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E. Calvin Beisner Responds to David K. Bernard

Continued from ...

>Many
>ministers and lay persons of various Trinitarian
>denominations have similarly stated to United Pentecostals
>that they accept the Oneness view of the Godhead.

Illegitimate appeal to authority.

>A number of charismatic scholars, including Larry
>Christenson, Kilian McDonnell, and David Pawson, teach that
>water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are part of
>Christian initiation and not subsequent to it.

Both an illegitimate appeal to authority and a shift of argument from
what I think most doctrinal cult apologists would call definitive
doctrines to peripheral doctrines. Furthermore, it's not at all clear
precisely what is implied in the phrase "Christian initiation." And some
specific documentation, so we could see just what these writers meant,
rather than having to trust to the accuracy of this summary of their
views, would be nice.

>Evangelical
>writers such as Leighton Ford and James Dunn have argued
>essentially the same thing, but without associating the
>baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongues.

Again, documentation, for both authenticity and precise meaning, would be
nice. Until it's forthcoming, we need give no weight to this and similar
claims.

>Many Trinitarian
>Pentecostal and charismatics agree that water baptism should
>be performed in the name of Jesus.

Fallacies of illegitimate appeal to authority and truth by popular vote.
Furthermore, what is Bernard, who has just (wrongly) attacked doctrinal
cult apologists for appealing to the early creeds as doctrinal
authorities rather than to Scripture, doing appealing to modern popular
writers or even scholars as doctrinal authorities, rather than to
Scripture?

>Many theologians and
>scholars, including Martin Luther and F.F. Bruce, have
>acknowledged that this was the formula of the apostles.

I have seen Bruce's arguments to that effect and find them unpersuasive.
I discuss the baptismal formula in GOD IN THREE PERSONS to some extent,
but hope to discuss it at much greater length in a much expanded version
of my book on Oneness Pentecostalism if the Lord ever gives me time to
revise and complete the rough manuscript already done. Both the New
Testament evidence and the evidence from early Church history strongly
favor the Triune formula. This, however, is again a peripheral issue; I'm
not aware of a single cult apologist who would say that a Trinitarian who
baptized using the Jesus' name formula instead of the Triune formula was
therefore cultic.

>Our critics do not attack these teachers, because they
>belong to major denominations or use traditional theological
>terminology.

Wrong. We would argue with them over the specific points if occasion
arose, but the reason we don't classify them as heretical or cultists is
that the points of disagreement are not definitive of Christian faith
versus non-Christian faith.

>It is not fair, however, to single us out for
>views that many other professing Christians also hold, just
>because we have formed our own group or refuse to use the
>non biblical terminology treasured by so many.
>
> 5. The attack on us is inconsistent with the critics'
>doctrine of salvation. They commonly say they believe in
>salvation in "grace alone through faith alone in Christ
>alone."

In part, see my comments above about the salvation of people in the UPCI
and other Oneness groups. I would add: (1) Would the Oneness adherents
say that it doesn't matter what we believe about the identity of Christ,
so long as we have faith in someone to whom we attach the name "Jesus
Christ"? Suppose we believe that Christ was a mere man, not God at all?
That Christ was an angel, the first and greatest creation of God? That
Christ was God but never became man, only appearing to do so (docetism)?
That Christ was God, the only God, but was not the Father and not the
Holy Spirit, though they both also are this same God (Trinitarianism)?
That Christ was one of the incarnations of the Buddha? Are any and all of
these equally fine, so that we can say that whoever believes in Jesus
Christ, whichever of these definitions he attaches to the name, is saved?
If not all, then which ones are acceptable? Why draw the line there and
not somewhere else? It is not for nothing that Paul warns in 2
Corinthians 11 against those who preach another Jesus. (2) My
understanding of the UPCI doctrine of salvation is that it rests our
salvation in part upon our own good works, i.e., makes them a meritorious
condition of our salvation, not an inevitable effect of true saving
faith, and that among those works is our being baptized. I argue the
point at length, and with thorough documentation from UPCI official
publications and the publications of Word Aflame Press books specifically
on the way of salvation. Our charge, therefore, is that despite claims to
the contrary, the gospel promoted by the UPCI is not the gospel of
salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but a
gospel of salvation by grace and debt through works and faith in someone
who is not the Christ of the Bible; it is, therefore, a false gospel. It
is not for nothing that Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11 and Galatians 1:8
against those who preach a different gospel.

