Thursday, October 8, 2015

Belief System of Oneness Pentecostalism 4

The "Name, the"perfected humanity" of Christ, and the redeemed life of the believer

The strongest practical impact of the Oneness theology of the "Name" and radical redefinition of Christian monotheism appears in the realm of ethical life: the "Name," the "perfected humanity" of Christ, and the redeemed life of the believer. Walter Hollenweger correctly points out that the desire to "live with one's fellowman in a bearable and human fashion" is not the source of Pentecostal ethics. Rather the various practices and restrictions arise from the prospect of (or the fear of losing) the eternal glories of heaven. The invitation to the great eschatological meal, the prospect of rising above current dilemmas into an unending fellowship with God, and the contingency of such future rewards on present conduct underlies all Pentecostal ethics.

The function of ethics is to keep the believer on the narrow way which leads to heaven. As long as ethics has the function of preserving the white garment for the kingdom of heaven, the concern of Pentecostal ethics can never be for one's fellow man, but only for oneself: I must endeavor not to get my hands dirty, not to have any stain on the marriage garment, so that I might be ready when Jesus comes. To this extent it is also necessary to behave respectably toward my fellow men, otherwise my account in heaven is blotted. So a Pentecostal is friendly and patient with his neighbors and business colleagues. Even more, he regards them as potential objects of evangelism. A Pentecostal's love for these candidates is genuine in so far as he seeks to save them from hell.7

In addition to this eschatological orientation to ethics, Oneness believers embrace a moral perfectionism based on their understanding of the person of Christ. Christology necessarily dominates the Oneness doctrine of God. The Christological redefinition of "Father" and "Son" in terms of the divine-human interplay within the incarnate God Jesus doubly impacts upon the believer's life. First, the ready accessibility of the "human God" who is compassionate to human misery, anxiety, and limitation opens wide the possibility of salvation. Secondly, this Christology demands a "perfected life" of the believer accomplished by imitating the example of the "perfected humanity" of Christ and resting in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life.

The sinlessness of Christ plays a central role in Oneness Christology and ethics. Here, the "Father-Son" Christology, often portrayed in Nestorian terms, takes a definite Apollinarian slant. For some Oneness believers, the "Spirit of God" replaces the "human spirit" in the man Jesus, insuring that although he is tempted in every conceivable manner, he nevertheless resists all.8 In an interesting corollary, the Spirit- filled believer is himself presented as a miniature incarnation of the divine, weak in his humanity, but strong through the abiding Holy Spirit which calls him to and makes him capable of moral perfection. This triumphalism, although not human in origin, affirms the present, rather than eschatological, perfectibility of the believer.

Upon closer investigation, Oneness ethics reveal roots in a realized, or at least inaugurated, eschatology. The perfection of the future age is already being realizedat partial and hidden levelsin the present by the work of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers. Future communion with God is already experienced in the real presence of God in the acts of ritual worship. Eternity only extends this communion quantitatively, not qualitatively. With the Lucan tradition (the central biblical basis of Oneness Pentecostalism), these Pentecostals deal with the delay of Christ's physical return through his spiritual return in the "divine epiphany" (at Pentecost and in contemporary corporate worship). In this interim "Age of the Spirit," the cross of Christ provides a two-fold function in the believer's present lifeas a substitutionary atonement for past sins and an example for self-denial in daily ethical lifeand foreshadows the full victory of the "Age to Come."

Oneness restorationism is also apparent in its ethical standards and restrictions. Although many early Pentecostalsespecially the Finished Work or Baptistic Pentecostals which include the Assemblies of God, the direct forbears of much of the Oneness movementdid not fully embrace the restrictions on behavior, dress, and associations held by Methodist-Holiness believers, Oneness Pentecostals, in their zeal to maintain the intensity of the earliest Pentecostal revivals, perceived themselves as the guardians of these taboos in a rapidly compromising world. This reaction parallels the Oneness retrenchment concerning displays of demonstrative worship, the centrality of Spirit baptism, and the eschatological nature of the Pentecostal revivals. This reaction also explains the apparent contradiction of Oneness "Baptistic theology and Holiness praxis."9 The ethical conservatism of Oneness Pentecostalism became a sure token of its restorationist purity. The farther other Pentecostals (especially those with Baptist roots) moved away from Holiness restrictions, the stronger Oneness believers embraced them. Currently, Oneness leaders continually seek a "revival of holiness," a reaffirmation of these behavioral taboos by third, fourth, and fifth generation believers.

Such rejection of worldly involvement and pleasure demands a Christian alternative. For the Oneness believer, church life serves to meet social and entertainment as well as religious needs. (Perhaps the key to the diversification of ministries lies here.) As the believer matures, he progresses closer and closer to the inner circles of conformity in personal ethics and worship participation. The Oneness community turns in on itself, packing densely the fully committed at its core and radiating out in concentric circles of commitment and participation. The non-participant, the former Oneness believer who no longer attends services but still believes in the presence of God in the community, rests on the farthest circle. Despite his lack of participation, he remains a prime candidate for re-initiation at a future date.

Redeemed life, for the Oneness adherent, is community life. Although ethical demands extend obligations to employers and the state, the majority of such demands focus on the inner workings of the community's social structure. Almost all "positive" ethical demandsthose which prescribe a positive act of service toward another, rather than restrict behaviorconcern inter-community relations. Neighbor-love extends primarily, if not solely, to fellow believers. The positive and social quality of inter-community ethics quickly fades in the larger context of the hostile, secular society. Beyond the community, Oneness ethics become strictly personal and negative, restricting the believer's actions and associations.

7Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing Co., 1972), p. 408.

8This tendency is especially clear in the teachings of Robert A. Sabin, an instructor at Apostolic Bible Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota.

9David A. Reed, "Oneness Pentecostalism: Tracing the Emergence of an American Religious Movement," paper presented at the First Occasional Symposium on Aspects of the Oneness Pentecostal Movement, Harvard Divinity School, July 1984, p. 12.

Next Post: The "Name" and the certain vindication of the future.

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