Rebuttal to Keith Tolbert’s Paper Attacking UPCI

Response to Keith Tolbert’s Paper Attacking UPCI
By David K. Benard
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this paper and especially Keith Tolbert’s personal efforts to include representatives of the United Pentecostal Church.

Without taking the time to reiterate them, I concur with J.L. Hall’s observations regarding this paper. With him, I must categorically deny that Frank Ewart or UPCI literature has ever endorsed or defended the use of extrabiblical revelation. In fact, the UPCI’s strongest criticism of Trinitarianism is that it is nonbiblical.

At a Harvard Divinity School symposium in 1984, when Tolbert offered the same argument, UPCI officials publicly repudiated any extrabiblical revelation, affirming the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the bible but not to add to or contradict the Bible. Indeed New Birth, published by the UPCI in 1984, I stated, “All doctrine must be based on Scripture alone and not on man’s traditions, creeds, or philosophies…. The Bible is the sole authority for doctrine and instruction in salvation…. We must limit ourselves to the clear teaching of Scripture” (pp. 257, 306). In view of these clear statements, why does Tolbert now repeat his erroneous charge?

The paper suffers from faulty research on numerous other points as well. For example, it says Ewart believed that trinitarianism originated in the fourth century, a statement Ewart simply did not make. To the contrary, in The Name and the Book, published in 1936 and reprinted in 1987, he stated that Christendom has used the trine baptismal formula for eighteen hundred years (p. 88).

The paper attributes a conspiracy view of church history to Fred Foster because he noted that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed teachings and writings it considered heretical. But historians commonly accept this fact, as Foster indicated by quoting J.L. Hurlbut.

The paper asserts that Marvin Arnold was the first UPCI writer to be demonstrably familiar with the Didache. but John Paterson discussed it in a widely sold booklet published by the UPCI in 1966 entitled God in Christ Jesus. Paterson said he read the Didache in 1918; then he discussed nine reasons why it must be dated A.D. 120-190 (pages 67-68).

The following statement of Tolbert about the Didache is replete with errors: “When it was discovered that the first century evidences supporting Trinitarian theology could be cited, the UPCI could no longer insist that Trinitarian theology originated after the death of the apostles, and was therefore “unbiblical”‘ (p. 6). First, modern scholars generally agree that the Didache is not a first-century document. As Cyril Richardson stated in his translation, Early Christian Fathers. “Recent study…has conclusively shown that, in the form we have it, it belongs to the second century” (p. 161).

Tolbert himself effectively refutes a first-century date for the Didache by saying that it quotes the Book of Revelation (fn. 173), which was written at the end of the first century.

Second, Tolbert wrongly imputes to the UPCI Arnold’s view that the Didache is a first-century document, even though J. L. Hall told Tolbert in 1984 that the  UPCI had refused to accept Arnold’s scholarship or publish his work, and even though Paterson had already argued for a second-century date.
Third, the UPCI still maintains that trinitarian theology originated after the death of the apostles.

Fourth, Tolberts seems to think that trinitarian language in a first-century Didache would make trinitarianism biblical. But this assumption effectively imputes scriptural authority to an extrabiblical source.

Finally, Tolbert assumes that the Didache is trinitarian. But it nowhere describes the Godhead in trinitarian terms; it quotes a trine baptismal formula, but it also refers to a Christological baptismal formula.

Page 30 erroneously states that in The Oneness of God I called into question the dating of the Didache. I did not. I acknowledged it to be an ancient document but suggested that it probably had interpolations, an opinion shared by many scholars, including translator Cyril Richardson and Professor M.B. Riddle, who wrote an explanatory note in Th Ante-Nicene Fathers. In The New Birth I argued for a second-century date (pp. 259, 266).

The paper severely criticizes S.C. McClain’s characterization of Constantine and the Council of Nicea. While McClain may have made several minor errors, his key point that Constantine guided the Council of Nicea is generally accepted. Constantine did convene the council, and he did enforce its decision. Walter Nigg observed, “Constantine, who treated religious questions solely from a political point of view, assured unanimity by banishing all the bishops who would not sign the new professions of faith. In this way unity was achieved. It was altogether unheard of that a universal creed should be instituted solely on the authority of the emperor” (The Heretics, pp. 126-27). While Tolbert tries to construe Eusebius to mean that Constantine did not preside over the council, he later defeats his own argument: “Jones rightly points out that Eusebius makes it clear that Constantine allowed all sides to express their views…commending those who spoke well, reinforcing the arguments of some and reproving others”‘ (pp. 15-16).
There are certainly grounds for McClain to question the genuineness of Constantine’s repentance from sin and conversion as of 325: he killed his son, nephew, and wife in 326, and he deferred baptism until his deathbed so that he could continue to sin in the meantime and obtain remission later. And McClain correctly perceived that the Edict of Milan started a process which soon made Christianity the “standard religion.”

