Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category
I grew up in the Assemblies of God, a Trinitarian Pentecostal group. I was aware even as a child of the “other” Pentecostals out there who were called “Jesus Only” Pentecostals. My dad explained them to me once saying that they only believed in Jesus and not in the Father or the Holy Spirit. That was not entirely true but it was the best he understood. Over the years I have had very few encounters with Oneness folks. I visited a Oneness church only twice in my life and both for observation.
The Oneness movement is much older than Oneness Pentecostals like to believe. They like to believe that God restored the Oneness doctrine of God in 1913-14 with the split from Trinitarian Pentecostals. The Assemblies of God called the new teaching “the new issue” and rejected the Oneness teachings in 1916. Many AG pastors left the Assemblies of God over the issue. The largest Oneness Pentecostal group is the United Pentecostal Church International based out of Hazelwood, Missouri. The UPC is rejects the historic doctrine of the Trinity and holds to the Oneness doctrine.
The teaching is essentially the old heresy of Sabellianism from the 2nd century. The teaching is also called Modalism. Modalism teaches that there is only one God who reveals Himself in different “modes” such as the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. These three modes are not three persons but rather manifestations of the one true God. The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus is the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) and that Jesus is the Father and Jesus is the Son and Jesus is the Holy Ghost. Jesus is all three! Jesus only is God. There is no Father who is God nor a Son who is God nor the Spirit who is God but rather there is only one Person in the Godhead and His name is Jesus. Oneness Pentecostals go to Matthew 28:19 and they see baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and they point out that the Name of God is revealed to us in Acts 2:38 when Peter used the keys given to him by Jesus to preach the truth of the Godhead, that the Name of God is Jesus. It is this Name (Acts 4:12) that saves us and only those who are baptized in the name of Jesus are truly saved (Romans 6:1-4).
In reality, the Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father who is named Jesus is truly the eternal God. They would agree with the Arians, that the Son has a beginning in the incarnation (Luke 1:35) and the Son will have an ending (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). They love to use the word “begotten” in John 3:16 to prove that Jesus the Son was begotten by the Father. While this is a poor usage of the Greek term here (see the NIV for example here), Oneness Pentecostals have argued effectively to poorly taught Trinitarians about the nature the Son. They also love to point out that the words “Trinity” nor “God the Son” nor “the Eternal Son” are found in the New Testament and to them, this proves that Jesus as the Son was not eternally the Son of the Father but rather He had a beginning in Bethlehem.
So what do Oneness Pentecostals do with the Lord Jesus in the Gospels where He over and over again refers to “My Father” or “the Father?” Or what about where Jesus prays to the Father such has in John 17? Or what about Jesus’ baptism where all three persons (or manifestations in the Oneness mind) appear in Matthew 3:13-17? They believe that the key to understanding the life of Jesus is to understand that at times He was speaking as the Son and sometimes as God who is the Father. The Son, they teach, always refers to Jesus’ humanity and not to His divinity. When the Son is praying or eating or sleeping, He is doing so as the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). They believe that the Father (who is Jesus as the mighty God) wrapped Himself in flesh (John 1:14, 18) but the Son was not God only He was a man, the Son of God. So when Jesus was praying, He was praying from His human side to His divine side. And when Jesus was baptized, God, being God, chose to reveal all three manifestations at the same time which He can do if He wants. When we read of Jesus now in the presence of God at His right hand such as in Acts 2:34-36 or Hebrews 1:3, this is speaking of Jesus in His human manifestation before the eternal Father who is Jesus the divine side. To me it is very confusing and doesn’t allow the texts to read freely but nonetheless Oneness Pentecostals believe this is the key to reading and studying and understanding the Bible. It is their own unique hermeneutic if you will.
Oneness Pentecostals use three major texts to prove that Jesus is God the Father. First, they read Isaiah 9:6 and believe that the words “eternal Father” are referring to the Father. Secondly, they point to John 10:30 and point out that Jesus Himself here says that He and the Father are one. Third, they point to John 14:9 where Jesus answers Philip and says that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.
