Oneness Pentecostals teach the following thing about salvation: ‘The salvation experience comes by grace through faith, but a profession of faith alone is not the salvation experience. Saving faith is obedient faith, for faith is equated with calling upon His name, confessing Jesus’ death and resurrection, repenting of our sins, being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost …. The New Testament asserts that the process of becoming a Christian is through faith, and it reveals that this faith is expressed in repentance of sins, baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and receiving the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). We may call repentance, water baptism, and the reception of the Spirit steps or links in the salvation process, for together they constitute the full experience of salvation. These links also correlate to the new birth of water and the Spirit that Jesus proclaimed as necessary in enter into the kingdom of God’ (J. L. Hall and David K. Bernard, editors, Doctrines of the Bible, Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood, MO, USA, 1998, pages 180-182).
Now let me tell you what Oneness Pentecostals say about faith, repentance, water baptism and the baptism with the Holy Spirit, so that you may understand fully their way of salvation.
Faith. ‘The faith that saves must be in the person and work of Jesus Christ. A correct belief in the person of Jesus is therefore necessary to salvation …. Jesus defined saving faith to mean believing on Him as the Scriptures teach …. In his Gospel, Matthew identified Jesus from prophecy to be Jehovah and Elohim …. Jesus identified Himself as the Father incarnate’ (Ibid., pages 179-180). In other words, a man must believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord, and the Father incarnate. And that He died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised from the dead.
Repentance. ‘Jesus defined repentance as turning from a life of sin …. The blessing of repentance offers a sinner the opportunity to begin anew; to change his mind, heart, and will about Jesus Christ, sin, self, and purpose in life; to experience sorrow and contrition for his sins; to confess his sins to God; to forsake his sinful past; to submit himself humbly to God; and to accept Jesus’ substitutionary, atoning death on the cross for his sins. Moreover, repentance leads the person to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and prepares him to receive the Holy Ghost’ (Ibid., page 184).
Water baptism. ‘The Bible does not present water baptism as optional …. A person should not think he can be saved without obeying the command of baptism …..We should notice that the Bible speaks of baptism ‘for the remission of sins’ …. Jesus’ sacrificial death is the only means of remission of sin; He died once, and there is no other offering for sins. We do not offer sacrifices at altars today, but God gave us a way to receive remission of sins. (See Hebrews 10:18) And that way is water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. ….’ (Ibid., pages 189, 192, 193). However, it must be said that according to Oneness Pentecostals water baptism, in order to be efficacious and valid, must be administered in the name of Jesus Christ for they say: ‘Every reference to a baptismal formula in the Book of Acts and the references in the Epistles either explicitly states or indicates that the name of Jesus and not the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost was used in the baptismal formula …. For Oneness believers, baptism in the name of Jesus follows the apostolic pattern, affirms their faith that God is one, that He was incarnate in His Son Jesus Christ, and that He now dwells in us by His Spirit. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ expresses faith in the Incarnation, the authentic human life of Jesus, the death of the Son of God on the cross for our sins, and the remission of sins through the name of Jesus’ (Ibid., 195, 197). Another important thing that must be said about water baptism is that for Oneness Pentecostals water baptism does not regenerate, or rather baptism alone does not regenerate, for in order to be born again one must also receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. They are very clear also about this point: ‘Jesus called the transforming of a person from sin to the kingdom of God a birth of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5) This new birth is more than water baptism, for it includes the transforming work of the Spirit of God. A person may be baptized in water in the name of Jesus and still not be born again; he will remain outside the kingdom of God until he also receives the Holy Spirit …. Without the infilling of the Holy Spirit, a person’s birth is not complete; he may be forgiven of his past sins, but he is not born again. His new birth is not finished. He need a spiritual change of his sinful nature that comes only by the infilling of God’s Spirit. A saved person, then, is one who is both forgiven and regenerated, both pardoned and transformed’ (Ibid., page 201)
The baptism with the Holy Spirit. As we have just seen, Oneness Pentecostals consider the baptism with the Holy Spirit an essential experience in salvation. The reason why they affirm this is that they teach that Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, consequently ‘to receive Christ is to receive the Holy Spirit, and vice versa’ (David K. Bernard, Essentials of Oneness Theology, Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood, MO, USA, 1995, page 26). The initial evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues: ‘Speaking with tongues (languages) is closely linked with the reception of the Holy Ghost …. Only one sign accompanies Spirit reception, that of speaking with tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance’ (Doctrines of the Bible, pages 204,207).