>How does this doctrine negate the salvation
>experience of the typical United Pentecostal convert? Most
>United Pentecostals do not decide to join the UPCI after an
>intellectual study of the Oneness doctrine. Many come to God
>as children. Many come from no church background, or a
>nominal church background. Typically they hear a simple
>evangelistic message about the death, burial, and
>resurrection of Jesus Christ, believe that Jesus is their
>Savior, decide to accept the offer of salvation, and come to
>the altar of repentance.

Let me be quick to say that I believe that if someone heard such a
message, even from a heretical preacher, and in hearing it believed Jesus
to be who He really is (not the Father but the Son of the Father,
personally distinct from Him and from the Holy Spirit, though each of the
three is the same God), believed that Jesus had died to pay the penalty
for his (the hearer's) sins, believed that Jesus had risen from the dead,
and believed that because Jesus had paid for his sins his sins therefore
were forgiven him and he stood before God accepted solely on the merits
of Christ's death in his place and Christ's righteousness and not on the
ground of anything he ever did or could do to gain God's favor or
approval, he would by that faith in that Christ be saved. However, I must
also, to be faithful to Scripture, qualify this response, for: (a) We are
speaking about matters of the heart, and none of us knows fully the heart
of another--indeed, none of us knows fully even his own heart, only God
does (Jeremiah 17:9-10). It is entirely possible for someone to give an
outward profession of faith, to participate in the fellowship of the
saints, to display all sorts of outward signs of conversion, but in fact
to be insincere and therefore still lost. It is possible for people to
honor God with their lips but for their hearts to be far from Him. (b)
Nonetheless, Jesus does tell us that people's hearts are revealed in
their deeds, that we know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). One of
those fruits is endurance in the faith--i.e., if someone has real faith
in the real Jesus, he will endure in that faith, he will not forsake it.
(Matthew 10:22; 13:21) Thus John says of those who have the spirit of
antichrist, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they
had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that
they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 John 2:19).
There are, then, two sets of people: those who are "of us" (i.e., the
saints), and those who "go out from us"; the two sets do not overlap,
i.e., none of the latter is a member of the former. Therefore I would
argue that those who hear the gospel message from a Oneness preacher but
truly (not insincerely) believe in the real Jesus (second Person of the
Trinity), however incapable they might be of expressing that belief in
technical, doctrinal terms, will, when they begin to recognize the
difference between the Jesus of Oneness doctrine and the Jesus they
actually embraced, reject the Jesus of Oneness and remain faithful to the
Jesus of Trinitarian doctrine. (c) There is a difference between, on the
one hand, an antinomian "once saved, always saved" doctrine that says you
can, having "gotten saved," live in persistent rebellion against God
either in outward deeds or in inward belief (e.g., first profess faith in
Christ alone for salvation, and then at some point begin and persist in
insisting that your salvation is actually in part by faith in Christ and
in part by your own works--the heresy of which Paul warned the
Galatians), yet continue to be and to have assurance that you are saved,
and, on the other hand, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints,
i.e., that those truly converted by God do in fact remain true in both
faith (belief) and deeds (the fruit of faith). The former is unbiblical
nonsense; the latter is Biblical truth. With these considerations in
mind, I would argue that someone who "believed" (whatever that might mean
at the moment) in "Jesus" (whoever he might have thought Him to be at the
moment) at some point but later became convinced of the truth of Oneness
(i.e., embraced another Jesus), would show by that very act that he was
"not of us; for if he had been of us, he would have continued with us;
but he went out that he might be made manifest, that he was not of us"
(paraphrasing 1 John 2:19 for singular).

