Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Church Leaders Fear School Move

Bit of an old story (4 months) here, but still relevant.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Distinction and Separation in the Trinity

Why use 'distinction', instead of 'separation' in relation to how the Three Persons subsist in the One Divine Essence? This is a question of semantics, but I prefer, along with most thinking Trinitarians, to use the word 'distinct' as opposed to 'separate' for good reasons.

We prefer not to say that these Persons are separate, lest we undermine the truth that there is one and only God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not separated from each other. This would be Tri-theism, not Trinitarianism. They share the one divine substance (to use feeble, human words), or each one has the fullness of God.

As the Athanasian Creed says:

3. Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

Note that we also don't "confound the persons": there is a real distinction between them.

And again the Westminster Confession:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. (WCF 2:3)

As I have stated elsewhere, I don't quote these as having inherent authority, but as expressing what I believe to be Scriptural truth.

Again, this is semantics; if someone says that they believe in separate Persons in the one God, then they probably mean the same thing, but I think that the word 'separate' can be misleading and is not as accurate.

There is an interrelation and unity between the Three Person that is a mystery to us, i.e. it is hidden from us and beyond our knowledge:

"I and My Father are one." (John 10:30)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29)


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Against Modalism 9: The Divine Son Sent by the Father from Heaven to Save the World

John 3: 13,16,17
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man… For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

John 7:29
But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.

1 John 4:14
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins… And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world.

Here we are told that the Son of Man came down from heaven. He was sent into the World by God – that is God the Father. How can we explain this? Given that we know that the Son is God, then only the Trinitarian view that both the Father and the Son are distinct persons within the Godhead makes any sense.

God in His love sent His only begotten Son to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21) and with them the rest of Creation (Romans 8:19-22).

John 6:38-51,69
For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.

Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven... What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?

Again, we see in this passage that the Son was sent from heaven by the Father; for heaven was where “He was before”. The Son is not merely the humanity of Christ; neither can He be the Father in another manifestation, for it is the Father who sends the Son. So again, we see that only the Trinitarian view of God makes sense in light of this evidence.

John 3:31-36
He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Moreover, in this next passage, not only do we see the Son sent from heaven from the Father, but we see the Spirit as distinct from God. How can this be? The Father stands here in the economic Trinity on behalf of the whole Godhead in sending the Son to bring everlasting life and giving the Son the Holy Spirit to sustain Him in His humanity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, but the One God, committed to His people's salvation.


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Against Modalism 8: The Eternal Son 3

1 Corinthians 8:6
yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

Here again we see Jesus Christ described as the one through whom are all things and yet He is described as distinct from the Father, so again His pre-existence is affirmed.

‘Ah, but what about “one God, the Father”?’ say the Modalists. Fair point, but given the evidence against the Modalist position, can it really be affirming their position?

The reality is that this statement says too much. Modalists come in various shapes and sizes (modes?). For those who believe that there is one Divine Person who is manifested in different forms, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is a problem. If God is restricted to “the Father” in this sense, then God must be restricted to the Father mode, i.e. there can be no God the Son mode, nor any God the Holy Spirit mode.

Even for other Modalists, a similar issue exists: whatever way you try to use a “God = The Father” as opposed to “God = The Son” or “God = The Holy Spirit”, you’re still placing a restriction that destroys your ‘Oneness’ theology.

So what does “one God, the Father” mean? The word Father in relation to God is used in various senses: one is the Divine Person who bears a relation of Father to the Divine Person called the Son; another is of God as the Father of His adopted children (believers); and lastly, God as ultimate progenitor of all things, or God as Creator.

In this last sense, God is described in this passage as Father, or ultimate progenitor. He is the one ”of whom are all things”. This is especially relevant to the pagans in the preceding verses, who generally conceived of an Ultimate ‘One’ who is Father, or Source, of all (Acts 17:28,29), including the multitude of so-called gods; yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him. There are no other ‘gods’.

To those who use this verse to deny the deity of Christ, they should consider these verses as a sample: Matt. 1:23; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:12; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20.

