Heresies sprung up early in church history and the church needed to meet the challenge. Two of the most serious and dangerous false teachings were Modalism and Arianism. Both of these heresies were Biblical distortions of the triune nature of God. A basic definition of the doctrine of the Trinity is one God subsists in three persons the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons are co-equal and co-eternal (always in existence).
Errors inside the Early Church
The modalistic heresy tried to maintain the oneness of God while at the same time explaining the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to this one God. Modalism taught the one God manifests himself in different “modes” at different times. During the Old Testament we see God the Father as the only person of the one God; Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not in existence. Then Jesus is born and the Father is gone, along with the Holy Spirit. Finally, during the church age we now have the Holy Spirit and the Father and Son are not in existence. God exists in one mode or person at a single period of time.
A key religious leader who holds this view is TD Jakes. His popular books can be found at most Christian bookstores. If he is a true modalist then he is not a Christian, he believes in a false Jesus. Currently, a religious group that holds this view is the United Pentecostal Church International or “Oneness Pentecostals.” I heard one of their scholars debate an evangelical Christian on this topic and try to Biblically show that today we are under the power of God the Holy Spirit and God the Father and Son are nowhere to be found.
I had an opportunity to share with a group of Oneness Pentecostals at Promise Keepers in Los Angeles. They were outside the Coliseum with their signs stating the Trinity is from Satan. I shared with one of the individuals holding a picket sign. I tried to show him the Biblical errors of his beliefs but he was too busy yelling at me to listen. I find people who yell or raise their voices during a discussion do so when their arguments are weak. He couldn’t answer me and was frustrated. Finally, a police officer asked me to go back to my seat because he felt if we ignored these picketers they would disappear. I returned to my seat in the Coliseum.
A scripture to share with a modalist is found in Luke 22:42. [Jesus praying] “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Whom is Jesus praying to if only the son mode exists at that moment? How many wills do we see here? In the passage we see two, the Father’s will and the Son’s. If you have 2 wills you have 2 persons. Jesus was not a ventriloquist, talking to himself.
In the baptism of Jesus we see the greatest modalist magic trick of all time. We read in Matthew 3:16-17, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” Here we see all three persons of the Trinity in action at the same time. Jesus is being baptized, the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven. According to modalism this isn’t possible. Only the person of Jesus is present at this moment.
All Biblical verses where you see two persons of the Triune God interacting with each other are great verses to share with a modalist. Modalism in order to maintain the oneness of God, sacrifices the co-eternal nature of the 3 persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their belief in one God and only one person at a time is a false view of the nature of God. Therefore, the early church rejected modalism.
The second major heresy that influenced the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was Arianism. Arius held that the Son was a second God, inferior to the Father, and that the Holy Spirit was a third God, inferior to both the Father and the Son. Arius believed that there was a time when Jesus and the Holy Spirit were not in existence; both were created beings. Jehovah Witnesses have similar beliefs about Jesus and the Father.
Again we see a person developing a doctrine that tries to maintain there is only one God, the Father, by contending Jesus and the Holy Spirit are lesser gods, not the one true God. Multiple Bible passages show that Arianism is false. All verses that support monotheism refute Arianism; a lesser god is still a second god. One passage that shows that there is only one God is Isaiah 45:5, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” Clearly, God says in Isaiah there is no other God, no lesser god, no 3 gods, just one true God. To maintain there are two lesser gods is to promote polytheism (belief in more than one god). There are at least 28 clear Biblical passages that teach there is only one God. Later in my series I will use additional one God verses to support the Trinity. The early church fought hard to maintain monotheism because of the strong Biblical support. The church battled Arianism during the 3rd – 5th centuries and eventually rejected this false teaching as heretical.