A Brief History of Community Chapel

Don Barnett preaching

Community Chapel and Bible Training Center was a Oneness Pentecostal church and Bible college south of Seattle, Washington. It began as a home Bible study in the mid-60's led by a man named Don Barnett, who later became the pastor of the church formed from the group in 1967. He was a self-taught student of the Bible who was employed as an engineer for the Boeing company before he quit to become the full-time pastor of Community Chapel. He had himself been raised by a Pentecostal pastor and had gone to one or two years of school at a small Bible college in Boise, Idaho, that had been founded during the Latter Rain revival of the 40's but which no longer exists.

By the mid-80s, the Chapel had grown to around three thousand members. Its Bible college had around 800 full- and part-time students. It had at least a dozen small satellite churches in the U.S., and one in Switzerland. It also had a large K-12 Christian school for its members.

Chapelites worshiping

The Chapel was militantly anti-Trinitarian in its theology. It taught that the church had gone wrong at the Council of Nicea, having become helplessly bound by Greek philosophy and pagan religion. Don Barnett had developed his own theology of the Godhead based on this view of history which was taught in a series of classes named "The Unfolding Revelation of God" (referred to as UROG - pronounced "YUROG" - by Chapel members). He referred to this as a "Oneness" doctrine, but it was different from the better known Oneness doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church, which teaches that the one person in the Godhead is Jesus, who is also the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as the Son. In UROG theology Don taught that Jesus' existence began with his human birth, but because of the indwelling of the Father in the man Jesus, Jesus was also fully God. This teaching of Jesus as both man and God was called the "dual nature" doctrine.

Chapelites dancing

In the early 1980's, Don and his wife began having visions and revelations that they said showed Jesus wanting to be worshipped as "the glorified Son of Man" independently of his deity - an intimate place of fellowship into which God wanted to bring the church. In 1985, men and women of the congregation were began to have "spiritual" experiences while dancing in worship with one another that they claimed fulfilled these revelations. This soon developed into a full-blown practice and doctrine known as "spiritual unions" or "connections."

In late February and March of 1988 it was publicly revealed that under the influence of this practice, Don and many of the other elders were in adulterous relationships. The resulting scandal split the church and basically brought the Chapel to an end. Upwards of 70% of Chapel marriages have since ended in divorce. Multiple lawsuits, some of which had already figured in the exposure of Don's adultery to the congregation, were brought against the church by those who had been emotionally damaged by the Chapel's practices. Several members were convicted of the sexual abuse of children.

When the elders won control of the church buildings, two or three hundred members followed Don into a new church he named the Church of Agape. It still exists as a group that meets in a rented hall in Renton, Washington, where connections are still practiced. Don Barnett has gone further into heresy and now teaches that the "dual nature" doctrine was mistaken, it was "too Trinitarian;" He now teaches that Jesus is not by nature both man and God but is only a man in whom God dwells.

The elders' church eventually changed its name to Resurrection Life Assembly, dropped the practice of connections, and removed any trace of its origins as Community Chapel. The Bible college was retroactively renamed "Pacific School of Theology," offering its courses only by way of the old library of tapes and re-issuing already-granted diplomas under the new name to any graduates who requested it in order to disguise the degrees as coming from Community Chapel, now a widely discredited name. By the late 1990's, none of the Chapel elders remained on its staff and a non-Chapel pastor was serving it. In the spring of 2006, unable to overcome the stigma of its Chapel past, it finally shut down completely and donated its property - the site of the Bible College and original church building - to another Pentecostal church. Shortly before that time, two ex-Chapel members who had never attended RLA obtained from it the old Bible college tapes and are now offering them for download class-by-class through a Web site they call the "Freely Given Online Bible College."

According to a poll taken on a Web discussion board for ex-Chapel members in 2005 - seventeen years after the collapse of the Chapel - over 70% of them still retain "Oneness" beliefs of one form or another (including the variety that holds Jesus is not God). Of these, less than a third are actually attending a Oneness church. Nearly half are attending Trinitarian churches while the rest attend no church at all. But in spite of present church affiliation, the Chapel's influence has remained strong in the lives of its former members. They remain convinced of the falsehood of the Trinity and of the truth of their peculiar doctrine in spite of having seen the only church that taught it thoroughly splintered by sin, divorce, lawsuits, and scandal. They retain a strong sense of identity from their Chapel years and the doctrine they learned there almost as if they had never witnessed the total collapse of that system.

Additionally, it is still possible to encounter people who are "ministering" its false, anti-Trinitarian version of the gospel, some of whom have founded churches or who are conducting Bible studies. Typically, they are evasive in what they teach concerning the Trinity, but they believe that the historic church is in deception on this issue, and they lead people away from Christ and His Word into an pseudo-spiritual substitute based on emotion and feelings instead. The end result of joining their group is a confused faith and isolation from the church. I know this by experience. These people are well-intended, but what they teach is a corrupt form of the real thing. It is important to know its history and recognize it for what it is when it is encountered. Two larger, current examples of ministries I know of that are heavily influenced by Community Chapel doctrine are these:

The Well - currently meeting in Fife, Washington, started by ex-Chapel member Jamie Hanson.

Overcomer Covenant Church (formerly New Heart Worship Center) of Federal Way, Washington - An independent "Oneness" Pentecostal church that has many former Chapelites as members, teachers, and staff members.