The term “Oneness Pentecostalism” is filled with historical and theological meaning. I’ll begin by explaining what the term “Pentecostalism” as a whole means, and then say what Oneness Pentecostalism is.
What is Pentecostalism?
The terms “Pentecostal” and “Pentecostalism” are derived from the biblical term “Pentecost.” In Jewish tradition, the Festival of Weeks (or Shavu’ot) was a time that the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the Temple. This occurred 50 days after the start of the Passover, and was for this reason eventually given the name “Pentecost” (the Greek root of this word means “fifty”).
In the New Testament, the Day of Pentecost is given special significance because it is the day that the Christian church began. In the book of Acts, Luke records this:
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
—Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)
On the day of Pentecost, then, a number of believers (including the Apostles) were filled with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Luke goes on to say that the number of believers added to the church that day were “about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two men in particular began to preach that Christians should restore to the church this experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. By 1900, Charles F. Parham began to preach that the initial sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was speaking in an unknown language (or “speaking in tongues” as Acts 2:4 says). It was in Topeka, Kansas, where Parham had a Bible school, that one of his students prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.
In 1906 William J. Seymour, an African American preacher, heard Parham’s teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He took this teaching back with him to Los Angeles, California. It is under Seymour’s preaching that the so-called “Asuza Street Revival” began in March of 1906. From here, the Pentecostal experience began to spread with news of the revival, especially with the publication of a newspaper called The Apostolic Faith, which members of the Asuza Street Revival used, in large part, to document the event.
In summary, then, Pentecostalism is a branch of Christianity that teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, is for Christians today.
So what is Oneness Pentecostalism then? It is a form of Pentecostalism that teaches that God is absolutely and indivisibly one in essence and in person. In other words, there is only one God and there is only one person who is God. Because God is one in this absolute sense, this teaching is called the “Oneness of God.”
The most mainstream (and probably the largest) organization of Oneness believers is the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI). This website is neither affiliated with nor sponsored by the UPCI. The content on this website belongs solely to its author(s), and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the UPCI.
Of course, the doctrine of the Oneness of God stands in contrast to the traditional Christian teaching of the Trinity. This is because the doctrine of the Trinity affirms that there is numerically one God, but that God is also three persons. To put it as simply as possible, this means that God is numerically one in one sense and is numerically three in another sense.
Because Oneness Pentecostals do not believe in the Trinity, which has been the central teaching of Christian theology at least since the third century or so, they are often labeled as heretics. As a result, organizations like the UPCI are often labelled as cults by Christians in other denominations and organizations.
The aim of The Oneness Exchange is to provide a guided exploration of the claims of Oneness Pentecostals to determine whether or not groups like the UPCI (and indeed Oneness Pentecostalism as a whole) are truly cults as it is so often alleged. My focus is going to be on the doctrine of the Oneness of God, but as we will see, this teaching is the basis for all of the other distinctive claims of Oneness Pentecostalism.
In the end, my goal is not to dictate whether Oneness Pentecostalism is a heresy, but to allow people (including myself) to decide for themselves whether this is the case.