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Wednesday
Oct152008

Theological Term of the Week

modalism
The unorthodox teaching that God is only one person who has revealed himself at different times in three different modes (or manifestations, forms, roles), rather than a Trinity consisting of three distinct persons who are coexistent. Sometimes called modalistic monarchism, Sabellianism and patripassionism are types of modalism.
  • From the Bible we see that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another and interact with each other:
    And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV)
  • From the Athanasian Creed:
    25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

    26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

    27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

    28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
  • From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, page 242:
    The fatal shortcoming of modalism is the fact that it must deny the personal relationships within the Trinity that appear in so many places in Scripture (or it must affirm that these were simply an illusion and not real). Thus, it must deny three separate persons at the baptism of Jesus, where the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. And it must say that all those instances where Jesus is praying to the Father are an illusion or a charade. The idea of the Son or the Holy Spirit interceding for us before God the Father is lost. Finally, modalism ultimately loses the heart of the doctrine of the atonement—that is, the idea that God sent his Son as a substitutionary sacrifice, and that the Son bore the wrath of God in our place, and that the Father, representing the interests of the Trinity, saw the suffering of Christ and was satisfied (Isa. 53:11).

    Moreover, modalism denies the independence of God, for if God is only one person, then he has no ability to love and to communicate without other persons in his creation. Therefore it was necessary for God to create the world, and God would no longer be independent of creation….

    One present denomination within Protestantism (broadly defined), the United Pentecostal Church, is modalistic in its doctrinal position.

Learn more:

  1. basictheology.com: Modalism
  2. BELIEVE Religious Information Source: Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Patripassionism, Modalism
  3. GotQuestions.org: What are Sabellianism, Modalism, and Monarchianism?
  4. Believer’s Web: Oneness Pentacostalism and the Trinity by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
  5. Martin Downes: The Insufficient Explanatory Power of Modalism
  6. Department of Christian Defense: Examining the Oneness Objections to the Doctrine of the Trinity

Related terms:

Filed under Defective Theology

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