they have tried to explain the inexplicable. They have tried to explain the inexplicable, that is God Himself, and they have tried to explain God to the satisfaction of man's intellect. Right away therein they fall down.
Now I make no apology for being a Trinitarian, but Trinitarians would not claim that their understanding of the Godhead is complete or exhaustive, because it can never be - because the first man to understand God has made himself God himself. The first fault, if I could lay any - and I'll lay plenty tonight at the door of Oneness Pentecostalism - is that in order to achieve a clearer and simpler understanding of the Godhead, they have adopted an imbalanced view. It is a simpler understanding of the Godhead, but I would say it has become a simplistic view of it because it does not deal with all the facts. Indeed, it omits and contradicts scriptural facts regarding the Godhead in order to create an argument.
In fact, two Lord's Days ago, an individual - I think from the Glenmachen Church - left in this tract for my benefit, in order that I should read it before I preach on it tonight - as if it would make any difference really. But this tract, as you can see, 'Wheel of Prophecy - Who Is God?', shows that the Lord Jesus is described in these many ways throughout the whole of Scripture. But again this tract is only showing you the one aspect of the Deity and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if I had the opportunity I could produce a similar tract which was actually a sign that was used by the early church which is a more complete understanding of the Godhead - just to show you not only what the Godhead is, but what the Godhead is not. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father...and so on.
You see, if you only show half the picture, you will only have half the understanding. Not only do Oneness teachers misrepresent what the clear issues are, but from our perspective they also misrepresent what Trinitarianism is and what Trinitarians believe. In fact, I could only say that they emit in their teachings anti-Trinitarian propaganda that is nothing more than straw-doll argumentation. You know what that is: you set up an argument that you're going to oppose, which isn't the real argument at all, and you set about knocking it down.
Let me begin on that note, and let me dispose of some of these misrepresentations of Trinitarianism. Please note these down if you have a pen. The first is: the Oneness movement and the Church of God say that the Trinity is, I quote Mr Magee, 'The Rome Three-God Theory' - it is the Rome Three-God theory. Now it is true that Roman Catholics believe in the Trinity, but the fact of the matter is - as you study church history - you will not find that it was the Roman Catholic Church that added the doctrine of the Trinity to Christianity. It has added many things, but that is one thing that it is not guilty of. In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity, and I'll show you tonight, can be traced back to the apostles' doctrine, which is the teaching of the word of God - so that is a fallacy.
Then of course there is this idea that it's the 'Romish Three-God Theory', but Trinitarianism does not believe in three Gods - that is a myth of the Church of God movement. The belief in three Gods is not Trinitarianism, the belief in three Gods is Tritheism, which believes that there are three separate Gods - but Trinitarians are monotheists, they believe in one true and living God, as Deuteronomy 6 says that there is one God. Though we believe in one God we also believe that He has been revealed to us in Holy Scripture in the unity of that Godhead in three distinct Persons, yet one substance being God. Now I acknowledge that that is baffling, it's mind-boggling, we cannot understand it - but the fact of the matter is: we're not asked completely to understand it, it is revealed in God's word and we are asked to accept it and believe it.
The second straw-doll argument that they use is that the word 'Trinity' is not found in the Bible. Of course they're right - but does it matter that the word 'Trinity' is not found in the Bible, if the teaching of the triune Godhead is found therein? The fact of the matter is, Oneness Pentecostals use the word 'millennium', they use the word 'theocracy', they use the word 'incarnation', like we do - and none of those are found in the Bible, but we believe in them nevertheless. The truths of them are found in the scripture, what the name is does not really matter, the teaching is in the word of God. So that's another false argument: that you should reject the Trinity because the word is not in the Bible.
Here is a third straw-doll argument that they use: they say Trinitarians teach that you will see three Gods in heaven. Now that is a lie. Trinitarians do not teach that, in fact Gordon Magee - and I will show you plenty of his book tonight - he actually says on page 16 of his book 'Is Jesus in the Godhead, or is the Godhead in Jesus?': 'Do Trinitarians imagine that there are two Spirits in the Godhead, namely, the Father, the so-called 'First Person' Who is termed a Spirit (John 4:24) and the Holy Spirit, the so-called 'Third Person'? There are not two Spirits in the Godhead because 'There is one Spirit' (Ephesians 4:4)'. Does that confuse you? Do we believe in two Spirits?
