Why Modalism Is A Damnable Heresy
In light of the recent T.D. Jakes controversy and Modalism I decided to write this article to better explain the problem with this heresy. Too many times Christians have no clue how to explain why Modalism is a damnable heresy because they do not understand its conclusions. Modalism is nothing new and pops in and out of the spotlight all of the time. In fact, while I lived in Eugene, Oregon my dad and other men from our Southern Baptist church battled with Modalists who were members of our church, but secretly involved in the United Pentecostal Church. The men were actually teaching sunday school for the youth group males, as well as trying to befriend many of the men of the church and influence them. They were trying to take over our church from the inside. This is the church I was baptized in when I was 15.
One day I was taken on a trip with the main leader of these 3 Oneness Pentecostals who told my parents it would be good for me. His son came with us and we ended up going really far away, near the coast and meeting up with a large group of people to help build a church. We were installing drywall and helping pull wires through the ceiling. It so happened that the church was a United Pentecostal Church that I was helping do work for. He deceptively brought me on the trip to help his heretical church brothers fix up one of their church buildings. His deception was very strong as he accomplished the manipulation and brainwashing of 2 of our church men. The 2 men teamed up with him in order to attract more of the men so they would bring their families into their den of wolves. Heresy within an orthodox church has the tendency to become a zombie-like infestation that deadens the minds of men and puts them under the control of demonic influence.
Another even worse issue was that the main leader of the 2 other heretics was having secret communion meetings behind the church outside on certain nights. He invited my parents to come once, and it was people who did not belong to our church, strangers they never saw before. They were having some kind of worship meeting and communion. They had set up a small tent covering in the back parking lot. At the time, my parents were new to the church so did not realize what was going on at that moment. Eventually, these wolves in sheep’s clothing were exposed and kicked out of the church, but not after many instense debates, arguments, and spiritual attacks.
In various early church councils Modalistic beliefs were condemned as heresy. For example, Tertullian around 213 A.D. condemned it, and also in 262 A.D. this teaching was also later proclaimed as heresy by Dionysius, the Bishop of Rome. There were many other church councils that condemned it as heresy as well. So Modalism has never once been accepted as an orthodox belief in the Church. Even so, too many people want to explain something as a heresy simply because a council said so, and with a biblical understanding of why it is heresy. Heresy makes salvation impossible so it is good to understand why it is so with Modalism, and why it is worthwhile to put fourth the spiritual energy to fight it and reject it outside of the Church just like my father and other men from our average sized church in Oregon did over a decade ago…
Modalism (also know as Sabellianism [named after Sabellius, the heretic priest from the 3rd century that promoted this heresy], Modalistic Monarchianism, Modal Monarchianism, Oneness, and Patrapassionism [which means the Father suffers in Latin]) is the belief that God is only one person and changes/shifts into different modes. This is a heresy that leads a person to Hell because any incorrect belief about the nature of God cancels out salvation by default. This default happens in different ways but always occurs. Modalism leads people to Hell just like any other heresy about God’s nature. Modalists deny the Trinity, and in most cases with extreme aggression. Unfortunately, many Christians have a hard time logically expressing why this belief is a damnable heresy. This heresy is an extremely strategically, deceptive heresy which tries to mask itself and blend in with Orthodoxy. It fools many evangelicals. Unlike other anti-Trinitarian beliefs that deny the deity of Christ, this heresy embraces the deity of their “Christ” hence why it is so deceptive (note: there is another less popular form of Modalism that denies Christ’s deity called Adoptionism, but is not the focus of this article). Modalists claim to love Jesus Christ and claim He is God, yet in reality Modalism denies Jesus Christ and is an antichrist religion. It is a very destructive belief and total blasphemy. Without a deep understanding of soteriology and the nature of God, Christians can be confused on how to explain why Modalism is heresy. This article will attempt to do so.
Who are Modalists?
