How Did Oneness Pentecostalism Start?

DovePentecostalism became a major Christian movement early in the twentieth century and continues to have an impact worldwide. Although many Pentecostals are trintarian, there is also segment that are Oneness or Jesus Only Pentecostals.

Oneness Pentecostals deny the trinity but still affirm the divinity of Jesus. It is related to an early division within the church called modalism. Modalism taught that God appeared in different modes, such as the Father or the Son, but not at the same time.

One of the theological origins of this movement came from reflection on baptismal formulas. Here are two passages that were influential:

  • Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

So which is it? Are Christians to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit or in the name of Jesus? What if the name (notice it doesn’t say names) of the Father, Son of the Holy Spirit was actually Jesus?

Some early Pentecostals began to get rebaptized in the name of Jesus, since their previous baptism had been in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. What began as a desire for a correct baptism formula developed into a new understanding of the nature of God. There was one God and his name was Jesus.

This was an influential movement within Pentecostalism. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada became Oneness for a time and only returned to trinitarianism under influence from the American Assemblies of God. Although the PAOC is now strongly trinitarian, I used to attend a PAOC church and one of the older pastors would use both the Matthew and Acts formula when baptizing.

Oneness Pentecostals are still around, such as in organizations like the United Pentecostal Church. In addition to a rejection of the trinity, they also believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, marked by speaking in tongues, is a requirement for salvation.

If you are interested in learning more about Pentecostalism, I recommend this book:

Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements




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