Time doesn’t permit me to answer the entire charges here and to be fair, Oneness Pentecostal have other texts they turn to prove their doctrine. In short, Isaiah 9:6 is not speaking of necessarily titles of the Lord Jesus. Nowhere in the New Testament are these titles worked out though they are true of Him. The concept of God as our Father is not fully developed in the Old Testament though spoken of a few times. Yet here the understanding could be “Father of eternity” in that the One to be born (Isaiah 7:14) is from ancient times (Micah 5:2). Jesus is eternal and thus He is the Father of eternity but this doesn’t mean that He is the Father. Secondly, the Greek text of John 10:30 is clear that Jesus is not speaking of unipersonal but essence when He says that He and the Father are one. The Greek says, “One we are.” There are very specific Greek words John could have used to show us that Jesus is the Father but instead He uses a Greek phrase that simply makes Jesus of the same kind as the Father. Third, even Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe that when Jesus the Man was saying to Philip that if he’d seen Him, he’d seen the Father that they were seeing at that very moment the Father. Oneness Pentecostals hold that the Father is a spirit and invisible to us (Colossians 1:15) but instead Jesus is saying that when the Apostles saw Jesus, they were seeing God the Father in that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. Not once in the New Testament does Jesus ever say that He is the Father though He refers to His Father or the Father or My Father hundreds of times.
Finally, a word about the Oneness view of salvation. This is the key for me. Oneness Pentecostals teach that a person must believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, be baptized in water by immersion “in the name of Jesus” for the forgiveness of sins, and then must receive the infilling of the Holy Ghost by the initial, physical evidence of speaking in tongues. A person is not justified by faith alone in the Oneness mind. A person must do all the above to be saved. Now sometimes in the Oneness church, a person will get the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues before being baptized in Jesus’ name but they point to Acts 10:43-48 as proof that this is okay.
Also it’s not enough to just believe in Jesus, be baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Ghost with evidence of tongues, one must also live a holy life till the end lest they “lose their salvation.” Holiness includes the holiness codes set up by many Oneness churches including women wearing dresses, not cutting their hair, no makeup or jewelry, and men must be clean-shaven, short hair, avoid alcohol and tobacco and live a holy life. It is amounts to works-righteousness though Oneness folks will argue that they do it with joy.
In closing, Oneness Pentecostals are nice folks but being nice is not the standard of truth. The Word of God is the final authority and they would agree. I have been meeting a Oneness pastor from time to time to talk theology and he is a bright, loving man. He wants me to accept him merely because he loves Jesus. That, he says, should unite us. But I disagree. I am not mean to him but the Jesus he says that he worships and loves is the not the Jesus of the Bible. I know that hurts but its true. The Jesus he says that he worships is not the same as the Jesus I worship. He believes that since Oneness Pentecostals speak in tongues the same as Trinitarian Pentecostals speak in tongues, this must prove that God accepts them both despite someone being wrong about the Godhead. He also believes that since Oneness Pentecostals teach and preach that Jesus is God, what is the big deal?
There are obviously many errors. For just one. Consider the atonement. In Oneness theology the saving work of Christ is not God dying in my place, standing condemned for my sins. Instead, we have the Father wrapped in flesh but not really a man. Instead Jesus only appears as a man but the true Jesus is still the eternal Father. In other words, the divine payment for our sins is not payed by the Lord God but instead by a mere man albeit a perfect one because the Father was inside of the man. The payment is not God redeeming us through the divine Son but instead it is the human Jesus paying the penalty for our sins to the Father Jesus. How weird. In Trinitarian theology, the second person of the holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus, bears our sins on the cross and redeems us from the holy wrath of God. God is truly in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) because the Son is offering His life for our sins to the glory of the Father who sent Him into the world (John 3:16).