Modalism has been a problem since the early Church and still continues to be a problem today. The main proponent of Modalism in modern times is the cult called the United Pentecostal Church (UPC). The televangelist, charlatan “Bishop” T.D. Jakes is affiliated with this group. Another cult that is almost as big as the UPC are the United Apostolic Churches (UAC). These groups are known as Oneness Pentecostals, and still, there are lesser known sects and individuals who promote a modalistic God. MacArthur (2007) states, “As these groups and their popular spokespersons have found increasing acceptance in the evangelical mainstream, modalism is suddenly being accepted as if it were a valid evangelical option” (p. 117). In some circumstances, people make the mistake of expressing God in a modalistic way to express the three Persons of God, such as using H2O as an example of three things being one which causes people to misunderstand the Trinity (i.e. water, ice, and vapor are different things but all three are still H2O, yet H2O is never all three at the same time). Some people mistakenly believe in a modalistic God out of ignorance of how to describe the Three Persons mentioned in the Bible. People try too hard to explain God and end up using human wisdom to describe God and are not satisfied with leaving the Triune nature of God as a mystery. True believers, who make such mistakes out of ignorance, eventually (and most of the time quickly), come to the realization that God truly exists in Three distinct persons who are not the same, yet comprise of ONE Eternal Being. This is why Christianity uses the term Trinity which means TRI-UNITY as in three-as-one. True Christians become satisfied with this mystery and accept it as just that, a mystery. No one can fully understand how God is, but Christians can know what God is because the Bible teaches it.
The type of people who come to understand that the biblical truth of God is the Trinity are people who care to know correct doctrines and want to love the true God and will seek out proper knowledge of the Bible. Sadly, most Modalists have absolutely no desire for seeking actual truth and want to force their opinions into the Bible because they have personal agendas. A truly innocently ignorant follower of a modalistic god will always repent within due time, without much division, strife, or aggression against Trinitarians. The others are simply heretics whom are inspired by Satan and will always fight a losing battle against the Trinity until they die and go to Hell. Unfortunately, the latter makes up the major portion of Modalists and always has. You can see the demonic minds of these reprobates expressed all over the internet, especially YouTube.
Modalism promotes a god that changes
Modalism contradicts what Christianity has historically accepted about the nature of God. True Christianity expresses God existing in three Persons that equal one Being. This belief is given the theological title of “Holy Trinity” to express this concept. Whereas, in Modalism God is expressed as existing in only one person that shifts into different modes and moves in different ways in different times throughout history. God “shape shifts” so to speak, from the Father at one time, changing into the Son another time, and also changing into the Holy Spirit at times. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit never exist at the same time in Modalism. The UPC and Apostolics call their god “Jesus” and they baptize their congregants strictly, only in that name. “Jesus Christ” is the proper name of God to them which covers the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their “Jesus” god is all three: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the modes are never shifted into at the same time. Their god is a changing god. This contradicts what the Bible teaches in Hebrews 13:8 which states firmly: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” What is annoying is that many of these Oneness followers illogically use this same verse to somehow promote the Trinity being false. It is a fact that their religion is not at all based on logic when exegeting the Bible. What Oneness/Modalism promotes essentially, is, that Almighty God being only one person, died on the cross. Logically, this would mean that the Father came down and died on the cross but just shape shifted into the Son. So there is no actual different person of God dying on the cross. It is the same person dying on the cross, the same person giving itself as a sacrifice, and the same person accepting itself back into heaven. Modalism claims another “Father” that schizophrenically changes his personality by shifting into different modes. How can anyone trust a God who changes so sporadically? How can we even be sure there are only three modes of God? There might be more. This is a critical mistake! Not to mention it makes absolutely no sense!
Oneness followers love to use isolated proof texts from the Bible or misrepresent a verse’s surrounding context, and also ignore related passages in the Bible. One of their favorite verses they will quote is Isaiah 9:6 which says,
“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
Oneness heretics will claim that this proves that Jesus Christ is the Father and only shifted His mode into the Son. The Son did not exist until the Father turned into Him. This verse does call the child Eternal Father, but that is only stating a fact about His Godhood, that Jesus Christ is fully God and God is our Eternal Father. Not that Jesus Christ is actually God the Father. Related passages in the Bible about Jesus Christ and God the Father explain it so.
The concept of the Holy Trinity is all over the Bible. The actual beliefs of the Trinity are misrepresented by Modalists who claim it promotes three gods and not one. This is not true. The Trinity teaches that all 3 Persons are different from each other and not the same, yet they are all One and the same God. The Father is 100% fully God, the Son is 100% fully God, and the Holy Spirit is 100% fully God. But the Father is not the Son, is not the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the Father, is not the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is not the Father, is not the Son. Yet all three Persons are one God, the same God. This teaching is all over the Bible and it is a mystery that we cannot understand, but we must accept. God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit is our Eternal, Everlasting Father.
