Calvary Road Baptist Church

“MODERN DAY MODALISM”

Second Corinthians 13.14

 

My text for this evening is Second Corinthians 13.14. Turn there and read along with me, if you please: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” The verse, referring to each of the divine persons of the godhead, is a trinitarian formula.

An ancient heresy is making advances in the ranks of independent Baptists. Be it Texas or Florida, Georgia or California, Oklahoma or the Pacific Northwest, an ancient heresy is eroding the doctrinal foundation of our Christian faith, and it is doing so within the ranks of our independent Baptist churches. The heresy is modalism. Here is how some theologians define it:

 

modalism. Also called Sabellianism, the trinitarian heresy that does not view Father, Son and Spirit as three particular ‘persons in relation’ but merely as three modes or manifestations of the one divine person of God. Thus God comes in salvation history as Father to create and give the law, as Son to redeem and as Spirit to impart grace.[1]

 

Sabellius was the man in the early part of the third century who gained notoriety for teaching that there is only one divine person, not three as in Christian trinitarianism.[2] Thus, the heresy is sometimes referred to as modalism, and at other times as Sabellianism. However, it is the same error under either heading.

Please keep in mind that modalism does not recognize itself to be erroneous. No heretic recognizes himself as an heretic. Nevertheless, modalism is an error of such seriousness that those who hold to the views of modalism, those who embrace Sabellianism, are not Christians, are not born again, are not saved.

If you decide to investigate the matter, you will not find organized groups of modalists within the ranks of fundamental Baptists. Because such a notable figure as television preacher Bishop Jakes is a modalist, and because several Pentecostal denominations are modalist in their theology, Baptists frequently think they are safe from the encroachments of such an error. However, I am telling you the encroachment has already begun. The undermining of sound doctrine has already started. Modalism is already here. If you are surprised, let me remind you of two things: First, error does not always announce its arrival, does not always declare its coming. Second, any deviation from the truth that has occurred before will certainly happen again. Moreover, just because modalism was thoroughly repudiated by early Christians does not mean people uninterested in history and therefore uninformed by history are not being deceived by it once more.

Three points to help you focus your thoughts as I introduce you to this great danger to the Christian faith:

 

First, HOW MODALISM IS RECOGNIZED IN ITS EARLY STAGES

 

Because modalism is a denial of the scriptural doctrine of the trinity, those who embrace the teachings of Sabellius can frequently be detected. However, keep in mind that a person can believe everything Sabellius taught without ever having heard of the man. You can be a modalist without ever having heard of modalism. You can be a modalist while personally convinced you are an orthodox Christian.

Men of God are called to not only preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, and to proclaim the saving gospel message to every creature, but also to listen and pay attention to people. If the man of God does not listen, he will not be able to detect the form error has taken, he will not be able to discern the approach that is being taken to undermine and oppose the advance of the gospel.

For example: While Christians are arming themselves to engage in Christian apologetics and to forcefully argue for the existence of God, many atheists have completely changed their tack. Rather than trying to argue against the existence of God, many are now arguing, “Who cares? What does it matter? In what way is God, if He exists, in any way relevant?”

Therefore, you see, it is crucial that ministers of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ reconnoiter the terrain in which they conduct field operations. It is crucial that pastors and evangelists interrogate, debrief, and illicit information vital to our cause, not only by constantly discipling new Christians, but also by personally working with and interacting with unsaved people to bring them to Christ. In short, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and personal workers, must not only be students of God’s Word, but we must also be students of those we are in contact with. It is in this way the heresy of modalism is to be detected. Two illustrations serve as examples of how modalism in its early stages can be identified.

Suppose you were at a preacher’s meeting, with men of some training and experience in the gospel ministry, men who would not be considered novices, men who are not unfamiliar with the Bible. Considering their familiarity with the Bible and their experience as spiritual leaders, would you not expect them to recognize the importance of the doctrine of the trinity? Of course, you would. Would you not be surprised to discover that a seasoned man of God discounted the importance the Bible placed on distinguishing the divine Persons of the trinity?

How about this? What would you think of a mature man or woman who constantly addressed Mr. Bill Jones as Melissa, which is his wife’s name? Would it not seem strange to you for someone who professed to know them both, and who had considerable experience in the social graces, to constantly call Bill Jones by his wife’s name?

Why is it, then, that over the last thirty years I have heard, on countless occasions, men of God praying prayers that sound very much like this? “Dear God, please bless this meeting and our time here together. Especially enable our speaker to preach to us words that will edify and encourage. In your name, we pray. Amen.”

“In your name we pray?” Whom do you suppose the preacher was referring to? Are we not clear that Christians are directed to pray in Jesus’ name? Are we not also clear from Christ’s teaching on praying that we are to pray to God the Father? If that were the case, which is being referred to by the closing comment, “In your name we pray”? What attracted my attention has been the number of times I have heard that type of thing. Folks, distinguishing between the Father and the Son is an important and necessary distinction when praying, and concerning other things as well.

