Helping Heretics Come Home

This year’s SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference features at least three former heretics as a part of the official program. These are men whose previous spiritual affiliation was theologically deficient and—according to the teachings of scripture and the consensus of orthodox Christianity for two millennia—accomplished their damnation to eternal hell.

The three men in question are Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Fred Luter.

In fact, after looking a bit closer, every name on the program represents someone who was formerly a heretic, a blasphemer, a rebel against the rightful rule of God, and a soul damned for all eternity without hope of reprieve. Without hope, that is, until Jesus Christ came to save them. And it is fitting that the program should consist of such people, since it is the design of an evangelism conference to feature the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to save heretics, which all lost people are, including the very worst among them.

Oh, there have also been questions asked about three other participants in the conference: Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean, who together comprise the CCM group “Phillips, Craig, & Dean.” Like every other participant in the program, these three have a history that includes a period of error and rebellion against God. Unlike the other participants (as far as I know the histories of the other participants), their pasts include affiliation with (so-called) churches that do not affirm the Trinity but are instead adherents of the ancient heresy called modalism. Indeed, members of this group have family members who remain among the proponents of modalism to this day.

I have looked through the data about Phillips, Craig, & Dean, at least as far as it is presented online, and the material that I have seen to date I would characterize in this manner: (a) the members of the group have never publicly claimed to be modalists or publicly espoused modalist teachings, (b) the churches of which they are members have not been found to claim to be modalistic or to teach a modalist interpretation of the godhead, but they have been found to have statements of faith that are not clearly written to exclude modalism. Mark Lamprecht, author of “Here I Blog” and one of the most careful and helpful contributors to the conversation about Phillips, Craig, & Dean, has written here that the status of these churches is “unclear and questionable.” Because Mark is a careful and conscientious blogger, he has called not for Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean to repent of modalism but to obtain from them a “clear, explicit statement…of their position on the Trinity.”

This is a reasonable request.

And so, before the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ever booked PC&D to sing at this year’s Empower Evangelism Conference, the convention required from them precisely that: a clear, explicit statement of their position on the Trinity. They provided it gladly. I have it in hand with all three of their signatures in place at the bottom. In the text of the statement they say, “Phillips, Craig, & Dean fully acknowledge their past denominational affiliations and are grateful for their heritage; however, they reject the teaching of modalism, a.k.a. Sabellianism.” But they go further than that. They additionally say, “Although none of the members of PC&D are affiliated with any denomination, collectively, the ministry of Phillips, Craig, & Dean affirms the statement of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention—http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp.”

Now, in light of this, I pose these questions to you:

  1. Does the statement by PC&D amount to a “clear, explicit statement…of their position on the Trinity”? The first quote that I gave above admittedly is not. That is, although it certainly is a clear, explicit statement of what the group’s position on the Trinity IS NOT, it does not provide any clear, explicit statement of what the group’s position on the Trinity IS. When you add the second statement, however, things change. At that point the answer to the question depends upon whether one considers the Baptist Faith & Message to amount to a “clear, explicit statement” regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Having read our statement of faith many times and having affirmed it myself, I do consider the Baptist Faith & Message to meet this standard of clarity and explicitness.
  2. How ought those of us who have been concerned in the past about whether PC&D are modalists to respond to this statement? Does this statement change things? I think we can choose one response among several possibilities:
    1. We can determine that they are lying. In which case, I submit that they are not modalists. They may not be Trinitarians if they are lying, but they certainly are not modalists.

      Look at it this way: you show me a politician who tells people in Massachusetts that he is pro-choice on the question of abortion and tells people in Texas that he is pro-life on the question of abortion. If he is doing both of those things at the same time, then perhaps you might ask me, “Bart, which do you think he is, pro-life or pro-choice?” My answer would be, “I don’t think he’s either one; I think he’s pro-I-want-to-be-elected-and-will-say-whatever-it-takes-for-that-to-happen.” In other words, it is clear that he holds no convictions on either side of the issue.

      Likewise, if you have someone who tells one group of people that he is a modalist and another group of people that he is a Trinitarian, what you have is neither a modalist nor a Trinitarian but a liar who doesn’t think that theology is all that important and doesn’t hold any real convictions on the question of God’s nature. Such liars are sinners and such lying is wrong. We’d all have good reason to doubt the salvation of anyone who could not bring himself to make an honest confession about who God is.