Modalism cancels out salvation by default
The most basic reason why Modalism cancels out salvation is that if the Trinity is true, it means that God is Three-As-One and anything other than a triune God does not exist. Worshiping a God that does not exist is idolatry. Modalism is a false religion and God commands that there should never be any other gods worshiped besides Him (Exodus 20:3). There is no forgiveness of sins if a person puts their trust into a false god. Just because the name of a false God uses the same titles and names as the true, triune God of Scripture does not mean it is the same God. Matthew 24:24 claims there will be false Christ’s coming, and 1 Corinthians 11:4 says that people can preach a different Jesus and a different spirit and Christians should not put up with it. Simply labeling something as Jesus does not change the fact it is a lie from Satan.
Another more complex reason that will help Christians explain on a deeper level why Modalism leads people to Hell is that logically, if the Trinity exists, Modalism cannot provide salvation because it does not give Christ credit for His atoning work on the cross. Romans 8:2 explains that there is no condemnation for Christians “because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” If the Trinity is true it means that only the Person of Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. John 3:16 says that God sent His “only begotten Son” to die for those who believe. If someone rejects that there is a Person of the Son and instead claims there is only one person that changes, and the Son did not exist until He was manifest in the Incarnation of Christ, then there is no atoning sacrifice that actually happened since they reject the real Person of Jesus, the Son of God who actually exists and has existed eternally. Grudem (2000) affirms,
“[M]odalism 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” (p. 242).
Christians cannot accept Modalists as brothers in the Lord, and they should never be unequally yoked with Modalistic darkness. The modalistic god denies the Eternal Person of the Son, thus meaning they deny the true God and profane His atonement.
Without the Person of Jesus the Atonement is denied
What Modalism is actually saying is that the separate person of Jesus Christ, the Son, is not real and never died on the cross because He does not exist. A separate Person does not exist. Only the Father (or Almighty God) exists and changes his face to turn into and look like the Son. This is a bold denial of God as a whole (since Jesus Christ is fully 100% God) and a denial of the work of the existing Second Person of God: the Son.
A human example would be that a Father agreed with his son that he would go out and pay an extremely expensive price for criminals to be free from their death sentences, and that his son would own them and they would be given to him; and he would show them compassion. After hearing about freedom from their judicial punishments of death because of the son’s payment, those criminals— instead of going with the son who bought them— believe the father is actually the one who bought them because he morphed into the mode of the son. Furthermore, the criminals claim that the son who actually bought them with his father’s urging does not even exist. They believe only the father exists and shifts into a different looking mode to become his own son, but is still the exact same person as there is not a son person and a father person, but only a father person who shifts modes. He just changed into the son. So the son who actually bought them with an extremely expensive price is denied as well as his hard work earning the payment for them to be free. This is a major insult to the son. But in reality the only way they could be free is if they understand that the son is actually a real person who exists and is not the father, and they follow him. Because since these criminals deny the son who bought them, and instead believe his father shape shifted into a son to become him, that real son that exists separately from his father will deny them in the presence of his father.
Modalism denies Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that if you deny Jesus Christ (being the Son of God, a separate Person from the Father, and separate from the Person of the Holy Spirit), He will deny you in the presence of God the Father. Jesus Christ Himself said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and that of the Father and the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). Jesus in Luke 12:9 also said, “…but whoever denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” So it is obvious that Modalism denies Christ despite the fact they try to claim they promote Jesus and follow Him. The Oneness “Jesus” is a “false Jesus” that does not exist and profanes, and blasphemies the true living, eternal, Son of God. It misplaces credit for propitiation onto the Father, when propitiation was strictly something the Son did. Romans 3:23 says that the redemption is in Christ Jesus, and in verse 24 it says, “God presented Him as the propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over sins previously committed.” It does not say that the Father was the propitiation. 1 John 2:2 explicitly states that Jesus Christ alone was the propitiation: “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” Since the Trinity is true, Modalism is denying God by claiming the Person of the Son does not exist. 1 John 2:23 expresses it simply, “No one who denies the Son can have the Father…” All repentant sinners become Christians who receive salvation. Christians are saved because they call on the name of the Lord and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. If someone repents to a false God that does not exist, one that denies the existence of the Person of the Son, they will not have salvation. Romans 10:9 says, “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” If a person claims this verse for a Modalistic Jesus, one that denies the Person of the Son, there is no power for salvation.
