Oneness theology teaches that there is only one God. That God is numerically singular, and that Jesus Christ is that one God. With Deut.6:4 as their proclamation, they reject any concept of unity that would change the numerical one from its strict singular meaning. Oneness theology tries to explain the Oneness of God at the expense of the threeness. By using this as their beginning premise they can only come to the conclusion that the three who are called God, the Father, Son and Spirit can only be singular in person. Interpreting that God is one as a strict numerical statement of his person, God becomes something he is not described as in Scripture. With both the Father and the Son being in the Old and New Testament, Oneness must come up with explaining the relationship of both the Father and the Son in some other fashion. While Oneness holds to the affirmation of Jesus being fully God and fully man, however they reinterpret this as the Father being the deity in the Son who is strictly the humanity. To be put simply, the Son is not God, but only the man whom God the Father dwelt in.
David Bernard a Oneness Pentecostal and one of their premier apologists says, "Modalism is the same as the modern doctrine of Oneness." (the Oneness of God p.318 ) As we examine history we will see this is not so, todays modalism is synthesized from diverse views held centuries before.
There are various forms of Modalism but all agree God is strictly one person. One version is that God was the Father who then became the Son, and then the spirit in different dispensations.(different periods of time ). Another version is that there are three manifestations of the one Spirit who is God. That the one person who is God shares the titles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and as Spirit can manifest to be all three. While we agree that God is an eternal Spirit, the difficulty that arises is how he is that one Spirit and who is that one. The Oneness view denies that the distinctions are real, saying that they are only roles God plays for different functions.
Bernard states, "Noetus was Praxeus teacher in Asia Minor, Praxeus preached in Rome about 190, and Sabellius preached in Rome about 215.".."Sabellius relied heavily on Scripture, especially passages such as Ex.20:3, Deut.6:4, Isa.44:6, Jn.10:38 to prove his position. He said that God revealed himself as the Father in creation, Son in incarnation, and Holy Ghost in regeneration and sanctification." Bernard qualifies these ancient mens statement saying, "some interpret this to mean that he believed these three manifestations were strictly successive in time. If so, he does not reflect the beliefs of older Modalism or of modern Oneness." (p.240 The Oneness of God) The historical facts state otherwise. It is important to note that the Oneness today differs from Oneness in early Church history, it was developed. This is equally significant, because this is exactly what they claim happened to Trinitarian theology. Actually it was these men (Praxeus and Noetus) who held to the original form of modalism and he has no proof otherwise. Today there are variations to the original form. Oneness writer David Bernard says, it is the eternal Spirit who is the Father, and the Son is the humanity only.
Today there are variations to the original form, Oneness writer David Bernard says, It is the eternal Spirit who is the Father and the Son is the humanity only.
The nature of God is crucial for Christianity. The Christian view is what separates one from the polytheistic interpretations of Hinduism (multiple Gods) and the strict monotheism of Islam. How does one explain and clarify the God of the scriptures ? Because one lacks understanding of this subject does not justify one to revert to a simplistic view to solve the problems of explaining away the threeness. Oneness groups claim that their belief is compatible with the essential doctrines of Christianity and that it is the Trinitarian view that is not. What we need to do is let history tell its tale and the scripture speak to settle this issue.
If modalism was the teachings of the apostles and those afterwards as claimed today by the Oneness adherents, then when the Trinitarian concept arose in the church it would have caused a great controversy. Instead the very opposite occurred. Those who tried to introduce this NEW doctrine were clearly modalistic which means the church already was teaching and practicing something different. The church contended against Modalism, the concept of one God as a singular person that came in assorted forms and manifestations in different ages.
We can only concede what has been communicated to us through the Scriptures. While we may never have a complete comprehension an apprehension of what is revealed will suffice any seeker of truth. The post apostolic church Fathers (pre-Nicene, as they are referred to in church history) were the ones who recognized and preserved what we have today as our sacred Scriptures. They rejected false letters that were circulating by comparing them with the revealed word of God. They became trustees guarding over the canon that we now have as our Scriptures today. These are the same church fathers that wrote on the triune nature of God, refuting numerous false concepts of his nature that arose from inside the church. It was understood by following the Scriptures, they then pronounced it as heresy.
The Trinity doctrine was formulated by necessity from the Scriptures to answer a series of errors, one of which was Modalism, (Oneness) that sprung up in the mid second century. Many realized what was at stake. Athenagoras in 160 AD. Had a grasp on Gods nature, representing the churchs belief said that, "they hold the Father to be God, and the Son God, and the Holy Spirit, and declare their union and their distinction in order."(A plea for the Christians .10.3.)
At that time the church did not have a precise teaching written down on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity doctrine is criticized by Oneness and others, because they claim it was developed and was not fully accepted until the fourth century at the council of Nicaea. All one has to do is look at history to find the enlightening truth. The doctrine was not developed, but the explanation of it. Almost all the theological doctrines have had some development through the years to explain them in a better fashion. As assaults were launched and men rose to the challenges to defend and affirm what the Scriptures say, explanations needed to be clarified. Other such doctrines that were significant in the development of the Churchs history were the nature of man, doctrines of salvation, church government, the attributes of God, the inspiration of Scripture, what was part of the canon, and the afterlife. Many of these issues continue on today and are still currently being formulated in written fashion to give us a better understanding.
The church in the beginning was not any different than it is today in its efforts to understand the Apostles writings. Christological errors were rising in the 2nd to 3rd centuries under the terms monarchianism (dynamic) and modalism. Men named Sabellius, Noetus, Callistus, Praxeus rose from within the church claiming that God was numerically one person, that the names Father and Son were just different offices of that one person, who is God. They were over reacting to the paganism in their culture, and wanted to preserve the monotheism of Christianity. Unfortunately, they went to the other extreme, and sacrificed the eternality of the two persons that the Bible also calls God. Other men such as Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Novation and many others opposed their view in a series of debates in public forums and councils. From these gatherings they put into writing their expression of the nature of the one God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and how they relate to one another. Christology became the key to having a clear understanding of who the Son is. What we need to keep in mind is that these were only men. They were not right on all things, but their articulation on the nature of God was at times brilliant, and unsurpassed in explanation even to our day.
The church contended vehemently against the concept of one God as strictly a singular person who came in different forms and manifestations in different ages. In searching the scripture they found these so called titles of modes were existing simultaneously and were personally involved in relating to one another. From these controversy's came the descriptive terms of subsistences, hypostases, and personas to describe the persons that make up the ontological nature, the being called God.
History tells us it was modalism in the late second and early third century that gave the church the impetus to search the Scriptures to see what the apostles believed on Gods nature. We find such men as Irenaeus, Hippolytus, later Athanasius and many others structuring their faith on the nature of God in unqualified Trinitarian expressions. God would use these expressions to help the church grow mature and stable. The modalistic concept was always treated as heresy in the church, as were numerous other distortions of the nature of God. Epiphanius, who was also a defender of the triune nature of God states that " they derived their entire heresy from certain Apocryphal books, especially from the Gospel of the Egyptians" ( Schaff-Herzog religious encyclopedia).
All this occurred a hundred and thirty years before the council of Nicaea when a new challenge was from a man named Arius who claimed Christ was a created being . His challenge was met by a person named Alexander and his then deacon Athanasius, who proved from scripture that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, being co-equal.
Some of the statements made by Oneness adherents are very revealing for example "The variety and diversity of Gods self revelation forces him (God) to use language that may seem to imply plurality of individuals, but if such is accepted literally the effect would be a belief in a plurality of Gods." (Godhead K. Reeves p.51-52) With this logic we would end up saying Jesus had to be two separate persons a human and divine since according to them two or three cannot in any sense be one. It is this attitude that is necessary to be countered by sensible explanations . Without it we can never move forward to help those involved in understanding the historic Christian position.
We do know that the word "person" did not have the same connotation that it carries today, that God as three persons is three separate people. They to had to wrestle with terms of distinction and unity in the best way their language had to offer. With much controversy and challenges, they tried to describe a being of infinite nature. Today, the doctrine of God's nature is being challenged more than any other teaching by numerous so called Christian groups. The Trinity is still the watershed issue of our time.
These are exerpts from the book Who is Jesus ? Answering Oneness Pentecostals attacks on the Trinity. spiral book by Mike Oppenheimer of Let Us Reason ministries HI 96786