Again, lest my main point be lost in answering the objection, here we see Jesus Christ described as the one through whom are all things and yet He is described as distinct from the Father, so again His pre-existence is affirmed.


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book on Oneness Theology

I've come across this book in my investigations. It can be previewed here and it looks like a valuable resource for anyone considering the debate between Trinitarians and Modalists. (I regret to say that I don't have it as yet!)

The same gentleman has a website on the subject here.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Against Modalism 7: The Eternal Son 2

Romans 8:3
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh…

As far as I understand it, Modalists usually regard “the Son” as the human manifestation of God, when the Father became incarnate in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. This humanity is what was begotten in time by the divine power of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

However, in this passage we see the Son being sent in the likeness of sinful flesh. Clearly “the Son” is personally distinct from the Father (otherwise how could God send Him?), and the Son existed separately from human flesh and prior to His Incarnation (otherwise what does sending the Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” mean?).

John 5:18
Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

It is in the Son’s relation to the Father as the divine Son that He is equal with God. It is this divine Sonship, not a supernatural birth produced without a human father that is the problem for the Jews (and for Modalists).

John 6:38
For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, states here that He came down from heaven. This cannot refer to the humanity of Christ, yet it cannot refer to the Father as He also says that He was sent to do the will of Him who sent Him. He who sent Him and whose will He did is personally distinct from this divine being from heaven.

Galatians 4:4
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…

Again, this passage repeats the fact that God the Father sent the Son from heaven, and that this Son was not the humanity, because why would it be remarkable to say that a human was born of a woman?

1 John 1:1-3
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us — that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus as the ”Word of Life” was ”from the beginning” and thus eternal, and yet He was distinct from the Father (”with the Father”).

Isaiah 48:12-16
”Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens. When I call to them, they stand up together.
All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; He shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper.
Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me.

Here “the First" and "the Last”, the One who “laid the foundation of the earth” and “stretched out the heavens”, the One who speaks here in the days of Isaiah, and who says, “from the time that it was, I was there”, says, ”And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit have sent Me.”

Clearly this is the eternal God, the creator of all things, and yet He is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and is sent by them. This is the eternal, divine Son, not His temporal humanity, which accords perfectly with the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hebrews 1:1,2
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds…

The Son is the one through whom the Father made the worlds. “The Son” as the Son was present at the creation of the universe and was distinct from the Father.

Hebrews 1:5-8
For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”? And again: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”?
But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”
And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.” But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Your kingdom.”

The Firstborn is brought into the world. This clearly refers to the Son existing prior to His birth and as having an origin in heaven.

Again, to the Son the Father says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever…” The Son is not merely the humanity of Christ. This is not Thomas speaking to the God-man, but the Father referring to the Son.

(Modalists often use v. 5 to claim that the Son is born only in time. Some Trinitarians would say that the “today” is in eternity, e.g. Augustine. I would be inclined to think that it does refer to His Incarnation given the context of Psalm 2 concerning the Mediatorial Kingship of the Messiah. A temporal birth (which He clearly had) does not preclude an eternal begottenness. Trinitarians do not use the term Son to refer only to His divinity, but the totality of who the Son is: His undivided personhood as God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. However, my focus is not on this verse, but the other ones.)

Hebrews 7:3
…without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God…

Here Melchizedek is compared with the Son in that he almost appears to be eternal. Melchizedek of course isn’t, but the Son clearly is from this passage.

1 John 5:7
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.

Although this is a disputed text, yet I am personally persuaded that it is original and thus I quote it. (See here for an example argument.) It is clear what it says.

If you reject the above reading because of a belief in the superiority of the Alexandrian text-type or eclectic considerations, then try this for an Alexandrian reading:

John 1:18
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

Need I say more?


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Against Modalism 6: The Eternal Son 1

One of the great distinctions between generic Modalism (apologises to Modalists who differ) and Trinitarianism is the following:

  • Modalists believe that God the Father became incarnate in the humanity of Jesus Christ and that the Son became begotten in time at the point of the Incarnation. The Son is the "incarnate mode" of the Father. God is eternally one person.
  • Trinitarians believe that the one God has eternally consisted of three distinct persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son has existed eternally as God. Only the Son became incarnate, when "the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever." "Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul,being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin." (Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 21, 22).
I will try to show from Scripture that this orthodox belief is correct and the Modalist heresy is wrong. This will be a fairly simple exposition of these texts as I'm not writing a book, nor do I have the time.

