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"Answering the Charge of Cultism"

Note: This article, by David K. Bernard, was posted to AR-talk by Mark Bassett. Mr. Bassett posted the article in response to a message about a secular counter-cult organization that includes information about the United Pentecostal Church.

A response to this message is provided by E. Calvin Beisner.

From ar-talk@xc.org Thu Sep 18 18:13:48 1997
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 1997 17:13:48 GMT
X-Originally-From: mbasset@iconn.net (Mark Bassett)
To: ar-talk@xc.org

Originally from: mbasset@iconn.net (Mark Bassett)
Originally dated: Thu, 18 Sep 1997 17:13:48 GMT

On Thu, 18 Sep 1997 06:34:45 GMT, you wrote:

>Originally from: webmaster@apologeticsindex.org (Anton Hein)
>Originally dated: Thu, 18 Sep 1997 06:34:45 GMT
>This is a link update.
>OLD LINK: }HTTP://www.ex-cult.org{
>NEW: http://www.ex-cult.org/ex-cult.org/
>.Ex-Cult Archive provides:
>- General Information about Cults
>- Information about Specific Groups
>- Resources and Organizations
>- Suggested Reading and Viewing
>- Links to other Web Resources
>- The Cults on the Web
>General Information about Cults:
>- A Behavioral Definition (of 'cult') (Kevin Crawley)
>- Identifying a Cult (Jan Groenveld)
>- Lifton's Criteria for Thought Reform
>- Conditions for Mind Control (Dr. Margaret Singer)
>- Totalism & Group Dynamics (Jan Groenveld)
>- Academic Research into Cults (Jeff Jacobsen)
>Information about Specific Groups:

>- United Pentecostal Church

I do not know whether this is an appropriate way of initiating
conversation, as I am quite new to this list. Having read the list for
a number of weeks now, my best judgement is that it would be
acceptable to respond in this way.

For the record, I am a United Pentecostal Church pastor. Charges of
"cultism" against the fellowship to which I belong have been
escalating recently, by appearances. Some time ago, D.K. Bernard
addressed some such charges.

I know that some of you have certainly read it, yet I have never seen
any reaction at all. For those who have not read it, and others who
might have reserved response, here it is. I invite personal
responses, privately, even if it is deemed to be material unacceptable
for AR-talk.

    Answering the Charge of Cultism
    by David K. Bernard
    Associate Editor of Word Aflame Press

    In recent years a small but vocal group of opponents of
the Jesus Name message have sought to label the United
Pentecostal Church (UPCI) as a cult. How should we respond
to this charge?

    1. This charge stems from a small segment of the
evangelical community inspired by "ministries" who garner
their financial support by making charges of this nature and
who take their cue from the late Walter Martin, founder of
Christian Research Institute and self-styled "Bible Answer
Man." In many cases the charge is repeated by people who
have had no personal knowledge of, or contact with the UPCI,
and who have an inaccurate concept of the UPCI's beliefs. It
does not come from any mainline Christian organization, nor
is it the official position of any evangelical denomination.
Trinitarian Pentecostal groups, who have the most contact
with us, consider our views of the Godhead erroneous but
still regard us as saved.
    The National Religious Broadcasters, an arm of the
National Association of Evangelicals, has accepted Oneness
individuals and groups as members. The Society for
Pentecostal Studies, an interdenominational organization of
Pentecostal and charismatic scholars, also accepts Oneness
believers as members, and one recently served as its
president. Major evangelical and charismatic publishers
publish and market books and music by United Pentecostals.
Evangelical radio stations worldwide routinely carry
programs by United Pentecostals, including Harvestime, the
UPCI's official radio broadcast.