>For example, I repented of my sins, believed on the
>Lord Jesus Christ, and received the Holy Spirit at age
>seven. At that point I could not debate Oneness versus
>trinitarianism,

This is not the same as saying that he did not BELIEVE in Oneness. Even
my three-year-old knows the basic contents of the doctrine of the
Trinity--that there is but one God; that the Father is God, the Son is
God, and the Holy Spirit is God; that the Father, and the Son, and the
Holy Spirit are distinct Persons--but I'm quite sure he could not debate
the point with someone. When he expresses faith in Jesus, it is this
Jesus whom he means, whether he can debate the point or not. Bernard,
though he could not defend Oneness in debate, if brought up by Oneness
parents, would surely have believed in the Jesus of Oneness theology, not
the Jesus of Trinitarian theology, at the time here described.

>but I knew that Jesus was God manifested in
>the flesh to be my Savior, that he loved me, that I was
>trusting in Him for salvation, and that I was devoting my
>life to Him as my Lord.
> If someone were to make the identical response in a
>Baptist church,

--where, of course, he would have been taught to think of the Father,
Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as distinct from each other, not of Jesus as
the Father and as the Holy Spirit as the substance of God, as in Oneness
doctrine.

>our critics would not hesitate to pronounce
>him saved,

Actually, this critic would not pronounce him saved but would say that he
had given a profession of faith that fulfilled the condition of his being
recognized as a Christian so long as his subsequent life did not prove
his profession insincere.

>and many would argue that he could not lose his
>salvation under any circumstances.

See the discussion of "once saved always saved" versus "enduring to the
end" above.

>How, then, could his
>subsequent baptism in the name of Jesus, reception of the
>Holy Spirit, and acceptance of the Oneness doctrine annul
>this genuine experience with God?

Two fallacies are combined here: (1) straw man, in that the argument
misrepresents the critics' position, for the critics would say that if
the person had truly been saved (i.e., his profession of faith was true,
and his faith was in the true Jesus and the true gospel), he could not in
fact lose his salvation, for only those who are "not of us" go "out from
us" (1 John 2:19), and (2) circular reasoning, for it assumes that the
person really is saved in such an experience, while on certain conditions
the critics might want to contest that--as I suggested above.

>If someone professes to believe in salvation by grace
>through faith

It is not a contentless faith that saves, but a contentful faith in a
particular Jesus and a particular gospel. People of countless religions
have real faith, but it is faith in false gods (Brahman, Allah, Osiris,
Apollo, etc.) or false gospels (gnosticism, asceticism, sacerdotalism,
ritualism, etc.); such faith, however sincere, will not save them.

>but denies that our converts are saved,

And why should we not deny that their converts are saved, if the Jesus
they preach and their converts trust is not the Jesus of the Bible, and
if the gospel they preach and their converts believe is not the gospel of
the Bible?

>then
>actually he must believe in salvation by faith plus a creed,

Now this is a really strange objection! That we must not have faith with
a CREED! My, what horrible things creeds must be! But a creed is simply a
profession of faith. The very word CREED comes from the Latin CREDO, "I
believe." Indeed, Bernard has just written, "If someone professes to
believe in salvation by grace through faith," and has argued that
salvation follows consequently upon this profession. (Although in truth
salvation follows not upon an empty profession but upon real faith.) But
for someone to profess to believe in salvation by grace through faith is
for him to state a creed, a credo, to say "I believe" (Latin "Credo")
such-and-such. Now, are we only allowed to profess our own individual,
novel creeds, or may we not confess those creeds embraced by the saints
through the ages?

>a denomination,

Doctrinal cult apologists readily acknowledge that many denominations
teach the true gospel about the true Jesus. That is precisely why they
don't call such denominations cults, reserving the word for those that
teach a false Jesus or a false gospel, or both. So no doctrinal cult
apologist asserts that salvation requires affiliation with some specific
denomination. (Indeed, since to say so would itself be adding to the real
gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone,
it would be grounds for being called a cultist.)

>or intellectualism.

Insisting that people believe the real gospel (salvation by grace alone
through faith alone in Christ alone, merited by His righteousness alone,
with sins atoned for by His death alone) is not the same as insisting on
intellectualism. It is simply insisting that faith have a specific
content, the content asserted in Scripture.

>Such a position is more
>exclusive than that of the UPCI, for we readily acknowledge
>that people of various denominations can have genuine faith
>in God and a genuine relationship with God, even before
>receiving the full Acts 2:38 experience.

