One of the fundamental issues with Oneness Pentecostalism is their hermeneutical approach to understanding scripture. Unfortunately, it is a poor hermeneutic. Despite their protestations to the contrary, everything starts and finishes with Acts 2:38. All other scripture is viewed through the lens of Acts 2:38, which does not bring clarity but distorts their understanding of the gospel. If a passage does not fit within the model of Acts 2:38, its meaning must be contorted in order to fit their soteriology. Rather than understanding Acts 2:38 within the broader message conveyed by scripture all scripture is understood and interpreted through the lens of Acts 2:38.
In looking at David Bernard’s statements regarding repentance and baptism, he makes abundantly clear that repentance is insufficient to result in the remission of sins but relies on passages such as Acts 2:38 and 3:19 to argue that baptism must follow repentance in order to effectuate the remission of sins. By repentance, one has had a change of mind, a change of direction and expressed sorrow for their sins but the sin remains and must be dealt with. The only way to deal with the presence of sin in one’s life is to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order that those sins may be removed and forgiven.
The book of Acts examples make clear that baptism was viewed as important by the New Testament church. Baptism always appeared to follow immediately upon a confession of faith in Christ. The question must be asked of Oneness Pentecostals, were these people baptized because they were saved or in order to be saved? What was their standing with God at the time they turned to God, repented, and confessed faith in the work of Christ?
In the Oneness view, they had merely repented or turned to God but were still stained with sin and unsaved. The individuals they saw in the book of Acts who had repented (and even received the Holy Spirit, in the case of Cornelius and his household) remained in a lost state until they were baptized. They were baptized in order to be saved. They were baptized in order for the remission of sins to be effectuate in their lives.
Further, they were baptized because they must be born of water in order to be born again and see the kingdom of God. They were baptized to identify with the burial of Christ and to bury their old nature and to walk in the newness of life. Unless you are baptized you have not put on Christ. Further, you must be baptized in order to identify with your spiritual circumcision and being a part of the new covenant. Each of these assertions by Bernard are examples of proof-texting and, in many cases, argue against the position that Bernard is using these passages to defend – the essentiality of baptism to our being made righteous before God.
The fundamental message of the gospel is that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It has been said that the repentance, which is a turning of direction, a changing of the mind away from sin and turning to Christ in faith are opposite sides of the same coin. When we turn by faith to Christ and place our confidence in Him and His completed work for us on the cross this necessarily involves repentance of sin – the turning away from sin and turning to Christ. In making such a turn, our sins are imputed to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to us. We are justified (declared not guilty, declared righteous) by grace through faith and not by works. When we stand justified by faith we have peace with God and we are able to stand before him and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5)
We are not justified by faith and baptism or faith, baptism and speaking in tongues or anything else for that matter. Yet, this distorted view of the gospel turns the gospel from being a God-oriented message of salvation to a man-oriented message. This leads to a number of other problems in the thinking of those that are trapped in this man’s performance view of salvation. For man, in his fallen state, is simply never able to measure up. There is no true freedom and rest in Christ when man is busy measuring what he is able to do rather than focusing on and being thankful for what God has done. This man-centered mentality has the further dangerous consequence of denying glory to God by shifting the cause of our salvation away from God, Christ’s life and death on the cross and shifting it to corruptible man – away from creator and lifting up the creation.