The paper criticizes William Chalfant and me for relying on Alexander Hislop in discussing Babylonian roots of Trinitarianism. However, it does not address Chalfant’s much more extensive work on the origin of the Trinity, published in Symposium on Oneness Pentecostalism 1986, which cites numerous other scholars.

The paper accuses me of distorting the views of Harnack, Noss, and Hislop, calling into question not only the “trustworthiness” of my work but also my “notion of justice” (P. 33) But the evidence does not support this personal attack. I cited Harnack only three times, each time to substantiate historical facts about modalists. I did not depend upon, endorse, or misrepresent his theological views. I quoted Noss accurately, simply to establish that trinitarian ideas exist in Taoism, and did not challenge or distort his dating.

Nor did I distort Hislop’s position. I identified him as a trinitarian, thereby letting readers know that he believed that true Trinitarianism originated in the Bible. Nevertheless, Hislop stated that Roman Catholic ideas about the Trinity were false and that these distortions originated in Babylon (pp. 12-19). Since my book establishes that the Old Testament does not set forth the Trinity and that the Old Testament saints did not embrace the doctrine, I simply used Hislop for the following purposes: Hislop was correct in finding trinitarian ideas in ancient history, even though he did not realize that these ideas predated all trinitarian concepts in Judeo-Christian culture.

I am not guilty of the genetic fallacy by discussing Greek philosophical roots of Trinitarianism. The first nine chapters of The Oneness of God argue from the Scripture, and that is the sole basis upon which I concluded that the doctrine of the Trinity is incorrect (pp. 293-94). I discussed the origin of Trinitarianism simply to answer the following question: If trinitarianism did not originate in the Bible, how and why was it endorsed by Christendom?

I inadvertently contributed to some confusion by using the subheading “Pagan Origins” for a two-page section of The Oneness of God. That section not only cited pagan origins of Trinitarianism in Babylonian and Greek thought but also identified resemblances to pagan views today, and a different heading would have made this fact clearer. By citing trinities in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, I did not mean that Christian Trinitarianism is their lineal descendant. Rather, I sought to indicate that these similar ideas may have roots in a common, ancient, pagan source and that Trinitarianism resembles a pagan approach more than a Biblical one. My discussion may need clarification on this point, but I did explain my meaning to Tolbert in 1984. Moreover the next eighteen pages trace the development of Trinitarianism from Greek thought and theological speculation, nowhere trying to find contributing influences from the other religions.

The paper’s concluding paragraph is seriously flawed. First, why is it “incumbent” upon the UPCI to cite historical evidence for the continuity of the full salvation experience? We derive our teaching from the Scripture, not from church history, and its validity is not dependent upon historical inquiry. Moreover, we do not teach that “modal monarchianism” is a necessary component of the salvation experience, although belief in the true humanity and true deity of Jesus Christ is. As I wrote in Symposium on Oneness Pentecostalism 1986. “John 8:24does not demand a thorough comprehension of the Godhead as a prerequisite for salvation. It is possible and indeed likely for someone to obey John 3:5 and Acts 2:38 without a theologically accurate understanding of the Oneness doctrine” (p. 122).

Second, the paper concludes that the UPCI has not cited anyone before A.D. 180 or between the fifth and twentieth centuries who held its doctrine of “full salvation”. But the Book of Acts unequivocally demonstrates that the first-century church held the doctrines that the UPCI Articles of Faith calls “the Bible standard of full salvation”, namely, repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, chapters 10-11 of The New Birth present evidence for these experiences in subsequent history, concluding, “We find both (baptism in Jesus’ name and receiving the Holy Spirit with tongues) among the early post-apostolic fathers (1st and 2nd centuries), the early Sabellians (3rd century), and modern Pentecostals (20th century). The historical evidence also indicates that both doctrines existed among Montanists (2nd and 3rd centuries), later Sabellians (4th, 5th, 6th centuries), various “heretics” (3rd and 4th centuries middle ages), Anabaptists (16th century), Antitrinitarians (16th and 17th centuries), early Quakers (17th century), and Plymouth Brethren (19th century)” (pp. 298-99).

