Placing Faith In The Baptizer, Not The Baptism
One Man's Exodus from the United Pentecostal Church
by David Vivas, Jr.
"Am I your brother in Christ, yes or no?" asked Dr. Walter Martin in a debate with United Pentecostal Church representatives Nathaniel Urshan and Robert Sabin, which took place on the "John Ankerberg Show" in 1985. As I sat and observed Brother Urshan's reluctance to give a direct response to the question, my mind pondered in dismay over the fact that my own General Superintendent would not answer, "NO, YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER IN CHRIST". This would have been a common response coming from a Oneness adherent to a Trinitarian believer.
I would like to share with you my experience in the United Pentecostal Church. The intentions of this article are not to bash Oneness believers, but rather to help inform the Christian Church of the dangers that exist in legalistic movements of our day.
I was raised in the Assemblies of God. My mother, who was Catholic, had intentions of sending me to the Catholic Church. My father, who was Protestant, would not allow my mother to send me to the Catholic Church. Instead, he sent me every Sunday with his parents to Sunday School at the Assemblies of God. My mother and father were saved several years later, and we attended a Pentecostal Church in a nearby city. I was involved in the church and saw 15 of my high school-friends saved. By this time I was 15 years old. At school I began encountering classmates who attended the United Pentecostal Church in our city. I had countless discussions with them on the subjects of the godhead and water baptism. After several vigorous attempts to respond to their Oneness claims and the many scriptures on water baptism, I became persuaded of their theology, and even went as far as to doubt my salvation.
Placing Faith In The Baptizer, Not The Baptism
I became very angry and bitter with my parents, pastor, and Sunday school teachers whom I thought had led me in error since I was a child. I was told by the UPC that the doctrine of the Trinity was in actuality a belief in "three Gods". They also told me that I had been baptized the wrong way. They insisted that the name Jesus Christ must be spoken over an individual when being baptized and that those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had been erroneously baptized. They asked me to show them in the Bible where anyone was baptized in the Triune formula and insisted that every instance of biblical baptism occurred "in the name of Jesus Christ", (that is, with the name pronounced over them).
I soon told my parents of my decision to attend the United Pentecostal Church. They opposed my decision. By this time I had attended the UPC on several different occasions without the consent of my parents. After becoming aware of my excursions they grew concerned. After my first few visits, I was determined to be baptized "the right way" so that I could surely be saved.
Since my attending the UPC went against my father's will, I moved out of my parents' home at age 16. As a result, I found myself living with different members of the church. Three months later, I was set up on the platform for preaching purposes.
I became heavily indoctrinated with various books and materials published by the UPC. I devoted my time to the listening of debate tapes between Oneness preachers and Trinitarians. I learned all the Oneness responses to Trinitarian theology, and became dogmatically opposed to Trinitarians. In August 1989, after being a part of the ministerial staff of the local UPC church, I became licensed with the organization. I started a prison ministry in which about 75 inmates were baptized in two years. I was very zealous with church activities.
I was familiar with Dr. Walter Martin and had obtained a number of his writings and tapes. Although I didn't believe he was saved at the time, I admired his knowledge in the area of comparative religions. Upon hearing of Dr. Martin's passing in June of 1989, I attended his Memorial service in Southern California. During the Memorial Service, I was moved by the comments made by different individuals concerning him, and was battling in my mind how I was to consider this man lost and in error, when his very life and ministry had helped so many thousands through the years. Yet, I could not compromise with what I thought was the "Truth".
I was loaned a video of the debate mentioned above which took place on "The John Ankerberg Show" ("The Trinity or 'Jesus Only': What Do The Scriptures Teach?") My first impressions of the debate left me disappointed. Dr. Martin and Cal Beisner were very thorough in their presentation and defense of Orthodox Christianity, while in my prideful opinion, the opposition delivered a poor defense of Oneness theology. So to more effectively present and defend Oneness doctrines, I began investing in scholarly works in the areas of Church History and Word Studies in Hebrew and Greek. To my astonishment, I discovered several faulty interpretations of church history as taught by the UPC. There were also a number of grammatical discrepancies of certain key passages that had gone by unnoticed and are in fact used to distort the meaning within the context of the passage.
