Dividing Over Oneness

Preach in Jesus’ Name,
teach in Jesus’ Name
Heal the sick in his Name;
And always proclaim,
it was Jesus’ Name
In which the power came;
Baptize in His name,
enduring the shame,
For there is victory in Jesus’ Name.

So went one of the hymns of the Oneness Pentecostals, for whom Jesus was the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their desire to recapture the mantle of the apostolic church started with questions over the proper formula to use in water baptism. But they were soon questioning even the doctrine of the Trinity.

In April 1913, a Pentecostal-Holiness meeting was held in Arroyo Seco, California. Between 1,500 and 2,000 Pentecostals, mainly pastors, attended the meetings each night, with hundreds more filling the camp on Sundays. It was here that Robert Edward McAlister, a respected Canadian minister, observed that though Jesus had told his disciples to “baptize [disciples] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the New Testament invariably records the apostles baptizing only “in the name of Jesus.”

Pentecostal preacher Frank J. Ewart later said, “The gun was fired from that platform which was destined to resound throughout all Christendom.”

In fact, by January 1915, the message had spread across the continent. Many of the Pentecostal faithful were rebaptized to follow the ways of the apostolic church. They believed older doctrines, long diseased by generations of unfaithfulness and the inability to heed God’s Spirit, were being uncovered by this “new light” of the Holy Spirit.

For most of the new adherents, this was just a different formula for baptism, not a conscious rejection of the Trinity. Eventually, however, while Oneness Pentecostals worshiped God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the terms Trinity and persons were rejected as unbiblical.

Two in the Spirit

J. Roswell Flower, later secretary of the In the Name of Jesus by David K. Bernard) or condemning (Zondervan’s United We Stand : A History of Oneness Organizations, by Arthur and Charles Clanton, falls into the former category (as do all books by World Aflame Press, a wing of the United Pentecostal Church, International), but may be the best bet for a history of the movement.

The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, edited by Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, has several sections on Oneness Pentecostalism and its denominations.

By Kenneth Gill

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #58 in 1998]

Kenneth Gill is acting director of the Billy Graham Center Library in Wheaton, Illinois.
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