The heresy of Modalism is an ancient heresy originating in the early third century in the teachings of Noetus, Praxeas, Sabellius and their followers and associates.
Modalism, also known as Sabellianism, Patripassianism, Monarchianism and in these times “Oneness Pentecostalism”, teaches that there exists a unipersonal God who merely assumes 3, or more, different forms, chiefly Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It teaches that there is no personal distinction between these 3, rather that the single person of God, at times convenient to him, assumes control of one or more of these forms for the fulfillment of his purposes.
The heresy was rampant in the early Church and was believed by a large number of simple (as Tertullian calls them) Christians. It was addressed by the early Fathers, notably Hippolytus and Tertullian and condemned as a heresy.
In these times, it has reemerged in certain charismatic Churches, namely the Oneness Pentecostalism movement.
Since the days of old, these men have advocated and put forth the argument that God is, and must be one. They quote various passages such as those of Deuteronomy 6:4, Mark 12:29 and so forth to demonstrate that God is, indeed one. As Tertullian noted, they propose that the Monarchy (that is, power, and sole government) of God is violated by addition of more than one person, and that it constitutes separation and division within God, giving way to polytheism.
These heretics, like many others who might call themselves non-trinitarians, confuse two very different terms:
1. Unitarianism, the teaching that proposes that there is only one person that is God.
2. Monotheism, the teaching that states that there is only one God.
It is entirely the assumption of the Unitarian that Monotheistic statements, such as those of the Bible, are Unitarian statements, when in fact, no argument can be put forth for such an assertion.
As such, recognizing then, that Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are indeed God, and that there must not be more that one God, and that God cannot be multipersonal, they arrived at Modalism.
This sort of theology however, being Biblically and logically untenable, arrives at various ludicrous conclusions and serious problems.
Let us then, start with demonstrating how this view undermines the deity of the Son, and indeed, itself proposes, if led to its logical conclusions, at least 2 persons in its contrived theology.
We start by demonstrating the view is utterly nonsensical in the light of the Biblical testimony.
In John 8:17-18, we have a very interesting defense by Jesus. In response to the Pharisees who told him that his testimony is not valid, one of the statements of Christ was the following:
“Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”
Now, testimony, is something that can only, in the case of the Jewish Law Jesus references in his defense, be given by persons, namely in this case, 2 different persons. A single person would constitute a single witness, and indeed, if the Father and the Son are the same person, Christ would be his own witness! However, assuredly this must not be the case, since the Son plainly states that there are 2, who are witnessing here, this being his justification!
The New Testament is overflowing with passages such as these, where Christ talks with the Father, inquires of him, prays to him and so forth.
In John 20:21, Jesus, sending his apostles states: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
If therefore, the Father and the Son are the same person, it is the case that The Father sends himself to the Earth. Surely again, this is nonsensical.
In John 5:30 Christ says: “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
His judgement is just, because he sent himself and does his own, instead of his own will, and does nothing except what he wills?
In John 20:17, Christ says: “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”
Is he ascending to himself, who is his own God?
Even the Modalist prooftext, John 10:30, where Christ says “I and the Father are one.” uses the Greek word ἐσμέν (esmen), meaning WE are one, indicating plurality of personality!
In his prayer in John 17:1-10 the Son states the following:
“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.”
Does it sound here like Christ is praying, and speaking to himself? Is it rational to conclude that he is stating that he himself gave himself authority? That he himself requests of himself to be glorified by himself? That he himself has glory with himself. That he has given himself things and that he owns things himself that are his, and things that are his are his and likewise, his are his? Is it not ridiculous?
But how then do the Modalists defend themselves against some of these objections to their theology?
Let us go back to John 8:17-18. The Modalist here, being unable to explain how Jesus references to the testimony of the Father, is forced to propose that there exists another person. This person however, is not divine, rather, as they would say, it is the “fleshly” Jesus who is indwelled by the Father, who is the Holy Spirit.
Hereby, the Modalist strips the Son of his divinity, merely making Jesus a man, believing that the Father, whom they call Christ, is God.
In this perverted theology therefore, Christ the man, is the one who prays to the Father, and requests things of him, and it is Christ the man, who asks to be glorified.
This is obviously inconsistent on many grounds, as it implies that a mere human knows all things about God and is in him (John 14:6-10, John 17:25-26, Matthew 11:27…), was existent with him before the world was (John 17:5…), claimed to be God on multiple occasions (John 8:24,58, Mark 14:62…), and so forth.
It is also clearly broken by the fact that Philippians 2:5-11 describes a singular person who is God, becomes incarnate and obedient, suffers on the cross and is then glorified. It leaves no room for the man Jesus of Modalism.
But what else does this view imply then? Does it not imply that the Father was crucified?
Philippians 2:8 states that Christ was obedient even to death on the cross. If he is the person of the Father, who was crucified, to whom was Christ obedient? To whom did Christ call out in agony on the cross, and to whom did he commend his spirit? Himself?
One can go on and on and on quoting texts that completely undermine the Modalist position and its ludicrous nature, but what can we conclude and note from all of this?
1. The Modalist DOES NOT believe that Christ is God, like other Unitarians, he believes that Christ is nothing more than a created being, a man, they believe that the Father, whom they call Christ, is God. They are damned for denying that the Son is God (John 8:24).
2. The Modalist crucifies the Father, who sent himself to be crucified and cried out to himself in agony.
3. Because of the implications of their heresy, many a Modalist baptizes only in “the name of Jesus” violating the Biblical order of Christ to baptize in the Trinitarian formula of The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19).
4. The Modalist for the most part believes that the Son, the form of the Son (sadly we need to clarify this), has not existed for all eternity, rather, it was made at the incarnation for the purposes of this unipersonal God. The heresy clearly contradicts scripture (John 17:5).
5. The Modalist also, in certain cases, believes that God can at one time, show himself only in one form, this indeed is nonsense, one only needs to reference The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17).
6. The Modalist is the same as any other anti-trinitarian, he has no bearing on the Bible, nor on its proper interpretation, rather is blinded by his hatred for the Triune God and the assumption of unitarianism, leading to nonsense that follows.
7. The Modalist is a heretic.
“You must bring forth the proof which I require of you — one like my own; that is, (you must prove to me) that the Scriptures show the Son and the Father to be the same, just as on our side the Father and the Son are demonstrated to be distinct; I say distinct, but not separate…” – Tertullian (Against Praxeas, Chapter 11).
May the Triune God be glorified!