Is God Just One Being With Three Different Hats?
The Heresy of Modalism
By: Rev. Joe Kramer
This is a heresy that started around 100-500AD (This is a rough timeframe known as the Patristic Period.). This teaching is also referred to as Sabellianism. This is because its’ main proponent was by a teacher named Sabellius. This heresy was never officially condemned by any church council. It was left open. This teaching had resurgence in the 6th century and has lasted into our day.
Modalism simply means that God is one being/substance that reveals Him in three different ways. For example, let us say that on Mondays I work as a Plummer (I wear that hat), on Tuesdays I work as a PC Repair Man (I wear that hat), and on Wednesdays I work as a pastor (I wear that hat). I am the same individual, but I just do three different things at three different times. I cannot be in the same role at the same time. Modalists often claim that God the Father left heaven and came as the Son, and then He went back to heaven and returned as the Holy Spirit.
How does this differ from the orthodox belief in the Trinity? The Trinity teaches that God is one being with three differing and distinct personalities. Meaning that God is one and He is three. God the Father will always be in heaven, he doesn’t leave heaven to become the Son. God the Son will always be the Son; he doesn’t leave that role to become God the Holy Spirit. The trinity is a hard concept for us, but it is biblical (See the link at the bottom of an article written on CARM that gives an excellent scriptural database on the reality of the Trinity.). We must remember that the difference is that the Trinity teaches three distinct personalities in the Godhead, but yet one being, and modalism teaches that God is just one being with one personality wearing different hats.
Where do we find this teaching today? Believe it or not it enjoys quite a following among some groups. Most notably among Oneness Pentecostals (These are not to be confused with all Pentecostals such as the Assemblies of God, and Church of God out of Cleveland, TN, and others. These are strong Trinitarians.).
So what about the people in these groups? Are they saved? I believe a person can be saved but when confronted with the truth of Trinitarians, and does their own research, will be lead of the Holy Spirit to orthodoxy (i.e. Trinitarian beliefs). Some may never be confronted, but I believe that God will lead people. Keep in mind this last statement is my personal view, one in which I cannot be dogmatic about. Others may disagree.
I hope this article has challenged your thinking and you enjoyed it enough to do more research on Modalism and Trinitarianism. May God bless you!
The Link for CARM’s information is http://carm.org/trinity/
Sources Consulted in the writing of this article:
- Canons of the One Hundred and Fifty Fathers Who Assembled at Constantinople H. R. Percival, Trans.). (1900). In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. 1900 (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) (185). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
- Shedd, W. G. T. (2003). Dogmatic theology (A. W. Gomes, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (957). Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub.