For ages the doctrine of the Trinity has been upheld even though it’s been twisted around a thousand ways to Tuesday. Some people find the doctrine of the Trinity a hard pill to swallow, others think Christians believe in three gods, and still others believe we’re contradicting ourselves all over the place when we discuss these things. Yet, the doctrine of the Trinity is of such importance that if you deny it, you cannot in any real way call yourself a Christian.
Here’s what I want to do this week: Monday I gave you some definitions, and showed you where we get these definitions in Scripture. Today, I’ll show you common ways people distort this doctrine, and Friday I’ll show you why this matters.
a) Modalism: teaches the one person appears to us in three different modes or forms. There are two ways people make this error. First they speak of water, saying ‘Water is like the Trinity because it can be ice, steam, or liquid and remain water.’ To which we say, ‘No, water is never all three forms at the same time, in the Trinity God is always and at all times each Person.’ This leads to the second error, ‘Ok, how about a man who is at the same time a father, a son, and a husband, one man, three roles. That is like the Trinity.’ Again, ‘No, father, son, and husband describe three functions or roles of one man. In the Trinity, God is three distinct Persons rather than one person in three distinct roles.’
b) Tritheism/Polytheism: denies there is one God and teaches instead that there are really three gods. The example people use of this is the three-leaf clover saying ‘See, this is like the Trinity, it’s one plant but has three clovers.’ To this we respond and say, ‘No, each leaf is only part of the clover and cannot be said to be the whole plant. In the Trinity each Person is fully God.’
c) Subordinationism: teaches the Son and the Spirit are subordinate to the Father in nature and being. They say ‘See, the Son and the Spirit obey the Father, thus the Father must be the greatest.’ We reply, ‘No, within the Trinity each Person is co-equal and co-eternal in power and glory. There is no subordination.’
d) Oneness Pentecostalism: this is a movement led by pastor T.D. Jakes, out of the Potter’s House church in Dallas, Texas. This movement teaches many heresies including a form of modalism where God at times manifests Himself as Father, at other times manifests Himself as Son, and at other times manifest Himself as Spirit, saying, ‘God cannot exist in more than one mode at a time.’ We want to respond saying, ‘God doesn’t manifest in different modes, He eternally exists as three Persons.’ Thus the 100,000 of people each year who attend his conferences, and the 30 books he publishes through Lifeway should be avoided and considered false teaching. Why Lifeway would publish his books at all is a mystery to me.
e) Jehovah’s Witness: many people think the Jehovah’s Witness group is a genuine part of Christianity. But it is not, because like all other cults they distort the essential doctrines of Christianity. They do believe they are serving the true God because that’s what they are taught. But they deny that the Son of God is really God, deny that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and state that those who believe God is Trinity believe in a false teaching. In their words, on their website it states this, ‘The idea of one God consisting in three persons cannot be explained by human reason. It is confusing, contrary to normal reason, unlike anything in human experience.’
We respond, ‘Of course it’s contrary to human experience, because of sin the entire Bible and all it teaches goes against our nature. Just because we can’t explain something so as to leave all mystery behind doesn’t mean it’s false.’ As we said with T.D. Jakes, we say here – Jehovah’s Witness teaching should be avoided and considered false teaching.