      But I find it difficult to put these three men into this category by way of anything resembling evidence. I’ve never seen any evidence that any of the three of these men have ever taught, affirmed, encouraged, or supported modalism in what they have personally said or done. They admit that they grew up in the midst of modalism. I do not doubt that at some point along the way they subscribed to modalism. But any such subscription or affirmation happened before these men were in the public eye and no public record of it remains. So, on the side of evidence to suggest that they are presently teaching, affirming, encouraging, or supporting modalism, either publicly or privately, the basket it empty.

      On the other hand, we have before us their signed statements claiming that they are Trinitarians. Perhaps I would like to have seen it sooner (like, years ago). Perhaps I would like to see it stronger (like, video of the three of them burning some sort of modalist flag or something). But the fact remains that everything Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean have ever said publicly about the nature of the godhead has been Trinitarian in its nature.

      The only way I know to conclude that they are lying is to do so by intuition, unless there exists somewhere more evidence than I have seen.

    2. We can state that we do not have enough evidence to conclude one way or the other and can continue to hold these men at arm’s length as potential heretics until they provide something more to our liking. And yet, would we be just in doing so? This ministry has affirmed the BF&M 2000. Have all of the speakers and singers at YOUR state evangelism conference done so? Dare I ask whether all of the full-time ministry employees of your state convention have done so?

      There’s a fine line between discernment and skepticism. I have to watch out for that line myself. But when I step back and take a look at the situation with these three men, I’ve heard more Trinitarianism from them than I have from most of the bloggers whom I admire and read. I’ve heard more Trinitarianism from them than I heard from a number of my college and seminary professors. I’ve heard more Trinitarianism from them than I find in the content of a year’s worth of sermons from a lot of our Southern Baptist churches. Unless I’m prepared to sally forth to war against all of those folks, I have to ask myself whether I’m right in asking these three men to affirm Trinitarianism yet again in a yet another way.

    3. We can celebrate their conversion to Trinitarian Christianity, which is the Christianity of Christ, the Christianity of the New Testament, and the only true Christianity that there is. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention takes doctrine seriously. The churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, if they did not find doctrine to be important, could have found plenty of a-theological Baptist associationalism…elsewhere. That’s why weeks and weeks ago this question was settled before Phillips, Craig, & Dean ever earned a spot on the program. We are a biblically-based, confessional fellowship of Southern Baptist churches. That’s who we are, and that’s how we conduct our ministries.

      But we are also a fellowship of churches who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead people to all truth. We believe in the gospel. We believe in redemption. We believe in affirming people who confess the true faith and in receiving them as brothers. After all, apart from that kind of a reception, we know we would all still be on the outside.

      We’re not afraid to ask anybody any question about the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We’re also not unwilling to accept their good answers at face value apart from evidence to suggest that we should not do so. After all, if we would not do that, how on earth could we ever help heretics to come home? And wouldn’t we rather win them to the truth than to defeat them?

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    We are far to quick to abandon reconciliation and adopt a prosecutorial attitude toward others.

    Great post.

  2. Greg Harvey says

    Call me crazy, but: wouldn’t it be grand if every time an ordained minister was invited to provide worship leadership or preaching at a Southern Baptist church if the congregation were to kindly ask the minister to confirm his agreement with the BF&M in part or in whole? Even if the minister recorded exceptions, these exceptions could then be discussed before writing a final agreement/contract to invite the minister. And if he went on record publicly with specific state conventions or perhaps even with the national convention with that stance, then that would be an additional set of resources for churches to consider when inviting ministers.

    That PCD lead a music ministry that potentially spawns significant entertainment-related income (I would not begin to guess what their annual, concert-related income might look like and I don’t think it’s particularly worthy of discussion, but let’s imagine it’s not trivial but not immodest, either) means they have a commercial interest in being accepted into churches for “performances” which might be distinguished from acknowledged worship leadership or preaching. So there would still be room for a church to advertise a Christian-oriented entertainment night without endorsing an entertainer’s too different theological views without necessarily compromising the church’s theological agreement…as long as it were clearly disclosed to members and the community what that distinction is.

    Too hard? Too severe? Too…too? Maybe. But definitely an interesting way to create helpful categories. I have to admit: I’ve always enjoyed their music without being even slightly aware of their theological background. I can’t say I’m ashamed to admit that out loud, but I’m fascinated that this is getting the kind of attention it’s getting. Fascinated in a good way, that is!

    • Bart Barber says

      Greg,

      I agree that it would be helpful for Southern Baptists to know the confessional stance of those who lead us in the events that we attend together. You’ve got some great thoughts in this comment.