Third, the paper concludes that the UPCI has not shown how a second-century origin of Logos theology is compatible with an early date for John’s prologue. We affirm that John’s Gospel presents a biblical, first-century Logos doctrine. We maintain that the Logos doctrine of the second-century apologists is a distortion of biblical thought. This conclusion is supported by respected Protestant theologians such as Louis Berkhof, Otto Heick, and E.H. Klotsche. Even Tolbert would presumably reject the apologists’ characterization of the Logos as a subordinate being who had a beginning. Fourth, the UPCI has allegedly “not worked out the relation between the compilers of the Christian canon and the ‘whore of Babylon,’ who are, in their view, one in [sic] the same” (p. 37). The UPCI has never stated that the compilers of the canon are the “whore of Babylon”; this is a phrase the trinitarian Alexander Hislop used to describe the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, we believe that the fourth and fifth-century councils merely affirmed what had already been generally recognized and accepted by Christians from the earliest times. Norman Geisler and William Nix show that almost all of the New Testament books were cited or alluded to in the first generation after the apostles and were named as authentic in the second century. Moreover, between the Muratorian Fragment (c. 170) (which mentions all but four books) and the Codex Barococcio (c. 206) (which mentions all but one book), every New Testament book was named as authentic. (See A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 193.) Interestingly, Geisler and Nix contradict Tolbert’s claim that Athanasius was the first to declare the authenticity of II and III John.

We do not have to trust the doctrine of fourth- and fifth-century leaders in order to accept the Bible; at most we only need to believe that they preserved the witness of earlier generations as to the authenticity and apostolic authority of the recognized books. In fact, Protestants today do not accept some of the doctrines and practices of the fourth- and fifth-century theologians. And ultimately our faith rests in the providence of God.

In conclusion, Keith Tolbert has consistently misread and distorted UPCI sources, attributed to the UPCI views from sources it has not sanctioned, and failed to consider numerous sources that contradict his assertions about the UPCI. His paper fails to prove its concluding statement that the UPCI has “created a complex mythology to give the illusion of an ‘apostolic’ succession” (p. 37). Actually the UPCI does not feel compelled to establish a so-called apostolic succession. As stated in The New Birth, “Church history alone can never prove the validity of doctrine…. The clear teaching of Scripture is enough to tear away the shrouds of nonbiblical tradition” (p. 299).


I want to give my thanks to Keith Tolbert for inviting David Bernard and me to respond to his paper on the views of church history within the United Pentecostal Church. We have the unenviable task of criticizing the work of our host. Forgive us if we appear to be unthankful guests, but we are only trying to comply with your wish.

I am concerned that a paper on the UPCI would be presented at a symposium on cults, occults, and world religions. The paper does not classify the UPCI as a cult, but on the contrary it states that in the UPCI “a Critical philosophy of History is wholly absent” (page 35), and it concludes that “the UPCI Speculative philosophy of history is thoroughly evangelical” (page 36). Is there a hidden agenda in this paper?

Let me move into a criticism of the paper itself. First I would like to note that a bias against the UPCI is expressed through the use of harsh and misleading terms. For example, on page 3 the paper states that Foster “castigates the Assemblies of God for attempting to halt progress.” The reference in Foster has no harsh criticism or rebuke given to the officials of the Assemblies of God. (In passing, it needs to be remembered that the Jesus Name believers were still a part of the Assemblies of God at this time.)

Another example is found on page 18 where it is stated: “The UPCI has, knowingly or unknowingly, sanctioned a vicious infinite regressive enumeration when it introduced elements into the Latter Rain motif not listed in Joel’s account” (emphasis mine). The word vicious is harsh and unnecessary and knowingly or unknowingly appears to question the motive of the UPCI. Then is it not unwarranted to imply “duplicity” by McClain on page 13 by a mild disclaimer? Moreover, is it not a serious
breach of scholarship to question Bernard’s “notion of justice”? Furthermore, the attitude is condescending and it almost reveals scorn for what is judged to be inadequate scholarship on the part of McClain (page 4). One last point on this matter: the paper reveals only at most a progressive sophistication in the UPCI, but the concluding sentence in the paper alleges that the UPCI has “created a complex mythology to give the allusion of an ‘apostolic’ succession.” This concluding remark not only conflicts with the evidence in the paper but also appears to be a subjective judgment of the UPCI.

There are several details that present problems. First the paper errs when it assumes that Marvin Arnold’s book reflects the UPCI’s presentation of history. In 1984 at the Harvard Symposium, the author was informed that the UPCI rejected Arnold’s manuscript because of its faulty scholarship. After Arnold left the UPCI, the book was published by Apostolic Publishing House in Memphis. It is not enough to say that Arnold held these views when he was a minister in the UPCI, for his work was rejected. Our bookstore does not sell the book. Since Arnold’s work should not be cited in a paper on the UPCI, we ask that it be deleted.