Well, herein is the ignorance, and I say that politely, the ignorance of the Church of God and Oneness Pentecostal movement regarding not only the English translation of the word of God, but the original languages. Many will know that the Authorised Version is wrong in its translation of John 4:24, because it should read as it does in the Greek: 'God is spirit', not 'is a spirit', 'God is spirit'. It is speaking not essentially of a person being God as a spirit, but it's talking about the nature of God - that He is not material, that He is not physical like us. Colossians 1:15 tells us: 'God is invisible', so does 1 Timothy 1:17. John 1:18 says: 'No man has ever seen God', 1 John 4:12 says the same. First Timothy 6:16: 'Nor shall any man ever see God'. It is an invention of the Church of God to say that Trinitarians believe you'll see three Gods in heaven. God is spirit!
Now, when we move on, we want to look this evening at Gordon Magee's book. The reason why we're going to look at it in depth is because I don't want to misrepresent the argument of the Church of God or Oneness Pentecostalism, and in order not to do that I'm going to use his book extensively. But let's start with the Scriptures, I want us to turn to Genesis chapter 1. I want to start with the Old Testament, and I hope you'll give me the time and the liberty tonight to really explore this subject this evening. I'll not be able to give you an exhaustive teaching on the doctrine of the Trinity, although that will be inferred in everything that we say - but I want to show you the fallacy of the doctrine of the Oneness that the Church of God teaches.
Genesis chapter 1 and verse 26, and right away we're going to see here that the Old Testament does not present a uni-personal God as the Oneness Pentecostal movement says. Chapter 1:26: 'And God said, Let us', plural, 'make man in our image', plural, 'after our likeness', plural, 'and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth'. Now right away the Church of God will say: 'Well, that's the angels. God is saying to the angels, 'Let us make man in our image''. But I ask you the question: did the angels and God make man? Did the angels help God out in the creation? I ask you again: did the angels and God make man in the image of God and in the image of the angels? He did not. In fact in verse 27 clearly: 'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them'. It is very clear that God made man in His own image, and the plural 'us' and 'our' is signifying the plurality in the personality of the Godhead right back at the very beginning of creation.
Now maybe you think this is an isolated proof text, let's turn to Genesis 11 to the Tower of Babel. Verse 7: 'Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech' - let us go down, and let us confound their language that they may not understand their speech. Now throughout this whole story of the Tower of Babel - though the Oneness Pentecostal movement again say God is speaking to the angels, there are no mentions of angels at all in this portion. In fact, contextually it says that the LORD came down - further on in verse 8 and verse 9: 'The LORD came down'.
So right away we see that the plural is used of the Godhead, and the angels don't come into it at all. Now if we were to go back to Genesis 1 and verse 1 we see in the literary structure here of the creation narrative that it also reflects the triune Godhead in chapter 1 verse 1: 'In the beginning God', there is God, 'And the Spirit of God hovered above the waters', verse 2, and then it is the Word of God throughout this chapter that is bringing creation into being. You would almost think that this was a replica, which I believe it is in the mind of John, of John chapter 1 - where Christ is portrayed as being God, the Word who is God, but He is also the Word that is with God. He is the One who has brought creation into being, He is God's Word, He is God's Light, He is God's creative instrument.
We also see the triune Godhead in literature in the Old Testament in the Aaronic blessing. Turn with me to Numbers chapter 6 verse 24, you're familiar with this: 'The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace'. These three verses outlining a triune blessing.
Then we come to Isaiah chapter 6 and verse 3 where you have the angelic hosts who cry: 'Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory', which is also echoed in Revelation chapter 4 and verse 8. 'Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD God Almighty: the whole earth is full of his glory' - a triune literary usage.
I want us to turn to Isaiah chapter 9, for here is one of the chief proof texts of the Oneness moment. Isaiah chapter 9 and verse 6, speaking prophetically of the Lord Jesus: 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace'. Right away they say: 'There it is, Christ prophetically is designated as being the everlasting Father'. Now if you look at your margin, if you have a good marginal reference Bible, you will see that that everlasting Father can be translated 'Father of eternity'. It literally means in the Hebrew 'one over eternity', or 'the eternal one'. I ask the question, does that mean in an Old Testament context 'God the Father'? Clearly it doesn't, clearly it's speaking of the eternality of God and it has nothing to do with the Son's relationship with the Father and vice versa. It's speaking again of the eternal nature of God. It's not speaking of His designation of Jesus being God the Father.