The apostle Peter believed and preached that remission of sins is obtained through faith alone
As we have seen, according to Oneness Pentecostals water baptism is the way given to us by God to receive remission of sins, for they say that this is what the apostle Peter preached to the Jews on the day of Pentecost when He said to them: “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins ….” (Acts 2:38 – NKJV). Did Peter believe and preach that remission of sins is obtained through water baptism then?’ No, he didn’t, because there are some other words of Peter written in the book of the Acts of the apostles which nullify that interpretation given by the Oneness Pentecostals to those words of Peter. Let us see these other words of his.
● After Peter healed the lame who was at the gate of the temple which was called ‘Beautiful’, he said to the Jews: “Repent therefore and be converted [that is, turn to God], that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19 – NKJV). Note how the apostle did not speak of water baptism to those Jews for he told them that they had to repent and turn to the Lord so that their sins might be blotted out.
● Peter said to Cornelius and his household that “to Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43 – NKJV). As you can see, according to Peter remission of sins is obtained through faith alone, and not through water baptism which follows faith. That Peter believed this is confirmed by what he said in Jerusalem (when the apostles and elders gathered together to consider the matter which had arisen, that is, whether the Gentiles had to be circumcised or not) about the conversion of Cornelius and his household. Listen carefully to what Peter said to the other apostles and the elders about those Gentiles who had believed His message: “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:7-11). Note that Peter stated that God had purified the hearts of those Gentiles by faith, and not by water baptism, which was administered to them after they believed. Therefore, remission of sins is obtained only through faith in Christ.
The apostle Paul believed and preached that remission of sins is obtained through faith alone
When we talk about remission of sins we need to bear in mind that when a man obtains it he is justified by God because remission of sins consists in having one’s sins blotted out and when God blots out every sin from the conscience of a man God justifies him, that is to say, He declares him to be righteous. Let me ask you the following question then? ‘When, according to Paul, is a man justified?’ According to what we read in the book of the Acts of the apostles and in the epistles written by Paul, a man is justified when he believes in the Gospel. Let us look at some words of Paul which attest what I have just said.
● In the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, Paul said: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). The expression ‘all that believe are justified’ means nothing but ‘whoever believes in Him receives remission of sins’, in other words it means exactly what Peter said to Cornelius and his household (cf. Acts 10:43).
● Paul wrote to the saints in Rome: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith” (Romans 3:21-30) and also: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5) and again: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Note that Paul affirms several times and in various ways that a man is justified by faith alone.
Therefore, according to both Paul and Peter, remission of sins is not obtained through water baptism but through faith alone. Of course, water baptism was important for Paul and Peter, but it followed the remission of sins.
I have proved, therefore, that it is by faith and not by water baptism that remission of sins is obtained.
The baptismal formula to be used
The teaching of the Oneness Pentecostals about the formula that should be used in water baptism is wrong for the following reasons.
1) It is true that the book of the Acts of the apostles says that some water baptisms were administered in the name of Jesus Christ. For Luke wrote: “When they [Peter and John] had come down, prayed for them [believers in Samaria] that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:15-16 – NKJV); “And he [Peter] commanded them [Cornelius and his household] to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48 – NKJV); “When they [the about twelve disciples of Ephesus] heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5 – NKJV).
However, this does not lead us to exclude that those believers were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Spirit; the reason is that to baptize in the name of the Three Divine Persons was a command and in addition to this it had to be taught to the disciples, as it is written: “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20 – NKJV). Therefore, the water baptism administered to believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is absolutely Scriptural.
