Last week I said that I would be writing several post where I share how I exited from the Oneness Pentecostal movement in order to assist those who are thinking of doing the same (see Pt. 1 here). I have not written this series until now because (1) I don’t think I was ready to write calmly and (2) I have recently realized from conversations with others that some of my brief blog posts on related subjects have helped others transition. I decided to write these not to draw apologist, but rather to show that there is life once you leave to those who want to do so.
I began by discussing the need to be prayerful as you begin planning what to do next (see Pt. 2 here). Today I want to discuss engaging Scripture. Oddly, I have known many Oneness Pentecostals who fear thinking about Scripture other than through the grid provided (i.e. proof-texts that affirm certain preset interpretations). Although I went to a college sponsored by a Oneness Pentecostal organization (the UPCI) the one thing for which I am thankful to my fortmer professors is that they did challenge me to read Scripture and they did let me read other Christians who did not hold to their profession.
In Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution–A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty First (p. 3) author Alister McGrath says this of Protestantism, “Protestantism took its stand on the right of individuals to interpret the Bible for themselves rather than be forced to submit to ‘official’ interpretations handed down by popes and other centralized religious authorities.” Oddly enough in many Oneness Pentecostal churches there is a form of Catholicism that doesn’t have the historical structures to support it. Rather than a Pope in Rome there is often a Pope in every pulpit. What this Pope preaches is almost always ex cathedra. If you disagree you are blacklisted. For being part of Protestantism this sure is dogmatic!
Similarly, this is not like reciting the Westminster Confession. I don’t know any Presbyterians who think that denying that confession is a salvific issue. Yet I do know Oneness Pentecostal preachers who act as if you differ with the canon of David K. Bernard you have committed apostasy that could lead to eternal damnation.
My challenge to a Oneness Pentecostal who ponders staying or leaving is simple: read Scripture. I will say more about this tomorrow, but let me add that you shouldn’t fear the interpretations of other Christians, past and present. If they are wrong, and Oneness Pentecostal dogma is right, then truth will prevail, right? If a pastor tries to prevent the congregation from reading “unapproved” literature then it is my conviction that they have something to hide, if nothing else their own internal doubts and insecurities.
Scripture is the constituting documents of our religion. The canonization of Scripture is something oft debated, but we can agree for the most part that the Spirit has lead the church to maintain a smaller lists of books than what was available because those books most closely mirror the teachings of the early church. In fact, all were written within decades of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. So even if you read as a historian you probably confess that these materials are the closest literature to the thought-world of the first Christians. Either approach leads me to see Scripture as trustworthy.
Read Scripture and read it prayerfully, for yourself, with an open mind, in dialog with others. Again, I am not saying that this will result in your abandoning of your current beliefs. I know many people who I can say are fairly honest about reading Scripture yet who remain some form of Oneness Pentecostal. If that happens, que sera sera. But it could be that you read Luke-Acts and think “Wait, why do all the narratives where people speak in tongues occur only when there are groups?” Maybe you will read the Apostle Paul who asks rhetorically, “Do all speak with tongues?” Maybe you will scratch your head and says, “Why does the first gospel say to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” Maybe you will come across dozens of passages that ground salvation in faith in Christ and you will meditate upon the “salvation plan” that you have been taught.
I have wrongly been accused of leaving because of academics. Like Paul, “much studying has made me insane”! This is not true. I began to walk away when with an open Bible in a college dorm sponsored by a Oneness Pentecostal organization it became evident to me that I am responsible to read Scripture honestly and I do not find what they teach in Scripture.
Maybe you are experiencing the same thing? Tomorrow I will say a little bit about those “other” Christians who go to Baptist, Four Square, and Methodist churches down the street. They read Scripture too and they profess faith in Christ. Maybe they aren’t as bad as they’ve been made out to be?