2. The One True God – The Godhead

One night in 1913 a participant in a Pentecostal camp meeting near Los Angeles woke everyone up by shouting the name of Jesus. He had just received a vision of Jesus that made him feel that Jesus needed to be given greater honour. Then one of the pastors began teaching that the way to give honour to Jesus was to be rebaptized in his name. Both men had been influenced by a sermon by evangelist R. E. McAlister in which he claimed that the apostles had baptized in the name of Jesus only rather than in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The view spread rapidly, and many leaders of the Pentecostal movement were rebaptized. Soon after the Assemblies of God was formed in 1914, it decided that it had to take action on the matter. Its General Council met in October, 1916, and approved a Statement of Fundamental Truths which included a lengthy truth affirming the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, “The Essentials as to the Godhead.” It also demanded that the Jesus Only faction accept the Trinitarian baptismal formula and the doctrine of the Trinity or leave the Fellowship. About a quarter of the ministers withdrew.

The above quotation from a paper that I wrote when I was doing graduate studies with Louisiana Baptist University, “The Assemblies of God Trinitarian-Oneness Controversy,” brings out the importance that the Assemblies of God places on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL) places the same importance on it.

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I attend began a study of the truth in the PAONL’s Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths which affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. Called “The One True God,” it consists of an opening paragraph about God and “The Essentials as to the Godhead” (see above). Both parts come from the Statement of Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God, where they were originally separate truths but were later combined under the name “The One True God.” I distributed to the group a copy of the truth as it is in the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths. It appears at:
PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths

As for the meeting of our Life group in which we began our study of the truth, only four were present. Leonora opened with singing, including our theme song “We’re Together Again,” and prayer. I distributed a sheet containing a summary of my presentation and made the presentation, our discussing throughout it the questions which I posed in it (see below). Leonora took prayer requests and Roland led us in prayer. We closed with lunch, which consisted of muffins, fruit, and tea.

I opened my presentation by reading the opening paragraph of “The One True God” and giving the following summary of and expansion on it.

The statement affirms that there is only one true God, that He has always existed and always will exist, that He reveals Himself, and that He consists of three persons. Among the many other things that God has revealed to us about Himself are that He is Spirit (John 4:24), perfect (Matthew 5:48), immutable (Malachi 3:6), self-existent (John 5:26), omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:23-24), omniscient (Psalm 139:1-4), omnipotent (Jeremiah 32:17), holy (Leviticus 11:44-45), righteous or just (Deuteronomy 32:4), loving (1 John 4:8-10), truthful (Titus 1:2), and faithful (Numbers 23:19).

I asked, “Does anyone have a question about any of the characteristics of God identified in the above?” The only questions were on the meanings of “immutable” (unchanging), “omnipresent” (present everywhere), “omniscient” (knowing everything), and “omnipotent”(having all power). If you have a question about any of the characteristics, ask in a comment on this post.

I introduced our consideration of the “The Essentials as to the Godhead” part of “The One True God” by reading the quotation with which I opened this post and asking, “Do you agree with the decision of the Assemblies of God to affirm the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and to expel its Jesus Only pastors?” Although the group recognized that differences in beliefs and practices often exist in congregations, it expressed agreement with the decision of the Assemblies of God. I observed that the insistence of Jesus Only ministers on rebaptism in the name of Jesus and aggressive pushing of Oneness doctrine was so divisive that it might have destroyed the young fellowship if it had been allowed to continue.

I explained to the group that “The Essentials as to the Godhead” presents what the PAONL (and of the Assemblies of God) believe about the Trinity and about Christ. I told them that in this week’s meeting we would consider what it says about the Trinity and that three weeks from now we’d consider what it says about Christ. Next week we won’t have a Life group meeting because some members are involved in the Disability Association Gospel Concert being held at our church, and the following week Ray will be leading us in a study of Romans 3:21-31.

Then I shared some of what I’d said about the Trinity in my “The Assemblies of God Trinitarian-Oneness Controversy” paper. In the paper I quoted from the KJV, but here I’ll quote from the ESV.

The Old Testament emphasizes that God is unique and undivided. For example, Isaiah 43:10 records God as declaring, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me,” and Deuteronomy 6:4 records Moses as telling the Israelites, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The New Testament also teaches the unity of God. For example, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 when answering a scribe’s question (Mark 12:29) and James tells his readers, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder”(James 2:19).

However, although the New Testament attests the unity of God, it also recognizes three things—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as God. Moreover, several times it refers to the three together as if they are separate entities. For example, after Jesus was baptized by John and praying, ”the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:21-22). And in his farewell discourses to his disciples, Jesus promised them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). And in one of his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus commissioned his disciples to “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Reconciling these apparently contradictory views of God—that He is one and that He is three—poses a problem for which many solutions have been proposed. The solution adopted by the church in the early Christian centuries was the doctrine of the Trinity. According to it God is “one Being of three Persons.” The Father is God in such a way that He constitutes the whole undivided substance of God; thus, He is identical with, not just part of, God. The Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God in the same way. Yet, the Father is distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to have personal relationships with them. Similarly, the Son is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. Despite recognizing its mysterious nature, the vast majority of Christians still accept the doctrine of the Trinity as making best sense of what God has revealed to us about Himself in the Bible.

However, as evidenced by the Jesus only controversy in the Assemblies of God, not all agree. Oneness Pentecostals also view God as one Being. However, they differ from Trinitarians by viewing Him as just one Person rather than as three Persons. To them, God is one Person, Jesus, who manifests Himself in three different ways—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as the occasion demands.

Finally we read Parts A, B, C, and D of “The Essentials as to the Godhead.” Their titles are: A. Terms Defined; B. Distinction and Relationship in the Godhead; C. Unity of the One Being of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and D. Identity and Cooperation in the Trinity. The group understood and agreed with each of the parts. If you have any questions about the above quotation or about Parts A-D of “The Essentials as to the Godhead,” ask in a comment on this post.

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