[In the next several posts, I will present several chapters from my dissertation, The People of the Name: Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States (Florida State University, 1985). Each subsequent post will focus on the emergence of apostolic Pentecostalism as a distinct voice within American classical Pentecostalism.
NOTE: This presentation dates from the early 1980s and is limited to resources archived at this time. Since this time, many primary sources of early Pentecostal history have become available. Newer works on the rise and message of oneness Pentecostalism are strongly suggested, including David Reed’s In Jesus’ Name: The History and Beliefs of Oneness Pentecostals and Talmadge French’s Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism: G. T. Haywood and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (1901-1931).
This work also focuses on the Frank Ewart - G. T. Haywood - W. T. Witherspoon school of oneness thought which holds all “3 steps” of Acts 2:38 – repentance, water baptism administered by immersion with the invocation of the name “Jesus,” and Spirit baptism evidenced by glossolalia – as necessary for the “new birth” or “full salvation.” This view was rivaled by a “2 step” view which holds the more traditional classical Pentecostal view that “new birth” occurs at repentance and Spirit baptism is “subsequent to and distinct from” the new birth. See Thomas Fudge’s Christianity Without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism for a full discussion of these competing doctrines of salvation.]
Oneness, or Apostolic, Pentecostalism grew from factional controversy and restorationist zeal during the final years of the classical Pentecostal revivals into a "third force" in present American Pentecostalism. Current estimates mark Oneness Pentecostal growth at over three- quarters of a million, roughly one-fifth of the entire Pentecostal movement. These Pentecostals, with their unique doctrine of God's person and name, their continued emphasis on "holiness" codes of behavior and associations, and their theological and cooperative isolation, retain many of the qualities of classical Pentecostalism has lost in the more established Pentecostal denominations.
Oneness Pentecostalism, in both its contemporary and historic forms, represents a highly successful, albeit radical expression of American Pentecostalism which recaptures the intensity and millennarian zeal of the earliest Pentecostal revivals and transforms this enthusiasm into a fully developed ritual worship and belief system centered in the unique understanding and experience of the "oneness" of God in the person of Christ. This dissertation will investigate the life and development of Oneness Pentecostalism as a religious and social movement in both its historical and present forms by focusing on the internal dynamics of the movement. This work will examine the movement's institutional development from an early period of undifferentiated growth into a period of mature, diversified ministries and its religious "life expression" with the act of Pentecostal worship serving as the key to the religious "worldview" of contemporary Oneness believers.
Oneness Pentecostalism arose from the "New Issue" controversy in the Assemblies of God with a “rediscovery” of the centrality of the name and person of Jesus Christ in the life and practice of the church. But when this early academic debate concerning the baptismal formula led to a revolutionary application of Old Testament monotheism to the person of Jesus, a rigid, exclusive revision of the Pentecostal understanding of Christian salvation emerged. Such exclusiveness threatened the status quo unity of the young Assemblies of God, both doctrinally and numerically, and necessarily bred schism.
The Oneness doctrine of God and the Acts 2:38 "plan of salvation"—formulated by Frank J. Ewart and G. T. Haywood and later defended most prominently by Andrew Urshan—pitted sectarian claims against the non-sectarian liberality of the Assemblies of God. Perhaps more important than any theoretical leadership, the New Issue evangelists—such as Glenn Cook, L. V. Roberts, Howard Goss, and Oliver F. Fauss—captivated the grassroots of the movement with their sincerity and powers of persuasion. The New Issue was, nevertheless, destined for separation rather than success. The idealized anti-creedalism of the Assemblies withstood three years of threat before the New Issue forced the body to redefine itself in more realistic terms and exclude the Oneness adherents.
Emerging from the Assemblies of God, the Oneness Pentecostals embarked on a series of organizational struggles with the two largest white bodies, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated, merging to form the United Pentecostal Church in 1945. The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World organized most black Apostolics, although much of black Oneness Pentecostalism remains diffusely organized. Smaller bodies, with diverse doctrinal emphases and extremes, also proliferated.
Despite this development, Oneness Pentecostalism stands in theological isolation from the remainder of Pentecostalism and Protestantism. Buttressed by exclusive thinking and theological defensiveness, these Pentecostals remain largely anti-intellectual and anti-educational. This stance, along with entrenched sectarianism and the belief in sure eschatological vindication, has left Oneness Pentecostals to stand alone, without sound theological reflection or dialogue with other Christian groups.