    2. This labeling is an unfair tactic. It is designed to
prejudice people against us, not to open dialog regarding
scriptural truth. To the general public, the word cult means
a group that is sociologically aberrant and even dangerous,
typically characterized by authoritative leadership, exotic
beliefs, manipulative methods, financial exploitation, mind
control, and rebellion against government. Our critics do
not use the word in this sense, however, for sociologically
and organizationally we are quite similar to most other
evangelical and Pentecostal churches. They actually mean
that they differ with us theologically. To be honest and
fair, they should explain their differences of biblical
interpretation with us, and let people examine the issues
for themselves.
    An editorial by Terry Muck in the February 5, 1990,
issue of Christianity Today, the leading evangelical
periodical, gave three reasons why Christians should not use
the pejorative label of cult:
(1) "The spirit of fair play suggests it is best to refer to
groups of people as they refer to themselves."
(2) "There is also a theological reason for avoiding" the
label, for it wrongly implies that certain sinners "are the
worst kind."
(3) "It simply does not work well to use disparaging terms
to describe the people whom we hope will come to faith in
Christ. . . . In fact we are commanded to love them as
    An editorial in the August 1993 issue of Charisma
magazine specifically rebuked Hank Hannegraaff, successor as
president of Christian Research Institute and "Bible Answer
Man." Editor and publisher Stephen Strang said, "The heresy
hunters are still with us. Only now, instead of stakes.,
they use their books and radio programs to destroy those
they consider heretics. . . . I'm concerned that heresy
hunting may be turning into leukemia because some cult-
watchers seem more intent on destroying parts of the body
than healing the body. . . . Hanegraaff goes way too far [in
attacking independent charismatics]. . . . It's time he
shows as much respect to fellow Christians with whom he
disagrees as he does to those outside the faith."

    3. The critics rely on the authority of "historic
Christianity" or "orthodoxy" instead of the Bible, even
though they claim that the Bible is their only authority and
denounce the use of extra biblical authority as cultic. For
instance, they say we are a cult because we do not accept
the doctrine of the trinity as defined by creeds developed
from the fourth to eighth centuries. If by "orthodoxy" they
mean anything more than the doctrines of the Bible, then
they have an extra biblical authority. If they do not mean
anything else, however, why do they not simply appeal to the
    Moreover, they are inconsistent and selective in their
appeal to "historic orthodoxy." For example, they denounce
our teaching that baptism is part of the salvation
experience, even though this has always been the majority
view in professing Christianity. Not only have Roman
Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and the theologians of the
first five centuries consistently held this view, but the
founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, did so as well. Yet
these critics, who are Protestant, do not label Luther as a
cultist. The Nicene Creed, to which they often appeal for
its doctrine of the trinity, also proclaims that there is
"one baptism for the remission of sins," yet they reject its
teaching on this subject.
    When trying to prove that their doctrine of the trinity
is the only orthodox view in history, the critics appeal to
early writers such as Justin, Tertullian, and Origen, yet
these men's definition of the trinity is considered
heretical by orthodox Trinitarians today because they
subordinated the second and third persons of the trinity to
the first. Ironically, Walter Martin was heretical according
to the ancient creeds, because he denied the eternal
generation of the Son. In short, our critics determine what
is "orthodox" not by the not by the Bible or even by the
historic creeds, but by their personal theologies.

    4. Many Christians in major denominations hold similar
or the same views. Southern Baptist seminary professor Frank
Stagg taught a doctrine of God that he acknowledged to be
essentially the same as Oneness. W.A. Criswell, past
president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated in his
commentary on Revelation that the only God we will see is
Jesus, and described Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the
same terms that Oneness believers do.
    Calvin Beisner, an ally of Walter Martin, conceded in
his book God in Three Persons, "Monarchianism is represented
today by the United ('Jesus Only') Pentecostals. . . . As
the differences between modalism and pure Trinitarianism are
rather minute, it is not surprising that a great number of
Christians in mainline denominations, including Roman
Catholicism, hold a modalistic conception of the Trinity, at
least unconsciously" (p.18). Noted Roman Catholic theologian
Karl Rahner similarly stated in The Trinity, "Despite their
orthodox confess of the Trinity, Christians are, in their
practical life, almost mere 'monotheists'" (p. 10). Many
ministers and lay persons of various Trinitarian
denominations have similarly stated to United Pentecostals
that they accept the Oneness view of the Godhead.
    A number of charismatic scholars, including Larry
Christenson, Kilian McDonnell, and David Pawson, teach that
water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are part of
Christian initiation and not subsequent to it. Evangelical
writers such as Leighton Ford and James Dunn have argued
essentially the same thing, but without associating the
baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongues. Many Trinitarian
Pentecostal and charismatics agree that water baptism should
be performed in the name of Jesus. Many theologians and
scholars, including Martin Luther and F.F. Bruce, have
acknowledged that this was the formula of the apostles.
    Our critics do not attack these teachers, because they
belong to major denominations or use traditional theological
terminology. It is not fair, however, to single us out for
views that many other professing Christians also hold, just
because we have formed our own group or refuse to use the
non biblical terminology treasured by so many.