Modalism denies the Father’s ability to be a righteous judge
Not only is Modalism an offense to the Person of the Son, but it offends the Person of the Father by ignoring His sacrificial giving of His one and only Son, the Son which He loves so much in relation within the Godhead; and it claims instead that He is the one who died and gave the propitiation for sins. Ignoring the extreme sacrifice the Father allowed to happen to His precious Son is an extreme insult to the love of the Father for sinners that He would allow His own Son (who was willing) to be punished in their place; and not only that, but that the Father is the one who gave out all of the crushing punishment to His own Son. Isaiah 54:6 says, “The LORD has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.” Also, 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Modalism denies God this glory and insults the Father. The Father remained pure and untouched by sin and is the righteous judge that gave out His wrath onto Christ. If Modalism is true it means that God existing in one person, being the Father would have became sinful and then killed himself. There would be no righteous judge untouched by sin able to pour out the wrath. It would be the Father becoming sin on His own and then punishing Himself. This idea cancels out a pure and holy Person who is able to remain innocent who can judge sin. In reality, since the Trinity is what is true, there is a righteous and clean judge untouched by sin that was able to pour out His wrath onto Jesus Christ (who was made sin willingly by the Father) and complete the ability for salvation to be completed. To deny the Father’s giving of His real eternally existing Son is blasphemy, and it cancels out the ability for salvation. Such a person as the “god father” of Modalism does not exist and it profanes the true Father’s work. Therefore, Modalism completely denies the true Father.
1 John 2:22 firmly states, “He is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.”
Modalism denies the Holy Spirit
Not only does Modalism deny Christ, and the Father, it also denies the Holy Spirit and claims He is also the same as the Father. That would mean the Person of the Holy Spirit (who is 100% fully God as well) according to the Trinity does not exist, thus denying God completely. Nonetheless, Modalism is idolatry and an offense to the true God and will be punished on judgment day.
The Incarnation’s salvific power is cancelled out
Modalism cancels out the ability for an actual human/God existence in Jesus (a conclusion that the Adoptionist form of Modalism understands). Jesus Christ is 100% man and 100% God at the same time. This is the dual nature of Christ concept that true Christians believe. Jesus Christ, who is God, came in the flesh (John 1:1, John 1:14) and was a blood sacrifice for our sins. Romans 7:4 says, “Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah.” If God is only one person then it would mean that Jesus Christ is the same person as the Father. If Modalism was true it would be that Christ’s will as a human would not at all be different from the will of the Father because they are the same person. But the Bible says in Mark 14:36, John 6:38, and Luke 22:42 that Jesus was not doing His own will, but the will of His Father. If Modalism was true these verses would be contradicting this “one person only god” by expressing that Christ’s will as a human and His God will were not unified. This would mean that Jesus Christ as a human was not God, and that God must have possessed a human person that is not God.
Consequently, only God is infinitely valuable and perfect to be able to die for the sins of mankind in order to save them. One human could only atone for one life, but God could atone for everyone because of His infinite value. Also, humans are not perfect and never can be because all of them are born in sin. Romans 3:10 states, “There is no one righteous, not even one,” and Jesus Christ Himself expressed, “No one is good but One— God” (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19). Even if God created a human body or a human person that was perfect, that He could fill up, it would still not be infinitely valuable. The fact is the Bible teaches that God paid for His people in His own blood (Acts 20:28). Therefore, God died for the sins of His elect which forces Modalism’s logical conclusion to be that Jesus’s humanity was not unified with God which means it could not possibly have provided salvation. There is no salvific power in the “Modalist’s incarnate Jesus.”
Hopefully, this article has effectively addressed the reasons why Modalism is a serious heresy, and is not to be taken lightly. Especially, it is not to be accepted as a valid, non-essential doctrine within the bounds of orthodoxy. Modalism completely denies the true God and creates a false god that does not exist. Modalism’s logical conclusion is self defeat. It denies all three Persons of God and commits theological suicide. It denies the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well as the humanity of Christ that atoned for sin. Modalism is an illogical heresy and needs to be aggressively refuted in evangelical circles. Too many people are confused and unable to understand the mechanics of this heresy because it is so deceptive. It is nothing but a device of Satan and demonically energized within theological circles to lead people astray so that they will burn in Hell for eternity. Modalism is truly a damnable heresy.
Grudem, W. (2000). Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
MacArthur, J. (2007). The Truth War. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.