Here is another example that I have noticed: What if I asked this question of a person: “If you died and came before God and God said, ‘Why should I let you into Heaven,’ what would you say to God?” You may recognize that excellent question derived from D. James Kennedy’s very popular book, Evangelism Explosion.

What would you think of a person professing to be a Christian who answered that question by saying, “I would say that I trusted you to save me”? “If you died and came before God and God said, ‘Why should I let you into Heaven,’ what would you say to God?” And you answer by saying, “I trusted you to save me”? I put a hypothetical question from God the Father to you and you answer by saying you trust Him, God the Father? That shows me that the person I am talking to does not distinguish between God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son of God, in his thinking.

Keep in mind that the tri-unity of God is a sublime truth that is revealed only in God’s Word. That God is one, yet existing as three divine Persons, is not a doctrine that can be surmised from musings. It is shown only in the Bible. Therefore, when someone gives evidence that he does not embrace the Biblical doctrine of the trinity, by the way he responds to very simple questions, it does not serve him well for me to ignore the significance of his response.

My friends, there was a day in our country when Christianity was so influential, and when sound doctrine was so widely embraced even by those not professing to be Christians, that everyone who was not Jewish prayed in Jesus’ name, and no one confused the Father with the Son when it came to knowing which Person of the trinity was clearly charged with the task of saving sinners. That day has passed.

From my reading of church history and from my extensive sessions with people over the years, I must conclude that the professing Christian community in this country is losing its grip on a trinitarian view of God, which is the scriptural view of God. Modalism is beginning to surface as our culture slides away from the hold we once had on God’s Word, and many Christian leaders have not yet noticed what is happening.

 

Next, THE DANGER MODALISM POSES TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

 

I have raised this issue to preachers in other parts of the country before, but I suspect they think I am an alarmist. However, modalism poses a great danger to our Christian faith. Because modalism is a denial of the scriptural doctrine of the trinity, it is a direct threat to the gospel.

Jesus is the savior. Is that not correct? Do we not all believe that to be true? Of course we do. However, what does Jesus save from? Matthew 1.21 is very clear. Listen to what the angel said to Joseph about Mary: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

So many people these days are interested in being saved from Hell, but they have no concern about being saved from sins. However, that is exactly parallel to a criminal wanting to be saved from prison without wanting to be delivered from committing crimes. You see, sins are crimes, and Hell is punishment. However, Jesus saves sinners from their crimes, rather than saving sinners from their punishment. To be sure, when a sinner is saved from his sins he need not fear Hell. However, there is a difference between the sinner who only wants to avoid the punishment he faces for his sins and the sinner who genuinely wants to be delivered from the sins he has committed against God. Jesus is the from sins savior.

The danger of modalism is that it denies the Biblical doctrine of the trinity by making God the Father and God the Son one person rather than two. However, when the trinity is denied, so is the gospel denied. Think about it this way: When Jesus, the savior, saves sinners from their sins He is saving sinners from the spiritual crimes they have committed against God the Father. You see, God’s wrath is revealed against sins, Romans 1.18. God the Father is angry with sinners. This is clearly taught in the Bible. Psalm 7.11 reads, “God is angry with the wicked every day.” However, is Jesus angry with sinners? He was not angry with the woman at the well who had been married five times and was living with a man she was not married to, John chapter 4. Neither was He angry with the woman caught in the very act of adultery in John chapter 8.

If modalism reflected what the Bible teaches, and the Father and the Son is the same actual person, then you would have God being angry toward sinners and not angry toward sinners at the same time! However, that does not reflect what God’s Word teaches. The only way the Father can be angry with sinners, while the Son in His present session is not angry with sinners, is if the Father and the Son really are two distinct Persons of the divine godhead. This must be so for the gospel to be true, for Jesus Christ to save sinners, and for God the Father to be able to justly forgive the sins of those who are saved by the blood of the crucified One. This is because when a sinner flees to Christ for salvation and cleansing, he is fleeing from the wrath of God the Father to the safety and refuge provided by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Take that truth away from us, in the form of the error known as modalism or Sabellianism, and you have nothing left but confusion. There is confusion about whether God is angry or not angry with sinners, and there is confusion concerning who the sinner should flee to in order to escape the wrath of whom. No, my friends, the Biblical doctrine of the trinity is a solidly based Bible truth. It is a vital component of the undergirding truths upon which the saving gospel message is solidly fixed. Take away the trinity and you no longer have a gospel to preach.

Two asides before we move to the final point for the evening: Ever wonder why we sing the doxology when we take up our offering at each service? Not many churches do that, do they? We sing the doxology at each offering because, though I have preached about the trinity and taught the doctrine of the trinity, some years ago at camp most of our kids who were being dealt with clearly showed themselves to have no grasp of the trinity. They were oblivious to the concept of three Persons and one God. Therefore, we sing the doxology as a means of inculcating into our young people trinitarianism. As well, why do our youngsters in their Wednesday night class, and why do all of our Christian school students, memorize good catechisms? What Baptists use Spurgeon’s catechism anymore? We do. Want to know why? One of the reasons we use Mr. Spurgeon’s catechism is questions and answers 5 and 6 of his catechism with proofs:

Q5.   Are there more Gods than one?