This is the same mistake that the Oneness movement make with John chapter 10 and verse 30, where Jesus says: 'I and the Father are one'. They say: 'There you are, the Lord Jesus is calling Himself the Father', but note that He does not say 'I am the Father'. He says 'I and the Father are one in nature and in substance, we are God'. In fact He uses in this word 'one' the neuter, in other words He's saying that we are substance with one another, 'I and the Father are one in substance'. He would have used the masculine if He meant that He was the Father, but He's talking about the nature of being God. Whilst He says He is one with the Father, He distinguishes Himself from the Father - 'I and the Father are one'.
Now of course the Old Testament is only a partial revelation, and the persons of the Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - are made more distinct and clearly distinguished in the New Testament. In fact, over 200 times in the New Testament Jesus speaks of the Father other than Himself, as another person, over 200 times. In fact over 50 times in the New Testament the Father and the Son are distinguished in the same verse. Let me show you some of these verses this evening, turn with me to Matthew chapter 3 and verse 16. Here we see the three persons of the Godhead distinguished: 'And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'.
Now the explanation that the Oneness movement gives of this is embarrassing, because some even go as far as saying that the Spirit did not come upon the Lord Jesus Christ, it was only a symbol of the Spirit. But here we have the Son in the water being baptised, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon the Lord Jesus - and all the Gospel writers say that the Spirit descended on the Lord Jesus Christ. It says Jesus saw the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. The question I must ask the Oneness movement is: is the voice that spoke from heaven the divine nature of Christ? Was Christ, as it were, throwing His voice into heaven and out again to speak these words?
There are other examples of how the Oneness movement contradicts Scripture. Another example is in regard to the sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's spend a bit of time on that in regard to His eternal sonship. They believe that the sonship is the human part of the Lord Jesus, the flesh. I'll give you a quotation from Magee's book, 'The Son Is The Flesh'. Look at it: 'What part of Him was the Son? The angel told Mary, 'Mary that holy thing which shall be born of thee is the Son'. Paul told the Galatians, 'God sent forth a Son made of a woman'. The Son is the flesh or humanity'. They're very clear on that belief, 'The Son is the flesh', yet the book of Hebrews abounds with evidence against this.
Turn with me to the book of Hebrews for a moment, turn to chapter 1 and verse 1: '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'. When did the Son make the worlds? You don't mean to tell me that the Son made the worlds before Bethlehem do you, before He was born into humanity? Because it says clearly that the Son made the worlds, God made the worlds through the Son - was it after Bethlehem? Then they will say in retort to that question: 'Well, He made them through the One who would become the Son'. But if you look at verse 8 it clearly says: 'But unto the Son God saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom'. He said it clearly to the Son.
Maybe that's not enough for you, turn with me to Hebrews 5, for here we have this text in Hebrews 5 and verse 7: 'Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered'. Now you might say: 'What does that prove?'. 'Though he was Son', literally, 'Though he was Son, yet learned he obedience'. Well, that is in Greek what is called the concessive clause, which simply means 'in spite of him being Son he learned obedience'. In spite of Him being the Son of God, divine, He learned obedience.
Now if Sonship just means 'humanity', what does this verse mean? Because it simply doesn't just mean 'because He was the Son', or 'as the Son he learned obedience'. Here it is clearly referring to His deity, and concessively showing that even though He was the Son of God, yet learned He obedience. It's proving the opposite, that sonship signifies Deity.
Now if you turn to verse 3 of chapter 7 we have it in another figure, this Old Testament figure of Melchisedec, who is a type of Christ, he is a type simply because his priesthood would seem to never cease - verse 3: 'Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually'. How was Melchisedec made like unto the Son of God? He did not have beginning of days nor end of days, the Son of God is without beginning or ending. Yet the Church of God teaches that He had a beginning as a Son in Bethlehem. It even goes as far to teach from 1 Corinthians 15:27 and 28 that His Sonship will have an end when He offers up to God the kingdom - even though the very verse tells us that He Himself, the Son, will again be subjected to the Father.
