Interspersed below are responses to David Bernard's article, which defends
Oneness Pentecostalism against the charge of cultism.
> Answering the Charge of Cultism
> by David K. Bernard
> Associate Editor of Word Aflame Press
> In recent years a small but vocal group of opponents of
>the Jesus Name message have sought to label the United
>Pentecostal Church (UPCI) as a cult. How should we respond
>to this charge?
> 1. This charge stems from a small segment of the
>evangelical community inspired by "ministries"
The quotation marks make this an ad hominem attack. Let's stick to
logically valid arguments.
> who garner
>their financial support
Ad hominem fallacy, and false at least about me. I have received so
little money in return for years of work on cult apologetics that this
charge is simply laughable. How would someone like to put in the
equivalent of about eight months of full-time work over a
three-year-period writing a book, receive about $1,500 in advance on
royalties (which means no other royalties will be received until
royalties exceed the advance), have the book's publication delayed by
nearly two years, and then have every expectation that royalties will
never exceed the advance anyway?
>by making charges of this nature and
>who take their cue from the late Walter Martin, founder of
>Christian Research Institute and self-styled "Bible Answer
>Man." In many cases the charge is repeated by people who
>have had no personal knowledge of, or contact with the UPCI,
I have had both personal knowledge of and personal contact with the UPCI,
having read dozens of its publications (including over a dozen
full-length books specifically on the doctrinal issues covered in my
forthcoming book "JESUS ONLY" CHURCHES), having debated top UPCI
representatives on the John Ankerberg Show, having corresponded at length
with one of them afterward (Robert Sabin), having corresponded with three
well-informed ex-UPCI pastors, and having read books about the UPCI by
two of them.
>and who have an inaccurate concept of the UPCI's beliefs.
In "JESUS ONLY" CHURCHES I have thoroughly and carefully documented every
doctrine I attribute to the UPCI. When the book is available (now
scheduled for January 1998), let its accuracy be judged.
>does not come from any mainline Christian organization, nor
>is it the official position of any evangelical denomination.
This is rather like saying that since no evangelical denomination
condemns by name the doctrines of the Black Muslims, the Black Muslims
must be okay. It's an argument from silence. Rather, since all
evangelical denominations' doctrinal statements explicitly affirm the
doctrine of the Trinity, since all evangelical denominations also affirm
the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and since those creeds both affirm the
Trinity, and since the UPCI explicitly condemns the doctrine of the
Trinity as pagan, we should logically infer that (a) the UPCI implicitly
condemns the Trinitarianism of the evangelical denominations, and (b) the
evangelical denominations implicitly condemn the anti-Trinitarianism of
the UPCI. (Or would Bernard like us to assert that since the UPCI doesn't
explicitly condemn the evangelical denominations by name, the UPCI must
approve of them as doctrinally sound?)
>Trinitarian Pentecostal groups, who have the most contact
>with us, consider our views of the Godhead erroneous but
>still regard us as saved.
It would be helpful to see official statements of the relevant,
particularly mainstream, Pentecostal denominations (like the Assemblies
of God) affirming this, not only to see whether such statements exist but
also to see precisely how they are worded. Let me explain the latter
statement. Although I believe the UPCI's views on Oneness, the nature of
the incarnation of Christ, the precise significance of the atoning work
of Christ, and precisely how faith and works are related in salvation are
false, and although I believe that someone who from the very start always
believed precisely those doctrines would have embraced a false god, a
false Christ, and a false gospel, and therefore would not be saved, I
also believe that many people in Oneness churches, former members of
Trinitarian churches that taught true Christology and the true gospel,
have been innocently misled from their first real faith in the real God
and the real Jesus and His real saving work. These latter people, in my
view, are saved but are on a detour, so to speak, in their spiritual
lives. (However, it is also possible to paint with too broad a brush
here, since John tells us that "they went out from us because they were
not of us." This implies that at least some people who depart from the
true faith after once confessing it were never sincere in their
confession in the first place.)
>The National Religious Broadcasters, an arm of the
>National Association of Evangelicals, has accepted Oneness
>individuals and groups as members.
This is an appeal to authority. (It runs logically thus: X is a
legitimate authority. X says Y. Therefore Y is true.) Logically it is
always shaky, and it depends for its force on the degree of legitimacy of
the alleged authority. Having observed through about twenty years how
most parachurch organizations, especially those that are associations of
various other parachurch organizations, handle doctrinal matters--usually
with the goal of being as broad and inclusive as possible--I would count
the authority of the NRB (especially) and of the NAE (somewhat) as of a
pretty low degree. The same goes for the additional appeals to authority
>The Society for
>Pentecostal Studies, an interdenominational organization of
>Pentecostal and charismatic scholars, also accepts Oneness
>believers as members, and one recently served as its
This only implies that the Oneness Pentecostals are Pentecostals; it does
not imply that their anti-Trinitarianism or their doctrines of the
incarnation and atonement of Christ or of the relationship of faith and
works in salvation is recognized as Biblically sound by the Society.
