Sweet Heat Skittles
My father, Dr. Talmadge French and I, just finished recording America and End Time Prophecy, the Oneness of God & Miracle Mission’s Moments for the podcast (linked below). You absolutely do not want to miss that episode. Dad recounted major miracles he’s witnessed and experienced from his missions trips around the world. We talk prophecy, rapture stuff, and think about where America fits into all of that. And dad gives an updated count of the number of oneness Pentecostal believers worldwide. We taste and rate Sweet Heat Skittles at the end. That was fun!
Our God Is One
We mentioned the release of his best-selling book Our God Is One: The Story of the Oneness Pentecostals in the Serbian language during that conversation. Dad originally released Our God Is One in 1999. It’s incredible to think that twenty-three years later, it’s impacting the Serbian work of God and has become an instrument to bring trinitarian churches into the oneness movement! Which inspired me to summarize Our God Is One in this format. Usually, I would include the link to purchase the book, but it’s been out of print for several months. Thankfully, it will be reprinted, rebranded, and updated in the near future. Our God Is One is a unique blending of oneness Pentecostal history, theology, methodology, and statistical analysis. This summary is not a replacement for the book itself but rather a complementarian, precursor, or refresher for those who have already read it. From this point forward, I will refer to dad as Dr. French for the sake of readability.
It’s All in Him!
Most apostolics are familiar with George Farrow’s classic song penned in 1920, “It’s All in Him.” It isn’t shocking to hear lyrics like that now, but there was a time at the turn of the twentieth century when lyrics like “For in Him Dwells All the Fullness of the Godhead and Lord of All is He” would have reeked of heresy to most Christians. Dr. French opens by quoting that and several other notable self-designated Jesus’ Name Pentecostal anthems. In those early days of the oneness movement, songs like that were an expression of separation and a brave exclamation of revelation. George Farrow and others differentiated themselves from their trinitarian counterparts with rhythms and rhymes.
Dr. French opens the book by quoting that great song in homage to those early oneness Pentecostal pioneers. Those first leaders couldn’t have imagined the phenomenal growth their movement would experience over the next one-hundred-plus years. In what Dr. French calls “those early, unassuming days of the movement,” their focus wasn’t on growth but correct doctrine and pleasing God.
In the early, unassuming days of the Oneness Pentecostal movement, their focus wasn’t on growth but correct doctrine and pleasing God. -Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
It would be challenging to follow Our God Is One or this article without clarifying definitions. Thankfully, Dr. French gives two helpful definitions right away. He defines Oneness Pentecostalism below:
Oneness Pentecostalism is that theologically distinctive branch of the Pentecostal movement which emphasizes what it views as the Scriptural formula for water baptism – baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ – and the absolute, indivisible ‘Oneness’ of God revealed in the full Deity of Jesus Christ. It emerged within the context of the fervor of restorationism and “back to the Bible” literalism at the turn of the century. Classical Pentecostalism’s argumentation for a return to “the Bible” regarding speaking with tongues and spiritual gifts was simply applied to the issues of baptism and the Godhead.
Notice the term Dr. French used in the above quote, “Classical Pentecostalism.” For some, that might not be a familiar term, so he goes on to explain further:
Oneness Pentecostals have usually been categorized as ‘classical’ Pentecostals, referring not only to their roots in the early movement but their shared belief in the essentiality of tongues as the “initial evidence” of the Spirit baptism.
The explosive growth of the oneness movement is intrinsically linked with its doctrinal distinctives. Dr. French gives a succinct overview of classical oneness theology:
In its rejection of the classical conception of the Trinity, it embraced, in actuality, a highly Christocentric, simultaneous modalism of the Father, Son, and Spirit, in which Jesus is God. Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the one and only God in totality, incarnate in the New Testament. The ‘Oneness of God’ is an all-encompassing Jesus-centrism in which Father, Son, and Spirit are not conceived as separate, distinct ‘persons’ within the Godhead, but rather as ‘modes’ or ‘manifestations’ of God.