During the last year of my involvement with the UPC, I analyzed the teachings of my local church. We were taught by our local pastor that he was going to answer for us on Judgment Day concerning our lives and personal experiences with God. We were taught that if we missed a church service, we would have to give an account to God as to why we missed. We were discouraged from attending famiuly outings on a church night. When wanting to do so, members young and old alike, had to ask permission from the pastor. More often than not, the answer was "no." "Where are your priorities," he would ask, "to God or your family?" This would engender a sense of guilt among the members of the church. Scriptures were manipulated and effectively used to intimidate members who consequently had no rights or say-so. The pastor was always right, because he proclaimed himself "the man of God" who was not to be questioned.
In my experience I wanted to attend a Memorial Service of a relative. I was asked by the pastor if it was really necessary for me to attend since it was on a church night. He answered "Let the dead bury the dead." Needless to say I was in church that night. I found that not only did he manipulate scripture and coerce the people but was in fact acting as a dictator.
There were also the extremes of legalism which exist in most United Pentecostal congregations. Men were not permitted to wear mustaches, women were not allowed to wear pants or slacks, make-up, jewelry or cut their hair. And neither could wear sleeves above the elbows. These were all considered "Holiness Standards." Television was disapproved of since it was considered "a pipeline from hell into the home." To violate any of these standards, a member was considered to be rebellious and disobedient to the Word of God, not to mention their pastor. It became a salvation of works rather than grace. If a person did not follow these standards, they could not possibly be saved. The church was governed by modern-day Phariseeism.
Looking back now, I can see the bondage of the people caused by presumed self-righteousness - which they flaunted by their "holy" attire. It became, as the Apostle Paul said, "... a form of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Another incident happened that further disturbed me. Different people from our local church left to attend another United Pentecostal Church and were informally disfellowshipped because they did so. We were taught that we must attend the church wherein we were "saved." If one left the local assembly to attend another Oneness Church, they were considered rebels and lost, thus the disfellowshiping.
I knew that this teaching was not even remotely Biblical. I then began to thoroughly re-examine the teachings of the church. These and other situations prompted me to analyze the teachings of the organization as a whole. I asked a friend of mine (who was a disfellowshipped member attending a nearby United Pentecostal Church) to once again review with me the Ankerberg debate, this time, with open hearts, open minds, and unbiased intentions.
All of the evidences given by Martin and Beisner were irrefutable. We checked out many of the references and found them to be accurate and correct. Martin explained many of the passages the UPC representatives quoted. For example in John 10:30 Jesus said, "I and my Father are one". Oneness adherents maintain that this proves Jesus and the Father are one person. Yet Martin brought out that the Greek in this passage reads: "...we are in union." (See further a Greek Interlinear Bible in this passage for the Greek word "ESMEN". It translates "we are.") Deuteronomy 6:4 was also quoted. Again Martin and Beisner explained that the Hebrew word for "one" in this passage is 'ECHAD' - meaning a compound unity.
Finally, at the end of the program Martin asked Nathaniel Urshan if all those who had been baptized in the "Triune formula" were lost and going to hell. Urshan expressed his uncertainty with a hesitant response. My stomach turned because the answer should have been an emphatic: "Yes! They are lost and going to hell." The UPC emphatically teaches that one must be baptized with the name Jesus Christ pronounced over them. Further, one must speak in tongues as the essential evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. One could not be saved otherwise. In addition, members must follow the legalism taught in their church, be it shaving off one's mustache or wearing sleeves below the elbow, or for women refraining from wearing pants, cosmetics, jewelry, and so forth. Therefore it then becomes a salvation by works, and not by grace.
What I never understood was how one who believed in the Trinity, and yet was filled with the Holy Spirit, could be lost. "How could the Holy Spirit dwell in an unclean temple?", I thought. Sins were washed away only after being immersed in water. The Scriptures did not teach baptismal regeneration as I was taught to believe. This doctrine was contrary to the biblical concept of salvation by grace.
