Salvation has been a topic for eons – both in the Christian religion and other spirituality based religions. Societies and people across the pages of history have asked the question, and attempted to answer, the age-old question, “What is there after death? Is there an afterlife? If so, how do I enter it?”
For modern Oneness Pentecostals, they believe they have revealed, re-discovered, dug up and reformed the ancient ‘truth’ of Scripture, how one makes it to Heaven, pleases God, obeys the Scripture, is justified, and finds true Holiness, something that was supposedly closed off from mankind for centuries due to paganism, false doctrine and the likes of the Roman Catholic church.
Recently, a young man and his wife contacted me on the YouTube channel asking what my thoughts were on the Acts 2:38 message taught by Oneness Pentecostals, known as their Salvation doctrine (soteriology). They wanted to leave the UPC for all the legalism and dogma (false doctrine) but were confused about attending other churches that didn’t teach Acts 2:38.
If you are not familiar with the evolved doctrines of the Oneness Pentecostal church (Evolved because it has changed many times since 1901ad at its inception) on Soteriology, Acts 2:38, in a nutshell, means that you deny the Trinity, that you are Baptised in Jesus Name only, not in the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost (this is a forced effort in denying the Trinity), that you repent by adopting their Holiness standards (woman never wear pants, cut their hair, etc), and that you Speak in Tongues (initial evidence) as the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
While this doctrine can be explained in multiple ways, both favorably and unfavorably, I have determined it to be incorrectly dividing the Word and placing upon people a yoke that Scripture did not demand and more importantly, the divergent doctrinal error cascades to many more doctrinal errors.
Also, important to note that I am purposed to equip the children of God to spot doctrinal errors. I’m not bitter, or vengeful, nor attacking any one ‘faith’. I’m not attacking anything, I’m focused on correctly dividing God’s Word.
There are many doctrines of Scripture that can be debated, questioned, given the ‘we will never understand that’ brush off, but Salvation is a critical aspect of Christianity and getting this right is paramount to our experiences with God.
First and foremost, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that our justification is by the obedience of one man (Romans 5:19), not of our own, and that it is faith in Christ alone that produces the Grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:8). There is more to the Christian life, but the root of ‘how do I get saved’ is found in fully trusting in the finished works of Christ on the Cross. Grace is a gift, not a paycheck.
By way of example of the error of Oneness theology, let us examine vs 37 of the Acts 2:38 narrative to see if it lines up with the entire picture of Biblical salvation.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
I want to compare this to Acts 16:30 which says, “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
In the case of Acts 2:37 you have a band of Jews that just witnessed a miraculous event and then heard the preaching of Peter that condemned them for taking part in rejecting the Messiah. After being convicted that they had done something wrong, they asked, paraphrased, What are we going to do about this??
Here, Peter answers with the hallmark platform of the Oneness Pentecostal Church;
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. ” ~ Acts 2:38, KJV
In the case of the Philippian jailer of Acts 16, who just witnessed an equally miraculous event, the question was specifically asked, “What must I do to be saved?”, which was not the case in Acts 2:37. We can make logical leaps, but I’m of the opinion we must take Scripture at face value.
Now – it is evident that Peter gave a pretty Salvific response to the Jews, dwelling in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, speaking on forgiveness of sins, receiving the Gift of the Spirit, being baptized, etc. Yet, something has to be wrong with the Apostle Paul in Acts 16 if that was the message for the Gentile Church because he did not repeat the same answer to the Gentiles. Or, something is wrong with the Oneness Pentecostal interpretation.
In fact, Paul outlined a very different salvation message to the Gentile believer, the Philippian jailer, and he repeated this same message dozens of times in all of his writings: “And they said, Belief on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31)
Now, I want to use an argument that the Oneness Pentecostals use all the time in this vein of thought, who will often counter the argument opposing Acts 2:38 (Salvation) with this question, “IF Peter was preaching false doctrine in Acts 2 the other 11 Apostles would have called him out because Scripture says, ‘And Peter, standing with the eleven’ (Acts 2:13).”