  3. Rick Patrick says

    Out of everything that has been written on this topic, this is my “Favorite Song of All.” By a careful explanation that these brothers do indeed affirm the BFM2K, this article is the instrument by which “Mercy Came Running” on behalf of the trio. Bart, because of the way you handled this, “I Want to Be Just Like You.” Now that God has brought us peace, unity and closure, we can say to Him, “Your Grace Still Amazes Me.”

    • Tarheel says

      After they documented thier affirmation of the BF&M2000 and were then taken off the blacklist and subsequently contracted to sing at the SBC of TX conference, I wonder if they thought; so “This is how it feels to be free”?

  4. Dwight McKissic says

    Bart,

    I am glad to see the SBTC loosen it theological neatnickness & not hold This groups past associations against them. The Kingdom is large enough for us to include all believers who believe in the five fundamentals of the faith for fellowship. I’m excited to see this.

    It would appear that this decision demands an apology to Bishop Jakes. I see know difference in why he was rejected or more technically, his musician, but not PCD. If my memory serve me correctly, Bart, you suggested that Bishop Jakes needed to be baptized after he converted to Trinitarinism. Is this also your position on PCD?

    Again, I see this is as progress for the SBC. I also see a double standard here. Who will offer the apology to Bishop Jakes musician? Who will call for PCD to be baptized?

    This is a well written and intriguing post. I love the music of PCD, even when they were modalist. I may attend the evangelism conference to hear them live. It is also great to know that the fact that they were once unabashed Charismatics did not interfere with the decision to invite them. This is great, great news!!!

    • Bart Barber says

      Dwight,

      1. The SBTC has not loosened anything. We remain committed to the bedrock of confessional fidelity to biblical doctrine that has marked this convention from its inception.

      2. The only people who owe an apology to TD Jakes are any who have winked at, minimized, or encouraged his modalism down through the years and any who would be unwilling to accept any statement of Trinitarianism from him.

      3. I apologize for any manner in which my post was inadvertently vague. I intended to indicate by my point 2.c. that modalism is not the Christianity of Christ, is not the Christianity of the New Testament, and is no true Christianity at all. This is the same position that I have held all along. Knowing that I am a credobaptist, the reader should be able to infer that I believe that baptism is only valid if it occurs after a person has truly become a Christian. If any of these three men were ever modalists, they were not at that time orthodox Christians. If they, or anyone else on the planet, were dunked in water before receiving the New Testament gospel, which includes faith in the Trinitarian Christ revealed therein, then that dunking was not baptism. Anyone who converts from modalism to Christianity ought subsequently to be baptized.

      4. Your comment might leave someone with the impression that the SBTC in former days would not have permitted “unabashed Charismatics” to sing at an SBTC event. This, of course, has never been true.

      • says

        The gospel is wondrously resilient, and able to function even when incumbered with much error. Of course, there is a class of errors that the gospel will not endure. Men cannot be saved who do not believe that Jesus was fully God or that He was fully man as well. However, God has not required theological sophistication for salvation. He saves more than theologians. He saves the common man, who may or may not be able to comprehend that God is “Three Persons in one substance.” Nowhere in Scripture is eternal life said to come to those who believe in such a philosophical formula. Rather, eternal life comes to those who believe in Jesus. And unlike other errors relating to the Trinity, Modalists believe in a Jesus who is fully God and fully man.

        Any basic understanding and belief that God is One, which includes the facts that the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, the Son, Jesus Christ, is God and man together — and that Jesus died for our sins and was physically raised on the third day — is all that the Bible has ever represented the gospel to require. The fact that Modalists have contradictions and inconsistencies in their doctrinal understanding is not a disqualification. We all have errors, even if not as glaring. Which of us has perfect theology? The real question is, does Christ save those who come to him without a correct understanding of the philosophical formula of “Three Persons in one substance,” but who nonetheless come in full faith that Jesus is and was the fully Divine, eternal Son of God who took on a human nature, died for the sin of man and physically rose from the dead? Carl Trueman wrote that “a modalist God cannot save.” Can the Triune God save Modalists? Unless we know for certain that He does not, we ought not to use the sword of division on the Body of Christ itself, and cast out what God has made clean.

        • Greg Harvey says

          I agree with you on what you wrote, Ken. The one point that causes me thought is the distinction made in the Bible regarding false teachers. There seems to be a very specific call to stand against both them and their teaching and the specific word used is what gets rendered in English as heresy.

