Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Belief System of Oneness Pentecostalism 3

The "Name," the "concreteness" of Christian salvation, and the assurance of the believer

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century noted a steady movement of mainline Christian denominations toward more modern expressions of religious faith which sought a relevant reassessment of traditional doctrines and practices in the rapidly changing world. Against this trend, revivalists and theological conservatives reaffirmed the inherited values of their traditions and vocally opposed any modifications or revisions for the sake of relevance. The Holiness movement, with its search for tangible evidences of Christian commitment and eventual denominational divisiveness, bears witness to the dividing camps of the liberals and conservatives and the growing attempts by conservatives to define the essentials of the Christian life. In contrast to the doctrinal tests appearing in emerging Fundamentalism, the Holiness believers turned to an experiential testspecifically, the "crisis" experience of sanctificationas the evidence of true Christian commitment. This evangelical search for "evidences" expanded to include Spirit baptism and glossolalia with growing Pentecostalism and found its ultimate expression in the Oneness "Acts 2:38 plan of salvation," a tangible, measurable guideline for assessing Christian commitment. This "plan" provides the basis for the Oneness notions of the "Name," the "concreteness" of Christian salvation, and the assurance of the believer.

The "Acts 2:38 plan" of repentance, water baptism administered by immersion in "Jesus' name," and Spirit baptism evidenced by glossolalia became thoroughly linked with the elements of ritual worship in the Oneness service. Since these rites of initiation are completely measurable and tangible, the church is fully visible. The new convert's commitment is measured by these initial evidences, while the mature Christian displays commitment by full participation in worship. In both cases, the experience of salvation is "concrete," certain, and repeatable. Interestingly, this "concrete" salvation experience limits its accessibility. Oneness Pentecostalism rejects the "easy believism" that came to permeate post-Moody revivalism in favor of these more austere and demanding rites of initiation. But while these rites limit the accessibility of salvation, they also enhance the assurance of the believer. Conversion as a datable, tangible event accompanied by physical actions and a community of witnesses lies beyond the realm of doubt. Continued performance in ritual worship and the appearance of the "divine epiphany" reaffirms these initial evidences. Songs, sermons, and testimonies recount this collective journey; while in the divine confrontation, the journey itself is reenacted and the believer's experience reconfirmed.

Water baptism in the name of Jesus is neither a subjective experience nor a private act, but rather a part of the public worship. Celebrated in the community as part of the normal order of the service, the baptismal ceremony is attended by all the usual elements of Pentecostal worship. In baptism, the community as well as the individual acts in response to grace. Baptism, for the individual, reinforces the experience of forgiveness and concretely represents entrance into the believing community. Whereas baptism in most Pentecostal churches merely symbolizes a work already completed within the believer, Oneness baptism validates the entire initiation process by the application of the divine name to the candidate which foreshadows the abiding of the Holy Spirit within the believer's life following Spirit baptism. Baptism, although symbolic, is far more than symbol alone; in baptism, real initiation occurspersonal experiences of faith and repentance are validated and the seeker becomes a candidate for Spirit baptism. Water baptismif correctly administered in the saving name "Jesus"separates the seeker from error and establishes him in the truth of divine revelation. Water baptism, therefore, makes possible not only a passage from sinfulness to Christian salvation, but also from false to true religion.6

Again in contrast to the Trinitarian Pentecostal presentation of Spirit baptism as an empowering for Christian service and therefore secondary to the saving experience of faith conversion, the Oneness experience of the living Lord in Spirit baptism brings a personal dimension to the community epiphany. Oneness Spirit baptism elicits notions of the continued presence of God in the believer's life. Paul's imagery of the believer's body as the temple of the Holy Spirit is taken literally to mean that the believer physically houses the abiding Spirit of God. The initiate becomes the community in miniature, the resting place of the divine name and presence. Thus, Spirit baptism is a necessary, normal ingredient in every true Christian's life. Failure to receive this experience restricts participation in the community's "Spirit baptism" of the "divine epiphany" in worship. Reception of this experience, evidenced by glossolalia, insures the initiate's salvation and place within the worshiping community.

6Kevin Mathers Ranaghan, "Rites of Initiation in Representative Pentecostal Churches in the United States, 1901-1972" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1974), pp. 536-39.

Next Post: The "Name, the"perfected humanity" of Christ, and the redeemed life of the believer.

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