John 1:1-3,14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here we see that there was a person called “The Word” who was with God and yet was God. The Word is thus shown as both God and yet distinct from God. This Word is the only begotten of the Father, i.e. the eternal being called “the Word” is not the Father.

Who is “the Word”? Verse 14 and the rest of John 1 make clear that the eternal Word was made flesh as Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.

Also, all things were made through the Word, so if the Son only came to exist at the point that Jesus’ humanity was conceived, then how could this be?

This shows both that the Son is eternal, very God and yet distinct from the Father.

See also here.

Colossians 1:15-17
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

Again, all things were made through the Firstborn, so the Son did not begin to exist at the Incarnation. This repeats the theology of John 1, that all things were created by, through and for Him. Not only did the Son (as distinct from the Father) create all things, but all things were created through Him.Who was creating through the Son? It was the Father.

See also here.

John 17:5
And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Christ was with the Father before the World existed. He is shown as present in eternity and yet distinct from the Father.

See also here.

Philippians 2:5-11
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Christ was “in the form of God” and yet “equal with God” before His Incarnation. He was divine, distinct from God in some sense and yet equal with God. This glory that He had with the Father from all eternity he laid aside to take upon himself the “form of a bondservant” and “likeness of man” in His humiliation.

Paul clearly quote from Isaiah 45:23,24, where Yahweh says, “[T]o Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.” All will declare Christ to be the Lord, or ‘Kurios’ in the Greek, which was the translation of the Hebrew ‘Yahweh’ in the Greek version of the Old Testament, due to the sensitivity about the divine name Yahweh among the Jews.

So Yahweh declares before the Incarnation something about Himself, which will happen in the person of Christ. This will be to the glory of the Father as distinct from Jesus Christ, whom all will confess is Yahweh.

All of this aligns perfectly with Trinitarianism which believes that Christ is the eternal Son of God, who is God, and yet distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. We believe that He joined to His divine nature a fully human nature, and that He will continue to have this divine/ human nature to all eternity.

See also here.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Against Modalism 5: Is Trinitarianism Pagan?

Apart from portraying Trinitarians as believing in three Gods, Modalists and other Unitarians attempt an ad hominem fallacy by asserting that Trinitarianism comes from paganism, i.e. guilt by association. Even if paganism had such an idea, it would not invalidate the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. The reality is that such a concept is utterly alien to paganism.

Some Modalists, that I have debated with, backed-up their assertion by asking me to consult the Free Church of Scotland pastor Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons.

In this book against Romanism, he just shows how that pseudo-church corrupted its worship by the introduction of Tri-theistic and Modalistic images from paganism to represent the Trinity. As a true Presbyterian (as opposed to liberalism), he abhorred the syncretism and idolatry of that system. As a true Presbyterian, it is absurd to suggest that he was suggesting that Trinitarianism was rooted in paganism, nor is there any evidence of this in the book.

None of these pagan triads were like the Trinity in their metaphysical state. They were either Tri-theistic (three gods, not one God in three Persons), often with this triad over further sub-gods; or Modalistic, where the one, supreme deity was manifest in different forms or modes, e.g. as he states on p. 18, “In India, the supreme divinity… is represented with three heads on one body, under the name of ‘Eko Deva Trimurtti,’ ‘One God, three forms.’”

If anything, Hislop’s work shows a connection between Modalism (one God, three forms – or more) and paganism.

Also, as the early church leaders (e.g. Hippolytus) argued in their writings, Modalism was derived from the pagan Greek philosophy of Heraclitus and Plato, who believed that God was a Monad.

Unitarians’ own moulding of Scripture to fit their philosophical presuppositions is evident when they urge that it is ridiculous to believe that one God could consist of three Persons. Why not? This is begging the question. (See the previous article.)