2) Now, Oneness Pentecostals teach that ‘every reference to a baptismal formula in the Book of Acts either explicitly states or indicates that the name of Jesus and not the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost was used in the baptismal formula’ (J. L. Hall and David K. Bernard, editors, Doctrines of the Bible, Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood, MO, USA, 1998, page 195), and they quote the words of Peter spoken on the day of Pentecost, they cite the baptism administered to the believers in Samaria, the baptism administered to Cornelius and his household, and the baptism administered to the disciples of Ephesus, and also the baptism administered by Ananias to Saul. However, we say, if the fact that is written that those believers were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ means that this is the right formula to be used at an actual water baptism, what should we infer from the fact that concerning the conversion of some people in the Acts of the apostles it is not written at all that they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? For instance, Luke says about the eunuch that Philip “baptized him” (Acts 8:38 – NKJV), and about Lydia that “she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:15 – NKJV), and about the keeper of the prison in Philippi that “immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33 – NKJV). What shall we say then? Shall we say that on those occasions Philip and Paul did not use any baptismal formula because no baptismal formula is mentioned in all these water baptisms, and thus we are not bound to use a baptismal formula when we baptize believers? Certainly not! But there is something else that must be said: in the Acts of the apostles it is not written that the believers of Thessalonica as well as those of Berea were baptized, shall we reach then the conclusion that we don’t need to administer water baptism to those who have believed in the Lord? Certainly not! If we reached these conclusions we would be like the Roman Catholics who affirm that water baptism can be ministered even by sprinkling because not always it is written that believers were baptized by immersion, and also like those believers who affirm that speaking in tongues does not accompany always the reception of the Holy Spirit because in the Acts it is not written that the believers of Samaria began to speak in other tongues when they received the Holy Spirit. Therefore we must take heed to ourselves and we must see that we do not reach the conclusion that the apostles did not use the Trinitarian formula when they baptized believers just because it is not written that they baptized believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I cite another scriptural example to explain to you what I have just said. At the end of one of the epistles written to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14 – NKJV). However, in reading the other epistles written by Paul we note that at the end of them he did not write the same words; for instance, he wrote to the Romans as well as to the Philippians: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Romans 16:24 and Philippians 4:23 – NKJV). What shall we say then? Shall we say that Paul wanted the grace of Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit to be with the saints of Corinth, while he wanted only the grace of Christ to be with the saints who lived in other towns? Certainly not; we only say that the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to write a different expression at the end of one of his epistles to the saints of Corinth, even though Paul wanted the grace of Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit to be with all the other saints.
3) Oneness Pentecostals affirm that we must notice that when Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, ‘the word name is singular and the name is not given in this text. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not proper names but titles of relationship.’ Therefore water baptism must be administered in the name of Jesus only. However, they are wrong because if Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were just titles of the Deity which referred to Jesus, Jesus did not need to give that order to His disciples; He would have said: ‘Baptizing them in my name.’ For instance, when Jesus opened the understanding of His disciples that they might comprehend the Scriptures, He said to them that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47 – NKJV); He did not say that ‘repentance and remission of sins should be preached in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to all nations’. Therefore the fact that when Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize He mentioned the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is a clear proof that even though Jesus believed in the Oneness of the Godhead He did not believe that He was at the same time the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the fact that in the baptismal formula the word ‘name’ is singular indicates that the Three, that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, are one God but at the same time three distinct Persons.
Therefore, in the light of the Scriptures, I exhort you servants of the Lord to baptize people using the formula ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, rather than the formula ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’, because that’s what Jesus commanded His apostles to do. Furthermore, I want you to know that by saying ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ you baptize in the name of the Lord Jesus because you baptize with the authority given to you by Jesus. Let no one of the Oneness Pentecostals deceive you with empty words. And when you meet them and they begin to tell you that your baptism in not valid and you need to be rebaptized in ‘the name of Jesus’ tell them that you have already been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and rebuke them sharply refuting their false doctrine about the Godhead and water baptism,
A man is born again when he repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and not when he is baptized with the Holy Spirit
Can we affirm that anyone who has believed in the Lord but has not yet been baptized with the Holy Spirit is not born of God? The answer is ‘no.’ For the Word of God teaches that all those who have received Christ, that is to say, who believed in Jesus Christ, are sons of God because they were born of God, as it is written: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13). It should be noted that John did not say ‘as many as received the Holy Spirit’ but ‘as many as received Him, that is, Jesus Christ’. Therefore, they are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Even if one has just believed in the Lord he is a son of God because when he repented and believed in the Gospel God brought him forth by His word and the Holy Spirit.
They can say that they are sons of God because of the Holy Spirit who is in them. For when they repented and believed in the Lord, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them and from that very moment on He began to bear witness with their spirit that they are sons of God, as it is written: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 – NKJV). Therefore, one is born of the Spirit when he repents and believes in the Lord. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is an experience which follows the new birth. Now, I am going to demonstrate this through these biblical examples: the apostles before the day of Pentecost, the believers in Samaria and the disciples at Ephesus.