Over even consider Jesus is our high priest who offers Himself before the Father to pray for us sinners (Hebrews 4:14-15). Hebrews 7:22-28 speaks of Jesus being our high priest before the Father. Jesus, as our faithful high priest, offered Himself to God (Hebrews 9:24-28) and He now sits at the Father’s right hand to ever live to pray for us. In Oneness theology, Jesus as the Father hears Jesus the flesh (the Son) when we pray to Him. In Trinitarian theology, the text is allowed to speak for itself: Jesus the Son prays for us sinner before the holy Father. Jesus is truly our high priest in every since of the word. A time will come when this will end at the consummation of the ages but this doesn’t mean that Jesus will cease to be the Son of God nor will He cease to reign as our Savior (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
And I could write much more. I have gone too long. I close by simply pointing out that Oneness Pentecostals fall short of the truth of Scripture. While I admire them for their zeal and for holding to monotheism and to the authority of the Bible, I find much of their theology lacking. I pray that God will help us, as biblical Trinitarians, to know what we believe about God and why the Trinity is not an optional doctrine. The Trinity is vital.
I have been studying the doctrine of the holy Trinity now for some time. I love the doctrine! It is amazing how Scripture opens up when you begin to study the nature of God. Fred Sanders is correct, “The trinity changes everything.” The holy Trinity changes our understanding of love, creation, humanity, order, prayer, worship, and salvation. Without the Trinity, these doctrines become confusing and twisted.
In my studies, I have been reading books from the Oneness camps to see where they are coming from. I have listened to many hours of lectures and sermons from Oneness Pentecostals. Some of the sermons were just normal sermons while most of them I tried to pick that focused on my studies. I will not, for the sake of time, try to dive into the Oneness views regarding their view of God. It is suffice to say that Oneness Pentecostals are “Jesus only” meaning that, in the words of one of their preachers, “Jesus is everything.” In Oneness Pentecostalism, Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Spirit. There is more to it than just that but they hold that Jesus is God and that there is only one God and thus Jesus is the only person of the Godhead and He alone is all three modes or manifestations of God that we read in the Bible.
What is the draw then to Oneness Pentecostalism? I think the appeal is the same as the draw to Trinitarian Pentecostalism in many ways. First, there is the focus on experience. Oneness Pentecostalism is very emotional. The worship is dramatic. People often shake, dance, run, lift their hands, speak in tongues, etc. in their worship services. The God of Oneness churches is a very personal God who wants to interact with his people.
Secondly, the preaching is more dramatic than the average evangelical sermon. While I enjoy a good expository sermon, I detest a lifeless one. I want a preacher who preaches with passion the truth of God with sound exegesis. However, the average evangelical pulpit is often shallow and lifeless. Not so with many Oneness Pentecostal churches. They preach with power (anointing they would say). While their message is often shallow and not based on exegesis, they preach with conviction and shouting and fire that is often missing in evangelical churches.
Third, they present themselves as the keepers of the truth. Oneness Pentecostals (most of them I have listened to) believe that all are lost but Oneness Pentecostals. If you have not been saved according to their view of Acts 2:38, you are lost. This would be all Trinitarians including Trinitarian Pentecostals. You must be baptized in the name of Jesus to have your sins forgiven. To be baptized in any other way is damnation. This twisting of Acts 2:38 leads Oneness Pentecostals to feel that they alone are the keepers of the truth of God. Their duty is to evangelize all who are not Oneness. This “cause” helps people find purpose in their existence.
Lastly, simple answers. People want to know who is God. Oneness Pentecostals are ready with an answer: Jesus is God. Of course, Trinitarians believe the same but Oneness groups don’t teach that the one God is three persons but rather they teach that Jesus is God and He alone is God and He alone has always been God and He alone will forever be God. There are no persons in the Godhead but only Jesus (Colossians 2:9). If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:8-9). Oneness groups provide answers for who is God and what is He like. Like cults, they have answers for God where confusing may exist. They have their God figured out.
