I had one of those narcissistic moments last week where the idea to Google my own name seemed like a good idea. In doing so I came across an oddly titled link, “Mark Driscoll on the Contextualization of the Gospel”.  Mark Driscoll is the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. I know some people who know Pastor Driscoll and I attend the same seminary that he has attended but I couldn’t think of a link between the two of us that would warrant this search result. In curiosity I decided to click on the link to see what it contained.

I did not notice until I did this that the website was called “Apostolic Friends Forum“. It is more or less a “latest gossip”/ideas sounding board for those of the Oneness Pentecostal/Apostolic tradition. If you are unfamiliar with this tradition it espouses several distinctive characteristics: (1) a denial of the historical doctrine of the Trinity in favor of a semi-modalism; (2) an emphasis on Acts 2:38 as a pattern for New Testament salvation; (3) an emphasis on glossolalia/speaking in tongues as the sign that someone has received the presence of the Holy Spirit; (4) a rejection of the baptismal formula found in Matthew 28:19 and The Didache in favor of “in Jesus name” found in the Book of Acts;  (5) a hyper-Arminianism/Revivalism that drives members toward “soul-winning” and “revival”; (6) a strict reading of passages such as Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:1-16  as applicable “holiness standards” that serve as markers or badges of genuine sanctification.

I was brought to a Oneness Pentecostal church by my mother from ages five to eighteen until I moved away to Stockton, CA, to attend a “Bible College” sponsored by a church there known as Christian Life Center. The school was called Christian Life College. It is while I was here that I moved away from the distinctive doctrines of this sect to a broader understanding of Christianity as it is documented in such creeds as the Apostles Creed, The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Symbol of Chalcedon. Yet I would not go as far as to say that this is because of the faculty of this college. These were my own conclusions based on my own independent research and study.

Over the last several years I had gradually moved into a place where I could be labeled, if I must be labeled, as a evangelical with some Reformed doctrine. This may appear to be useless biography–and if it is I apologize–but there are some statements made on the aforementioned message board that I thought I may as well address in case such question arise in the future. At least this way if this happens I can produce more traffic to my own blog (Smile)!

First, (see here) there was someone named “deltaguitar” who wrote, “I used to read this blog by a guy, Brian Leport, he seemed to change his views alot but maybe that was before he went to Western.” This statement was prompted by another writer who used to attend Western Seminary but who remained a Oneness Pentecostal and did not “fall off” (see here). This person, “deltaguitar”, wanted to note that I may be one of those who has left the movement because of seminary. Let me clarify this: I went to seminary to further my education and I was already in the process of departing the Oneness sect when I arrived. I did not leave because I went to seminary.

Second, (see here) a lady that I know from the church in Napa, CA, that I went to with my mother, who goes by the name “Kings Kid” stated, “…I noticed you brought up Brian Leport and how his views changed of oneness pentecostalism. He used to be very strong but something changed his views when he was attending CLC in Stockton”. Let me clarify: Yes, I did begin changing my views while I was at CLC in Stockton. This was not because of the school though. This was because I had four years to dedicate to studying the Scriptures for myself. I began to notice some inconsistencies between Oneness Pentecostal dogma and the Scriptures themselves. Furthermore, there are some foundational principles that this sect hold that I find terribly inconsistent. An example would be there the Holy Spirit did not and likely could not have helped the early church further develop and expound on the doctrine of the Trinity yet the Holy Spirit was able to help the early church discover the New Testament canon? Why is it that the Protestant canon is acceptable to the Oneness sect while the doctrine of the Trinity, which was unfolded during the same era, is not?!

Also, there were some doctrines that if you follow the logical conclusion of what is stated there are some very bold, terrifying statements. One such doctrine is that of glossolalia as the only sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit accompanied by the teaching that the Spirit must dwell within someone for salvation to occur. Therefore, anyone who has not spoken in tongues is lost. Therefore, most Christians between the first century and the Topeka Bible College and Azusa Street events are lost! Yes, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and so forth.

I will avoid digressing in a polemic against this sect as of now since I have many friends and family who remain within it that I respect and love. Nevertheless, I have my right to believe as I do. I have my right to choose against the dogmatics that I was handed in favor of what I conclude is more biblical and in line with the historic church.

Third, (see here) one “Pastor Keith” states that he doesn’t think CLC changed my views. He is correct. Nevertheless, “deltaguitar” (see here) does make a statement that contains a half-truth when he says, “I know that many who have gone to CLC changed their minds and though I didn’t go to CLC I happened to get audio from some classes of Dan Seagraves and it changed my life. From that point on I would never be the same.”

