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Controversy surrounds T.D. Jake’s doctrinal statement about the trinity. It is widely believed that Jake’s does not hold to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
Some have pressed the issue by charging that Jake’s Oneness doctrine makes him guilty of the ancient heresy of modalism:
“There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Here is an excerpt from Resurgence that demonstrates the important of the issue.
Must read stuff!
The term “modalism” was introduced by the German historian Adolf von Harnack to describe second and third century Trinitarian heresies. Modalism teaches that God is successively Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Modalism is a heresy that does not view the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three particular persons in relation but merely as three modes or manifestations of the one divine person of God.
Modalism is also sometimes called Sabellianism, which was an early third-century Trinitarian heresy named after Sabellius, who taught that the one God revealed himself successively in salvation history first as Father (Creator and Lawgiver), then as Son (Redeemer), and finally as Spirit (Sustainer, Giver of Grace). Hence for Sabellius there is only one divine person, not three as in orthodox Christian trinitarianism.
Now, let’s look at another doctrinal statement on the same issue. The United Pentecostal Church (UPCI) is the largest Oneness group in America. They officially deny the doctrine of the Trinity saying:
In distinction to the doctrine of the Trinity, the UPCI holds to a oneness view of God. It views the Trinitarian concept of God, that of God eternally existing as three distinctive persons, as inadequate and a departure from the consistent and emphatic biblical revelation of God being one…Thus God is manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration.
Again, notice the word “manifest,” which Jakes and the UPCI both use. In other words, the Son of God is the manifestation of the Father in the flesh. The Son is not eternal, nor pre-existent. Jesus is the Father and the Son: Father in his divinity and Son in his humanity. Hence, the Trinity is said to be a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching.
The debate land mine that MacDonald has stepped on is in large part over the word “manifestations”. In its simplest form, this is the language of Modalism. In classic Modalism there is one God who manifests Himself in three ways (Father, Son, and Spirit) but is not three distinct persons. By this it’s meant that God is successively Father, Son, and Spirit but not simultaneously Father, Son, and Spirit. Think of it in terms of someone who is an actor playing three different roles in a play with wardrobe changes between scenes.
So, according to Modalism, God appears as the Father in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospels, and Holy Spirit in the Epistles. But, the problem with this view is that at times in the Bible all three members of the Trinity appear together simultaneously, thereby negating modalism and its claims of successive manifestations.”