Sadly, many Trinitarian Pentecostals often fall into prey with Oneness Pentecostals. The reason is that pragmatism abounds among the Trinitarian Pentecostals. One could easily attend a Trinitarian Pentecostal church and never know that it was Pentecostal. This is not so with Oneness Pentecostals. They have the feel of the old Pentecostal services where the music is jumping, the people are jumping, and the sermons are “anointed.” The average Trinitarian Pentecostal looking for an “experience” with Jesus will find one in Oneness churches and will remind them of “the good old days.” Due to pragmatism, doctrine among many Trinitarian Pentecostals is weak and thus a Trinitarian Pentecostal is easily drawn into the Oneness groups and led astray.
For more information on Oneness Pentecostals, I recommend this book.
Almost every denial of the doctrine of the Trinity will lead to an attack upon the Lord Jesus Christ or a gross application thereof. For example, in Jehovah Witness theology, Jesus is Michael the angel. Jesus is created by the Father and He is not eternal nor equal with the Father. Jesus is not even worshiped among the JW’s (although they did worship Jesus until 1954 when the Watchtower banned JW’s from worshiping Jesus). In the case of the JW’s, they are simply replaying the old heresy of Arianism and making Jesus simply a part of God’s creation instead of being God.
Others attack the person and work of Christ outright. The Hebraic Roots movement is gaining speed in the West (due in large part to a reaction to the shallow seeker churches). This movement at first seems to affirm the Lord Jesus but the more you get to studying under “rabbis” the more you’ll come to “learn” that Jesus is not God. In fact, they deny that salvation is accomplished by the finish work of the Messiah but instead they believe one must keep the law of Moses to be saved. This is nothing more than the old heresy of the Judaizers of Acts 15 all over again.
Paul the Apostle was so protective of the gospel and the Person and Work of Christ Jesus that he issued a curse upon anyone who did not preach the truth (Galatians 1:6-9). Paul warned the Corinthians against the lies of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:2-4). He wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:5 what he was passionate about preaching: Christ as Lord! Paul used the Greek word kurious as he did also in Romans 10:9 and Philippians 2:11. Jesus is Lord was his cry! This same word was used by the Jews in the Greek Old Testament about God.
In Isaiah 40:3 we find that Jesus is both Yahweh and Elohim. Mormonism teaches, for example, that Yahweh and Elohim are different persons. Elohim is said to be the Father of the Lord Jesus who is Jehovah or Yahweh. Yet Isaiah wrote:
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD (Yahweh);
make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Elohim).
This verse is applied to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:3 about the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus is both Yahweh and Elohim!
The biblical doctrine of the Trinity is not easy to grasp and is unique among Christians. No other religion compares to Christianity in this regard. Islam and Judaism both claim monotheism along with Christianity but Islam and Judaism are both unitarian monotheism or that God is absolutely one. Christianity is unique in that we believe in one God (monotheism) but in three persons in the one God. In this way, Christianity is trinitarian monotheistic. Three who’s and one what. One what and three who’s. This is how I teach my children the doctrine of the Trinity. All three persons in the Godhead are called God in the Bible. Yet the Bible affirms one God. The answer is not to deny monotheism nor to deny Trinitarianism but to embrace both as true. There is one God and three persons in the one God.
Denials of the Trinity bring many problems. What do we do with the divine persons being mentioned together such as in Matthew 28:19 or 2 Corinthians 13:14? What do we do with the baptism of Jesus where all three persons are manifest (Matthew 3:13-17)? What do we do with Jesus’ clear affirmation of both His own deity and yet His submission to the Father? What do we do with the Spirit of God raising Jesus from the dead? What do we do with the clear affirmation of Deuteronomy 6:4 in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 yet Paul’s clear understanding that Jesus is equal with God?
The bottom line is not to try to deny the person and work of the Lord Jesus but to affirm His work and His glory and His deity and to bow down and worship Him. We are to praise God through the Lord Jesus Christ who gave Himself our sins and sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25) as our mediator before God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5-6). We must pray to the Father in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14) giving Him the glory that is due to Him. We must worship God in the Holy Spirit (John 4:23-24; Philippians 3:3). To deny the Trinity only leads to chaos and various attacks on the Lord Jesus Christ.
