Generally, studying heresy and heterodoxy (wrong doctrine) is not the best way to learn orthodoxy (right doctrine). No doubt, we’ve all heard the ubiquitous sermon illustration that points to the supposed practice of those who work to stop counterfeiters. Those who want to be able to spot counterfeit bills don’t spend hours and hours studying all the various sorts of counterfeits. Rather, they spend hours and hours studying genuine bills so that they will be able to recognize any counterfeit. Similarly, if we give ourselves to diligent study of orthodox doctrine, we will likely be equipped to spot anything heterodox or heretical. Nevertheless, heterodox and heretical teachings cycle through the church again and again and again (there is nothing new under the sun!), and it is worth knowing some of the more important of them. In addition, sometimes it can be very helpful in clarifying and sharpening our doctrine to say things using the formula, “When I say X, I mean Y, and not Z.” My intention is that, as you read these posts, you will try to articulate for yourself precisely what is problematic about these views. I’ll conclude this brief series by offering a clear statement of trinitarian orthodoxy.
We’ll begin with Modalism. Modalism (or modalist monarchianism) is a teaching that is most often associated with a teacher in 3rd century Rome named Sabellius (thus, it is also known as Sabellianism). In an attempt to maintain a strict belief in one, undivided God, Sabellius taught that although the names “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are biblical titles for God, they are all names attached to one being. Thus God, as a single being, merely manifests himself in three different “modes” throughout salvation history. As the Father, he creates and gives the law. As the Son, he provides the atonement that redeems his people. And as the Spirit, he imparts grace and continues to guide and instruct the Church. Sabellius taught that the Son and the Spirit are but temporary modes of self-expression of the Father of all.
Modalism is a cornerstone doctrine for “Oneness Pentecostalism,” a tradition within which the extremely influential preacher T.D. Jakes locates himself.
What is incorrect about this doctrine? Is there anything intrinsically dangerous in this teaching?
NB: Today’s photo is of the China Sea, and was taken by my good friend Ginger Eppinette on a recent trip to Indonesia with her husband Matthew.