          Given the history of the doctrine of the Trinity in the vast majority of orthodox Christianity churches/denoms, I think a Trinitarian-confessing church is wise to call the doctrine of Modalism heresy and to plainly and lovingly oppose those who teach it and then firm up the opposition if they resist change. Which is very precisely applying the sword of Scripture in a way that seems to me to be extraordinarily consistent with Paul’s apostolic prescriptive guidance.

          I think of that as being entirely different than accosting the typical member over exactly the same subject particularly if that member is not a ‘scholar’ and especially if the member is still ‘on milk’ spiritually. The concept of the Trinity is confusing and takes time to understand. We ought to allow that time while still relying on confessional scaffolding that we’ve all agreed to in order to provide conscience-guided and Scripturally accurate correction.

          That’s why I find this story particularly interesting: it functions in all aspects exactly as I would hope we would deal with the situation:

          1. These men have claimed the mantle of pastor in their ministry and emphasized it in the entertainment-oriented aspects of that ministry as a source of authority.

          2. Their theology was defective even if their music might not have emphasized that defect (I couldn’t tell you a specific example that did emphasize Modalism off the top of my head.)

          3. The correction by the SBTC was very specifically because they were being invited to participate in leading “the body” of the state convention’s annual meeting.

          4. Their affirmation of the shared confessional scaffolding qualifies them for participation regardless of their denominational affiliation simply because they have gone on record as rejecting defective theology.

          That is in my mind an excellent pattern for exactly this kind of confrontation. If a leader rejects the opportunity to affirm biblical theology–or more pointedly even to discuss the disagreement–then the body of the local congregation should practice wisdom in how to respond. But permitting a leader that rejects sound theology to continue teaching is an opportunity for a division in the church. I’ve seen it happen multiple times in just a SINGLE church because the pastor did not perform his Scriptural duty to correct and guide.

        • says

          Ken,
          You ask, “Can the Triune God save Modalists?”
          But of course, for the Triune God can save heretics of any stripe.
          Rather, maybe you are asking if those who adhere to Modalism are indeed saved or possibly saved [by the One True God who is Triune].

          Do you know who saved you? Do you know how He saved you? And your answers will reflect the Trinity. Salvation is a personal-coming-to-know-God[Father] by the work of the Son on the cross and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to faith and repentance as well as indwelling us.

          The Gospel is clear that it is God who sent us His Son to die for our sins so that in trusting in Him we might have eternal life. Modalism perverts the Gospel at its basic level by declaring that the Father who sent is the one who came. The very language God has chosen to tell us about Himself as triune is part and parcel of the Gospel message.
          The Modalists pervert God’s own langauge in describing Himself as every false religion does so that they end up with an idol, a god of their own imagination.
          They don’t know God.
          They don’t know Him as he describes Himself and deny His own words. So they use the same words, like father and son, but they deny the relationship exists.
          Now any reader of the Gospels can plainly see that Jesus was speaking of another and not Himself when he spoke of the Father, unless they are blinded to spiritual truth and captured by the father of lies.
          Romans 8 tells us:
          For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

          If the Spirit is leading one who is a Modalist, He is leading them ‘out from among them’. Those that stay and remain show that they are not children of the Father, nor a joint heir with Christ, nor are they being led by the Spirit.

          To deny the Triune God is to deny the words of God, and to deny the words of God is to deny the Son who is the Word of God.

          Galatians 4
          But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

          Mark 14
          And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

          • says

            Mike,

            It is true that a “different Jesus” and “another gospel” cannot save. However, the kinds of differences meant by this are not so clear. As you might have encountered, there are those who would say that any gospel that does not include all five points of Calvinism is a “different gospel” and cannot save — and the same applies to some Arminians, who demand that any Jesus that does not genuinely love and want all men to be saved is a “different Jesus.” I just don’t think that such texts from Scripture were intended to carry the burden of an entire system of theology in all its nuances and expressions. Neither do I think the intention was to make all the details of orthodoxy a prerequisite for salvation. Surely, anyone who does not believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man cannot be saved, as well as any who do not believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead, etc. But I am not convinced that one must have an accurate grasp of the Trinity, as well as a proper understanding of the Three who make up the Trinity (as to whether they are modes or hypostases, etc) in order to be saved. Just as the gospel centers around Christ, the essentials should be viewed as centering around Christ. Given that the modalists believe that Christ was fully God and fully man, Two natures (human and divine) in inseparable union without confusion, that Christ died for the sins of those whom He will save, that He physically rose from the dead on the third day, and that He will one day return in glory to judge all men, then it would be very tough to make a strong Biblical case against the validity of their salvation.

