None of us heard cheering, but I suspect there was a big celebration in heaven on April 29. That’s the day officials from a dozen denominations prayed together and–for the first time–attempted to heal one of the ugliest rifts in Christendom. Finally, leaders of the two camps in the Pentecostal movement–Oneness Pentecostals and Trinitarian Pentecostals–apologized for fighting like the Hatfields and McCoys.
I wanted to throw a party of my own when I heard the news. But I’ll wait until the healing has filtered down to the grass roots–where this bitter quarrel has fractured families, split churches and spoiled our witness to the world for decades.
In case you aren’t familiar with the conflict, the story goes like this: Pentecostals began fighting over the doctrine of the Trinity in the early 1900s. Trinitarians insisted that God is one-in-three. Oneness folks argued that God is three-in-one. In 1916, a split occurred in the Assemblies of God over the issue, and the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World emerged as leading voices of the Oneness movement.
Oneness people rigidly insist that a minister must say “in the name of Jesus” when baptizing a convert. They also believe that if you are baptized “in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,” well, that’s just too bad because God won’t accept that wording.
It all sounds like pointless doctrinal hair-splitting to us younger types. After all, who can explain the mystery of God’s triune nature? Instead of fussing about terms or reducing the gospel to a baptismal formula, why can’t we rally around our common belief that the Father sent His Son to save the world?
It may take another decade–and a few more funerals–to end this dispute. But we could speed up the process by taking these giant steps:
1. Oneness Pentecostals must join the 21st century. Unhealthy isolation has created dysfunction in many Oneness groups. My calendar says this is 2002, yet the UPC still bans TV viewing and won’t allow women to wear pants, makeup and short hairstyles. If the UPC wants to be relevant to the next generation (and this one, for that matter) they must allow the Holy Spirit to season their message with grace. What many of them preach is a toxic form of salvation by works.
2. Trinitarians must embrace our Oneness brothers. I know people in the Assemblies of God who were taught all their lives that the Jesus worshiped by Oneness Pentecostals is “another Jesus.” The Lord told us to love one another, but we have avoided this by declaring that our brothers aren’t really in the family.
3. Oneness leaders must stop trying to convert us to their views. If they keep insisting that their narrow interpretation of Scripture is the only ticket to heaven, they will continue to be marginalized.
4. We must all renounce sterile religion. Oneness Pentecostals may be known for their dress codes and harsh judgmentalism, but they don’t have a monopoly on spiritual pride. The whole church is full of it.
I hope reconciliation efforts will continue so we can build a bridge across the Pentecostal divide. I want to see the day when this hatchet is buried. Then the real party can begin.