When I first let the Oneness Pentecostal church I had been a part for 15 years, I wrote in my exit letter to the pastor a statement that has been mirrored by others many times over, and something that I have commented on several times since. I wrote, “Only the Catholic Church holds more ‘works for salvation’ than we as Pentecostals seem to have created.”
My intent was to say that the Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal church almost mirrors the practices of old-time medieval Catholicism, while at the same time declaring it [Catholicism] heretical and blasphemous. The irony isn’t lost on me. And it’s wrong.
Other people have mentioned to me, ‘Have you ever noticed how similar the church (Oneness Pentecostalism) is to Catholics, Mormons, JW, Scientology, etc?’
This article is not to denigrate any religious group. This is written to those who have left Oneness Pentecostalism and see the similarities, and have requested for a more factual study into those similarities. To clarify, I am focusing on the Medieval Roman Catholic Church and the similarities adopted in Oneness Apostolic Pentecostalism. I am not writing about Catholics as a whole, nor Pentecostals as a whole, nor as a whole claiming all doctrine and dogmas to be erroneous.
1. Claimed Authority
First and foremost, the Roman Catholic Church then and now believes in Papal Authority or Papal Supremacy. That is to say, the Pope is the supreme leader, the Vicar of Christ (Christ’s chosen and divine mouthpiece) who has full authority, and universal power over the entire universal church system, and may exercise his authority unhindered. They consider the Pope infallible, a Prophet, and Apostle. Today that power is exercised more carefully due to global scrutiny, but in medieval times it was a power none could question.
In Medieval Religion/Catholicism, the words of the Pope were final and unquestioned. A bishop or priest could accuse people of wrongdoing without repercussion, even if wrong. Think of the great Witch Hunts of the 16th century. Their integrity was without question.
To the Medieval Roman Catholic, they [Pope, Bishop, Priests] were directed by Most Holy God, and while they used incredibly superstitious methods to prove the will of God, the people still bent to their will. To cross the church was to cross God, and to cross God was to bring damnation and the loss of Heaven’s promise. To the life that was already meager and balanced on a knife’s edge, any threat of things getting worse was taken very seriously.
Enter Oneness Apostolic Pentecostalism and the doctrine of Delegated Authority/Spiritual Fatherhood.
We wrote a piece called The Fallacy of Spiritual Fathers/Delegated Authority to address this point specifically, but it is something very real and rampant in the Oneness Apostolic arm of the Pentecostal denomination.
Spiritual Fatherhood misappropriates the Scriptures that call out the endearing term of ‘father’, such as in I Corinthians 4:15 where Paul says, ‘…ye have not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you.” and turns them into claims of rulership authority, such as the Pope has.
Paul claimed this ‘begetting‘ of Timothy as well as I Timothy 1:2 when he said, “Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith…”
They also use (wildly out of context) the examples of Church Discipline, which in context was a decision made by the body of believers, not the ‘elder’ in Matthew 18:18, as a promise that whatever they [Oneness Pentecostal Preachers] declare to be binding in the Church, God will honor and bind in heaven.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. – Matthew 18:18
The Delegated Authority doctrine provides a modern Oneness Pentecostal pastor with two ultimate permissions and authorities.
- Like the Pope, they claim to have been given the hereditary authority of Apostleship, which allows them to create new regulations, rules and church dogmas that are equal in weight to written Scripture. Thus, if the Pastor teaches it, and you do not follow it, you have sinned against that Pastor’s authority, and God, even when the teaching is outside of or in addition to written Scripture.
- Like the Pope, the Apostolic Oneness pastor takes the self-claimed role of Lord and Leader over God’s heritage (1 Peter 5:3), sitting in the seat of Moses (Matthew 23:2) rather than following the model prescribed in Scripture which is to be a supplier, to feed the flock, and most importantly, to be an example. (1 Corinthians 11:1, 4:16) An example isn’t a demand for obedience nor did Paul ever ask for obedience.
I’ve heard Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal preachers say, “If I’m teaching something outside of the Book [Bible] and I’m wrong, you need to simply obey and follow me anyway. To get outside of my headship would be rebellion, but God will bless you for obedience, and take care of me later.”
That alone is a heretical teaching, shrouded within the principle of ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice‘ (1 Samuel 15:22). Yet, it displays the similarity in the claims of Authority between Catholicism and Oneness Pentecostalism, as well as other modes of religion that fall under the list of cults.
2. Works for Obtaining or Maintaining Salvation
Secondly, in Medieval Catholicism, priests were able to require anything they chose of the penitent in order for he/she to gain atonement for sins. This could be sacrificial giving, special favors to the church such as the giving of land and possessions, of unavailable time in service, giving of servants, monies, etc.
In medieval times, life was very hard, and the Roman Catholic Church dominated the lives of people, from peasant to Lord, Nobles and even Kings.
Consider this quote;
The control the Church had over the people was total. Peasants worked for free on Church land. This proved difficult for peasants as the time they spent working on Church land, could have been better spent working on their own plots of land producing food for their families.
While the Roman Catholic Church at the time held the same standard doctrine that nearly all of Christianity shares, as it is Scriptural, that Salvation is by Faith alone, by Grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) they created unique secondary liturgical requirements in order to please God and this evolved into becoming necessary for the penitent.
Things crept in such as confession, the Rosemary, and other traditions that became a liturgical necessity in order for one to feel absolved of sins and to maintain their right standing (salvation) before God.
The Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal church has declared the same standard in the Christian Faith, that Jesus alone can save, and that salvation comes through Faith in Christ, by His Grace, but they go on to list out the (works) requirements that must be met in order for that faith to be made whole and complete.