A second source should also be eliminated from this paper. Royal Meeker has never been a member of the UPCI as a minister or layman. His tract was a private matter outside the UPCI.

Then the work of U. A. Massey was rejected by the UPCI and it was privately printed. We do not reject Massey, nor was he forbidden to teach his restorational views in the Bible college, but we are stating that his work does not reflect the position of the UPCI.

One other note in this area: Lura Frances Duprau’s Babylon: Origin of Religions was not published by the UPCI.

Then this paper uses not only questionable sources but it often misreads, misinterprets, and misrepresents its referenced sources. We will look at a few examples.

On page 4, the paper refers to Ewart’s use of Isaiah 28:20: “For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it: and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.” Ewart wrote that after he received the Holy Ghost he returned to his pastorate of a Baptist church, but he was uncomfortable. He said that the Spirit directed his attention to Isaiah 28:20 and read it. He said that the verse described his situation: “This was precisely my position. I was uncomfortable, and was very relieved when asked to resign.

“Since that time, the Lord has shown me that the above passage describes every creed formed and every system of theology invented since the days of Constantine, when the ‘faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ was lost. All creeds and man-made theologies have proved deficient and unsuited to meet the needs that they were formed to solve.” The author of the paper makes more of this than did Ewart, for Ewart did not discover “an extremely important historical truth” but a spiritual principle that would apply to creeds and man-made theologies–which he explained. Moreover, the paper falsely states that “clearly, Ewart believed that the doctrine of the Trinity originated sometimes after Constantine ‘took over’ the church.” On the referenced page in Ewart, there is no discussion of the Trinity; in fact the entire section discusses the Holy Ghost experience in early church history. Then the statement that “Ewart also recognized Tertullian’s writings as scripturaly authoritative” is completely false (emphasis
mine). I challenge the author to find where Ewart ascribed to Tertullian’s or any other non-biblical writings scriptural authority. This is what Ewart wrote about Tertullian on the cited pages: “Tertullian carries us over into the middle of the second century with his writings concerning the spiritual gifts. He was concerned primarily with ‘the operation of the power to speak in strange tongues” (pages 51-52). At best the paper is guilty of careless scholarship On page 4, the paper again reveals a lack of attention to its source. It states: “We must expose the fact that documentation supporting McClain’s view is conspicuously absent” (emphasis mine). In truth, McClain documented his view with four references: Bible Encyclopedia, page 392; Neander’s History of the Christian Religion and Church, Williston Walker’s A History of the Christian Church, pages 57-58, and Rowe’s History of the Christian People, page 74. It appears that this paper is conspicuously flawed by a lack of fidelity to its sources.

Perhaps the paper’s most serious misreading and misrepresentation is found on page 11. The paper quotes a statement by Ewart: “The theology of both the early church and the present day church was inseparably linked with the experience of the recipients. As the early church, we of the present day church believe that ‘God is One.”‘ The paper misinterprets this statement to be “one of the clearest statements defending extra-biblical revelation in UPCI literature.” Note that Ewart does not say that the experience leads to “Oneness theology,” but he states that doctrine are inseparably linked and gives one example in the quoted material–that God is one. There is not the slightest hint of extra-biblical revelation in this passage to the unbiased reader. Ewart and all Oneness Pentecostals base their doctrine on the Bible, not on experience. Moreover, there is no defense of extra-biblical revelation in Oneness literature. If this is the “clearest statement defending extra-biblical revelation,” then it is obvious that there are none in the UPCI.

In 1984, the author was told that the UPCI rejects all extra-biblical revelation and our literature reflects this position. The UPCI has only one Book, the Bible, that is recognized as divine authority. The Preamble of the Articles of Faith states: “The Bible is the only God-given authority which men possesses; therefore, all doctrine, faith, hope, and all instructions for the church must be based upon and harmonized with the Bible.” The literature and history of the UPCI reflect this truth. We have no other inspired writings or prophetic insights, not even the extra-biblical creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries. Why, then, does the author continue to contrive extra-biblical revelation to the UPCI?