While listening to some podcasts on the doctrine of the Trinity, I begin to consider how we pray. People often pray without thinking about the theology behind their prayers. For example, I have heard people pray, “Father thank You for saving me. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. Father, thank you for loving me enough to sacrifice Yourself for me.” Yet this is not biblical. The Father did not give Himself for our sins but instead He gave His Son for our sins (John 3:16). The Father no doubt has poured out His love upon us in His Son (1 John 3:1-3) yet the Father did not die on the cross. The Son died for our sins on the cross.
Biblically speaking, we are to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is Trinitarian praying. The entire Trinity was involved in our salvation. The Father sent the Son to die for the sins of humanity. The Son obeyed the Father perfectly (John 8:29; Philippians 2:5-11). The Son shed His blood to save us from the wrath of a holy but loving God (Romans 5:8-9). The Spirit raised the Son from the dead (Romans 8:11). Acts 2:24 says that God raised Jesus from the dead. True! God the Spirit! All of this, the incarnation of Jesus (Luke 1:35) to the perfect life of Jesus in obedience to His Father (Hebrews 5:8-9) and Jesus’ death on the cross and His being raised from the dead was for our salvation! The entire Trinity was involved in this saving process!
This is also true for prayer. Jesus is our faithful high priest (Hebrews 4:14) who mediates for us before the Father (1 Timothy 2:5). The Lord Jesus prays for us (Hebrews 7:25). The Spirit also prays for us (Romans 8:26-27). We come before the Father in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14). Jesus taught us to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9). This doesn’t mean that we cannot pray to the Lord Jesus since even Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus when he was being killed for his faith in Jesus (Acts 7:59). However, prayer should normally be addressed to the Father in the name of Jesus who is our high priest before the holy Father. We find Paul praying to the Father in Ephesians 3:14.
As we begin to think through our praying and realize that we are speaking to a trinitarian God, we begin to see the beauty not only of our redemption unfold but also the New Testament comes alive as we see the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We see their work in the New Testament and we see how precious the doctrine of the Trinity would have been to the Apostles. We see a faithful Jew such as Paul the Apostle taking the great doctrine of God from Deuteronomy 6:4 and showing God in His fulness in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 with the Father and the Son being declared the one true and living God.
The doctrine of the Trinity helps our prayer lives explode with praise as we ponder the deep things of God. I confess that I don’t understand the Trinity fully. It is beyond my understanding. I do confess to my faith in its truth. There are simply too many passages that affirm the doctrine of one God (monotheism) while yet at the same time the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Spirit is called God. We either can deny monotheism and embrace tritheism or polytheism or form heretical views about Christ (almost all heretical views attack Christ). We can deny Christ His full deity or that He was a created being (Arianism). We can teach that Christ is fully God but He takes on three modes (modalism). We can teach that Christ was not eternal but rather that He had a beginning and was adopted as the Son of God at His baptism by John (adoptionism). We can deny the full deity or full humanity of Christ and created a sort of half God, half man doctrine (see Bill Johnson and Bethel for this heretical view revised). Either way, the person of Christ is the One who gets attack by those who want to deny the Trinity.
In the end, I choose to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. I rejoice that Jesus died for my sins, that He rose again, and that He sits at the right hand of God till His enemies be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1). I rejoice in Pentecost, the glorious truth that the gift of the Spirit was poured out as promised by God the Father (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4). I praise God that all three person of the holy Godhead were fully involved in saving a wretch like me. It humbles me. It makes me want to worship Him who is true.
I have spent some time pondering what is the most difficult Christian doctrine. For some it would be hell. For others it would be end times. Others would debate perhaps election and predestination or God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Others would say that it is the hypostatic union in the Person of the Lord Jesus.
For me, the most difficult doctrine is the Trinity. It’s not that I am going to confess here that I am abandoning this doctrine. I am not. I affirm along with 2000 years of Christian history that the Bible teaches the Trinity. I affirm this truth but that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with it.
Theopedia defines the Trinity as follows:
The Trinity is the Christian doctrine that deals with and describes the nature of God. The doctrine asserts the following:
There is one and only one God.
God eternally exists in three distinct persons.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, etc.
