In the third century a man named Sabellius from Libya began to teach that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not refer to three distinct persons in the Godhead. Rather, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were just different names for the one true God. Sabellius taught that God existed in different forms or modes (this teaching became known then as Sabellianism or Modalism). Sabellius' teaching explained that God existed as the Father in the Old Testament, then changed forms by becoming the Son in the period of the Gospels, and then, following His work on the cross and returning to heaven after the resurrection, He came back as the Spirit.
To illustrate, Sabellius used the sun. Sabellius said that the sun's essence or core is like the Father, the sun's light rays are like the Son of God, and the heat from the rays like the Holy Spirit. How confusingly close to the truth his teaching is, yet what a dangerous denial of the gospel. For note how this teaches that the Father becomes the Son, and the Son in turn becomes the Spirit. Just as we would use the word "sun" to refer to:
- the object in the sky during the day ("The sun rose this morning");
- the light that helps us see during the day ("The sun is bright today");
- the warmth we receive ("I got too much sun on the beach"),
Through the influence of the church father Tertullian, who developed the phrase Trinity (Trinitas in the Latin) to explain that God has existed eternally as three persons, Modalism was denounced by the church as a heresy (Since Modalists like to say the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, for fun let's call their teaching "Modinity" - One God in Three Modes - which is not even in the dictionary). The Scriptures teach that Jesus has existed eternally, as has the Father and the Spirit. It is Biblical to say " The Father is God" or "Jesus is God," but it is heretical to say that "Jesus is the Father" (you can see an example of this here). And it is not only heretical, but, like being out too long today in the sun, it is dangerous.
How so? A modern proponent of Modinity is found in the movement referred to as Oneness Pentecostalism (this United Pentecostal website shows the beliefs outlined above). Even though Oneness advocates use the name Jesus abundantly, going so far as to only baptize in his name (their modalistic thinking forbids them to baptize in the Father and Spirit's name), in actuality they are denying the eternal existence of the Son. Men like T.D. Jakes and much of what appears on TBN then teach that Jesus does not now exist as the Son of God, but as the Spirit. The denial of Jesus as a truly eternal mediator between God the Father and man is a denial of the gospel, placing souls in eternal danger. The emphasis their theology drives them to place on the Spirit's work apart from the Father and the Son manifests this danger in their lifestyles.
For these teachers' focus on the Spirit invariably leads them to exhort their followers to pursue the gaining of wealth, the healing of illness, and the seeking of miraculous signs as indicators of the "blessing of Jesus." If one does not receive these things, then the diagnosis often is that they do not have faith. Imagine my horror at learning this week of a young girl in our community who has had her eardrums damaged because another family member, motivated by these teachings, had "popped her" with both hands on the side of the head trying to give her a dose of the Spirit. This type of teaching was also undoubtedly behind the strange case in Bloomington of an attempted exorcism that made the national news recently (At least their website smells modalistic. Ever notice how hard it is to find out in writing what these groups actually believe?).
The 72nd Psalms says that "Long as the sun His name shall last." Modinity would claim their "Jesus-only" teaching fulfills these words. Yet it is a lie, for in actuality they are really saying "Long as a light bulb His name lasted." The Son of God exists now, fully God and fully man, at the right hand of the eternal Father. Only by His exercising the word of His power does that blazing heat outside come from the sun He made (Hebrews 1:3). Though that sun will one day cease, the light from "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (that's the Father and Son in distinction) will give His people light forever (Revelation 22:3-5).