The Dan Segraves he mentions is probably, in my opinion, the most biblically faithful, sincere scholar in the Oneness Pentecostal movement. I refuse to speak for Dan here because (1) he can state and defend his own theological views and (2) he always kept his cards close enough to his chest that on issues that would be controversial within that movement that he was notorious for saying things in such a way that you could not pin him down. But it was Dan’s class on ‘Romans and Galatians’ that opened the theoretical Pandora’s box on justification by faith alone. If Oneness Pentecostals criticize Dan for his view it is my opinion that this only shows how tied to tradition they are contrast with Dan’s attempt to reconcile the biblical text with his tradition.

Fourth, it is not “sad” that I changed my viewpoints! At least it is not sad to the many wonderful Christians I have found outside of the sect that I left. The church is alive and well. The poster “Kings Kid” (see here) said that, “I know him and it is sad how he has changed his viewpoints.” Sad? I am anything but sad. I have come to know God in such a way that I would never, ever go back to what I feel like is a tradition that obscures His grace and deity! I know “happiness” doesn’t equal orthodoxy, but in my cause orthodoxy brought along a great deal of happiness!

Fifth, this same “Kings Kid” asked outloud (see here), “I wonder if coming from a very conservative Pentecostal church changed his views a bit”. Yes and no. Yes, I was part of the more uptight, Pharisee-esque side of that movement but there were many churches that were much worse. Worse as in sleeves to the wrist, skirts and pants to the ankles, no DVDs at home because it is wordly entertainment, and even a pastor who refused to let his congregants have a VHS video recorder to tape their family events because once you watched those videos it was “entertainment”. That was until his own children has children and he became a grandfather–suddenly he changed his views!

So no, it was not because the church I attended in Napa, CA, was the worst amongst UPCI churches. It may have even been close to moderate in those circles! But I still found the teaching there unacceptable for the very reason that I did not see it aligning with the Holy Writ!

In all reality writing this post may have been a waste of my time. It has been years since I was associated with Oneness Pentecostals and especially the United Pentecostal Church International. I graduated from Christian Life College in Stockton, CA, in 2005. I had already moved away from many of their teachings by my junior and senior years. Nevertheless, I read that discussion thread (see the whole thing here) and I thought I may as well answer for myself. Again, I have family and friends who are still part of the movement and who are told in essence that I have apostatized. So it is still a very real conflict for me even now.

In recent weeks I have been contacted by two previous acquaintances from Stockton who are still part of that sect. The first one upon learning I now attend Imago Dei here in Portland decided to invite me to his Oneness Pentecostal church here in the city. The other is coming to plant a new church in downtown Portland and once he learned I was living here struck up a conversation with me. If there is still confusion regarding my positions of doctrine let me spell it out here and now:

(1) I affirm that the One God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as outlined in the aforementioned creeds.

(2) I affirm that salvation is ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν (“out of faith, into faith” or “from faith to faith”): that it is not about “works” or “deeds”, but faith! Sole fide! Yes, those with faith will confess and yes those who faith will repent and yes those who faith will be baptized and yes the Holy Spirit will indwell those with faith. Nevertheless, this does not look like the Oneness sect outlines it.

(3) I affirm that Jesus Christ is the object of our faith. I affirm that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, full God and fully man, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord of all.

(4) I affirm that those who are being saved will exhibit the “fruits of the Spirit” as the Apostle listed in Gal. 5:22-23. I do not affirm that the work of the Holy Spirit results in exterior legalistic signs of sanctification. Therefore, I reject the doctrine of “standards” that the UPCI and similar movements place upon their people.

Finally, let me say two things: (1) I do not think that Oneness Pentecostals are heretical but heterodox. As long as Jesus Christ is the object of one’s faith, and Jesus is confessed to be God and man, there is sufficient truth involved for salvation. (2) There is something that I do see as sad. That is the dozens of friends of mine who over the years have bounced between attending Oneness assemblies and attempting to live by the strict rules only to discover that they cannot live up to those rules and therefore they go and live like the worst of pagans. Once this life is shown to be empty they want to return to Christianity but they have been told that all of those Christian churches that are not a part of the Oneness movement are false church and that there is no salvation outside of the Oneness movement. Therefore, these people go back to the Oneness assembly only to find that again, there is no way to live up to those regulations. This leads to an endless cycle of leaving and coming, leaving and coming, when in all reality there are plenty of churches all around them extending an open hand and the love of Christ, but they do not trust these churches because it has been ingrained into their minds that these churches are second tier.

Therefore the only thing I find sad is the sectarianism of the oneness movement. I disagree in doctrine but for those within the oneness movement I want to remind you that your own forbearers–men like A. Urshan and C.J. Haney–thought that God was doing something special for their movement but that God had not forsaken other churches. They would have never said other Christians are hell-bound. So yes, I disagree with you doctrinally, but even more so I disagree with your sectarian attitude toward other Christians. I think that this may be one of the first things that future ministers of that movement–some of whom I consider dear friends–must rethink. But who cares, that is just my opinion.

See also: “Why I Left Oneness Pentecostalism