Our biggest sale! 50% off your PLUS subscription. Use code SUMMER

What Is Pentecostal Oneness?

Pentecostal Oneness, also known as the Jesus Only movement, is a particular charismatic Christian movement that combines some sound doctrines with ideas that are close to right but create problems. Here's what you should know about Pentecostal Oneness.

Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 16, 2022
What Is Pentecostal Oneness?

Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” When it comes to Pentecostal Oneness, these words ring true. This is not meant as an insult to anyone who is part of the Pentecostal Oneness denomination. If you are unfamiliar with this denomination, we will answer the question: What is Pentecostal Oneness? As you will see, there are some stark differences between three of their essential doctrines when compared to traditional Christian doctrine. In its totality, it is a mixture of doctrine that is “right” and “almost right,” but it is the “almost right” that becomes the sticking point.

What Is Pentecostal Oneness?

Let’s begin by defining Pentecostal Oneness, sometimes called the Jesus Only movement. “Pentecostal” refers to those who believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are alive and active in the church today. This can also be defined as being charismatic or continuationist. The word’s root comes from Pentecost in Acts 2, where the 120 were filled with Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues. For many charismatic groups, being filled or baptized in the Holy Spirit is a critical experience in your Christian walk, and this baptism must be evidenced by speaking in tongues. Pentecostal Oneness falls into this category. 

The second aspect to consider is “oneness.” Pentecostal Oneness/Jesus Only members believe there is only one God. On the surface, that is right and in agreement with other mainstream denominations. However, there is an “almost right aspect” to this belief, creating a big difference between Pentecostal Oneness and the orthodox Christian view of God’s nature. I will explain that difference in a moment.

Where Does the Pentecostal Oneness Movement Come From?

The Pentecostal Oneness movement began in the early 20th century, around 1914. At the time, one of the major Pentecostal or charismatic denominations was the Assemblies of God. A split occurred within the Assemblies of God because some members rejected the idea of the trinity and believed baptism should only be in the name of Jesus. Because they rejected these doctrines, they split from the Assemblies of God to form their own denomination. Today, there are approximately 24 million people in the Pentecostal Oneness movement, which contains various denominations. The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) is the largest Pentecostal Oneness denomination.

What Are the Core Beliefs of Pentecostal Oneness?

Let’s examine some core Pentecostal Oneness beliefs, and I will examine them to see how they align with Scripture. There are three core beliefs to consider:

1. The Nature/Identity of God. Here is a direct doctrinal statement from the UPCI website about the identity of God.

“The beautiful message of Scripture is that our Creator became our Savior. The God against whom we sinned is the One who forgives us. God loved us so much that He came in flesh to save us. He gave of Himself; He did not send someone else. Moreover, our Creator-Savior is also the indwelling Spirit who is ever-present to help us.”

Let me clarify the Pentecostal Oneness position because it might not jump out at you from this previous quote. According to this doctrine, there is one God, but he only exists in one manifestation at a time. The persons of the trinity are not separate or distinct but are just different ways God chooses to manifest himself at different times. God first operated as the creator. Then he took on flesh and became Jesus Christ to be our Savior. Now he is the indwelling Spirit who lives within us.

2. Baptism. Baptism is done only in the name of Jesus, not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This was one of the dividing doctrines essential to the Pentecostal Oneness movement. This teaching started in 1914 when preacher John Schappe said he had a divine revelation where he felt God was telling him we should only be baptized in the name of Jesus. This idea comes from the book of Acts 2:38:

“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

3. Salvation. According to Pentecostal Oneness, salvation occurs primarily when three things happen.

  • Repentance and belief in Jesus
  • Baptism in the name of Jesus
  • The Infilling of the Holy Spirit, with speaking in tongues
     

Is Pentecostal Oneness Biblical?

Let’s compare these three core Pentecostal Oneness/Jesus Only doctrines with what Scripture teaches. The challenge is Pentecostal Oneness members believe in the Bible and argue their positions agree with Scripture. Let’s look closer; I believe you will see the difference between “right” and “almost right.”

1. The Nature/Identity of God. Pentecostal Oneness is right; there is only one God. The Bible is clear on this. However, we also see in the Bible distinction between the persons of the trinity. God does not shift from one mode to the other, but God has always been eternally existent as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here are a few examples of the distinction:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

John is showing us here the Word, who we know Jesus is: he was God and yet was separate from the Father. Jesus would also make this distinction numerous times while he was on earth. Later in John’s gospel, listen to how Jesus prayed.

“Now, this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:3-5)

These verses reference distinction but also the eternal nature of Jesus Christ. This matters because Pentecostal Oneness does not hold to the idea of a pre-incarnate Christ. In their view, when God took on flesh, he became the person of Christ at that moment. John shows that Christ was present “before the world began,” which contradicts the Pentecostal Oneness doctrine. You will continue to see this distinction as you further study the Scriptures. 

2. Baptism. In Pentecostal Oneness, baptism is part of the process leading to your salvation. There are two doctrinal errors related to baptism. The first one is that baptism is not essential for salvation. You can receive salvation and never get baptized (though I believe you should) because baptism does not save you. 

Baptism is an outward reflection of an already existing salvation. When a person gets baptized, they publicly acknowledge an inward work that has already taken place. If baptism is necessary for a person to be saved, then that means the work Jesus did on the cross was not enough, and that is not true.

The second error is the idea of only baptizing in the name of Jesus. This goes in direct contrast to what Jesus said:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

This statement by Jesus is a recognition of the trinity but also acknowledges the role each member plays in the salvation experience.

3. Salvation. We just covered one aspect of the Pentecostal Oneness/Jesus Only view of salvation. Now let’s address what some also believe: the infilling/baptism of the Holy Spirit is a requirement for salvation, especially with the evidence of speaking in tongues. 

Scripture teaches that every believer receives the Holy Spirit when they believe, and that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a requirement for salvation but a byproduct:

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14, emphasis added)

For those who believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it is separate from the act of salvation. Remember, every person who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was already a believer. While this is an important step after salvation, it is not necessary for salvation.

The Final Word on Pentecostal Oneness/Jesus Only

I want to be clear I have not exhausted every position in Pentecostal Oneness. I have focused on three main points. As I said earlier, there are some things they get right. They are right to proclaim there is only one God and that Jesus is the only hope of salvation. Yet the things that are “almost right” create doctrinal error and should be examined further.

Further Reading:

What Is the Pentecostal Church?

What Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Should Christians Seek Revelation from God Apart from the Bible?

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Andry Djumantara

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com


This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

The Full Armor of God
The Meaning of "Selah"
What Is Grace? Bible Definition and Christian Quotes
What is Discernment? Bible Meaning and Importance
What Is Prophecy? Bible Meaning and Examples

SHARE

Christianity / Theology / Christian Terms / What Is Pentecostal Oneness?