Beyond this historical presentation, Oneness Pentecostal origins must be understood as a repudiation of moves toward institutional and theological stability in classical Pentecostalism. Accordingly, Oneness development should be viewed as a "counter-reformation of the Azusa revival," an attempt to recapture the early revival's vitality, to thwart the theologizing of the Pentecostal experience, to reaffirm the eschatological zeal of the early Pentecostals, and to revive interracial fellowship withinthe movement. In denying any religious experience subsequent to conversion—the standard explanation of Spirit baptism in both "Second Work" and "Finished Work" Pentecostal traditions—Oneness Pentecostals identified Spirit baptism, along with water baptism administered in the name of Jesus, with conversion. This freed the experience of Spirit baptism from Pentecostal theologizing and reaffirmed the immediacy of the experience itself—the most prominent feature of the Azusa revival. In this, and in their commitment to the "revelation" of the divine name "Jesus" as God's token of the great revival immediately prior to the end time, Oneness Pentecostals retrieved the lost fervor and millenarian hopes of the early Pentecostal revivals. In the Oneness mind, the Azusa "Age of the Spirit" was replaced by the Apostolic "Age of the Name."
The terms "Oneness" and "Apostolic Pentecostalism" describe a unique religious expression within American Pentecostalism which emphasizes a "oneness" doctrine of God and an "Acts 2:38 plan of salvation." "Pentecostalism" refers to the religious movement which arose from revivals in the first decade of the twentieth century in which glossolalia, speaking in tongues, came to be regarded as the evidence of the experience of Spirit baptism for the individual and a sure sign of the imminent return of Christ. All "classical Pentecostal" churches have roots in these revivals. The term "classical" differentiates this branch of Pentecostalism from the "neo-Pentecostal" or "Charismatic" movement which emerged in the 1960's with the appearance of the charismatic gifts (listed in I Corinthians 12-14), especially glossolalia, among Protestant and Catholic church members.
The term "oneness" refers, most specifically, to the innovative application of Old Testament monotheism to the person of Jesus and the resultant denial of the traditional notion of the Trinity. Similarly, the term "apostolic" here refers to the rite of water baptism administered in the name of Jesus as practiced by the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles (herein referred to as "Jesus name" [in quotations] baptism as commonly designated within the movement). Both of these terms are used as appellations for those Pentecostals who proclaim a three-step "plan of salvation" as recorded in Acts 2:38 which involves the requirements of repentance, water baptism in "Jesus name," and Spirit baptism evidenced by glossolalia. In a more general sense, "Oneness" applies to all such Pentecostals, while "Apostolic" usually refers to African American believers and practices. (The term "apostolic" [not capitalized] will be used in reference to the practices of the New Testament apostles, whereas "Apostolic" will refer to Oneness Pentecostals.)
Although Oneness Pentecostalism has been discussed in previous works, most of these are descriptive rather than analytical and have yielded rather limited results. The major general studies of Pentecostalism—represented best by Robert Anderson's Vision of the Disinherited, Walter Hollenweger's The Pentecostals, John Nichol's Pentecostalism, and Vinson Synan's The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States—all survey the rise of Oneness organizations in outline form, but contribute little beyond this. Several denominational histories, including Arthur Clanton's United We Stand, Fred Foster's Their Story: Twentieth Century Pentecostals, and Morris Golder's History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, offer a more detailed, although biased, presentation of Oneness growth and thought. But these works fail to exhaust available primary materials and often demonstrate a lack of objectivity. The same might be said of the histories of the Assemblies of God—Carl Brumback's Suddenly From Heaven, Klaude Kendrick's The Promise Fulfilled, and William Menzies' Anointed To Serve—each of which offers a chapter on the New Issue controversy. Only James Richardson's thesis "Historical and Doctrinal Development of the Black Pentecostal-Apostolic Churches, 1900 to the Present" (Howard University, 1974) adequately analyzes the emergence and diffusion of black Apostolicism. No work has fully investigated the internal dynamics of the growth and thought of the movement as a whole.
Two dissertations have surveyed the theology of Oneness Pentecostalism. James David Kider's "Theology of the 'Jesus Only' Movement" (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1956), a work limited to secondary sources and lacking in necessary historical perspective, fails to understand and adequately present the Oneness mindset. A superior work by David Arthur Reed, "Origins and Developments of the Theology of Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States" (Boston University, 1978) examines Oneness thought against the background of European and American pietism—especially the "Jesus-centrism," or Christ-centered literature and worship, of nineteenth-century American revivalism. This work offers a systematic presentation of Oneness thought based on what Reed identifies as a "Jewish Christian theology of the Name." Presently, Reed's work stands as the single most important contribution to the study of Oneness Pentecostal theology. Nevertheless, a thorough historical and sociological evaluation of the movement has yet to appear.