Likewise, in Acts 16:31, Scripture said that Paul and Silas both answered the Jailer on how to be saved, “And they said…” They were in agreement – and that wasn’t to repeat Acts 2:38. Acts 15 shows Paul and Barnabas and the entire elder council of the Christian Church speaking of what it takes for a Gentile to be saved. False doctrine (and legalism) was being rooted out of the Christian Church from the very beginning.
The Day of Pentecost, Signs, and Wonders
The real reason I’m writing this is is an examination of the Upper Room experience in Acts 2, to highlight the eisegetical error of this theology. As miraculous as this event was, Scripture does not portray it to be a repeatable event, and this highlights the error of the Acts 2:38 Salvation doctrine of the Oneness Pentecostal church.
When Acts 2:38 says, ‘and ye shall receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost‘, this has been interpreted (eisegetically) by Oneness Pentecostal theologians as speaking in tongues, or as they call it, the Initial evidence if speaking in tongues. This is a belief that when one receives the Spirit of Christ, i.e. the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they will, as seen in the Upper Room, speak in other tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance.
Indeed, they have made the claim that if one does not speak in tongues, they have not received Christ, they are not saved, and heaven will not be there home until they do. Their soteriology is wrapped up in the signs and wonders gift of speaking in another language.
But – is this what that Scripture really means? Two examinations of both events prove this to be patently false. If Paul told the Jailer to speak in tongues in order to be saved, we could take that message and run with it. If the elder council of Acts 15 said to speak in tongues, we could run with it. If Paul taught the Church of Ephesus “For you are saved, by Grace, (which is received when you speak in tongues)…” we could take that message and run with it.
But that is not what Scripture declares.
First and foremost, we see this evidenced immediately following Peter’s preaching. Don’t forget, Peter did NOT say that the gift of the Holy Ghost was ‘speaking in tongues’. This is an amalgamation of examples where people did speak in tongues on several occasions in the book of Acts (Cornelius Acts 10) so thus, every one will/must. Is this true?
Act 2:40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Act 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
It is commonly accepted by theologians and scholars that vs 41 indicates 3,000 people became new converts, Christians in the aftermath of Peter’s message. If 120 were in the upper room speaking in tongues, with cloven tongues of fire sitting upon them, with reverberating rushing mighty winds seen and heard by all – imagine the attraction that 3,000 people repeating that event would create?
And yet – Scripture simply says they were baptized and added to the church. This is miraculous! Imagine today a town of 100,000 having THOUSANDS converted to the Faith in one evening? Miraculous.
But, did they Speak in Tongues?
The Signs of the Upper Room Experience
If the Acts 2 experience at Pentecost was a repeatable event, to the degree that it was tied to an individual believers salvation experience, then we would be wise to follow it exactly as exampled in Scripture. Let’s take Scripture at face value.
Act 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. Act 2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Act 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Act 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
Act 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
The three signs of the Pentecostal experience are these:
- The Spirit was preceded by the Rushing Mighty Wind. The Greek word here for ‘sound‘ is ēchos and it means literally ‘a loud or confused noise, that is, a roar‘. If you have ever stood on the ridge of the Grand Canyon you have heard a rushing mighty wind. The upper room would have been similar.
- The Spirit was preceded by Cloven Tongues like as of Fire. This was something that appeared to all of them, not an apparition only visible to a single person. These have been described by scholars as scintillations, lambent flashes of fire that appeared throughout the room, splitting licks of fire that sat upon each person.
- The Tongues that were spoken by each recipient was an immediately translated known language. There was and must be someone in the audience that recognized the language being spoken. This was not a private ‘prayer language’ as some Charismatics call what is now known as babbling, nor a language of angels.