The explosive growth of the oneness movement is intrinsically linked with its doctrinal distinctives.Tweet
The Oneness of God is an all-encompassing Jesus-centrism in which Father, Son, and Spirit are not conceived as separate, distinct persons within the Godhead, but rather as modes or manifestations of God. -Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
Not unlike the theological constructs of early Jewish Christianity, Oneness theology link the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One,” with the most primitive of the kerygmatic confessions of the early church – “Jesus is Lord.” That is, Jesus is the one and only Lord, the ‘totality’ of the Godhead, incarnate. Thus, He is not a part, or a second part, or second person, but God in totality, manifest in human form as the unique God-man. “Father” and “Son” are viewed simply as incarnational terms necessary for the discussion of God in His dual nature, God and man. Likewise, “Holy Spirit” is the distinguishing expression for “Christ in,” God indwelling, the believer at and after Pentecost, in the unique manner made possible only by the reality of the resurrection.
Not unlike the theological constructs of early Jewish Christianity, Oneness theology link the Shema: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One, with the most primitive of the kerygmatic confessions of the early church – Jesus is Lord. -Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
Interestingly, Dr. French clarifies an often-asked question: Are oneness Pentecostal evangelical? And the answer to that is “yes.” The oneness movement is rooted in a passion for Jesus Christ, Scripture, life-changing new birth experiences, and evangelism. But that doesn’t mean mainstream Evangelicalism embraces the oneness movement. Dr. French mentions J.I. Packer, who referred to Pentecostalism as Evangelicalism’s “half-sister.” Sadly, that kind of pejorative, and worse, is historically typical. But oneness Pentecostalism traces its roots back to the holiness and restorationist movements of the nineteenth century, which, as Dr. French points out, “is sometimes referred to as ‘radical’ Evangelicalism.”
At its onset, the oneness movement was shunned, ostracized, criticized, and belittled by Evangelicals and classical trinitarian Pentecostals. The oneness movement’s explicit rejection of Trinitarian doctrine combined with its strong holiness underpinnings has made it a target for charges of cultism, bigotry, and heresy. And while Dr. French acknowledges that the oneness movement has become more widely accepted, “mainstream” Christianity still views it derisively. Especially in light of Evangelicalism’s rapid drift away from moral absolutes, biblical inerrancy, and godly living. This creates what Dr. French calls the “dilemma and paradox” of the oneness movement. He boils it down in this statement:
Their (the oneness movement’s) distinctive theological identity is, at one and the same time, both rooted in Pentecostal-Evangelicalism, and yet at enormous tension with it.
Though rooted in the holiness movement and budding trinitarian Pentecostalism, the oneness movement is best described as restorationism. Dr. French describes it this way:
Oneness Pentecostalism, within a dozen years of the rise of Pentecostalism, was birthed in a rekindling of restorationist fervor which swept through the entire movement, vigorously promoting a return to the New Testament baptismal formula and understanding of the Godhead.
Oneness Pentecostalism was birthed in a rekindling of restorationist fervor which swept through the entire movement, vigorously promoting a return to the New Testament baptismal formula and understanding of the Godhead. -Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
Pentecost In My Soul
Few things capture the essence of oneness theology as accurately and concisely as the songs birthed in those early days. To illustrate this, Dr. French highlights the famous Black Holiness songwriter Thoro Harris who, after converting to Pentecostalism, penned “Pentecost In My Soul” in 1914. He wrote many beloved Pentecostal hymns such as “Jesus Only” and “All That Thrills My Soul Is Jesus.” Those songs and many others encapsulate the highly Christocentric pietism that made the oneness movement radically distinct from its counterparts. And it was enormously successful. But that doesn’t mean it was easy, Dr. French notes:
Pentecostals were struggling with an inevitable clash with historic Christianity, the heritage of the Protestant Reformation, and their own spiritual identity. Central to this struggle was the conviction that the historic church, largely apostatized, required restoration to primitive Christian faith.
To be sure, there was some disagreement about what primitive Christianity was in practice and theology. However, Pentecostals genuinely believed they were experiencing a ‘latter day’ restoration. And they viewed the Reformation as a steppingstone towards restorationism. Dr. French summarizes those early views this way:
Pentecostalism, in this way, perceived the period from the Reformation forward as restoration, from Luther’s sola scriptura to Wesley’s holiness to Seymour’s Azusa revival. Oneness adherents have also identified elements within the Radical Reformation, especially Michael Servetus and the immersion and anti-Trinitarianism of the Anabaptists, as evidence of glimmers of restoration.