>Major evangelical and charismatic publishers
>publish and market books and music by United Pentecostals.
I would rank evangelical and charismatic publishers' authority in
doctrinal discernment considerably below that of the dubious level of the
NRB. Additionally, however, I would be quite surprised to see (and in all
my searching thus far I have not seen) any book published by an
evangelical or (non-Oneness) charismatic publisher that explicitly taught
Oneness, denounced the Trinity as pagan, or taught the UPCI's doctrines
of the incarnation, the atonement, and the relation of faith and works in
>Evangelical radio stations worldwide routinely carry
>programs by United Pentecostals, including Harvestime, the
>UPCI's official radio broadcast.
My experience leads me to put even less trust in evangelical radio
stations' doctrinal discernment than in evangelical publishers' doctrinal
These comments, however, do indicate how important it is to educate
decision makers at evangelical and charismatic associations, publishers,
and radio and television stations of the actual beliefs of the UPCI and
other groups that are doctrinally distinct from evangelicalism. It is
quite likely that most of them have no idea what these groups teach
doctrinally and would be appalled if they knew.
>2. This labeling is an unfair tactic. It is designed to
>prejudice people against us, not to open dialog regarding
>scriptural truth. To the general public, the word cult means
>a group that is sociologically aberrant and even dangerous,
>typically characterized by authoritative leadership, exotic
>beliefs, manipulative methods, financial exploitation, mind
>control, and rebellion against government.
Bernard has charged that most of those labeling the UPCI as cultic are
followers of the late Walter Martin. Now he asserts that most people
think of the word CULT as sociologically defined. But Martin explicitly
rejected a sociological definition of cults, as does Alan Gomes, editor
of Zondervan's two-part, fourteen-volume (I think that's the right
number) series on the cults. There's no reason to throw away a good word
just because some folks have misused it. (Analogy: Lots of folks misuse
the word JUSTICE, asserting that it demands economic equality. Should the
rest of us refuse to use the word now, to avoid having others think we
mean the same by it? No, we should carefully define it when we use it,
and show why our definition is Biblically and historically preferable to
>Our critics do
>not use the word in this sense, however, for sociologically
>and organizationally we are quite similar to most other
>evangelical and Pentecostal churches. They actually mean
>that they differ with us theologically. To be honest and
>fair, they should explain their differences of biblical
>interpretation with us, and let people examine the issues
That is precisely what I do, and what other critics of Oneness
Pentecostalism do whom I have read.
> An editorial by Terry Muck
Terry Muck is not specifically an expert on doctrinal apologetics, and I
therefore consider this an illegitimate appeal to authority. (That's the
name of an informal fallacy in logic, for those not familiar with it.)
>in the February 5, 1990,
>issue of Christianity Today, the leading evangelical
>periodical, gave three reasons why Christians should not use
>the pejorative label of cult:
>(1) "The spirit of fair play suggests it is best to refer to
>groups of people as they refer to themselves."
The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses refer to themselves as Christians.
Should evangelicals and Oneness members refer to them that way? (Recall
that the Mormons are polytheists, believing that the Father and the Son
are just two among many gods and that they themselves can become gods,
and that the Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus Christ, saying
that he is just the highest angel and the first creation of God.)
>(2) "There is also a theological reason for avoiding" the
>label, for it wrongly implies that certain sinners "are the
In over twenty-five years of reading voluminously about the cults, I
can't recall ever having read anything that implied that certain
sinners--namely, those involved in various cults--"are the worst kind."
This is a straw-man argument. (And that Muck would offer it is evidence
of his illegitimacy as an authority on the subject; it demonstrates that
he doesn't know the field very well.)
>(3) "It simply does not work well to use disparaging terms
>to describe the people whom we hope will come to faith in
>Christ. . . . In fact we are commanded to love them as
I don't use the word CULT disparagingly. Here is the list of four
definitions found in WEBSTER'S TWENTIETH-CENTURY DICTIONARY, unabridged
2d ed.: "1. worship; reverential honor; religious devotion. [Obs.] 2. the
system of outward forms and ceremonies used in worship; religious rites
and formalities. 3. devoted attachment to, or extravagant admiration for,
a person, principle, etc., especially when regarded as a fad; as, the
CULT of nudism. 4. a group of followers; sect." The fourth definition
comes closest to the sense in which I use the term, and in which I
believe most cult apologists use it. It is legitimate, in a particular
field of scholarship, to attach particular nuances to terms that don't
bear those nuances in more general usage. Some cult apologists attach to
the term CULT notions of sociological or psychological deviance; while I
don't challenge the linguistic legitimacy of doing so in principle, I do
think they are factually wrong to do so in that many groups they charge
with such deviance are innocent, and some other groups they don't charge
with it are guilty. Other cult apologists, including myself, attach to
the term CULT notions of doctrinal deviation, namely, from the central,
defining doctrines of the Christian faith set forth in the early
ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene, Chalcedonian, Athanasian, etc.--but
usually especially the Nicene and Chalcedonian), and this use gives the
term specific, clearly understandable content. I see no reason to
apologize for its use.