In chapter 7 again and verse 28 we see that the Lord's priesthood is an unchangeable one: 'For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore'. He has an unchangeable priesthood.
Let me illustrate for you the devious argumentation of the Church of God on this very issue. On page 17 of Magee's book, it says that 'Trinitarians teach that Christ had two fathers': 'A classic example of the confusion of thought implicit in Trinitarian belief is seen when, under questioning, they are obliged to confess that Christ must have had two Fathers, namely, the First Person of the Trinity, to Whom He prayed (they say), and the Holy Spirit, Who performed the miracle act of paternity in the virgin womb'. Maybe you're sitting there thinking: 'Well, is that not right?'. This is how they convince people, with this false argumentation, but what they're doing is they are confusing the divine sonship of Christ with the human sonship of Christ. They are not one and the same thing. The divine sonship of Christ is begotten of God eternally, but the human sonship of Christ was begotten in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit in time - it is not one and the same thing, no matter what Gordon Magee may say. Do not confuse the divine sonship and His human sonship.
Then not only do they contradict the Scriptures in regard to the sonship, but they contradict the Scriptures in regard to the cross. In fact, on page 28 of Magee's book we read this, 'My, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?': 'Would to God Trinitarians would carefully consider the logical conclusions of their objections before making them. Think of it, if Jesus was actually forsaken by God then He is not God. The Trinitarian explanation of this verse, namely, that here we see one Divine Person forsaking another, compels us to ask where then is their professed belief in the unity of the Godhead'. He goes on to say, if Jesus was actually forsaken of God, then He is not God, but God did not forsake Him - Jesus only felt forsaken! They quote John 16:32: 'Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me'. They forget, very conveniently, to admit that that was said before Calvary.
Yet Magee states: 'He meant to be sin-bearer, He had to feel God-forsaken'. When Christ said: 'My, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?', what He meant was, as our sin-bearer He had to feel forsaken. But mark that in Matthew 27:46 Christ is recorded not as saying 'I feel forsaken', but 'My, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'. Now I urge you to think about this just for a moment or two: if Jesus Christ said 'My, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?', that means that His feeling to be forsaken was a mistaken feeling, because He wasn't really forsaken. If He was only meant to feel forsaken, that means He wasn't forsaken on the cross, that means Christ on the cross entertained wrong ideas - that means in the midst of man's redemption He had mistaken feelings about what was going on. He felt forsaken, yet He wasn't forsaken! I say to you: do you know what the implications of that are for us? If He only felt forsaken, you can only feel saved! You can't really be saved.
Isaiah 53, of course, tells us that the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all, the Lord was pleased to bruise Him. I ask the question: was this one divine part of Jesus laying punishment on another divine part, on His human part? Do you know what it also means? It means that the part of Christ that actually bore our sins was not God. We are agreed that God cannot die, and this is the mystery of Calvary - as one has said: 'The man that died was God, but yet God did not die'. As Luther said: 'God forsaking God, who can understand it?'. But please do not deny what the Scriptures do teach in trying to explain it! Was your sin only put on half of Jesus? Was it only laid on His human nature, on His human part?
They deny the Scriptures in regard to the cross, and then in regard to Christ's prayers they also contradict the Scriptures. We ask the question: when Christ was praying, was He praying to Himself? Magee answers the question: 'No, He wasn't', but then in fact he goes on to teach in his book that He was. On page 11 he recites this conversation with a Trinitarian. The Trinitarian says, as you see:
'The Trinitarian brother asked, 'Then did not He pray to Himself?'.
'No! He did not pray to Himself!'
'What did He do?'
I replied, 'In His human nature He prayed to His Divine nature'.
'Well', he said, 'that is praying to Himself!'
'You can have it that way, if Jesus were an ordinary person I would agree with you that it is praying to Himself. But, Jesus was not ordinary - Jesus was extraordinary - Jesus was God and man!' If Jesus Christ had a dual nature why then should we think it incredible that he should perform a dual role?'
He even contradicts himself. He is saying that Christ's human nature prayed to His divine nature. However, from the reading in John 17 that we read, if you read the rest of the chapter, the human nature of Christ as He prays calls Himself 'I' - yet when He addresses His Father, 'My Father' as He says, He addresses the Father as 'Thou'. He implies in both that these are two personalities, that He is not praying to Himself or a divine part in Himself, He is praying to another.
