Australia’s top rugby player Israel Folau made headlines earlier this year for breaching his $4 million contract with Rugby Australia due to a social media post in which he expressed his belief that homosexuals will go to hell. Folau reached out for financial support to fight what many Christians across Australia considered a religious freedom battle. Now, however, more information is surfacing about the church Folau belongs to and the unorthodox beliefs they perpetuate.
The Truth of Jesus Christ Church Sydney
Folau’s father, Eni, is the leader of The Truth of Jesus Christ Church (TOJC) in Sydney, Australia. The church currently has a congregation of about 30 people, many of whom are relatives of Israel Folau. The church regularly posts videos to their Facebook page from their Sunday services. Israel Folau has preached from the pulpit a number of times, occasionally speaking about the ordeal with Rugby Australia.
There is also video footage of men in the church baptizing people “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This may not seem all that significant, but the particular practice of baptizing people with this wording “in the name of Jesus Christ” instead of baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” which is the wording Jesus used (Matthew 28:19), is indicative of oneness theology. Oneness theology teaches that there is only one correct way to baptize people, stating Jesus’ name only, and that God is not three distinct entities but rather one being.
What Is Oneness Theology?
In January of 2018, Folau responded to a tweet in which he expressed this unorthodox view of God this way: “Jesus Christ was the vessel of God, God is a spirit. He formed the body of Jesus Christ and was in him. And the holy spirit is the characteristics or functions of God. But it’s not 3 or the Trinity but just him alone. Isaiah 43:10.”
This is an expression of what is called modalism; a teaching that is nearly as old as the church itself and rejects the Trinity as expressed in the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds. The Truth of Jesus Christ Church in Sydney (TOJC) where Folau attends and teaches, has confirmed that they teach that “God is ONE”–meaning that he cannot be understood in any sense as three.
Modalism has taken on different shapes over the course of church history, but collectively these various forms seek to preserve monotheism or the “oneness” of God by expressing the Father, Son and Spirit as “modes” of God. Roughly speaking, this means that in order to achieve certain things, God sometimes works as the Father, sometimes works as the Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit. God the Father is incarnated as God the Son, the Holy Spirit is an active expression of the one God who is spirit.
Other famous Christians who subscribe to a form of modalism include T.D. Jakes. However, where TOJC differs from Jakes’ theology is their respective beliefs about the speaking in tongues debate. Oneness Pentecostalism, which could be used to describe Jakes’ beliefs, says speaking in tongues is a significant sign of salvation. In other words, if you don’t speak in tongues you have not received salvation. TJOC, on the other hand, does not believe one must speak in tongues in order to be saved.
Folau has said that his church does not fall under any one denomination, rather that the church is simply following “the truth of God from his reliable source the Bible.”
Other Concerning Beliefs
In addition to their views on the nature of God and baptism, TJOC also takes other potentially controversial stances, and they do it in a way that indicates if you do not agree with them, you are not reading the Bible correctly. For one, a recent sermon featuring Israel’s cousin, 20-year-old Josiah Folau, emphatically states that female pastors go against Scripture. “If you believe in women preachers,” Josiah says, “Satan’s got you.”
Josiah, who frequently preaches at his uncle’s church, has recently been let go from his teaching job at a Catholic school in Sydney. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Josiah worked as a tutor and boarding house supervisor at St. Gregory’s College. St. Gregory’s became aware of Josiah’s involvement in the controversial church and some comments he’s made about Catholicism.
An email Josiah wrote to a visitor of TJOC stated his belief that “Roman Catholicism is masked devil worship,” and that “The blasphemous Catholic mass is a paganistic ritual rooted in heresy, evil and devil worship.” The headmaster for the school, Lee MacMaster, says they met with Josiah and that he “made the decision to discontinue his casual employment at St. Gregory’s College.”