Perhaps the UPCI sees inconsistency as a virtue. The Apostles didn't.
Paul believed that one who preached another Jesus or another gospel
preached a Jesus and a gospel in which faith was useless (2 Corinthians
11; Galatians 1:8). Peter insisted that there is salvation in no other
than Jesus--the real Jesus, not some imaginary Jesus (Acts 4:12). Let the
UPCI recognize salvation by faith in the Jesus of Trinitarianism if it
wishes; it is only recognizing the truth. But let it not complain if
Trinitarians do not share in the folly of such inconsistency as to say
that salvation is available by faith in a Jesus and a gospel other than
the Jesus and the gospel revealed in Scripture!

>On the other hand, if our critics concede that we are
>saved, what justification do they have for attacking us so
>vehemently and uncharitably?

Supposing for the sake of argument that we did concede this, we would
have precisely the same justification for refuting their errors that they
think they have for refuting what they think are our errors. They think
we teach a false Jesus, we think they do; fine, so let the debate begin,
and let the Word of God be our standard. They think we teach a false
gospel, we think they do; fine, so let the debate begin, and let the Word
of God be our standard. But don't give us the silliness of complaining
that doctrinal argument is uncharitable. If that is so, then a major
portion of each of Paul's epistles is uncharitable--and so are all the
apologetic works of the Oneness writers.

>Several years ago, Robert Bowman, one of Walter
>Martin's chief researchers, acknowledged to me in a
>telephone conversation that most UPCI converts truly have
>faith in Christ and receive salvation, but when they
>progress in doctrinal study and consciously embrace the
>Oneness view then they lose salvation.

To this Bowman has replied in a posting to the Ar-talk list that Bernard
misrepresents him and he holds to the Reformed doctrine of perseverance
of the saints. I agree.

>It is an unusual cult
>indeed that leads people to salvation but then gradually
>takes it away from them!

This argument begs the question, assuming what is to be proved: that
salvation is to be had by embracing the Jesus of Oneness theology and the
gospel of UPCI soteriology. Furthermore, it is special pleading, for the
UPCI teaches that salvation can be lost, and yet according to our author
here it also recognizes the real salvation of many people who trust Jesus
in Trinitarian churches yet do not have "the full Acts 2:38 experience,"
but since it says that this full Acts 2:38 experience is necessary to
salvation, it must say that these people, though saved for a time, do not
remain saved if they do not attain that full "Acts 2:38 experience."
Therefore they direct the very charge against Trinitarian churches that
they protest against themselves!

>Would he say the same of any other
>group he considers cultic, such as Mormons or Jehovah
>Witnesses?

See Bowman's posting. My answer would be consistent for all of them:
faith, sincere or not, in a false Jesus and a false gospel does not save.

>Martin not only believed that some UPCI members are
>saved

A plausible conjecture, since it is possible for people to be confused
(or else Paul wouldn't have bothered warning against it) for a time into
embracing a Jesus and a gospel that are not the Jesus and gospel they
first embraced, but if they once knew the true Jesus and believed the
true gospel, we may be confident that such confusion will not last, on
the basis of 1 John 2:19.

>but also that once a person is saved he can never lose
>his salvation. This means he attacked those he considered
>fellow Christians and sought to destroy their churches.

This is the fallacy of confusing the part with the whole. Martin believed
that SOME Oneness Pentecostals were saved--and he believed they were
saved on the grounds that they believed initially in the real Jesus, not
in the Oneness Jesus, and in the real gospel, not in the Oneness gospel;
he did not believe that ALL Oneness Pentecostals were saved. To say that
some people now within a group may have been saved, before entering it,
by faith in the real Jesus and the real gospel, and then have been
confused into entering the group, but to be confident that they will one
day be restored to the true faith, is not to endorse the official
teachings of that group as true.

>It
>would seem more appropriate to let the Lord of these people
>decide how to judge these churches and deal with them as He
>wills, rather than appointing oneself to that role. "Who art
>thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master
>he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God
>is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).