> An editorial in the August 1993 issue of Charisma
>magazine specifically rebuked Hank Hannegraaff, successor as
>president of Christian Research Institute and "Bible Answer
>Man." Editor and publisher Stephen Strang said, "The heresy
>hunters are still with us. Only now, instead of stakes.,
>they use their books and radio programs to destroy those
>they consider heretics. . . . I'm concerned that heresy
>hunting may be turning into leukemia because some cult-
>watchers seem more intent on destroying parts of the body
>than healing the body. . . . Hanegraaff goes way too far [in
>attacking independent charismatics]. . . . It's time he
>shows as much respect to fellow Christians with whom he
>disagrees as he does to those outside the faith."
Without known the specific grounds for Strang's charge against
Hannegraaff, I can't comment further than to say (a) that unless Strang
has expertise in doctrinal apologetics, this too is an illegitimate
appeal to authority, (b) unless Strang's complaint against Hannegraaff is
specifically about the latter's leveling doctrinal charges of a central
nature (that is, like those based on the defining doctrines of the
Christian faith posited in the early ecumenical creeds), rather than
about the latter's leveling any other sorts of charges, this argument is
simply irrelevant to the case at hand, which is whether it is legitimate
to call the UPCI and other Oneness groups cults.
>3. The critics rely on the authority of "historic
>Christianity" or "orthodoxy" instead of the Bible,
This is the fallacy of false choice; one may rely on creeds AND the
Bible, and one who does so may recognize both a priority between them
(the Bible is supreme, the creeds are subordinate) and a difference in
focus between them (the Bible determines truth; the creeds testify as to
which truths the Christian Church through the ages has considered worthy
of being called definitive of Christianity; but even this testimony ought
to be judged by whether the Bible supports the creeds in their definition
of Christian faith).
Anyone who reads the literature of doctrinal cult apologetics with even a
modicum of care will recognize that the vast majority of argument focuses
directly on Scripture. The role of the creeds in cult apologetics is not
to determine truth but to determine what Christians through the ages have
considered the doctrines most definitive of the Christian faith. This is
why one is pretty unlikely to find a group labeled cultic because it
embraces Saturday sabbatarianism but very likely to find a group labeled
cultic because it embraces anti-Trinitarianism. The Bible teaches lots
and lots of things, all of them true; would Bernard prefer that every
single proposition of Biblical truth be treated as a dividing line
between orthodoxy and heresy? Of course not. (Unless, of course, he'd
like to consider himself the only Christian in the world and in time.) It
is sensible and helpful to have some standards to help us distinguish
between what is definitive and what is non-definitive of the faith once
for all delivered to the saints; the creeds serve that purpose, and
judicious appeal to them, not as ultimate authority but as helpful
guidance of this sort, is perfectly legitimate.
>though they claim that the Bible is their only authority and
>denounce the use of extra biblical authority as cultic. For
>instance, they say we are a cult because we do not accept
>the doctrine of the trinity as defined by creeds developed
>from the fourth to eighth centuries. If by "orthodoxy" they
>mean anything more than the doctrines of the Bible, then
>they have an extra biblical authority.
This argument begs the question, since the whole point in debate is
whether the Trinity is indeed revealed in the Bible. Trinitarians believe
it is; they believe the creeds accurately summarize what the Bible states
about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; they believe the doctrine is
definitive of the faith once for all delivered to the saints; and their
arguments are not that the Trinity is stated in the creeds (which no one
contests) but that the doctrine so stated is revealed in the Bible (which
anti-Trinitarians do contest). The argument, therefore, is expressly over
what the Bible says, not over what the creeds say.
>If they do not mean
>anything else, however, why do they not simply appeal to the
Again, a fallacy of false choice. We DO appeal to Scripture, as the
supreme authority in the establishment of truth; we ALSO appeal to
creeds, as subordinate authorities regarding truth, as helpful guides in
prioritizing among truths (which ones are definitive), yet as always
subject to the Bible in both truth and prioritization of truth.