I was deliberating at this time whether to continue with the UPC or withdraw membership. I finally decided one month later to turn in my ministerial license with the UPC. At first I questioned my decision. I felt as though my very soul was in jeopardy. But I just could not deny the evidence of Scripture. What was I to listen to? My pastor? The UPC? No! The Word of God! The Bible was clear in Ephesians 2:8-9,"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast."
I could not deny the fruit of the Spirit I saw in other Christians who were not United Pentecostal. This began to bear witness with my spirit and consequently appeased my unsettled conscience. I learned a very valuable lesson when I realized God's love was unconditional! The local UPC pastor taught members to have nothing to do with those who left the church. Upon leaving the church, I was marked "off-limits" to the general membership and considered to have reached a reprobate state. I deduced by this their love for me and former members was purely and unmistakably conditional.
The Bible encourages us to: "Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Even the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:15 "... judge for yourselves what I say." 1 John 4:1 exclaims, "Beloved, BELIEVE NOT every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Finally, we are to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 "... they searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
If you are in the United Pentecostal Church or some other form of legalistic movement, and are disturbed by what goes on, do not be afraid to stand up for truth.
The members of the local UPC church I attended looked to the Pastor as the authority figure. Mewmbers would not question his stand on any particular issue, for fear of being marked. Members could not go on a vacation or miss a church service without the pastor's permission. He became their dictator and ruled over them with unchallenged authority. The Bible does not support this. (See further, Matthew 20:25-27; 1 Peter 5:3.) If this is the situation you find yourself in, and want out, there is hope for you. I began to see that the general attitude of the UPC as a whole, likened itself to that of the Pharisees of the New Testament. They appeared outwardly to men as being holy, but their insides were corrupt and rotten. (See further, Matthew 23.)
Now that I am out of the UPC, I have found out what true liberty in Christ is. My identity is now with The Baptizer, and not with "a baptism." My sincere prayer for those who are trapped inside of a legalistic movement, such as the UPC, is for them to come out and experience what true freedom in Christ is, and that in their search for truth, they will come to know Him who is Truth.
Should you have any questions concerning my experiences before and after my decision to leave the UPC, please don't hesitate to call me at: (805) 721-1914.
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Here is the website I got this testimony from:
If he has another way to say one, I'd love to here it. I've been saying Echad for one since I was about that age.
MG, thanks for presenting "the other side". I think it's great that people are able to ferret out all positions. To be honest with you, that guys Pastor sounds like a total jerk. I actually had a similar experience with a Pastor who tried to micro manage every aspect of our life. I have also seen members and Pastors who were legalistic.
Conversely, I have met wonderful Christians, great scholars and genuinely disciplined and holy people who were members of the UPC church. Like any organization, we struggle with our humanity. While I believe that the trinity is a theologically untenable position, and that the application of the gospel (Acts 2:38) is also irrefutable, I welcome "light" shining on every aspect of the denomination I belong to. Judgement starts at the house of God and where we are being governed by false doctrines, traditions of men etc. God will take care of it. Thanks again for presenting another side of the story. I have had an opportunity to give my own personal testimony so it's sad to see that this gentlemans ended so poorly. We have had many ministers from Assembly of God and Baptist (among others) convert to UPC. I guess the bottom line is that God will judge but it sure is fun debating scripture with you.
Deu 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD:
Act 2:38 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
mg: Martin explained many of the passages the UPC representatives quoted. For example in John 10:30 Jesus said, "I and my Father are one". Oneness adherents maintain that this proves Jesus and the Father are one person. Yet Martin brought out that the Greek in this passage reads: "...we are in union." (See further a Greek Interlinear Bible in this passage for the Greek word "ESMEN". It translates "we are.")
me: From Strong's:
Jhn 10:30 I and [my] Father are one.
I  ego and kai [my] Father pater
the word for 'one' is not "esmen" but "heis"?!!!?
Lexicon Results for heis
p.s. MS is correct, 'echad' means 'one' (as opposed to...more then 1 MG?)
You are certainly entailed to disagree; AND "of course" you're going to disagree since you ARE pro-UPC.
MG, is Strongs concordance "pro UPC"? It defines "heis" as THE NUMBER 1. Is that being pro UPC?!!?
