Why I'm No Longer a Oneness Pentecostal: Part One

by E.L. Anglin

The stereotypical male mid-life crisis involves young blondes, red convertibles and hair dye. My mid-life crisis was more inward focused. While I did lose weight, obtain a couple of college degrees and switch careers, the greatest change in my life was in the way I think--especially about God. And that's why I no longer self identify as Oneness Pentecostal or "Apostolic."

I was raised in Oneness Pentecostalism and later became a licensed minister within it's biggest organization, the United Pentecostal Church International. After I graduated from a UPCI Bible College, I later served as a founding, youth, assistant and children's pastor. For seven years I worked in management at World Evangelism Center and for several more I served on the Illinois District Youth Committee. All told I spent 40 years in the movement.

There are a lot of good things about "The Movement." Vibrant worship services, entertaining sermons, tight fellowship and a sense of belonging. The peculiar mode of dress lends to visible counter-culturalism; an "us against the world" mentality.

As I aged I began to notice small inconsistencies, especially related to the presentation and application of holiness standards. Scripture was mangled and misinterpreted to enforce outdated rules. As more and more people rejected those rules, what were once universal standards of the church became confined to those in leadership.

Every Oneness Pentecostal can list his or her pastor's "platform" standards. They're typically related to female abstinence from jewelry, low cut blouses and make-up. Some churches enforce a "banker" look on the men who appear on the platform. Suits, ties and short hair are necessary. You can disobey those rules and still be a member of the church, but you will never fill a leadership role.

Mind you, my issue was never with the standards themselves but with the way they were developed, presented and enforced. It's one thing to promote one's personal preferences and another to tout those personal preferences as unalterable "old paths" with origins in "God's Holy Word."

When I questioned these standards and discussed how extra-biblical they are, I experienced shunning, labeling and marginalization. I was called "bitter," "angry," "Charismatic" and worse. Conservative preachers called places where I was scheduled to speak, to discuss my "liberal" leanings. I learned very quickly that the system is valued more than its people. In "The Movement" it's okay to have questions, so long as those questions are never publicly voiced. It's okay to disagree, so long as you publicly obey the rules. Your silent acquiescence props up the error.

Years rolled by and the inconsistencies became more glaring. I noticed that standards are used as weapons. They divide the ignorant from the educated and the submissive from the disobedient. The Bible is rarely used to preach standards. In fact, standards are rarely mentioned from the pulpit. There is just a silent understanding of what's expected, most often couched in "Pastor believes this and therefore I will honor him by obeying."

I struggled with this as a lead pastor and in other ministry roles. I watched many new people leave after they figured out the real expectations of the church. Retention was almost non-existent.

I hesitated to do anything with my questions and concerns. After all, I had always heard that everyone who rejects standards eventually rejects the basic doctrine of tongues or hell, too. I certainly didn't want to go that far, so for several years I sat in misery, immersed in legalism with no way out. Discontent, and to my own detriment, I spoke against the system. Every time I publicly questioned, I lost more friends but there was a burn in me that wouldn't die. I found I simply had to say something or I was going to implode.

Eventually I did. Say something, that is. AND implode.

Of course I could never have imagined that Oneness Pentecostal standards stemmed from a wrong view of grace and faith and salvation. I could not have imagined that standards were just one branch of a toxic theological tree.

And that's where I'll pick up in part two.


This writing is the copyright of E.L. Anglin and is reprinted on this site by permission. View all of his available articles here.


Page added February 10, 2015

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