Today there are thousands of protestant Christian denominations and groups around the world. In this paper, I would like to look at one group’s growth, the Oneness Pentecostal movement. This movement has been around for less than a hundred years but has made a tremendous impact within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. A brief history of Oneness Pentecostals from researcher Rev. Jaman Iseminger of Indiana Wesleyan University says: “Since the early twentieth century, Oneness Pentecostalism has grown to make up a quarter of Pentecostals in the United States today. The Pentecostal movement that began at Azusa Street in Los Angeles, in 1906, laid the foundation for many denominations. Several of these denominations formed beliefs that required water baptism (full immersion) in the Name of Jesus and a differing view of the Godhead. Relations between Trinitarians and Unitarians became frayed over these beliefs. However, the depth of conviction held by Oneness Pentecostals has helped them overcome their humble beginnings and be an effective witness for Jesus Christ”. (Iseminger, n.d)
To fully understand the growth of any particular movement, we need to state the evidence of its beginnings. Another name for Oneness Pentecostal is Apostolic meaning to be, and live and be like the apostles in the New Testament of the Bible. A more mainline approach to the history of the Oneness belief is that of Sabellianism. Many theologians credit Sabellius, a third-century priest, and theologian as the beginning of this doctrine. Sabellius looked at the primary users of the sun’s characteristics in comparison to God’s nature. The sun has “three powers,” the warmth light and circular form. God has three distinct aspects: The Holy Spirit is the warming power; the Son is the illuminating power, and the Father is the form or figure of the sun.
Author and researcher Eduard M. van der Maas explains the history of Sabellianism: “This emerged in the 2nd century as another heretical competitor with Gnosticism which the Church was currently contending against. Sabellianism did away with the eternal Son and had the eternal Spirit take on modes under which he was called the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit. Sabellius taught that God was a divine monad who revealed himself to mankind by projecting himself into the Father and the Spirit. (Burgess, 2002). Many Christian theologians say the believing in the oneness doctrine is a heresy. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the “Holy Trinity is a Mystery.” (Joyce, 1912) This view of the Church has been a problem with many theologians throughout the history of Christendom and the protestant reformation.
“In 1916 there was a major controversy within the Assemblies of God led by Non-Trinitarians Oneness Pentecostal Movement” (Synan, 2001) Since the inception of the Oneness Pentecostal movement in the early part of the 20th century there has been ups and downs within the movement. Changing times and a changing culture have caused the membership to grow since the 1960’s on a worldwide basis. According to the New Charismatic and Pentecostal Dictionary; “The Oneness stream of Pentecostalism has experienced remarkable growth since the 1960s in both North America, and the Third World. The UPCI (United Pentecostal Church International) now claims a global membership of 2.3 Million, and the worldwide Oneness Movement is estimated to have at least 14 million followers in over 425 organizations.” (Burgess, 2002) In every country of the world, there is a Oneness Pentecostal church, and the growth has been steady and on pace with other Pentecostal movements worldwide.
Today there is a large scale initiative for the growth of the movement in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Large numbers of foreign missionaries are being sent out for evangelization in many third world countries. In the last two decade, the evangelization outside North America has been anything less than a great triumph for the Oneness Movement. People are joining the Oneness movement by the hundreds of thousands each year, especially in Africa, and Latin America. In the most populated portions of Asia, the movement is also seeing mass conversions. Churches in the United States and Canada have seen modest growth compared to other parts of the globe, but report more Churches and Ministers every year since the beginning of the movement.
Setbacks in any movement are inevitable, and the Oneness Pentecostal movement is no exception to the rule. Division over the last one hundred years has separated the people on racial, doctrinal, cultural and generational lines. Today there are hundreds of groups that live the apostolic lifestyle. Many leaders within the various denominations are finding ways to united and came together as one body and organization. Throughout the years, many leaders have held talks and conferences on merging only to go their separate ways on minor details once again. Politics and personal viewpoints have diminished the reputation of some organizations, churches, and leadership. Some people within the Oneness movement hope for the day that all the organizations are one, and that division is a thing of the past, this is the key to growth.
Author Rodney Shaw from the blog ninetynine .com writes about the future of the movement in North America: “It is undeniable that young Apostolics sometimes find themselves in stifling situations. However, turning to the emergent Church and other postmodern resources is not always a good solution. It must be recognized that these people are reacting to what they consider to be dysfunctions within liberal Protestantism as well as Evangelicalism. Neither of these are Pentecostal categories. To be sure, they are reacting, and it would be easy for us to latch on to them when we react. However, when Apostolics react to dysfunctional systems or stifling leadership, we are reacting to something entirely different. To latch on to the reactions of others means we are aligning ourselves with others based upon our core dislikes, not our core beliefs. As James Nuechterlein pointed out of early American politicians, ‘Members of both parties found identity in opposition: They were more certain of their opponents’ hypocrisies and pretenses than they were of the virtue of those who shared their party label.” (2009)
To conclude, the future of the Oneness Pentecostal movement is finding new methods of ministering to an ever-changing world. Growth of any religious movement depends on the attitudes of a people. In the world of religion and spirituality, people are looking for an answer outside themselves.
Iseminger, J. (n.d.) The Early Development of Oneness Pentecostalism in America
Indiana Wesleyan University. Retrieved from http://www.daveweb1.com/bma/penticostal.html
Joyce, G. (1912). The Blessed Trinity. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from New Advent: Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm
Shaw, R. (2009, July 13). Where Do We Stand? Ninetyandnine blog. Retrieved from ninetyandnine.com:
Stanley M. Burgess, E. v. (2002). The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan publishing.
Synan, V. (2001). Century of the Holy Spirit 100 years Of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson publishers.