Further "unity" doesn't impact the monotheistic nature of the incarnation. Humanity and deity were ONE even though it was 2 distinct natures. Orthodoxy says as much.
You are sooo hilarious. You are doing exactly what my mock debate said. I will give you A DIRECT QUOTE FROM STRONGS, OR THE DICTIONARY, OR THE BIBLE and you will disregard it as "pro UPC". LOL.
Look, the UPC doesn't speak for me and it is not a monolithic group. I do not speak for the UPC. I disagree with it's position of people not being able to fight in the army or to own a gun. They're wrong. it's not biblical. Some whacky UPC guy was preaching years ago that you couldn't wear the color "red" because it was the color of the devil. I and other UPC ministers and friends laughed at that.
However, we are not solely defined by the sect we belong to. You are Presbyterian. Does the Presbyterian Church speak for you on all matters of faith?!? Can I state that any argument you make is just a rehashing of Presbyterian propaganda?!?
"In May, the denomination's (Presbyterian)highest court ruled that same-sex unions can be performed in church as long as they are not confused with marriage ceremonies."
Do you believe, like your denomination, that same-sex unions are OK?!!?
Should I define the Baptists by the words of gay hater Fred Phelps, or the Catholic Church by Pedophiles...NO!
I respond and comment here based on my beliefs and based on the beliefs of the church. As such, I welcome your complete critique of our doctrine, beliefs etc. I cannot promise to defend every single one of them because, I am a free thinker! I may even agree with you at times (some churches are "lorded over", there is some issues with legalism, the right to self defense is biblical etc.). So?
My problem is with broad orthodox positions (Trinity, degragation of repentance, baptism and infilling of the Spirit, unholy lifestyles, false doctrines, hidden histories etc.).
Further, your thread should have been titled "Convert from biblical Christianity to orthodox Christianity". One cannot be converted from Christianity to Christianity.
From the thread "does Jesus=God":
T"he line is drawn at the Gospel. If a religious body rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they can not be classified as Christian. Paul wrote that is you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (Affirm His diety) and believe in your heart that He rose from the dead (Resurrection) you will be saved. Both the Witnesses and the Mormon Chuch deny the diety of Christ, therefore, they cannot be classified as Christian and need to be evangelized."
me: the UPC church believes the bible is the sole authority for doctrine and is the Word of God. We confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour (in prayer, confession, repentance, baptism, worship, in all we do in word and deed), we believe that He rose from the dead, that He was man and God. We exhibit the life of people who reject sin.
So, you would reject our claims to Christianity on the merits that we don't accept the theological gyrations known as the trinity, nor stop our experience with God at confession, but seek a GREATER experience with Jesus Christ by being buried with Him and rising in newness of life via the infilling of the Spirit.
You didn't read the article very well the author ISN'T saying ESMEN means one. The author is saying ESMEN means WE ARE.
And as you have shown this word along with the Greek word HEIS together gives the reading:
WE ARE ONE.
Now according to Vine Expositroy Dictionary Old and New Testament Words the word HEIS has two meaning:
-the first cardinal numeral used to signify one as in contrast to many.
-metaphorically, union and concord.
Because ESMEN means WE ARE then the meaning of HEIS is naturally UNION. ESMEN dictates how HEIS is to be understood. This is the point of that section of the article.
So there isn't an error with the Strong's Concordance the error lies in you and your understanding (the Strong Concordance actually confirmed that WE ARE ONE is correct translation).
Also it isn't just the UPC take on the trinity that separates it from orthodox christianity but also it view on baptism.
Well, MG, Church of Christ is trinitarian but believes in the necessity of baptism. Are they heretics or orthodox.
concerning I and the Father are one. We (humanity/Spirit) are one (numerically). That is there is One union between the Spirit and Flesh. This is orthodox (see council of Chalcedon) scriptural and retains both the doctrine of the incarnation and the doctrine of monotheism. Thanks for postulating what I believe...that the Father (Deity, God, Spirit) and the Son (man, humanity, flesh) are ONE (both in unity and numerically).
Thank you David Bernard, your mind numbed robot appreciates you infiltrating my brain with that answer.