The following quote from B.B. Warfield’s Biblical Doctrines (pp. 133, 134) is worth reproducing:

“In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine. That is to say, it embodies a truth which has never been discovered, and is indiscoverable, by natural reason. With all his searching, man has not been able to find out for himself the deepest things of God. Accordingly, ethnic thought has never attained a Trinitarian conception of God, nor does any ethnic religion present in its representations of the Divine Being any analogy to the doctrine of the Trinity.

“Triads of divinities, no doubt, occur in nearly all poly¬theistic religions, formed under very various influences. Sometimes, as in the Egyptian triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus, it is the analogy of the human family with its father, mother and son which lies at their basis. Sometimes they are the effect of mere syncretism, three deities worshipped in different localities being brought together in the common worship of all.

“Sometimes, as in the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, they represent the cyclic movement of a pantheistic evolution, and symbolize the three stages of Being, Becoming and Dissolution. Sometimes they are the result apparently of nothing more than an odd human tendency to think in threes, which has given the number three widespread standing as a sacred number (so H. Usener).

“It is no more than was to be anticipated, that one or another of these triads should now and again be pointed to as the replica (or even the original) of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Gladstone found the Trinity in the Homeric mythology, the trident of Poseidon being its symbol. Hegel very naturally found it in the Hindu Trimurti, which indeed is very like his pantheising notion of what the Trinity is. Others have perceived it in the Buddhist Triratna (Soderblom); or (despite their crass dualism) in some speculations of Parseeism; or, more frequently, in the notional triad of Platonism (e. g., Knapp); while Jules Martin is quite sure that it is present in Philo's neo-Stoical doctrine of the "powers," especially when applied to the explanation of Abraham's three visitors. Of late years, eyes have been turned rather to Babylonia; and H. Zim¬mern finds a possible forerunner of the Trinity in a Father, Son, and Intercessor, which he discovers in its mythology.

“It should be needless to say that none of these triads has the slightest resemblance to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity embodies much more than the notion of ‘threeness,’ and beyond their ‘threeness’ these triads have nothing in common with it.”


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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Against Modalism 4: Not One God and Three Gods, nor Three Persons and One Person

To continue clearing some ground, some Unitarians laugh and say, "Trinitarians are ridiculous! How could there be three Gods and yet one God?"

It would be illogical to say that there is one God and three Gods, or one person who is three persons (A = 3A or B = 3B), but the Trinitarians do not oppose the rules of logic. We nowhere state such things. This is the fallacy of category.

We say that there is one God in three persons. “God” and “person” are different categories, so this true representation of Trinitarianism is logical (A = 3B). For example, is it illogical to say that I am one person, but have two constituents: a body and a soul? (Although the being of God is not absolutely analogous to this.)

God is unique and beyond our experience and comprehension. We should not seek to mould him to our own experience, but humbly submit to His self-revelation.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Against Modalism 3: The Seriousness of the Situation

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of those doctrines which Scripture clearly reveals in its basic facts and yet is hard to fully comprehend. This prompts some 'untaught and unstable people' to 'twist' these teachings 'to their own destruction'.

...our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15,16)

What a serious thing heresy is, not only for the Church, but also for the heretics themselves, esp. in denying the Lord and who He is:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22,23)

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)

But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe... raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever... “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”... These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit. (Jude 5,13-15,19)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.
We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6)

Although this passage relates directly to the Gnostics who taught that Christ didn't really come in the flesh, but was a spirit who gave the appearance of having flesh, how much more serious is it to deny the distinct personality of the eternal Son in distinction from the Father? It may well be that Modalists could be directly included in this passage, as they deny that the eternal Son came in the flesh, for they really believe that the Father was the one who came in the flesh, in the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Let those who are taught Modalism by their leaders examine these teachings in the light of Holy Scripture and thus 'test the spirits, whether they are of God'. Let them be like the Bereans who were praised for holding the Apostle Paul accountable to the Word of God (Acts 17:11).

Those who teach others and lead them astray so seriously are severely warned:

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6)

Modalists are not members of Christ's body as true believers have 'one Lord' and 'one faith' (Eph. 4:5), but Modalists have a different Lord and a different faith.