    5. The attack on us is inconsistent with the critics'
doctrine of salvation. They commonly say they believe in
salvation in "grace alone through faith alone in Christ
alone." How does this doctrine negate the salvation
experience of the typical United Pentecostal convert? Most
United Pentecostals do not decide to join the UPCI after an
intellectual study of the Oneness doctrine. Many come to God
as children. Many come from no church background, or a
nominal church background. Typically they hear a simple
evangelistic message about the death, burial, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, believe that Jesus is their
Savior, decide to accept the offer of salvation, and come to
the altar of repentance.
    For example, I repented of my sins, believed on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and received the Holy Spirit at age
seven. At that point I could not debate Oneness versus
trinitarianism, but I knew that Jesus was God manifested in
the flesh to be my Savior, that he loved me, that I was
trusting in Him for salvation, and that I was devoting my
life to Him as my Lord.
    If someone were to make the identical response in a
Baptist church, our critics would not hesitate to pronounce
him saved, and many would argue that he could not lose his
salvation under any circumstances. How, then, could his
subsequent baptism in the name of Jesus, reception of the
Holy Spirit, and acceptance of the Oneness doctrine annul
this genuine experience with God?
    If someone professes to believe in salvation by grace
through faith but denies that our converts are saved, then
actually he must believe in salvation by faith plus a creed,
a denomination, or intellectualism. Such a position is more
exclusive than that of the UPCI, for we readily acknowledge
that people of various denominations can have genuine faith
in God and a genuine relationship with God, even before
receiving the full Acts 2:38 experience.
    On the other hand, if our critics concede that we are
saved, what justification do they have for attacking us so
vehemently and uncharitably?
    Several years ago, Robert Bowman, one of Walter
Martin's chief researchers, acknowledged to me in a
telephone conversation that most UPCI converts truly have
faith in Christ and receive salvation, but when they
progress in doctrinal study and consciously embrace the
Oneness view then they lose salvation. It is an unusual cult
indeed that leads people to salvation but then gradually
takes it away from them! Would he say the same of any other
group he considers cultic, such as Mormons or Jehovah
    Martin not only believed that some UPCI members are
saved but also that once a person is saved he can never lose
his salvation. This means he attacked those he considered
fellow Christians and sought to destroy their churches. It
would seem more appropriate to let the Lord of these people
decide how to judge these churches and deal with them as He
wills, rather than appointing oneself to that role. "Who art
thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master
he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God
is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).

    6. The critics do not recognize that we are involved in
ministry. While our critics raise money by attacking us and
feel that their "ministry" is to label us, our ministers and
churches are busy leading people to a saving and
transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. We are
restoring broken marriages and homes, strengthening
families, freeing people from sinful habits and addictions,
training people in morality, and helping them to be
productive citizens and saints. We do not fulfill our
ministry by name calling, denunciations, and anathemas, but
seek to share with the world God's great gift of salvation
that He has made available in Jesus Christ.
    We invite everyone to open their hearts and their
Bibles, for we believe that truth is its own best defense.
The Bereans exemplified the "more noble" course of action,
"in that they received the word with all readiness of mind,
and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were
so" (Acts 17:11).
    With the apostle Paul, we say, "After the way which
they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers.
believing all things which are written in the law and in the
prophets" (Acts 24:14). We remember that Jesus said, "Ye
shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Matthew
10:22). Nevertheless, like the apostles, we can go our way
"rejoicing [to be] counted worthy to suffer shame for his
name" (Acts 5:41). Despite unjust opposition and unfair
accusations, we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of
glory" (1 Peter 1:8).

Note: For further discussion and documentation of the points
in this article, see The United Pentecostal Church and the
Evangelical Movement by J.L. Hall.

From the October- December, 1993, Forward, a quarterly
magazine for United Pentecostal Church International

>----- end of article -----

MW Bassett, Pastor
Life Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church
Milford, CT
Acts 28:31, Acts 2:38

(c) 1997 Mark W. Bassett. All Rights Reserved. No part of this
material may be copied, reproduced, used, distributed or
redistributed in any form for any purpose without the express
written permission of the author. --

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