The word 'We' denotes a plurality. The word 'One' denotes a singularity. Either Jesus is saying "We two (Myself and God) are two numerically and one numerically" which is utter nonsense or Jesus is saying "We two (Myself and God) are two numerically and one in some other sense (what ever that sense may be)".
Take your pick: Jesus is either spewing nonsense or He is saying that He and God are separate in one sense (as proven by His use of the plural term 'We') and together in another sense (as proven by His use of the singular term 'one').
Jesus while praying to the Father in John 17:22 says "The glory that you [Father] have given me [Son] I have given to them [Christians], that they [Christians] may be one even as [just as, in the same way as] we are one [...]"
We, Christians, a plurality, are to be one in the same way as Jesus and God are one. Does that mean that we all metaphysically meld into one entity, into a singularity? Or does that mean we are to be in union of thought, purpose, and deed just like God and Jesus are in unity of thought, purpose, and deed?
If the former then I would like more input from you on how we go about fulfilling this. If the latter then you need to come around to seeing John 10:30 correctly otherwise you and I will never be in unity of thought and since as a man thinks in his heart so he is and out of the heart flows the well spring of life we cannot be in unity in purpose, and deed.
As we "discussed before" natures are not persons.
When Jesus says WE ARE ONE He is specifically refering to HIMSELF and the FATHER. His human nature is not speaking to his divine nature as "natures" DO NOT speak to each other only person do.
You and I are made up of flesh and spirit YET we DO NOT refer to ourselves in the plural. To do so would be incorrect and also would make the use of pronouns useless. Also our flesh nature DOES NOT hold conversations with our spirit nature. If it did them we would essentially be two persons instead of one.
Plural pronouns (we, us, our) ALWAYS refer to more than one person.
If I use the pronouns WE or US or OUR then I must be refering to someone one else besides myself and am including them in my company.
You're also misstating the Chalcedon. The Chalcedon is AFFIRMING Jesus is ONE person with TWO natures. The Chalcedon goes on to say the TWO natures are:
"without confusion, without division, without separation, without change; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the one but rather characteristics of each nature being perserved, but one and the same Son and Only begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ"
If at any time these two natures "talked" to each other than Christ wouldn't be ONE person, as the Chalcedon states, but TWO.
Furthermore the Chalcedon states that Jesus is of:
"one substance with the Father as regards to His Godhead"
So although you're trying very hard to get the Chalcedon to affirm and agree with your UPC/BERNARD position and beliefs it does NOT agree with it.
It cleary states Jesus is ONE person with TWO natures who is of ONE substance with the Father. This is classical trinitarian view.
What Tom stated:
"Jesus is either spewing nonsense or He is saying that He and God are separate in one sense (as proven by His use of the plural term 'We') and together in another sense (as proven by His use of the singular term 'one')."
...is classical trinitarianism.
The doctrine of the trinity essentially says that Jesus is distinct from the Father (and Holy Spirit) in personhood (persona) but unified with the Father in substance (subtantia).
So Jesus has a perhoodhood (personality, identity) that is distinct and different from the Father (and Holy Spirit). This is the "separate in one sense" Tom is talking about which Jesus proves and confirms with the use of the plural pronoun "we". BUT has a unity with the Father (and Holy Spirit). This is the "together in another sense" Tom is talking about that Jesus proves and confirms in the use of the word "one". This unity refers to substance, essence, purpose, thought, deed.
Not that it matters in this issue but...
In Greek the Godhead is one ousia (being, reality, essence), with three upostaseis; but even in Greek this word (upostaseis) is confusing, for it means supports, ambush, sediment, duration, origin, foundation, plan, confidence, and wealth. The linguistic cognate of upostasis in Latin is sub-stance, something that stands under. But the Latin theologians, translated upostasis as persona, and ousia as substantia.
And so mistakenly the 'orthodox' position has been rendered in English as God is one substance and three Persons, whereas the literal Greek is one reality and three substances.
So you see I am altogether not tied to the term persona. In fact I see it as the cause of much confusion regarding the formulation of the Trinity and would just as soon see it come to disuse. It is a false term brought in via error and ignorance of the correct meaning of the Greek term.