What is it called when someone believes that God manifested himself in the Father, the Son and the Spirit, but that they are not separate persons?


The most common technical name for this theology is Modalism, or the more technical name, which is Monarchical Modalism.  It is called this because the teaching is that there is one person, not three, but that person is discovered in three distinct modes. It is also called Sabellianism after the most important early church leader who supported this heretical theology, which was Sabellius.  In the modern context, this has been called Unitarianism.  Also, in the context of Pentecostalism, it is known as Oneness theology.  It is the theological position of about 20% of Pentecostals.

This is the motivating factor behind the obviously false teaching that one must be baptized in the name of Jesus only, which leads to the label “Jesus Only Pentecostalism.”  I call this a obvioiusly false teaching (that baptism is invalid if it is not in the name of Jesus only), for the rather plain reason that Jesus told his disciples, in what is called the Great Commission, “Go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit–teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-19)  Of course, one thing he commanded them to do is to baptize those they won as disciples of Jesus in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Naturally, Modalists, who deny the trinity, are not willing to obey this command to baptize in the name of all three “persons” in the godhead.  However, this forces them to either ignore Matthew 28:18-20 or to find an ad hoc reason not to accept what Jesus clearly commanded.

On a personal note, a friend of mine and member of my local church was just recently won to this teaching that baptism must be in the name of Jesus only, and was told that she was lost because she had been baptized in my local church in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She accepted a questionable rebaptism, which implied I am a false teacher and that our church is not making true converts to Jesus. I was made very sad by this turn of events, and I pray for those who push this false teaching, which comes from Modalist theology, that they will cease this practice.  If it were improper to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and if one is not saved if doing so, that would imply that there were no saved people from the time of the apostles until the early Pentecostal movement in the first decade of the twentieth century. Of course, this is a preposterous position. I say this because church history tells us that all, or perhaps more carefully, nearly all baptisms in the early church were in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as confirmed by many sources.  Besides, Jesus prayed to his father and said that he would send the Holy Spirit.  Jesus did not talk to himself and he did not send himself.  Let us call this false teaching on salvation, which comes from the erroneous theology of Modalism for what it is.

John Oakes

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