Understanding Why We Think the Way We Do
By Ken Dillingham, MACM
What does the term “Truth Trajectory” mean?
The ‘Truth Trajectory’ is a term that I often use to describe the trajectory (or orientation) of the Oneness Pentecostal movement in the 20th and 21st centuries. If you trace the roots of the Oneness movement (in modern history), you will arrive at the wild and transformational times of the early 20th century. This time included the period during and immediately after the Azusa Street revival. But the real setting of the truth trajectory came in the years after the Arroyo Seco Campmeeting where the doctrinal teaching of Jesus’ Name baptism began to formulate dividing lines in soteriological teaching.
Why is it important to recognize how this “Truth Trajectory” became a part of our modern Oneness Pentecostal predisposition?
It is important because we must have an awareness concerning what has molded us as a movement and subsequently continues to shape our thinking. We arrived here as a result of the developments of the Pentecostal revivals of the last century. In that era, most early Pentecostal people had come to disdain the doctrinal and methodological staleness of the denominational church. They recognized that though there had been periods of renewal, religious traditionalism had not fully emerged out of the decay of the Dark Ages. This recognition opened their minds and hearts to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in their lives. There was an understandable struggle to reconcile these teachings with long-held orthodoxy. The Wesleyan influence on the climate leading to this Pentecostal renewal was enormous. We are aware of this historically because of the role played by Charles Parham and his little bible college at Stone’s Folly in Topeka. During this time, these newly Spirit-baptized believers generally interpreted their new experience as the full revelation of Wesley’s teaching concerning the “Second Work of Grace.” This teaching helped those who came from the Holiness/Wesleyan churches reconcile the Holy Spirit baptism as subsequent to salvation and part of the Entire Sanctification; a teaching to which they had long held.
However, also during this time, there were others who had received the Holy Ghost from faith backgrounds other than the Methodism. One of which was a Baptist named William Durham. Durham added to the controversy by introducing the provocative teaching of “Finished Work.” The debates that came from this teaching (and the subsequent revelation of John Scheppe at Arroyo Seco) were fiery. The restorationist inclination in the movement (particularly the restoration of the Book of Acts church) and the desire to find the biblical truth in their current movement opened the door to serious discussions concerning the doctrinal aspects of this joyous new experience. These debates were fundamentally situated in areas of salvation doctrine and Oneness but also surrounded the teachings of holiness and eschatology.
Ultimately, these disputes drew the lines of fellowship and the truth trajectory emerged. There were growing numbers of preachers during this period, who taught that it is imperative to look for and hold to the Truth of Scripture regardless of the consequences. They believed, based on their recognition of the Apostle’s baptismal formula, that Jesus’s name baptism by immersion should be normative doctrine. The Christology of the apostles and early believers taught that Jesus was the one true God of the Old Testament manifested in the flesh in the New Testament. Consequently it was only right based on this understanding, to reject Trinitarian doctrine. These modern Pentecostals reasoned, “If there is a right way to baptize then obviously there must be a wrong way.” “If there is a correct teaching for the full plan of salvation then other ways are not correct.” “If there is a right understanding of Jesus and the Godhead then there has to be a wrong way.” This environment cultivated an intrinsic lens that I call the “Truth Trajectory”. The strong restoration impulse was to find the “right way” – the “Biblical way” – to believe and by which fellowship should be established.
Some may ask, “Isn’t this a good thing?” The answer (where it pertains to biblical teaching and truth) is a resounding and unashamed “YES!” It is good and right to look for sound biblical doctrine, subscribe to it in faith and promote it as right and as unalterable truth. However, the lens through which we look also shades all things. This “Truth Trajectory” sometimes affects us in other ways that we may not be aware. This is the proverbial “double-edged sword” of having a strong bias–it has a tendency to affect all areas of thinking. It can be a subconscious reflex that points a person in a particular direction without even thinking about it. Again, this is a great thing when we view Scripture and truth. But sometimes our truth trajectory infiltrates our thinking into other areas outside of just doctrinal truth. It permeates into places better left to methodology and preference. Our Truth Trajectory bias sometimes causes us to look at things as “right vs. wrong” even if that “thing” is more preferential or methodological.
So What is the Real Point Here?
We must be able to recognize our bias and allow it to create balance in us. We must have the ability to hold steadfastly to fundamental truths and doctrines while not allowing our biases to bleed over into areas where we should be applying missional liberty to those who have an approach that differs from ours. This balance is something that even the early church had to learn. Just as there are now, 1st century Christians had to discover that there are certain areas that are matters of liberty and preference. Perhaps no other chapter in Scripture deals with this as clearly as Romans 14. Some believers continued to observe the old system of holy days and others viewed every day alike. Some saw meat offered to idols as something to be avoided at all costs and others had no concern about it whatsoever. Some continued to hold to the need for circumcision and others wanted to express their liberty from it. Paul’s response, ‘grant liberty in mutual respect and grace.’
This “granting of liberty in mutual respect and grace” is what is often referred to, in the 1945 forming of the UPCI, as “the spirit of the merger.” The awareness of the “Truth Trajectory” allowed the early framers of our organization to appreciate those who hold personal views while admonishing them not to contend for those views to the disunity of the Body. There are just some things that we must recognize as preferences. That grace must always permeate our fellowship. For example, new technologies are emerging and local churches are implementing them. Many have implemented modern forms of media projection, sound and lighting systems and colored lights replacing paint for wall color. Some bemoan these trends and yet recognize that they may merely desire things to be the way it “used to be.” However, there are others who lament the use of these technologies and insist that the church is showing the trend toward “worldliness.” Their reflex is to condemn it as wrong rather than identify their concern. I can remember when churches were viewed as “charismatic” if they used overhead projectors to put new worship choruses on display during worship. Ultimately, we must be able to manage the tension of appreciating a truly biblically informed concern while still making a conscious allowance for the freedom of style and preference. The use of technology in the church is just one example. There are many other areas where methods, styles, and preferences differ, but in them all, we must maintain unity. It is counterproductive to view people who use different styles as ‘wrong’ (whether for their ‘lack of progressiveness’ or a perceived ‘move toward worldliness’) when in reality they may simply have different tastes or different audiences that they are trying to reach. Our flexibility and balance in these matters cannot be overstated.
In the end, we have a beautiful opportunity. We are living in the last days. We must appreciate the beauty of the Church in all of its diversity. This is a day when, according to Paul, men will not endure sound doctrine (2Tim 4:3). We must, therefore, appreciate the Truth Trajectory that points us toward the right teachings during times of increasing secularism. And yet, we must not, out of fear of these times, apply our bias for Truth into areas of preference, style, and methodology. Ultimately, we must be about our Father’s business – the Mission. When we strike that balance, we will be the unstoppable force for end-time revival that God has always intended.