            I guess we’ll just have to disagree.

          • says

            Ken,
            It is one thing for a new born babe in Christ to be unsure of the nature of the trinity, and an all together different thing for those called pastors, elders, and bishops, and other mature ‘believers’ to deny it outright.
            How does a Modalist elder explain the above 3 passages of Scripture [a few among many] that ‘seemingly’ contradict his belief? Is the Spirit leading that man in truth?

            So while one may not have an “accurate grasp” of the Trinity when they are saved, they should not still be denying the truth of God after spending many years of teaching and preaching their beliefs to others. Such a person is a false prophet, and such a denomination is not of the Lord.

          • says

            Ken,
            One does not have to ever have an accurate understanding of the Trinity to be saved of God. Some things we accept by faith because the Bible is clear that they exist. The Bible is clear that the Father is not the the Son. To preach that the Father is the Son is to preach error. It shows that the preacher is not being led by the Spirit.
            Hell is a terrible place and how can we understand that a good loving God will send people there for eternity. One that preaches there is no hell is denying the plain words of God.
            Out of the mouth the heart speaks.
            Those that speak words that deny the plain truths of the Bible show that they are not being led by the Spirit, even if they agree in other places with what the Bible says. Heretics, by definition, are those who claim to be believers, who agree with some things believers adhere to, but deny other Biblical truth.

            Do you think the Bible is clear that the Son is not the Father?

          • says

            Mike,

            I agree about the difference between a “sheep” and a false teacher. But I also think we need to recognize the influence that a congregation, pastor, and denomination have over those who are converted to Christ under their preaching and teaching. It is a powerfully influencing thing to suddenly awaken to Christ and His truth, and realize that the whole world had been lying to you but now these wonderful Christians have taught you the greatest truth of all. And as a newborn will bond with and trust his mother regardless of how bad a person she may be, those who have been saved under the preaching of a church to which they immediately become a member usually have just as much of an unquestioning trust of the teachings of that church—after all, they did provide them with the most important truth of all. The tendency to view that church as having the truth against the falseness of the rest of the world (even alternative doctrines of other churches). Throw in a strong dose of indoctrinated suspicion against “false” teachers and faulty doctrines of other churches, and we can see how people can get trapped in such environments—even to the point of becoming teachers themselves.

          • says

            Ken,
            The question is, do they know God as His own Word describes Him, or do they have another idea of God?
            Are they being led by the the Spirit of truth or the spirit of error?
            When they study the Word of God, are they seeing the God who is there or what they want to see?

            Belief in the Trinity has been a test of orthodoxy for at least 1800 years [if i have read the data right] and probably from the very first. The councils only put out as truth what the people believed already, they didn’t impose on the church new beliefs.

            But, as you said earlier, we will have to agree to disagree on this.

          • says

            Mike,

            The councils don’t decide whether or not one gets into heaven. Guarding orthodoxy is a necessary thing, but as I said earlier, essential orthodoxy should have been formulated in a Christocentric way. Nowhere in Scripture is it even implied that believing in God the Father and God the Son is not enough for salvation, but one must also believe that the Father and Son are distinct Persons in the usual Trinitarian understanding. To the modalist, you also deny the clear teaching of Scripture when you do not believe what is written: “I and the Father are one;” and, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” I’m not a modalist, so I agree the Trinitarian argument is stronger; however, I don’t see the modalist argument as being weak enough to characterize them as unbelievers in the face of the clear teaching of the Bible. What I find in Scripture on the question of salvation alone, is that ANYONE who believes that Christ was God come in the flesh, all man and all God (inseparable and unconfused), and that He lived a perfectly righteous life, died a substitutionary, sacrificial death for the sin of the world, and was literally, physically raised to immortality on the third day, IS FOREVER SAVED! Not only is that the only gospel that we believe, it is the only gospel we preach.

          • parsonsmike says

            Ken,
            I think you are missing my point.
            Many who once claimed to believe that very Gospel reject it today. Their rejection of it shows us that they never believed it in the first place. They were not led by the Spirit of truth. Now the Modalists I know believe that one is not saved unless they speak intongues. They also reject those baptized in anything other than the name of Jesus. In other words, they know not the Triune God and reject His children as the children of God. This shows they are not being led by the Spirit of truth.

  5. says

    Great post Bart. These guys have spoken clearly and should be welcomed. Sounds like it should be a great conference.