Pentecostalism, perceived the period from the Reformation forward as restoration, from Luther’s sola scriptura to Wesley’s holiness to Seymour’s Azusa revival. Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
It would be incorrect to say that Pentecostalism is rooted in Fundamentalism. However, it is substantially influenced by it. Dr. French is quick to mention there is “considerable” debate about “the extent and precise nature of Fundamentalism’s influence upon Pentecostalism.” He clarifies the distinctions and the influences, stating:
Fundamentalism, like Pentecostalism, embraced premillennialism, dispensationalism, and the verbally inerrant inspiration of Scripture. At the turn of the century, as Pentecostalism was emerging, Fundamentalism was the point conservative force opposing the higher critics and the modernist attacks on the miracles of the Bible. Although these were issues with which Pentecostalism readily identified, it was tenuous indeed, for Fundamentalism opposed with equal rigor Pentecostalism’s belief in modern miracles and tongues.
Regardless, Pentecostalism often utilized Fundamentalist arguments to further the points they agreed with. And even found Fundamentalist writers who openly favored oneness doctrinal positions.
Higher Life Influences
In 1875, the Keswick movement formed a holiness group that emphasized “higher life” and promoted “experiential holiness.” Dr. French states:
Important themes included enduement with power and the infilling of the Spirit, stressed by such leaders as R.A. Torrey and D.L. Moody. Yet it rejected the phenomenon of emerging Pentecostalism.
If I understand correctly, it seems John Wesley’s Methodism, including its holiness beliefs and emphasis on Spirit baptism, greatly influenced the Keswick movement, which influenced the early Oneness Pentecostals. Dr. French says it like this:
As did their forerunners in the holiness movement, the Pentecostals emphasized holiness, enthusiastically and with restorationist zeal, as separation from sin and worldliness. And, due perhaps to the intensity of the restorationist motif as the dominant influence within Oneness Pentecostalism, the emphasis upon strict standards of holiness remains a prominent feature of the movement. Apart from the issue of the means of sanctification, holiness was considered a restored, essential element in the life of a believer. “A holiness preacher?” wrote D.C.O. Opperman, “God has no other kind. Might as well say `wet water’ as to say `holiness preacher.’”
As did their forerunners in the holiness movement, the Pentecostals emphasized holiness, enthusiastically and with restorationist zeal, as separation from sin and worldliness. -Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
Holiness was considered a restored, essential element in the life of a believer. A holiness preacher? wrote D.C.O. Opperman, God has no other kind. Might as well say wet water as to say holiness preacher.Tweet
The Predominant Impulse of Oneness Pentecostalism
Indeed, all of the above-mentioned theological strands converged at the dawning of the twentieth century to form the oneness movement. Even early healing movements helped weave conditions for Oneness Pentecostalism to emerge successfully. But Dr. French views restorationism as “the dominant and overarching influence amidst other significant streams which intermingled in important ways.” Unique to Oneness Pentecostalism was a predominant restorationist impulse that viewed the entire New Testament through the lens of the book of Acts. In doing so, they made the book of Acts accounts typical experiences for all believers.
The Founding of Pentecostalism
In addition to the “latter rain” metaphor, Pentecostal founders like Howard Goss referred to the movement as “the winds of God.” They spoke of tongues as falling “suddenly from Heaven.” And although glossolalia had occurred among earlier holiness movements sporadically, it was Charles Fox Parham that, as Dr. French says, “provided the spark which ignited Pentecostalism as a distinctive movement by theologically linking `tongues’ with the baptism of the Spirit.” Parham was the first to articulate that tongues were the evidence of Spirit baptism. Although he still considered tongues a “second work of grace.” Dr. French describes the early oneness movements preferences regarding their identity:
Interestingly, Oneness Pentecostals tended to self-identify most readily with Parham’s original designation for the movement, “Apostolic,” even more so than the term “Pentecostal.” “Pentecostal” related mostly to the experience of Spirit baptism, whereas “Apostolic” was a more direct identification with the restoration of the doctrine, faith, and experience of the New Testament witness of the apostles.
Early Pentecostal Controversies
Like every movement, the early Pentecostal movement was plagued with controversies and fraught with disagreements. Dr. French describes debates that surrounded the issue of sanctification:
William H. Durham, a Baptist minister from Chicago who experienced tongues at Azusa in 1907, opposed the commonly accepted holiness view of sanctification as a separate, second crisis experience, or a “second work of grace” distinct from salvation. Instead, Durham espoused a view that posited the work of sanctification in the single experience of conversion, not subsequent to conversion. This view was predicated on the sufficiency of Calvary to ascribe sanctification to the believer at the time of conversion but experienced as a spiritual process throughout life. Durham referred to this as the “finished work of Calvary” view of sanctification.