We see this in regard not only to Christ's prayers, but Christ's commission - because Christ is sent, and He declared that He was sent from the Father. He left the Father, and He was going back to the Father. In John 16:28 He said: 'I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father'. Two personalities are implied in saying: 'I am going to the Father'. I ask the question: if the divine part of Christ is the Father, why is it that He never uses the word 'I' when He refers to the Father? Why does He always use the word 'You'? Why does He never speak as the Father, and say 'I sent the Son'? Because He didn't send the Son.
In fact in Gethsemane you see it again, two personalities - He says 'Not my will, but Thine be done'. The existence of two wills, therefore there must be two personalities. To leave someone, to talk to another, to have a different will from another, insinuates two personalities. Some of the particularly troublesome texts to Oneness believers are those that speak of the love, that we were reading of in John 17, the love that existed between the two persons, the Father and Son. How can two natures love one another? Natures cannot love one another, natures cannot speak to one another, only persons can love one another, and people can speak to one another, and people can leave one another and go towards one another.
Here's a text for you if you ever want one to present to a Oneness believer - John 6:38, listen carefully to this: 'I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me'. Now here He is not speaking as a mere man, because the Oneness people believe that it's only His humanity that is the man part. He's speaking of coming down from heaven, but His human nature did not come down from heaven. So even when he's speaking of God, He distinguishes Himself from the Father: 'I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will', distinguishing from the Father, 'but the will of him that sent me'.
John 8, here's a classic one, turn with me to this one please - how the Lord designates between the Father and the Son here. In verse 17 He says: 'It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me'. Now either He's being dishonest with the Old Testament, or He doesn't understand the Godhead Himself. He is designating He and the Father as two witnesses, two people whose witness is true. All you need to do is look at John 1 and verse 1 and 2 to show that Christ was God by nature, yet He was also distinct from God in the sense that the Word was with God and the Word was God. John reiterates the same fact in 1 John 1 verse 2: 'For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us'. The eternal life that was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.
Now what does the Church of God have to say about that? John 1:1, Magee says: 'I can well remember a dear brother quoting this verse to me to prove that Jesus, the Word, was a distinct Divine Person from the Father. I asked him, 'Who is your God?'. He answered, 'The Trinity''. Now here we see the devious argumentation of the church of God: 'I said, 'Let us read the verse in the light of your answer - in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Trinity and the Word was the Trinity''. Now the Trinity is not God, the Trinity is an understanding of the nature of God. What this verse is talking about, when it talks about the Word being God, is the nature of God and the substance of God - not the personalities of God. In his devious argumentation he goes down, and then he says: 'The meaning of the verse became clear to him, and it is this - the Word was God'. Now mark this: 'Any idea that the Word was a distinct personality from God is destroyed by John when he emphatically declares, 'and the Word was God'. I know of no stronger Oneness verse in the whole Bible. How can we make a difference of person between God and His Word?'. Now that is utter nonsense. You could equally say that the statement 'And the Word was God' was destroyed by John's statement 'the Word was with God', but they are the two sides of the coin that the Oneness belief denies.
In fact Philippians 2 verse 6 says Christ was in the form of God in eternity past: 'He thought it not robbery to be equal with God'. He claimed to be God, and we know that, the Pharisees were going to stone Him for claiming to be such - but never did He claim to be the Father. He may have claimed that the Father was revealed in Him, in the essence of His divinity and deity, but He never claimed to be the Father. The scripture always distinguishes Him from the Father. In John 14 - many years ago a well-known Church of God Pastor then said that he had never heard a Oneness advocate explain this verse satisfactorily. John 14:23, that's maybe why he has converted to Trinitarianism himself, John 14:23: 'Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him' - we will come unto him - 'and make our abode with him'.
In regard to His commission they contradict the Scriptures, in regard to the Spirit they do the same. In John 14 verse 16, Jesus said: 'I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever'. Jesus is not the Spirit, in fact the Spirit is sent by Jesus and sent by the Father. If you want a verse for that, John 16:7, 8, 13 and 14.
