by Dale Brown
In an effort to uphold the unity and monotheistic understanding of God, yet disassociate oneself from the words "trinity" and "Catholic" we often find groups going into the age old heresy of Sabellianism, which is also known as modalistic MONARCHIANISM. Sabellius held that God was one indivisible substance, but with three fundamental activities, or modes, appearing successively as the Father (the creator and lawgiver), as the Son (the redeemer), and as the Holy Spirit (the maker of life and the divine presence within men). In some extreme cases there have even been groups who have gone one step further in which the Holy Spirit becomes the church, thus man becomes "Christ".
Harold O.J. Brown, in his book "HERESIES", deals with this third century controversy. By holding to the orthodox teaching of the deity of Christ yet making Him, the Son, a mode or aspect of the Father we are confronted with a few problems. As such, he is fully and truly God, but not a distinct Person. Unfortunately, this suggestion makes it hard to see how Jesus can meaningfully pray to the Father if he is the Father in another mode. Even more serious, it is impossible to conceive of him as our "advocate with the Father" (1 John 2:1) or to be said to "live forever to make intercession" (Heb. 7:25).
One might say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same yet leave the definition incomplete. If he were to say, "same God", he would be correct. But, if he were to say, "same person", he would be incorrect. It cannot be denied that the Father spoke to the Son (Matt. 3:17), the Son spoke to the Father (John 17:1), and the Son spoke of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7), thus identifying three separate persons who co-exist at the same time. In John 1:1&2 we see the Word (who we see as being Christ in verse 14) existing right along side God, at the same time, in the beginning. In Acts 7:56 we see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, thus two persons in heaven.
The late Dr. Walter Martin claimed that there are two major types of modalists. There are the "logical" ones, who claim that God cannot be both Father and Son and Holy Spirit at the same time and who therefore say that God was first the Father, became the Son, and then became the Holy Spirit. The illogical modalists recognize that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are spoken of at the same time. These modalists try to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit somehow exist at the same time and yet are each other.
Some who hold to the modalistic views today are, the United Pentecostal Church (and other Oneness Pentecostals), Branhamism, and Witness Lee and his "Local Church". (The Witness Lee followers have more recently begun to backpedal and teach a more Trinitarian model.)
Some might justly object to using the word "cult" in reference to adherents of modalism. Yet, one must still recognize the teaching as a heretical one. So which shall we prefer, the term "cult", which is broad and subject to interpretation, or "heresy", which is possibly more direct and to the point?
Assuredly there are people within modalist groups who have had a legitimate experience with Jesus Christ. It is not the people that we have in question. It is the teaching. I have met a number of people who tell me they had an experience with Jesus Christ while they yet attended a Mormon church. They later came to see the error of the Mormon system. God uses what ever is available. Let us be reminded that God spoke through Balaam's donkey (Num. 22) but that does not suggest that God would want us to seek counsel from a donkey or ordain one into the ministry.
For those who endorse modalism or any other deviant doctrine of the godhead, there are other serious theological problems that eventually occur. Most vehemently reject the Trinitarian formula of baptism in the great commission, "Go therefore and make disciples in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit"(Matt. 28:19), and even suggest it necessary to be re-baptized in the name of Jesus as is seen used in the Book of Acts. With the United Pentecostal Church comes the doctrine that says you can not be saved unless you speak in tongues. With Branhamism and Witness Lee there is a whole list of additional quirks of legalism etc.
Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.