The author should also be corrected on his statement that the Oneness conception of the Godhead is traced to “Frank J. Ewart’s Acts 2:38 sermon delivered in Belvedere, California, 15, April, 1914” (page 23). He again misreads his source, and in the footnote he reveals his bias attitude: “It is both interesting and suspicious that the UPCI has edited this reference out of their most recent edition of Ewart’s Phenomenon of Pentecost.” First, Ewart’s understanding of the Oneness of God began at a camp meeting in 1913 when a minister preached that the apostles always baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and not in the traditional formula (Ewart-original, P. 76; revised, p. 108). It should be noted that on April 15, 1914, Ewart preached on Acts 2:38, not on the Godhead. There is no reference to the oneness of God at this event. It should also be noted that no contemporary or later Oneness leader credits Ewart as the founder of the Oneness concept of the Godhead. Moreover, the UPCI does not recognize Ewart or any other person as the founder of the movement.

The paper also misrepresents Chalfant on page 30, and this also reveals a bias and an almost arrogant attitude by the author. He claims that Chalfant, “for no historically founded reason attributes selective accuracy to the writings of Irenaeus.” The author is correct that Chalfant accepts Irenaeus’ account of Polycarp’s visit to Rome and that Chalfant questions Irenaeus’ claim to be a disciple of Polycarp, but Chalfant gives historical reasons: there is no contemporary confirming evidence, including that of Polycarp, and that Irenaeus taught a different doctrine from that taught by Polycarp. The paper may disagree with Chalfant, but it cannot say that Chalfant gave no historical reasons. Moreover, the paper goes beyond Chalfant’s discussion; Chalfant does not “contend that this account is historically inaccurate.” He questions it, but he admits that it may be true: “If it is true….”

This paper also incorrectly criticizes Chalfant for not mentioning Harnack’s conclusions concerning a late date for the Logos doctrine (page 33). It should be noted that the reference in Chalfant does not mention the Logos doctrine. Chalfant does use Hamack as a historical source since Hamack is known as “the greatest expert on the early church Fathers in his generation” (Tony Lane, Harper’s Concise Book of Christian Faith, p. 174), but he does not subscribe to Hamack’s liberal theology or to his method of historical criticism. I found no place where Harnack’s theology of the Bible is reflected in UPCI literature.

On page 36, the paper again misrepresents its source. It states: (Although they [UPCI] would assert that Oneness Pentecostals are ‘members only.”‘) The source for this remark is the UPCI Articles of Faith, page 7, on which appears the section “Fundamental Doctrine,” which reads as follows:

“The basic and fundamental doctrine of this organization shall be the Bible standard of full salvation, which is repentance, baptism in water by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking with tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.

“We shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of the faith, at the same time admonishing all brethren that they shall not contend for their different views to the disunity of the body.”

We should note that the above UPCI statement does not refer to the church but to the UPCI organization; there is no reference to the oneness of God or to “members only,” and there is no exclusive clause in this statement or any other in the UPCI official literature. The UPCI believes that a person does not have to understand the Godhead to be saved, only that he believe in the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, some trinitarians would like to exclude Oneness believers from salvation, but where in the Bible does it demand that a person believe in the Trinity? It should be noted that many trinitarians approximate the belief of Oneness believers–that God has revealed Himself as Father in creation and as the Father of Jesus Christ, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in believers as the Holy Spirit.

There are other examples of problems in the paper, but enough has been given to reveal that it fails to reflect good scholarship. Perhaps the author could correct the paper before it is presented again at a symposium.

This response concludes that this paper exhibits a bias tone, reveals careless scholarship, and fails in its thesis statement: “That their [UPCI] apologetic motive unduly influences their objectivity to the extent of undermining their credibility and ultimately, their apologetic itself.” If the hidden motive of this paper is to discredit the UPCI in the eyes of others by labeling it a cult it could achieve this goal only by someone ignoring the misrepresentations of the paper.

One last remark. Although the author uses the term
“Apostolic Succession” to include the doctrinal succession in addition to its usual meaning of an ecclesiastical succession of bishops, we do not accept this term as an adequate description of our view of history. The term is misleading to the average person. It also suggests that a succession of doctrine has occurred in history–that is, that one group passed the doctrine to a succeeding group, a position that we do not hold. The belief in the continuing presence of the apostolic experience in history does not demand a historical construction of a succession. It only requires enough evidence to reveal that Jesus Name baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost did not cease with the Apostolic Age. This evidence has been documented in David Bernard’s book, The New Birth, and to some extent in Chalfant’s work, Ancient Champions of Oneness. It is also evident in the UPCI.

Thank you for surveying the various views of history in the UPCI. Admittedly, we have only begun to think our way toward a historical perception that is consistent with the belief in the oneness of God the practice of water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

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