A.     There is but one only,1 the living and true God.2

1.      Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.”

2.      Jeremiah 10:10, “The LORD is the true God, he is the living God.”

 

Q6.   How many persons are there in the Godhead?

A.      There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.1

1.      Matthew 28:19, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

         II Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”

 

Finally, THE DUTY OF PASTORS TO EXPOSE AND REPUDIATE MODALISM

 

It is not my intent in this sermon to unfold the doctrine of the trinity as it is revealed in God’s Word. I have already shown, in sermons preached from this platform in the past, that while there is only one true and living God revealed in nature and self-described in the Bible, He shows Himself to be one God and three distinct and distinguishable Persons, the Father, the eternal Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In his wonderful treatment of the doctrine of the trinity in his classic Systematic Theology, the venerable 19th century Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, wrote these words: “The Church doctrine asserts that Father, Son, and Spirit express internal, necessary, and eternal relations in the Godhead; that they are personal designations, as that the Father is one person, the Son another person, and the Spirit another person . . . each says I, and each says Thou, to either of the others.”[3]

Beloved, we know that Christ’s desire is that the Father be glorified. Indeed, the number of times and the variety of verses in which the phrase “to whom be glory” refers to God the Father is too many for me to recount this evening. Be assured that it is the purpose of God’s Son to glorify Him. As well, it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

We can rest assured, therefore, that the very best approach to bringing honor and glory to the Father and His Son is to view both the Father and the Son as they are clearly revealed in scripture, as distinct Persons of the trinity, along with the Holy Spirit. As well, we can be sure that any attempt to undermine the doctrine of the trinity is most assuredly the work of seducing spirits seeking to advance the doctrines of demons.

Because modalism is a denial of the scriptural doctrine of the trinity, it must be exposed and repudiated. Even if you wonder if I am not being an alarmist, surely you will acknowledge the importance of reflecting the distinctions between the Father and the Son that are set forth in the Bible.

If you are supposed to pray to God the Father, then pray to God the Father. In addition, if you are to pray in Jesus’ precious name, then pray in Jesus’ name. Do not conclude your prayer in the name of some nebulous person who goes unnamed. In addition, do not pray to God in His name. Pray in Jesus’ name.

Finally, are you saved? If you are saved, do you have any idea who is supposed to have saved you? Do you claim to be a Christian, yet claim to have come directly to God, instead of coming to Christ? When you talk to Lee Moyer, do you typically refer to him as Melinda? I do not think I am being over critical when I expect those who are saved by the blood of the crucified One to give Him the praise when asked how and by whom you were saved. Do you?

 

I am a trinitarian. I believe the Bible teaches that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6.4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” First Corinthians 8.4 reads, “there is none other God but one.” First Corinthians 8.6 reads, “to us there is but one God.” And in First Timothy 2.5, we read Paul’s words to Timothy: “For there is one God.”

I am a trinitarian and I believe those four verses. I believe there is only one God, so don’t you try to tell me that because I am a trinitarian I believe in three gods. I do not believe in three gods. I believe in one God.

However, I also believe some other things about God that are taught in the Bible. Though the word trinity is not a Bible word, it is a Bible doctrine, and I will tell you why that is so.

The Bible shows someone designated the Father to be God. The Bible shows someone designated the Son to be God. The Bible shows someone designated the Holy Spirit to be God. In that same Bible, we see that the Father is not the Son and is not the Spirit, the Son is not the Father and not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father and not the Son. Therefore, we have one God, but three Persons who are shown to somehow be God while being distinct from each other. I do not understand how that can be true, but since it is clearly taught in the Bible I accept it as true and refer to that Being of whom all those things are true as the triune godhead.

The ancient heresy of modalism does not deny that there is only one god, but modalism does deny that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are what they appear to be in the Bible, distinct Persons. Thus, when Jesus was being baptized by John the Baptist, and when the Father spoke and the Spirit descended upon Him, modalism would say those are not three divine Persons in that scene. Modalism would say God merely portrayed Himself as different persons. However, my friend, that is not honest. No, modalism not only is not true, not only undermines the integrity of the Bible, but slights the very character of God as holy, righteous and true.

So, if you are not a modalist, don’t pray like a modalist. Pray to the Father in the name of His Son, Jesus. If you are not a modalist, don’t talk like a modalist. If your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, give Him the glory due Him. Don’t quibble about things. Give a clear and ringing testimony in praise of the One Who saved you . . . if He saved you. Amen?



[1] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 79.

[2] Ibid., page 104.

[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol I, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2003, reprinted from the edition originally printed by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), page 459.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org