>Moreover, they are inconsistent and selective in their
>appeal to "historic orthodoxy." For example, they denounce
>our teaching that baptism is part of the salvation
>experience, even though this has always been the majority
>view in professing Christianity. Not only have Roman
>Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and the theologians of the
>first five centuries consistently held this view, but the
>founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, did so as well.
This is probably, depending on what the author means by "part of the
salvation experience," a misunderstanding of the treatment of baptism in
the ecumenical creeds, in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma, and
by Luther, but now is not the time to take up that debate. Presumably
Bernard means that one cannot be saved without being baptized; none of
the authorities to which he appeals teaches this.
>these critics, who are Protestant, do not label Luther as a
>cultist. The Nicene Creed, to which they often appeal for
>its doctrine of the trinity, also proclaims that there is
>"one baptism for the remission of sins,"
Precisely the same phrase that occurs in Acts 2:38, and the debate
between Oneness leaders and evangelicals over baptism involves precisely
what this phrase means. Evangelicals should take its sense in Acts 2:38
as the proper sense to give it in the Nicene Creed. I believe that a
resounding case, based on usage of the word EIS throughout Scripture, can
be made that in Acts 2:38 EIS APHESIN TON HAMARTION HUMON means not "in
order to effect (i.e., achieve) the remission of your sins" but "in
reference to (i.e., because of) the remission of your sins." That is how
I take it in the Nicene Creed.
>yet they reject its
>teaching on this subject.
This argument begs the question by assuming that the baptismal
remissionist interpretation of the Creed's clause is correct rather than
the interpretation above.
>When trying to prove that their doctrine of the trinity
>is the only orthodox view in history, the critics appeal to
>early writers such as Justin, Tertullian, and Origen, yet
>these men's definition of the trinity is considered
>heretical by orthodox Trinitarians today because they
>subordinated the second and third persons of the trinity to
A common claim, but it fails to recognize the distinction between a
subordination of will and a subordination of essence. These writers
clearly taught the latter; they almost certainly did not teach the
former. The latter is inconsistent with the doctrine of the Trinity; the
former is not.
>Ironically, Walter Martin was heretical according
>to the ancient creeds, because he denied the eternal
>generation of the Son.
I believe he was wrong to do so, and I argue for the eternal generation
of the Son in my forthcoming book "JESUS ONLY" CHURCHES. However, while
Martin denied the eternal generation of the Son, he affirmed (a) the
eternal deity of the Son (contra the Arians) and (b) the eternal personal
distinction between the Father and the Son (contra the modalists).
Whatever the degree of his disagreement with the early Church over this
question, it is minute compared with that between either the modern
Arians (Jehovah's Witnesses) or the modern modalists (Oneness
Pentecostals) and the early Church. But besides all this, the argument is
a form of the logical fallacy of TU QUOQUE: "You say I'm guilty of X, but
so are you!" Or, "You say I'm guilty of X, but you're guilty of Y!" Well,
neither party should be guilty of either X or Y.
>In short, our critics determine what
>is "orthodox" not by the not by the Bible or even by the
>historic creeds, but by their personal theologies.
> 4. Many Christians in major denominations hold similar
>or the same views. Southern Baptist seminary professor Frank
>Stagg taught a doctrine of God that he acknowledged to be
>essentially the same as Oneness.
So much the worse for Stagg, if indeed this is true. But I'd like to see
documentation. Bernard misunderstands me below; probably he
misunderstands Stagg here.
>W.A. Criswell, past
>president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated in his
>commentary on Revelation that the only God we will see is
>Jesus, and described Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the
>same terms that Oneness believers do.
Documentation, please? I bet Bernard misrepresents Criswell here.
Further: only Jesus will be VISIBLE, for only He has a body; that doesn't
>Calvin Beisner, an ally of Walter Martin, conceded in
>his book God in Three Persons, "Monarchianism is represented
>today by the United ('Jesus Only') Pentecostals. . . . As
>the differences between modalism and pure Trinitarianism are
>rather minute, it is not surprising that a great number of
>Christians in mainline denominations, including Roman
>Catholicism, hold a modalistic conception of the Trinity, at
>least unconsciously" (p.18).
Since the quotation appears in the context of my having described
similarities between ancient and modern heretical movements, it should be
obvious that my noting that many modern Christians hold such views does
not imply approval of those views. It is lamentable but true that some do
hold such views; the purpose of my book was to help reduce the number who
>Noted Roman Catholic theologian
>Karl Rahner similarly stated in The Trinity, "Despite their
>orthodox confess of the Trinity, Christians are, in their
>practical life, almost mere 'monotheists'" (p. 10).
I'll go Rahner one better: Christians are and should be monotheists. And
nothing in the doctrine of the Trinity is contrary to monotheism.
Therefore, they should be Trinitarian monotheists. The argument in the
article again commits the fallacy of false choice.