Recently (1/25/2012) at an event named "The Elephant Room" a round table discussion was moderated by Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald in which Bishop T.D. Jakes was put on the spot regarding his proposed belief in modalism aka" oneness doctrine.
I have featured posts on modalism on this blog. Sabellianism, as it was initially known, was a third century teaching deemed a heresy by the early church. The concept, rooted in a method of interpretation of certain biblical passages, affirms that there is only one God, but claims that the one God's name is Jesus and that Jesus simply changes role from Father to the Son and from Son to Holy Ghost. Sabellianism holds that Jesus merely "manifests" himself as the Father, and as the Holy Ghost. In contrast, trinitarian believers hold that based on the biblical description, that there is only one God who eternally exists as three persons. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Trinitarians affirm an eternal distinction of the personal identity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost based on mind, will, intellect, self-awareness and not merely based on role or actions.
In essence, it seems that Jakes, although affirming a quasi- trinitarian position, and stating that his understanding has taken him beyond modalism, suggests that the teaching and doctrinal debate between oneness and trinitarian believers is more a matter of semantics than anything else.
"Here is why I am there. I am not crazy about the word 'persons' ... most people who know me know that ... my doctrinal statement is really no different from yours except for the word 'manifest' instead of 'person,' which you describe as modalist and I describe as Pauline,"
Reducing the conversation to an issue of semantics seems to be the aim of many, especially among the modern mega-ministry elite. Not long ago Bishop Noel Jones woefully attempted to find this middle ground also calimg that neither "manifestations" nor "persons" was an adequate description and that he had adopted the terminology "revelatory expressions". While making statements to the contrary, Jones remains oneness in his theology even if his oneness belief is not a traditional description of such. It seems that the effort is on to make changes to the words and descriptions to make oneness doctrine more palatable to the average believer. At the end of the day Jones, like Jakes, also appears to suggest that the entire argument is one of semantics, rather than substance of scripture.
Clarifying 1 Timothy 3:16
During the discussion Bishop Jakes pointed to 1 Timothy 3:16 to make his case as to why he wasn't comfortable using the word "persons" when it came to describing God. The verse is as follows:
1 Timothy 3:16 ~ "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
The Bishop stated the following as his reason for liking "manifestation" as opposed to "persons":
"That is what Paul describes as a 'mystery' and I don't think we should do that,"..."Now, Paul is not a modalist, but he does not think it is robbery to the divinity of God to say God was 'manifest' in the flesh," ~ Bishop T.D. Jakes
Since the Bishop offered this as a basis for his belief that the word "person" is possibly inappropriate, we should ask, does his view represent what the verse teaches? I don't believe it does for the following reasons the second of which I will elaborate upon:
1- God being "manifest in the flesh" does not suggest that the line of ontology or being has been crossed. However, without the need to argue that point, the greater problem is what I assert in #2
2- The verse does not in any way teach that the "mystery of godliness" is limited to God being manifested in the flesh. Paul is pointing to the message of the gospel and the whole process by which God has offered salvation to the world. Paul, in this verse uses a technique that we find common among biblical writers called anabasis and enumeration. Anabasis, literally meaning a military march upward, is a technique that implores the description of an ascending scale with increasing emphasis. In this case the "mystery of godliness" includes all of the the following elements which Paul enumerates:
- God was manifest in the flesh
- Justified in the Spirit
- Seen of angels
- preached unto the gentiles (Christ & his message)
- Believed on in the world
- received up into glory
Thus the whole process, which is the basis of the gospel, from incarnation to ascension, is called a mystery aka "the mystery of godliness". The mystery is not solely that God was manifested in the flesh and neither is that the emphasis of Paul's declaration. He is not teaching a "mode" of god's existence but rather a method of God's actions among mankind.
From One Confusion To The Next
The problem with the Bishop's statements is in how far he goes in delivering his contrast. He says this:
"When we start talking about that sort of thing, I think that it is important that we realize that there are distinctives between the Father and the working of the Son: the Father didn't bleed, the Father didn't die, only in the person of Jesus Christ, coming back for us in the person of Jesus Christ ... Jesus Christ has been with us, but only indwelt in the person of the Holy Spirit. We are baptized into the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is consistent with my belief system." ~ Bishop T.D. Jakes (emphasis added)
Now, whether it is a relic of his past or not, the Bishop yet describes the distinction between the Father and the Son as a matter of role or mode of operation and not that of being or ontology. He describes the distinction between the Father and the Son as a matter of their works or their actions using the phrase "working of" to emphasize the varying roles between both.
That is NOT fully a biblical description. The Bishop's description goes one step further separating the Father so far from the Son based on distinctive works until the question arises what or who actually died upon the cross? At the same time, he suggests that "the person" of Jesus Christ, who shall return for us is distinct from being God. For sure God cannot die, but the moment we ask and distinguish between the work of Jesus and the works of the Father in salvation we fall into trouble. That is the essence of modalism.
Jesus said that the works he did were not those done of himself, (Jn. 8:28, Jn. 10:25) but they were his Father's works which he was accomplishing. It all began with a subjugation of will and not role or operation (works) Jesus consistently asserted that his will (distinguishing him as a person) was to do the will (distinguishing the Father as a person) of the Father. (this is identity) The scripture accords:
John 4:54 ~ "Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."
In addition Jesus didn't do anything that he was not to do as his will was subject to the Father's
John 5:30 ~ "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me."
I understand that many of today's ministers feel that their mission is to not alienate folk, but to draw them all in. That is a commendable attitude born out of the desire to see all men blessed and saved. However, the problem exists is that if we have to create a different image of God other than what is described within the writ of holy texts what have we really done and what do we really believe?
The scripture is clear. The nature of God and the being of Jesus was not to be confused with or lowered down to the status of man and mankind. Trying to make God be something that he is not is not what we are supposed to do and very well could have eternal consequences. Do we or are we required to understand it all? Certainly by no means NO! Some things we can only apprehend even if we don't fully comprehend. Alas, that is the nature of the God that we serve, certainly beyond our full comprehension. In those cases all we can say is simply YES!
Romans 11:33 ~ "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
Source: The Christian Post