If you have been following along with this series you know that I have been writing for the following person:
“You are a Oneness Pentecostal who either doubts this whole Christian religion or you are beginning to wonder why your group has become so isolated from everyone else. I have been there. I have been this person. You are fairly sure you do not believe what comes from the pulpit on Sunday, but it has been your whole life for some time now. If you leave it is more than just changing churches. You will lose friends. You will fracture relationships with some family. You will be told by some that you are no longer a Christian. And after all of that you now have to try to fit back into broader Christian circles feeling a bit out of place.”
In the first post I outlined the subjects I intend to address (see here). In part two I wrote a bit on how being prayerful is essential for these types of transitions (see here). In part three I challenged readers to embrace the insight of Protestantism; namely, you have a right to read and interpret Scripture (see here). Today I want to encourage you to pray and read Scripture in the community of the saints, past and present.
As a young Oneness Pentecostal I was taught the essential proof-texts for defending our position. I became pretty good at it. Yet I did not want to read Scripture in order to defend my position. I think this is why I am no longer in those circles.
Scripture was broader and it was the canon as a whole that began to inform me. I realized that various texts are found in larger contexts. Those contexts are found in whole books. Therefore, Acts 2.38 doesn’t stand alone. It is informed by the whole narrative of the book. Deut. 6.4 didn’t disqualify Trinitarian interpretation anymore than it disqualified the doctrine of an incarnation.
I began to read Baptists, Catholics, and even some good ol’ Protest liberals while in college. It became evident that they often better understood various texts than those who had taught me. I read historical backgrounds on the texts and scholars of various stripes provided insights into the message of Scripture that slowly eroded my Oneness Pentecostal presuppositions.
Over the years I have met some like Athanasius, Basil the Great, Richard Bauckham, John Calvin, James D.G. Dunn, Morna Hooker, Ireneaus of Lyon, Martin Luther, and many, many, many others. It turns out that while they don’t get everything right, they aren’t scary heretics either. In fact, I have come to grow closer to Christ through these people.
It is one thing to read someone and then disagree with them. It is something totally different to denounce them without ever giving them a chance.
It is too common in Oneness Pentecostal circles to demonize other Christians. Some say other Christians are not saved, some give them second-class status, but for the most part the general ethos is that they are not legitimate.
If you are thinking of leaving you must overcome this lie. Trinitarians do not worship a pagan Egyptian-Babylonian deity. We do not think less of Christ. We do not deny the work of the Spirit.
It is essential that you test these claims. I firmly believe that when you do you will find that other Christians are often much more cordial, loving, and Christ-like then some in your current circles. You will notice that their dedication to rightly interpreting Scripture is often as sincere if not more so. You will find they pray like you, give like you, make mistakes like you, and they follow Christ like you.
One of the hardest things for a former Oneness Pentecostal to do is to find a new church community. I know many who leave Oneness Pentecostalism for a time. They are burnt out and defeated. They cannot maintain the “standards”. Yet they will not darken the door of another church because “those people have ‘a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof’”.
This is a lie.
When people believe this lie it results in what I call “The Yo-Yo Effect”: into the world and ungodly living, back into a Oneness church and the legalistic rules, into the world and ungodly living, back into a Oneness church….
Oneness Pentecostalism is not the only true Christianity. In fact, I argue that it is an abrogation of authentic Christianity. You may not agree with this statement but let me challenge you to open your heart and mind to the possibility. Before entering the Yo-Yo go visit some churches, meet other Christians, read broader literature, and don’t just accept someone else’s mischaracterization of the rest of us.
In my next post I will talk a little more about being patient as you find a new church and as you establish new doctrinal beliefs. You don’t have to leave Oneness Pentecostalism and then claim a new denominational “team” within days. You can take your time. But for today I want to crack the door open a bit. I want to let you see that outside there are smiling faces, gracious saints, biblical preaching, sound doctrine, and the same Christ who met you were you are now.