As a Pentecostal I often get many questions about our beliefs. People have many questions about Pentecostalism. One of the most common ones I get asked is “do Pentecostals believe in the trinity?”.
So, do Pentecostals believe in the trinity? Yes, the vast majority of Pentecostal denominations believe in the Christian dogma of the trinity. Pentecostals affirm the first seven ecumenical councils and all Christian orthodoxy, including the trinity of God.
There is actually a pretty interesting history around the trinity and Pentecostals. The movement has garnered a lot of controversy over the years based on this topic. Let’s start at the beginning:
What is the Trinity?
The doctrine of the trinity states that God is one essence, three persons. While Christians have always affirmed the 3 persons of God, the term trinity hasn’t always been around. In fact, it wasn’t until about 325 C.E. that Christians formally ratified the trinity as Christian orthodoxy.
The issue that certain sects have with the trinity is twofold:
- It seems to contradict the Bible.
The Bible pretty clearly states that there is only one God. Verse like Deuteronomy 6:4 which states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one”, and 1 Samuel 2:2 says, “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God”. If you only look at these two verses, it seems pretty clear that the trinity can’t be a thing, right?
There was actually quite a lot of debate in early Christianity about whether or not the trinity was even possible, with many citing verses like these. And since the term trinity isn’t in the Bible, some people have questioned it over the years. The early church spent a couple hundred years arguing back and forth on different ideas of the trinity. The difficulty lies in the word’s absence from scripture. Which brings me to my second point.
- It is never explicitly stated in scripture.
You won’t find the word “trinity” in the Bible anywhere. Go ahead and look for yourself, I’ll wait.
Nothing, right? That’s because it’s just not there. You can scour through the Old Testament and the New, but you won’t find mention of the trinity. The concept of the trinity wasn’t formulated until after the Apostles to try and explain some strange occurrences in the Bible.
The trinity exists because even though the Bible states that there is only one God, there seems to be instances where there are several persons claiming to be that one God. For example, in Matthew 3 with Jesus’ baptism we have three people who claim divinity. We have the Spirit who appears like a dove, Jesus who repeatedly claims to be God in the New Testament, and God the father who claims Jesus as his son.
The way that Christians have ended up understanding this is the doctrine of the trinity.
Have Pentecostals Always Believed in the Trinity?
The Pentecostal movement has existed since roughly 1906, and while there have been some disagreements and strange beliefs, Pentecostals have for the most part always believed in the trinity. Pentecostalism didn’t seek to upset Christian orthodoxy.
The movement was mainly focused around spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer (one of the persons of the trinity). And since the movement has placed a heavier emphasis on the Holy Spirit than traditionally, in many ways they must work harder to affirm the trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit than other denominations.
Since its emergence in the early 20th century, Pentecostalism has affected other branches of Christianity. Today the term “Charismatic” is used to describe any church or denomination that is not Pentecostal but has adopted many of the beliefs and practices of Pentecostalism. There are Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Orthodox charismatic movements.
All of these denominations mentioned affirm the doctrine of the trinity and Christian orthodoxy. Since the 1960’s, Pentecostalism has been for the most part universally accepted by mainline Christianity as a legitimate and valid expression of the faith. Despite certain individuals’ disagreements, all denominations recognize Pentecostalism.
Where did This Idea That They Don’t Come From?
In the early days of Pentecostal denominations, there was a split because of the doctrine of the trinity. A small portion of Pentecostals split off from the main movement because they believe that Jesus alone is God and that God is one person. This movement became known as Oneness Pentecostalism or the Jesus Only movement.
The beliefs of the Oneness movement are similar to historical Modalism, which states that there is only one God, but that God expresses himself with different masks or “modes”. Oneness Pentecostals claim essentially the same, that Jesus is God and he manifests himself as the Father or the Spirit depending on the situation.
The mainline Pentecostal movement denounced this belief and so the two churches split off from one another. Modalism has been denounced as a heresy: an incorrect teaching that makes salvation impossible. So many denominations today see Oneness Pentecostalism as a cult and not a Christian denomination.
Today the Oneness Movement has several smaller denominations within and claim to have about 24 million world-wide adherents today. These are split into several smaller churches such as:
- Apostolic Assemblies of Christ
- Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus
- Apostolic Gospel Church of Jesus Christ
- Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God
- Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ
- Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ
- Christ Gospel Churches International
- Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith
- Pentecostal Assemblies of the World
- True Jesus Church
- United Pentecostal Church International
But despite the movements number seeming like a large amount, it only makes up about 4.8% of the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Meaning that more than 95% of Pentecostals believe in the doctrine of the trinity. Overall it is pretty safe to say emphatically that yes, Pentecostals believe in the trinity.
Why do People Still Think That Pentecostals Don’t Believe in the Trinity?
Since its birth out of revival in the early 1900’s, Pentecostalism has been subject to a lot of ridicule and mockery. If you google “Pentecostals Bad?” right now, I’m sure a plethora of articles will pop up claiming that “Pentecostalism is demonic” or “Pentecostals deny scripture”. Despite all these claims being wildly untrue, exciting lies tend to not die easy.
In 2013, pastor John MacArthur wrote a book titled Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. This book was a direct critique of the Pentecostal movement. In the book, MacArthur claimed that Pentecostals secretly worshipped demons, blaspheme against God, and joyfully butcher scripture. Even though this book was almost universally panned by Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals alike, it was incredibly popular and influenced many people.
Unfortunately, this book perpetuated many age-old myths about Pentecostalism. One of these myths being that Oneness Pentecostals and Pentecostals are essentially the same. This wasn’t the first critique of Pentecostalism that spread misinformation and it certainly won’t be the last. When it comes to the Pentecostal movement, the old adage “one bad apple spoils the bunch” has proven too true.
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