Equipped with this view of the miraculous event of the Day of Pentecost, we must then approach the modern day sign of ‘tongues’, through the lens of the Oneness Pentecostal movement that calls it the ‘initial evidence‘, and ask the question, “Does it actually match the Biblical model they claim to be following?”
Looking at this scripture and theology of the Oneness Pentecostal religion under the microscope of Scripture we find a virus or an infection in the teaching. To claim that the ‘Gift of the Holy Ghost‘ is a repetition of the Acts 2 Upper Room experience doesn’t line up with the Word.
Having been in this religion for 15 years and being connected with hundreds and thousands of Oneness Pentecostals, I can tell you that no one, ever, received the ‘gift’ evidenced in the fashion of the upper room experience. It has never been preceded with a rushing mighty wind, never was it accompanied with cloven tongues visible to all around, and most importantly, NEVER was it a known language that was immediately recognized by someone surround the event.
The only argument to support the Oneness Theology on this topic is to say, ‘it’s changed’. To express that it changed is to then dismantle the entire theology. To claim that it did not change is to then admit that they, and no one else is repeating the Biblical event as exampled in Acts 2, and thus, have made up their own experience or are disobeying Scripture.
The conclusion is that the ‘Gift of the Spirit’ is not the supposed initial evidence of speaking in tongues. In fact, Scripture makes it clear that the gift of the spirit is the eternal promise (Ephesians 1:13) seal we receive upon believing in Christ. That the fruits of the spirit are the evidence of that Gift, and finally, that the promise and hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27) is the result of that gift.
Scripture also tells us that the ‘gift’ of God is free, and it is salvation. (Ephesians 2:8) Ephesians 4:7 tells us that each of us is given a measure of grace according to the Gift of Christ. James 1:7 tells us that the Gift is given by God and comes down from Him, who never changes.
We didn’t beg for this gift, we didn’t have to exert and stress and beg and scream and cry for it, we received it by faith! Freely we have been given this Grace. In fact, 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that every man who has this gift is responsible for sharing and ministering the grace and freeness of God’s love to one another – being stewards of this gift.
As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. ~ 1 Peter 4:10
Scripture never indicates that the gift is the event or outcome of speaking in tongues. This outlines both the falsity of the Oneness Pentecostal theology surrounding the Acts 2:38 narrative, but more important than any of that, illuminates the wonderful miracle of Grace – that it was given to us freely, because of the obedience and love of Jesus Christ and that the real Gift of the Holy Ghost is His presence with us, working for us and granting us the Fruits of His Spirit, which is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, and Self-Control – against such God has no law!
Thank you for writing this brother.
I just now read it to my wife, a former oneness pentecostal.
Good job Ralph! I’m bookmarking this for future use.
I can’t say I’m Pentecostal anymore since…well I don’t follow everything thing that Pentecostals do. I honestly thought I was alone in my own thought process of how I felt about Pentecostals in general. After reading this, I’m actually relieved. Great job on writing this out! 👌🏽
I too have confusion. I attend upci church and I have learned never to go eat out with them as in a restaurant. They are the pickiest and most rude people to waiters and waitresses. It was embarrassing. Also all the pastors use the title Reverend. They claim they are the only ones in the truth. So what do they not see in being called Reverend. In confused. Thank you for your articles. Also at their Conferences I’ve seen it all. Like a style show. Gave me a weird feeling.
This is awesome. Another thing to point out is verse 5. The Bible specifically tells us these were devout Jewish men. The modern Pentecostal church would say:
sinners – repent, and be baptized….
However, this is not what Peter was referring to. The thing they needed to repent of was their view / perspective on JESUS. Whereas they believed he had existed and had been a rabbi, or maybe a martyr, or possibly even a cult-starter… they needed to repent from this concept and realize that JESUS was their Messiah. This is what they needed to repent of.
Proof of this is found in the chapter:
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
The Repentance Peter is speaking to is on their view about Jesus. HE wasn’t what they had thought he was, they needed to change their path, belief (what repent really means is METANOIA) and follow Jesus as their Messiah.