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Against Modalism 2: We Believe in One God

Q. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

— Question 5 of the Shorter Catechism, which Presbyterian children traditionally learn.

In the debate with Modalists and other Unitarians, Trinitarians are often said to believe in three Gods, or they quote passages that state that there is one God as if we did not believe this.

We do not believe in three Gods. We believe in one God and our confessions, creeds, books and articles over millennia make this abundantly clear.

To say that we believe in three Gods, or several, is not merely a misunderstanding, it is an inexcusable misrepresentation, or at best culpable ignorance. To persist in declaring such untruths while conscious of knowledge to the contrary is to wilfully lie.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. (Exodus 20:16)

Furthermore to merely quote passages which affirm a belief in one God is also misleading and distracts from the real point of difference: are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit three distinct persons in the one God, or three manifestations of the one Divine Person?

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Against Modalism 1: Defining the Debate

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Such is the united historic Confession of Faith of the English-speaking Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregationalist Churches together with all who adhere to the orthodox faith. This Confession reflects the teaching confessed from ancient times in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a fundamental doctrine of the Church, necessary for salvation in its essentials, yet throughout the ages various heretics choose (hairesis) to depart from "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

Continually heretics assail the doctrine of God's being, whether it is the polytheism of Mormonism, or the Arianism of the so-called Jehovah's Witnesses. The Arians are one sub-group of the Unitarians. Unitarians are those who believe that there is one God, but deny that there are three persons (for want of a better word) or subsistences in the one God. Another sub-group of the Unitarians are the Modalists.

What is Modalism? Modalists believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons in the one God, but three different manifestations of the one Divine person, or God. There are variations within Modalism: some see Jesus as the human manifestation of the Father; and others see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as different manifestations of Jesus.

The Modalism that I will examine sees Jesus as the human manifestation of the Father, and as the only begotten of the Father, or Son of God, in that sense. The Son is a manifestation that did not exist prior to the Incarnation.

Modalism is also known as Sabellianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, Patripassianism and Oneness Theology. Sabellianism refers to a well-known Modalist in the Early Church, Sabellius; Monarchianism and Oneness refer to the emphasis on the 'oneness' of God the ruler to the extinction of the three persons; and Patripassianism refers to the belief that the Father died on the Cross as Jesus was just a mode of the Father.

In our own day the best-known Modalists are the Oneness Pentecostals, who originated at a camp meeting in 1913 (esp. the United Pentecostal Church International, see here for a good outline of their views), and in Northern Ireland the best-known (former) representative is James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle at Whitewell in Belfast, who has now accepted Trinitarianism. (He did not make public confession for his sin and continues to talk about 54 years of 'faithful' ministry. For a long-time the 'Christ-centredness' of Whitewell was something other than many thought, e.g. in 1984, the 'faithful pastor' says, "The [Socinian] Unitarians make little of Jesus... the Trinitarians make much of Jesus... this church makes all of Jesus!" See John Montgomery's Evangelical or Heretical: An Examination of the Churches of God in Ulster.)

It might be useful to quote the official statement of the UPCI as one form of Modalist creed:

Oneness of God

In distinction to the doctrine of the Trinity, the UPCI holds to a oneness view of God. It views the Trinitarian concept of God, that of God eternally existing as three distinctive persons, as inadequate and a departure from the consistent and emphatic biblical revelation of God being one.

The UPCI teaches that the one God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament as Jehovah revealed himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ was and is God. In other words, Jesus is the one true God manifested in flesh, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (John 1:1-14; I Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9).

While fully God, Jesus was also fully man, possessing a full and true humanity. He was both God and man. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is God with us and in us. Thus God is manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration.

A fuller outline of UPCI beliefs may be found here.

This series of articles has arisen out of an attempt to call some Modalists to flee from their self-destructive beliefs.

We must approach the study of the being of God with humility and care, and fear and trembling because He is the awesome Lord of Hosts. Nevertheless, as Charles Hodge states in his Systematic Theology, the "distinct personality [of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit] is one of the most clearly revealed doctrines of the Word of God. Sabellianism was, therefore, soon almost universally rejected."

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