Much of this study will necessarily deal with Pentecostalism in general, or perhaps better, Oneness Pentecostalism as an expression of the larger Pentecostal phenomenon. This is necessitated by the shared social composition and growth patterns of Oneness and other classical Pentecostal groups, the static quality of Oneness doctrine and practice which embraces more of the early Pentecostal ethos than the better established "mainline" Pentecostal groups, and the self-perception of Oneness believers who see themselves as the true heirs of the Azusa millennarian fervor, immediacy of Spirit baptism, and interracial union. The uniqueness of Oneness Pentecostalism must be investigated only after surveying its place in the larger Pentecostal community.
While no social phenomenon is self-explanatory, explanations for the growth and survival of a social movement—in this case, Oneness Pentecostalism—must be sought in the structure and dynamics of the movement itself as well as in external conditions leading to the movement's existence. More traditional approaches explain the appearance of the Pentecostal phenomenon in terms of economic deprivation, social disorganization, and even psychological maladjustment. Although these may have "facilitated" or "enabled" the emergence of Pentecostalism, such external factors are inadequate analytical tools if used without reference to the internal structure and processes of the movement. This study will embark upon such an internal analysis by employing the tools of social history and the methodology of "phenomenological" sociology. Gleaning from Peter Berger's notions of religion as "world construction" and "world maintenance" and Arthur Paris’ study of the religious "worldview" of black Pentecostals as well as more traditional primary source materials, this work will investigate not only the movement's institutions and leaders, but also its mind and values.
This dissertation will be developed in three sections. Section one will survey the rise of Oneness Pentecostal organizations and thought during the waning years of the classical Pentecostal revivals. Section two will trace Oneness institutional development through a period of undifferentiated growth in its earliest organizational efforts and revivalism to a period of more specialized and diverse ministries in the movement's maturity. Section three will discuss the unique ethos of Oneness life and practice as observed in contemporary worship forms.
Section one offers a historical overview of the emergence and maturing of Oneness thought from 1913 to 1916 which reveals a strong, self-conscious link between the extremes of the Oneness believers and the faded intensity of the Azusa revival of a decade past. Recapturing this early millennarian zeal in the restored "revelation" of the person and name of Jesus, the Oneness Pentecostals created a primitive alternative to the increasingly complex and stable Trinitarian Pentecostal bodies. Forced by their own exclusive claims and the diminishing tolerance of the Assemblies of God, the Oneness Pentecostals separated themselves from the mainstream of Pentecostalism and, in this isolation, developed and preserved the extremes of their early practices. The Oneness thought—always expressed in apologetic or polemic tones—which crystallized with the Oneness founders (Haywood, Ewart, and Urshan) continues to guide the contemporary movement.
Section two will employ the "undifferentiated growth"/"analytical proliferation" model of Pentecostal development—first applied in William Menzies' Anointed To Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God—to investigate the dynamics of changing policies and structures in the history of the Oneness movement. The early years of Oneness expansion were lived in institutional isolation apart from the struggles of the mainline American churches. In this time of revival efforts, Oneness Pentecostalism grew in a rather undifferentiated pattern, showing only a limited ministry strategy or organization. But with the emergence and development of the major Oneness, or Apostolic, organizations, the movement witnessed the appearance of a clear-cut missions strategy, the specialization of organizational and administrative structures, the appearance of diversified service agencies, and the blooming of educational concerns. The formation of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated in 1932 and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ in 1931 (and their later merger into the United Pentecostal Church in 1945) and the return of most black Apostolics to the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1937 marked the beginning of this maturation process as the Oneness bodies sought to harness the energies of the movement in concerted efforts to meet the changing needs of their constituencies.
Section three discusses the contemporary Oneness Pentecostal movement as a social phenomenon by investigating the role of the Oneness "worldview" and worship forms in giving meaningful order to the life experiences of Oneness believers and, in turn, legitimating the larger Oneness social experience and order as the "correct" way of living in the world. The ethos of Oneness Pentecostal life and practice will be examined in four areas: the centrality of the divine "epiphany" in ritual worship, the theoretical framework which rises from the act of worship and in turn reshapes the content and interpretation of this act, the role of the Oneness community (congregation) as an inclusive, independent social world, and the crisis of the Oneness community in the larger context of American society.