All of my Pentecostal life I have heard how the issues of baptism and the Oneness of God are joined at the hip. It’s been taught over and over again that one will not “see” baptism in Jesus’ name until they “see” the Oneness of God. That idea never sat quite right with me. I saw the connection, but did not see any logical connection. While an understanding of the Oneness of God is sufficient to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name, I do not think it is necessary to see that we are to be baptized in Jesus’ name.
One not need not believe in the Oneness of God to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism (I have heard there are Trinitarian churches that baptize in Jesus’ name, although I cannot point to any specific church). Indeed, even if God were a Trinity, it would not change the fact that the intended baptismal formula is the Jesus’ name formula. Think of prayer. The Bible is clear that prayer is to be “in Jesus’ name.” No Trinitarian argues that since God is a Trinity, one should pray “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” They accept the teaching of Scripture that prayer is to be said exclusively in Jesus’ name, and do not see that as detracting from the Trinity. Likewise, the Jesus’ name formula-if the intended formula-poses no challenge to Trinitarian theology.
The question of how many persons are in the Godhead and the question of the proper baptismal formula are two related, but separate issues. To determine the number of persons in the Godhead we examine those passages that teach us about God. To determine the proper baptismal formula we look to those passages that instruct us on that matter. When we do, it becomes apparent that the early church interpreted Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 to baptize in the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a command to baptize in Jesus’ own name, as evidenced by their exclusive use of the Jesus’ name formula in evangelism.
The Jesus’ name formula makes sense given the purpose of baptism: to identify us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (see Romans 6:1-4). In Trinitarian theology, the Father and Spirit did not die, were not buried, and were not resurrected. It was only Jesus. Therefore, even on a Trinitarian view it would be entirely reasonable to be baptized only in the name of Jesus.
I think all can agree that baptism in Jesus’ name makes more sense on a Oneness view of God, but the fact remains that both Trinitarians and Oneness believers alike can see (1) that the Jesus’ name formula is taught in Scripture, (2) that it is the authoritative apostolic interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19, (3) and that it makes theological sense to be baptized using the Jesus’ name formula given the purpose of baptism. We should continue to reach out to Trinitarians to help them understand the nature of God more perfectly, but we should not think their ability to see the validity of Jesus’ name baptism depends on their ability to see the Oneness of God.