In fact, do you know what this Oneness teaching is? It is an ancient heresy known in the early church as Sabellianism. It was also known as Modalism, it was found in the late first and early second century in the church. Not, as the Church of God claims, was it introduced in the year 325AD at the Council of Nicea by Constantine - that is a lie. In fact the early Christian apologists and fathers, many of them quoted their belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, and indeed in apologetics defended the doctrine of the Trinity against some of these selfsame errors.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a profound mystery, but if it was a human invention, man who invented it would be able to explain it - but man can't explain it, because it is the Godhead!
Very quickly, if you give me 10 or 15 minutes: the salvation and baptism teaching of the Church of God is also erroneous. Their claim to be evangelical falls flat when we consider this, because they teach us that we must be baptised in the name of Jesus, according to Acts 2:38 that I gave you at the beginning - not the formula commanded by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 28.
Now their aversion to the Trinitarian baptismal formula is only due to their aversion to the doctrine of the Trinity itself, I believe. They are failing to recognise that in the historical book of the Acts of the Apostles - historical book I hasten to add - when baptism 'in the name of Jesus' is mentioned, that phrase 'in the name of' in scripture often means 'in the authority', or 'by the authority of'. It's nothing to do with the baptismal formula, it's to do with the authority of the One who is giving the command to baptise in the Gospel's name.
In fact evidence from the Didache, which was the teaching of the twelve apostles that was passed down into this writing of the late first and early second century - it is clear that baptism was in the triune name of the Godhead. Justin Martyr in AD 153 declares the same, yet the Church of God to this day will re-baptise you if you were baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In J.A. Connolly's book 'Water Baptism - Obligatory or Optional?' - that's the pastor of Glenmachen Church of God - he says on page 10 'Baptism is essential to a full and complete New Testament gospel experience'. On page 20 he says 'Faith and baptism are inseparables'. On page 23, rhetorically he asks the question: 'Is baptism essential to salvation? The only answer is that baptism is essential to a full gospel experience as any other relevant Bible experience is essential to salvation'. Now, as John Montgomery, whose book I recommend to you - and it's on the bookstall, on Cecil's bookstall tonight - in his critique he says: 'All these statements come perilously close to baptismal regeneration'.
Whilst we do agree on the importance of baptism in the New Testament, and indeed how intrinsic it was to Gospel preaching in the early church, we must maintain that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works - that's what Ephesians 2:8 and 9 teach.
Then they have also erroneous teaching on soul sleep and annihilation - do you know this? They misuse and misquote certain obscure passages from the Old Testament, and they believe from it - mainly the book of Ecclesiastes - that the soul sleeps until the resurrection. Some of them seem to also believe of the impenitent, those who die without Christ, that they will be annihilated. Conditional immortality is taught - yet what did Paul teach? 'We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord' - at home with the Lord! The dying thief was told: 'Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise'. I don't know what they do with Luke chapter 16, a man in hell and a man in Paradise. That disproves right away any doctrine of soul sleep and annihilationism.
I don't have time to deal with this one, but there are the doctrines of British Israelism and food laws. I don't have time to go into this, save to say what Oswald Saunders said in his book 'Heresies Ancient and Modern', I quote: 'The theory of British Israelism is not supported by any scientist, historian or linguist of repute' - it is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Regarding the food laws, I give you a warning - 1 Timothy 4:3-4 tells us that false teachers will be characterised by these traits: 'Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving'. 'But meat commendeth us not', 1 Corinthians 8:8, 'to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse'.
Can I remind you of a statement I give you two studies ago when we looked at the Cooneyites, from Walter Martin's book 'The Kingdom of the Cults'. He said: 'A cult', or a false faith, 'starts with a group of people gathered around someone's misinterpretation of the Bible'. A group of people gathered around someone's misinterpretation of the Bible, whether it's Gordon Magee's, whether it's Joseph Smith's, whether it's Brigham Young's - whatever the man's name may be matters not to me. If they plainly deny Scripture in order to comply with their scheme, they are a false prophet. I say to you this evening, and to the evangelical church at large: no matter how attractive their services may be, how crowded their churches are, and how seemingly successful their preaching is - Isaiah chapter 8 and verse 20 says: 'To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them'. There I rest my case.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirteenth recording in his Strongholds Shaken series, titled "Oneness Pentecostalism" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word. The inclusion of images and diagrams in this transcript is done without intention to breach any copyright restrictions. If this has been done in any instance, please contact us and we will willingly remove the offending item.
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