I affirm that there is but one God (Deut. 4:39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Psalm 83:18; 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:18; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5) yet I affirm that the Father is God (Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Matthew 6:9; 7:11; Romans 8:15; 1 Peter 1:17). I affirm that the Son is God (John 1:1, 14, 18; 10:30; 12:45; 16:15; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 19:16). Even the Father bore witness to the divinity of the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 8:18; 1 John 5:9). I also affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:26; Acts 5:3-4; 7:51; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit can be sinned against (Isaiah 63:10; Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29) and He can depart from people (Genesis 6:3; 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11). This does not happen to a mist or a force but to a Person. Further, the Spirit speaks (Acts 13:2) and He forbids to speak (Acts 16:6).
I could go on and on giving you Scripture after Scripture that affirms the full deity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. I affirm the Trinity.
But my mind still can’t grasp this God. I love that. You see the cults bring God down to their level. The Jehovah’s Witnesses can explain their god to me. They can give me verse after verse to prove their belief in their god, their belief in Jesus as Michael the archangel, their belief that the “faithful” will inherit the earth and only 144,000 will be sealed in eternity (and those alone are “born again”) and so forth. They have no mystery to their god. Their god can be understood and explained.
Not so with Yahweh. I can’t explain how the Trinity can be understood. I have heard all the analogies to try to explain Him. I have heard the egg analogy. I have heard the water analogy. I have heard the trichotomy analogy from humanity. I have seen the Trinity involved in the work of redemption. I have read how our own salvation experience demonstrates the Trinity (and it does!).
Yet I still don’t fully grasp the Trinity. There are passages that make me ponder this such as the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17) where all three persons of the Trinity are present but separate. There are the passages of Jesus such as John 17:3 or passages that speak of His role as our redeemer and subjection before the Father which will end (1 Corinthians 15:26-28). I read in Revelation 4:2 that there is one on the throne. And yet in the book of Revelation we read that the Lamb is there (Revelation 7:10; 21:22-23). We also read that the Holy Spirit is there (Revelation 22:17).
I am not doubting the Word of God here at all. I am affirming what I read. I love God. I love that He is a mystery to me. I love that I can’t put my finite mind around His infiniteness. I love that He is bigger than I am. I suppose that even in eternity I will always wonder about this God, about His rule and reign. I will though fall down and worship Him and declare that He alone is God and that there is no other god (or gods). All of humanity will declare this same truth (Philippians 2:5-11). We must all stand before the judgment seat of God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27-28). I praise the Lord that He has saved me by His grace and that I stand before Him even now forgiven and bound for glory.
I do know that when we reject the doctrine of the Trinity, this leads to many unanswered questions and to troubling ends. Typically the Lord Jesus takes the biggest hit. He is rejected as God and this leads to people not praising Him nor worshiping Him nor declaring how we can read about His preexistence, His miracles, His virgin birth, His authority, His sinlessness, His vicarious atonement, His resurrection, His ascension and His role as our high priest and yet deny His full deity. The Holy Spirit likewise is reduced to a force (in JW theology) or a strange mist. Passage after passage must be explained away in the New Testament regarding the Trinity such as the baptism of Jesus, Jesus speaking about the Father and also His affirmation of His equality with the Father, the role Jesus plays now in heaven or even in our salvation.
Simply put, I affirm the Trinity though I do not fully understand it and yet to reject it would lead to more problems than affirming it. I am fully monotheistic while rejecting strict monotheism (like Islam for example). However, to reject the Trinity would only lead to modalism (oneness Pentecostals) or Arianism (Jehovah’s Witness again). Therefore, I praise this God whom I cannot grasp and I trust the Word of God that affirms that there is one God and three persons in the one Godhead or as I say to my sons, “One What and three Who’s.”
Here is a doctrinal statement taken from a church. Can you spot the doctrinal errors?
There is one God, who has revealed Himself as our Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is God manifested in flesh. He is both God and man (Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16).