Were the apostles believing persons before speaking in other tongues on the day of Pentecost? Yes, of course, because Jesus said to them: “You believe at last!” (John 16:31 – NIV) and He said to His Father: “They believed that you sent me” (John 17:8 – NIV). Were the apostles born again believers before the day of Pentecost? Yes, of course; because they believed that Jesus was the Christ and John says that “whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1 – NKJV). Did they belong to Christ before speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost? Yes, of course, because Christ said about them: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them” (John 17:9-10). Did they have a certain measure of the Spirit before speaking in tongues at Pentecost? The answer is ‘Yes,’ because when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection He said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 – NKJV). Therefore the apostles were saved even before they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues.
Were those Samaritans, who believed in the Gospel of the Kingdom preached to them by Philip, saved and born of God before they received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the hands of the apostles Peter and John? Yes, of course, for “when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12 – NKJV). They also, therefore, having believed that Jesus was the Christ of God, were born of God, as it is written: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1 – NKJV). And consequently, since they were sons of God they had a certain measure of the Spirit, who bore witness with their spirit that they were sons of God; all this before Peter and John laid their hands on them that they might received the Holy Spirit and they spoke in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Were those disciples (about twelve) believing persons, whom Paul met at Ephesus? Yes, of course, because Paul asked them: “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (Acts 19:2). Paul therefore regarded them as believers. Therefore, as in the above mentioned cases, they were born of God before Paul baptized them and laid his hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
We agree with Oneness Pentecostals when they say that speaking in tongues is the sign which accompanies the reception of the Holy Spirit (by Holy Spirit we mean the fullness of the Holy Spirit and not that measure of the Spirit which every man receives when he believes) because this is confirmed by the Holy Scripture, but we don’t agree with them at all when they say that one who has believed in the Lord but has not yet received the baptism with the Holy Spirit is not saved because he does not have the Holy Spirit, for this is contrary to the Scripture. What they teach is a false doctrine, there is no doubt about that.
What it means to be born of water and the Spirit
At this point, someone will ask: ‘Then, if that’s how things are, what is the meaning of the words of Jesus according to which one must be born of water and the Spirit, as He said: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5 – NKJV)?
As for these words Jesus said to Nicodemus, the water is not water baptism but the Word of God. For in the book of Isaiah the Word of God is compared to the water which comes down from heaven and don’t return there without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish (cf. Isaiah 55:9-10). For God has caused us to be born again by His Word and not by the water in which we were immersed because Peter says: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 – NIV) and James says: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18 – NIV). To be born of water, therefore, means to be regenerated by the Word of God.
To be born of the Spirit means to be transformed spiritually by the Spirit of God; when does this transformation take place? It takes place when the Holy Spirit convicts a man of guilt in regard to sin and He comes to dwell in his heart because he believes in the Son of God. At that moment, a renewing takes place in the believer; his desires, his purposes, his way of thinking and speaking change.
Therefore, the new birth or regeneration takes place in a man when he accepts the Word of God which regenerates him, and when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in his heart (after He has convicted him of guilt in regard to sin) and transforms him.
That the new birth takes place when a person repents and believes in Christ and not when he is baptized with the Holy Spirit (therefore if a believer dies without the baptism with the Holy Spirit he will go to heaven), is evident from the example of the thief on the cross who turned to the Lord just before breathing his last. For although that man had not been baptized with the Holy Spirit (nor had he been baptized in water) he entered into Paradise, for Jesus said to him: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 – NKJV).
As I have shown from the Scripture, the way of salvation taught by Oneness Pentecostals is a false way of salvation because according to their way of salvation a man can be a believer and even be baptized in water and at the same time he can still be lost because he has not yet been baptized with the Holy Spirit! While the Holy Scripture teaches that one is forgiven and saved through his faith alone, therefore he is saved before being baptized in water and baptized with the Holy Spirit. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our justification, is forgiven, saved, reconciled to God, and born again. No matter if he has not yet been baptized in water or he has not yet received the baptism with the Holy Spirit, in the sight of God he is a son of God washed in the blood of the Lamb, he has eternal life and if he dies (without undergoing water baptism and receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit) he will go immediately to heaven. Of course, those who have believed must be immediately baptized, and must desire to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, yet in the meanwhile they are at all effects sons of God on the way to heaven.
Brothers, beware of Oneness Pentecostals and refute their heresies.