This is to misuse the text. Paul is specifically writing, in this
context, about "doubtful things"--on which Scripture itself does not set
forth a specific rule. Furthermore, it is about matters of conduct, not
about the identity of Jesus or the definition of the gospel. The same
Paul who wrote this also wrote that if he or an angel from heaven
preached any other gospel than the one he had already preached, the
preacher should be anathema--damned (Galatians 1:8). We may well disagree
as to the identity of Jesus and the definition of the gospel, but if we
believe that either one of these is really important to salvation we must
at least acknowledge that those who make them a matter of serious debate
do so for good motive, not bad: a real concern for the salvation of those
with whom they disagree. Let's put it this way: if our Oneness friends
believe that our salvation depends on our belief in the Jesus of Oneness,
not in some false Jesus, and in the gospel they teach, not in some false
gospel, then I certainly will believe they love us only if they are
willing to argue against what they believe are a false Jesus and a false
gospel (the Jesus and the gospel we Trinitarian evangelicals embrace).

>
>6. The critics do not recognize that we are involved in
>ministry. While our critics raise money by attacking us and
>feel that their "ministry" is to label us, our ministers and
>churches are busy leading people to a saving and
>transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

This begs the question by assuming the very point in debate: whether they
are leading people to a saving and transforming relationship with Jesus
Christ. We believe they aren't; we believe they are leading their people
to a damning relationship with a false Jesus. We certainly would be
hypocritical, then, if we did not say so and argue the case.

>We are
>restoring broken marriages and homes, strengthening
>families, freeing people from sinful habits and addictions,
>training people in morality, and helping them to be
>productive citizens and saints.

The Mormons say precisely the same; so do the Jehovah's Witnesses, and
the Moonies, and the Hari Krishnas, and the Baha'is. So is
doctrine--particularly doctrine about who Jesus is and what the gospel
is--irrelevant? If it isn't, then this claim is irrelevant to this
debate.

>We do not fulfill our
>ministry by name calling, denunciations, and anathemas,

Which assumes that this is what the doctrinal cult apologists do--and is
for the most part (although I acknowledge that there are exceptions,
sadly, among us) a misrepresentation. However, let me point out that the
Apostles had some rather tough words for those they thought were
preaching a false Christ and a false gospel. They compared them with the
serpent who deceived Eve (2 Corinthians 11:3) and pronounced an anathema
upon them (Galatians 1:8).

>but
>seek to share with the world God's great gift of salvation
>that He has made available in Jesus Christ.

In WHICH Jesus Christ? That is the point in debate, and to insist on
immunity from criticism on the ground that they preach the real Jesus is
to argue in a circle, to assume the very point they need instead to
prove. Rather than complaining because they are questioned, they should
do what Peter exhorts: be ready at all times to give to everyone an
answer, a reason for their faith (1 Peter 3:15).

>We invite everyone to open their hearts and their
>Bibles, for we believe that truth is its own best defense.
>The Bereans exemplified the "more noble" course of action,
>"in that they received the word with all readiness of mind,
>and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were
>so" (Acts 17:11).
> With the apostle Paul, we say, "After the way which
>they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers.
>believing all things which are written in the law and in the
>prophets" (Acts 24:14). We remember that Jesus said, "Ye
>shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Matthew
>10:22). Nevertheless, like the apostles, we can go our way
>"rejoicing [to be] counted worthy to suffer shame for his
>name" (Acts 5:41). Despite unjust opposition and unfair
>accusations, we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of
>glory" (1 Peter 1:8).
>
>Note: For further discussion and documentation of the points
>in this article, see The United Pentecostal Church and the
>Evangelical Movement by J.L. Hall.

I read this book in preparation of my forthcoming "JESUS ONLY" CHURCHES.
It interacts well with evangelical theology and helps to correct many
evangelicals' mistaken notions of Oneness theology and UPCI soteriology
and doctrine of sanctification. It helped me to ensure that my own book
didn't misrepresent the UPCI and other Oneness groups.

In Christ's Service,
E. Calvin Beisner
Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750 USA


Note: "'Jesus Only'"Churches" is scheduled for release in January 1998 as a volume in the Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements. It is a refutation of the anti-Trinitarian theology and works-righteousness "gospel" of the United Pentecostal Church and other "modalistic" cults. 96 pages. Price to be announced.

Ordering information, and a list of additional books and papers by E. Calvin Beisner (Local information).

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