Did you notice how they defined the Godhead? This is nothing more than modalism. Notice the wording, “God has revealed Himself” and they say that God has manifested Himself as our Father, in His Son, and as the Holy Spirit. We don’t have three distinct persons here but rather one God and three manifestations of the one God. This the age-old heresy called modalism. It has many problems. One is what do you do with the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17? What do you do with the incarnation of Christ in Luke 1:35? What do you do with the clear distinctions made by the New Testament writers about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
The best books I have read on this subject are:
1. A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology by Edward Dalcour
2. The Forgotten Trinity by James White.
3. The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders.
4. What The Bibles Says About God the Redeemer by Jack Cottrell.
5. Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity by Gregory Boyd.
Several bloggers are focused on the invite by James McDonald to his “elephant room” sessions with the charismatic preacher T.D. Jakes. Many are rightly questioning McDonald for inviting Jakes because of Jakes’ prosperity message and his denial of the historic doctrine of the Trinity. Jakes, like many anti-trinitarian preachers who want to make money off trinitarians, avoids the issue. Like others before him such as William Branham (who did deny the Trinity outright before his death) to Tommy Tenney and the music group, Phillips, Craig, and Dean (who continues to be promoted on Christian radio programs as orthodox), these people avoided either way when it came to the issue of the Trinity mainly because they denied the doctrine and yet they wanted to remain in relationship with trinitarians (as I stated for the sake of selling books, speaking engagements for money, music sales, etc.).
James McDonald has stated he believes that Jakes is not a modalist. He believes that Jakes holds to the orthodox view of the Trinity. That’s fine but lets hear Jakes say that. Jakes would go a long way by just coming out and saying, “Yes I believe in the historic doctrine of the Trinity as commonly taught by orthodox Christians for 2000 years.” Instead Jakes continues to avoid the question. He continues to put out statements such as, “I believe in the three manifestations of the one God.” That is not the doctrine of the Trinity. Again, that is modalism. That is the standard Oneness Pentecostal view of the Godhead with Jesus being the only God and Jesus manifesting His one self sometimes as the Father and then sometimes as the Son and then sometimes as the Holy Ghost yet all three are the same person, Jesus. This is the oneness view of Jesus Christ. Jakes has do nothing to distance himself from that viewpoint.
Sadly, many Pentecostals I have known will not distance themselves from Jakes. He is simply too popular. Pragmatism demands that if “the bishop” calls, you answer. Jakes can help the Pentecostal evangelist and pastor like few can by putting numbers in the seats, giving credence to your ministry, and of course, generates lots of money. I have not heard of any prominent Pentecostals standing up to Jakes and asking that he clarify his position on the Trinity. I have never heard, for that matter, any Pentecostals calling the same for Tommy Tenney or for Phillips, Craig, and Dean. Prominent Pentecostals can be found on the same stage with T.D. Jakes and not call him out on the Trinity. One Pentecostal pastor even told me, “Look I don’t know where he stands on the Trinity but I know this that when he was preaching and he walked by me, the anointing was all over that brother. I felt the anointing.” That did it for that brother. Because Jakes is “anointed” shows that he is approved by God.
Again, all of this debate over the Trinity could be easily ended if Jakes would come out and let the world know where he stands on the Trinity. If he denies it then that would confine him to the Oneness Pentecostals (which would mean that he could still make money but not on the same level as now) but if he embraces the doctrine, the doors would close for his preaching to Oneness Pentecostals as well. Either way, Jakes wants money and his denial of the Trinity only helps him to accomplish this.
If I were McDonald I would call Jakes on the carpet. Ask him questions about the Trinity outright. Ask him to clarify his position and then I would state the orthodox view of the Trinity and simply say, “Do you agree 100% with this view?” If he denied the doctrine, I would close the meeting and adjourn.
But I am not a mega-church pastor. I don’t care about money like they do. I am not about my image. I only want to see truth go forth so I am a position that McDonald is not in. I would pray that he does want truth to go forth but I also know that Jakes adds to McDonald’s ministry above theological debates would. McDonald, I don’t think, cares what people think about him bringing in Jakes so long as they make money.
Tough words but those are my thoughts.