Known as Sabellianism, Modalism, and Patripassianism.
- Sabellianism after its founder, Sabellius, a Libyan priest of the third century
- Modalism after the three modes or roles which it claimed the one person of the Trinity occupied
- Patripassianism after its implication that the person of the Father (Pater-) suffered (-passion) on the cross when Jesus died, a term created by Tertullian in his work Adversus Praxeas, Chapter I
Thus, according to Modalism, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, Jesus was simply God acting in one mode or role. After Jesus' ascension, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was God acting in a different mode. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time, only one after another. Modalism denies the distinctiveness and coexistence of the three persons in the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.
Modalism quickly died out as it was too contrary to the ancient Christian faith to survive for long. It was condemned by Tertullian (c. 213, Tertullian Against Praxeas 1, in Ante Nicene Fathers, vol. 3) and was condemned as heresy by Dionysius, bishop of Rome (c. 262).
Unfortunately, it was reintroduced in the early twentieth century in the new Pentecostal movement. In its new form, Modalism is often referred to as Jesus Only theology since it claims that Jesus is the only person in the Godhead and that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are merely names, modes, or roles of Jesus.
Today the United Pentecostal Church and United Apostolic Churches, as well as numerous smaller groups which call themselves "apostolic churches," teach the Jesus Only doctrine. Through the Word Faith movement, it has begun to infect traditionally Trinitarian Pentecostalism. They deny the Trinity, teach that the name of God is Jesus, and require baptism for salvation.
These modalist churches often accuse Trinitarians of teaching three gods. This is not what the Trinity is. The correct teaching of the Trinity is one God in three eternal coexistent persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM)
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