What Is Modalism?

Question: In trying to explain the Trinity, I have read that God was “revealed in three persons.” Other say that God “eternally exists in three persons.” Is this the same thing?

My Answer: Simple answer – No. Obviously understanding the Trinity is a difficult task. It is a mystery beyond human comprehension. However the Scripture reveals great truth to us about the nature of God and can enlighten our understanding of His Trinitarian nature.

The orthodox Christian teaching regarding the Trinity is there is one God who exists in three distinct Persons, Father, Son and Spirit. It is completely true to say that God is One. It is equally true to say that God is three. The old creeds speak of not “dividing the substance, nor confounding the persons.” That means that there is only one God, one essential Being—yet He exists as in three distinct, individual Persons.

In attempting to simplify the concept of the Trinity it is easy to go to extremes. On the one extreme we can emphasize the distinct Persons to the point that we assert that there are three separate Beings, three gods. This is tritheism. All Christians would readily reject this notion. The Scriptures are explicit as to the Oneness of the Deity.

The other extreme is to assert the Unity of God to the exception of the distinction of Persons. In this scheme of things, God is so absolutely One that there are no Persons at all. This form of heresy is sometimes called Monarchianism, a word which indicates that there is only a single (monos) ruler (arche) in the Godhead. Thus, God is a solitary, absolutely unified Being. One form of this false teaching is called Modalism. Modalism teaches that the One Being of God is revealed or manifested in three forms, or three modes. There is only a single Being in the Godhead, but He chooses to make Himself known in three different ways. Usually it is asserted that He revealed Himself as the Father in the Old Testament, then as the Son (Jesus), and now as the Holy Spirit. One Being, but made known in three different ways.

The church has rightly and universally identified this as false teaching, as heresy. The Scripture account is replete with assertions that there is only one God. But the Bible is equally clear that there is One who is called the Father, who is fully and completely God. At the same time there is One who is called the Son, who is fully and completely God. And there is also at the same time One who is called the Holy Spirit, who is fully and completely God. And yet there are not three gods, there is only one God. This is the Trinity, the Tri-Une Deity.

Many well-meaning Christians in an attempt to grasp the concept of the Trinity fall into a subtle form of this false teaching. The remedy to this is a study of God, and coming to a proper understanding of His nature.

There are also those who claim to be Christians who intentionally reject the Trinity, and assert a form of Modalism as their explain for the biblical teaching on the threeness of God. An obvious example of this is the Pentecostal Unitarianism of the Oneness movement. Adherents of the churches of this movement assert that there is only one Person in the Deity, and His name is Jesus. He has revealed himself as Father, Son and Spirit, but all three are only manifestations of the One Being of God, i.e., Jesus. If for no other reason than this blatant modalistic teaching, we must affirm that One Pentecostals are truly a cult.

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