For instance, the Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal church interprets Acts 2:38 as the only acceptable (by God) mode of obtaining Salvation, that the penitent must repent of sins (lifestyle/holiness changes, explained later), be baptised in Jesus name (no titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost) by full immersion, performed only by a licensed denominational minister, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which must be evidenced by the penitent speaking in tongues. No tongues, no salvation.
Without completing those three steps, the penitent has not completed the requirements of Faith in order to gain the saving Grace of God found in Ephesians 2:8-9.
Furthermore, the Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal church has adopted the John Wesleyan Holiness standards called, ironically, the Second Works of Grace. This is to say, that certain lifestyle changes must be made in order to both complete the first step of repentance needed for salvation in Acts 2:38, but that these changes must be an on-going penitence.
These lifestyle changes are the way in which one ‘stays saved‘. These standards are things such as women never cutting their hair, or wearing makeup/jewelry, or wearing pants. Men never letting their hair grow long, and the more fundamental groups outlaw things such as facial hair, wedding rings, watching any television or movies, etc.
The church believes that once one breaks any of these standards, their salvation is immediately ripped from them until through repentance, they return to the standards of holiness (repent).
3. Financial Requirements
Arguably, one of the most defining marks of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, aside from the great Witch Hunts, Wars, Crusades, Inquisitions, and burning religious heretics, was their thirst for money. We have evidence of this today in the massive cathedrals that have withstood hundreds of years of time, weather and use. A testament to the money and quality put into construction. Those massive cathedrals did not build themselves on a budget.
The medieval Roman Catholic Church required the 10% tithe, even upon the poor, which would have been crushing to most people in those days, above and beyond the crushing taxation of Kings who need to fund wars. It was taught that without paying the church the tithe, one’s soul would be eternally damned, and the church, like the state, had collectors.
The church also required payments for absolution of sins, for marriage ceremonies, for funeral and burial ceremonies, etc. This was one of the earliest forms of Pay to Win in religious history. Arguably, Tithing was a taxation upon the theocratic nation of Israel and was not to be adopted by New Testament Christians. But, when power and prestige are to be had, money is the vehicle by which it is achieved.
The Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal church also declares Tithing to be a requirement necessary unto salvation, that one who does not tithe (and give offerings) is robbing God (Malachi 3) and thus, is cursed, just as the nation of Israel was (prophetically) in Malachi 3.
This is most unfortunate due to clear Scriptural evidence that Jesus did not want His disciples out for money (Matthew 10:9), the Tithe was for the priesthood of the nation of Israel (Numbers 18:26, Malachi 1:1, Malachi 2:1, etc) not the ministers of Christ and Paul taught a very different message when he said to ‘give as you have decided in your heart to give, not under obligation. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
In the Oneness Pentecostal church I attended, they requested (nice way of saying required) a 10% tithe and 5% offerings on your monthly income, pre-tax. The 10% went to the Pastor for his benefit, and the 5% went to turn the lights on at the church. Then there were additional offerings, for missionaries, Sunday School/Bus Ministry, benevolence funds, evangelists, etc.
The striking similarity, however, between Medieval Roman Catholicism and Oneness Pentecostalism is that those at the top are always the wealthiest. Our Bishop and Pastor, and their wives only drove BMW’s and lived in very, very nice houses. What most would consider mansions, million dollar homes. Most families struggled, but it was clearly and definitely taught, that you give your tithes and offerings first each month, then pay your bills and feed your family. God will provide.
These are unfortunate perversions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Disciples. Paul took up offerings, but never for himself (1 Corinthians 9:15), it was to feed the widows and fatherless, to provide for the impoverished and the church of Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Peter and the early church took up offerings to create a communal living system, where people with hunger were fed, families in need of shelter, were sheltered, etc.
Both use fear to coerce or convince others of the absolute and pressing necessity to give their money to the preacher/priest, to a) continue to be saved and b) to avoid suffering the condemnation and wrath of God. To the mind convinced that God will truly cause horrible things to happen in the life of the non-giver (they always use Ananias and Saphira from the book of Acts to make this case), opening the pocketbook becomes a necessity to stave off God.
Contrarily, there is the prosperity Gospel that the more you give, the more God will provide you with this life, and in the life to come, turning God into a candy machine. Put a quarter in, get a handful of treats out. This should be the most blasphemous idea of them all, and yet it continues to this day. We believe God will bless our efforts in this life, but if we think we can invest in God like a stock market or 401K, we have most definitely missed the mark of His high calling.
It can and will be said, that this isn’t restricted to these two sects within the Christendom. These things can be applied to so many other groups, and each of them will point the finger at each other and declare them wrong, and themselves right. Then, they go on to behave as the other does.
What makes this so poignant is that the Oneness Pentecostal movement declares the Catholic church its daughter works heretical. Primarily in the points shown here today, and for their doctrine of the Trinity, or triune Godhead. Their response? Create their own counter-doctrines (salvation by works, following liturgical processes) and then persecuting by judgment those who are different.
The point of this writing is to illustrate how nothing has changed since the early days of Church history except that there are far more opinions and we are able to voice them! Thankfully so, for in the medieval days, opposing opinions was enough to get you hung, or burned at the stake.
Yet, I believe we should be very careful not to attempt taking the role of God in defining what He wants from us, from His role as Judge, and His role as savior. We cannot make doctrines for God (Mark 7:7), we must study to learn His doctrines, rightly divide the Word, and then for ourselves (Romans 14:22) live for Him in the best ways we can.
The real mission of Christ was to spread forgiveness (John 8:11), and hope (1 Corinthians 1:7), and love for one another (John 13:34), which is support and acceptance. Not condemnation of each other (John 3:17), not judging each other (Romans 14:4) and certainly not to be the divider the brethren (Christians), for this is the job of our enemy. Why would we fight, alongside the enemy of our souls?