But the sanctification issue paled in comparison to the Oneness controversy. Dr. French summarizes the debate saying:
At issue in the Oneness controversy was the centrality of the name of Jesus in baptism, the soteriological significance of Spirit baptism, and the nature of the unity of the Godhead. The Oneness issue was commonly referred to as the “new issue” by its opponents, not for its novelty, but to distinguish the issue from the recent controversy over salvation.
The early Pentecostal movement prayed in the name of Jesus, claimed healing in Jesus’ name, sang Christocentric songs, and “largely ignored” the precision of Trinitarian faith. So, it shouldn’t have been all that shocking that many would eventually desire to be baptized in Jesus’ name. Dr. French quotes Charles F. Parham on this subject:
We were waiting upon God that we might know the Scriptural teaching of water baptism. Finally, the Spirit of God said: “We are buried by baptism into His death.” …Then how quickly we recognized the fact that we could not be buried by baptism in the name of the Father and in the name of the Holy Ghost because it stood for nothing as they never died or were resurrected.
The Spark That Lit the Flame
A Pentecostal camp meeting called the World-Wide Apostolic Camp Meeting took place in April of 1913. It was a much-anticipated meeting lauded as a great unifier. Yet, in actuality, it was the initial spark that lit the flame of the oneness movement, eventually separating it from Trinitarian Pentecostalism altogether. Canadian minister R.E. McAlister wasn’t the main speaker or even on the program. McAlister simply gave a short sermon as they were preparing for a baptismal service “in a pool near the big tent.” Dr. French describes the intense and pivotal moment this way:
In a cursory defense of single immersion, McAlister noted that apostolic baptism was administered as a single immersion in a single name, Jesus Christ. “The words Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were never used in Christian baptism.”
History records an “audible shudder” swept the preachers at the mention that the name Jesus was used exclusively in apostolic baptism. Of course, they tried to stop and sensor him, but the inspired words had already been spoken. The impact of that little sermon was far more significant than McAlister could have ever dreamed. Dr. French states:
The implications concerning Jesus’ name baptism raised at Arroyo Seco fueled the theological flame within many who attended. John G. Sharpe, a young minister, was so moved that, after praying and reading the Bible all night, he ran through the camp the following morning shouting that he’d received a “revelation” of the power of Jesus’ name. Frank J. Ewart, G.T. Haywood, Harry Morse, John G. Schaepe, R.J. Scott, George Studd, R.E. McAlister, Andrew D. Urshan, Homer L. Faulkner, and Frank Denny… would soon enthusiastically embrace baptism in the name of Jesus as the exclusive apostolic formula.
Our God Is One goes on in far more detail concerning various splits among Pentecostal groups, eventually forming oneness groups like the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and the United Pentecostal Church International, and many others. He recounts the stories of now-infamous pastors who were hepatized in Jesus’ name and branded as heretics by their peers. Many of those pastors went on to rebaptize entire congregations in Jesus’ name as revival swept the world. But Dr. French is most acclaimed for his unparalleled documentation of modern Oneness Pentecostalism worldwide. In 1999, it was staggering when Dr. French provided careful documentation of twenty million Oneness Pentecostals. He updates the number on the podcast episode below, but you’ll have to listen for yourself to hear that.
A relevant apostolic resource that covers biblical topics of interest, ministry, Christian living, and practical insights hosted by Ryan French. An extension of the popular blog Apostolic Voice (www.ryanafrench.com). Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
Ryan sits down with his father, Dr. Talmadge French, to discuss miraculous missions moments from Dr. French’s world travels: The Serbian Healing, Ethiopian Miracles, The Communist Airport Miracle, The Citadel Hotel, and The Tibetan Monk. Dr. French reveals the current documented numbers of oneness apostolics worldwide. Also, they discuss the role of America in End Time Prophecy: Are we getting close to the rapture? Do any prophecies need to be fulfilled first? What is Mystery Babylon? Stick around to the end for a Dr. French edition of Gross-Good-Great featuring sweet heat flavored skittles.