    • Bart Barber says

      Thanks, Joel. I think it will be a very good conference. I know that the people involved in it have already put their focus on the quality of the meeting and away from this short-lived controversy.

  6. says

    It’s great to take theology seriously. We should recognize that our theology is one of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. If we take theology seriously, we need to be involved in these things.

    If we banned from ministry anyone who had a past history of any kind of unfaithfulness, of which heresy is, there would be no ministers – for we were all unfaithful before we came to faith.

  7. says

    From what I read in scripture Baptism/mikvah is meant to represent new beginnings and done monthly for fertile women and anytime there is a representation of spiritual cleansing needed. I was baptized twice in the SBC by age 12 due to a Samuel like visitation that changed me forever… but my subsequent mikvahs have been equally or more meaningful to me in different ways. I like having a cleansing moment marking a deepening or course change in my walk. At 12 I thought it was embarrassing yet necessary to do so. Now I see I was going against convention not against God. It sounds like rebaptizing someone is being used as a negative idea highlighting their sin because rebaptizing is usually reserved for those who think they were completely unsaved previously. …my two cents on that.

  8. says

    Is it the consensus that modalists are unsaved or just badly led astray and not to be in position of leadership? FYI …I am NOT a modalist. Just curious. I believe Father Son and Spirit are all in the creation story and throughout scripture working in their respective positions as One/echad.

    • Greg Harvey says

      This is my thought on your question, Dee. I suspect others might quibble on some of the points I’m making:

      Modalism is deemed heretical which in essence means it is a divisive theology that can lead people astray from the truth of the Bible. It is entirely possible that God overlooks bad theology in saving us (especially at the beginning before our discipleship is fully underway), but down that slippery slope lies universalism which claims God will save everyone.

      Southern Baptists reject the tendency towards universalism and other heresies and protect against that slippery slope by emphasizing a shared confessional stance on theology as captured in the Baptist Faith and Message especially the latest version in 2000, though generally all of the versions proclaim strong, Trinitarian doctrine. That’s why their acknowledgement of the BF&M2000 is an important element of this story.

      Emphasizing heresy is one method that false teachers use to separate sheep from the flock and lead them to destruction. So merely “keeping them out of leadership” isn’t an effective response to those who teach heresy. They should be culled from the body through bold proclamation and defense of the text of the Bible.

      Can day-to-day members hold onto heretical thoughts as long as they are quiet about them in the body? Preferably not. But pragmatically it happens. It’s why preachers need to preach the Bible and not popular books from the pulpit.

      • says

        “Can day-to-day members hold onto heretical thoughts as long as they are quiet about them in the body? Preferably not. But pragmatically it happens. It’s why preachers need to preach the Bible and not popular books from the pulpit.”

        This isn’t said often enough. The church is not a market for a particular ideology. We are here to worship God by living out truth as revealed in the Bible and we do that as a body of believers when truth is preached in such a way that we either fellowship around it or leave the fellowship because we don’t believe it.

        That’s not to say that there aren’t reasonable differences in how we understand the truth, but it requires humility to both submit to the truth and lay aside our reasonable differences. Modalism is not a reasonable difference.

  9. says

    I was SBC loyal for 40 years. For 11 years I have been involved in home groups where we worship in song, have a moderator of the day and come prepared to share our findings on a particular passage then fellowship with food and fun or continue discussions informally. We allow for doctrinal disagreement and still fellowship together without feeling those we disagree with are subversive unless they disrespect others. I believe I have fellowshipped with and listened to speakers who don’t believe the Son and Spirit are God, but holy representations of Him. I weigh that as I listen and sift and glean. I may ask questions of how they came to that conclusion or other respectful dialogue that doesn’t compromise my beliefs. There are a few people who have moved on, but our core remains. I have also felt at liberty to visit among different churches with various traditions. I guess I am secure enough not to be threatened by others views.

    • Adam Blosser says

      It is not that we feel threatened by different views so much as it is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that is threatened by Modalism and other heretical teachings concerning the Godhead.

      • says

        Adam,
        I would say that a little differently: When we blur in presenting the Gospel or allow the Gospel to be blurred by others, we are failing in our duty to God to carry out the Great Commission. A false Gospel does not lead people to salvation.

  10. Jim G. says

    Good words Bart and good discussion all.

    I’m probably going to catch some flak for this, but I’m not prepared to call oneness Pentecostals modalists, at least not with a broad brush. I teach theology at a seminary and Bible college and we have a handful of oneness Pentecostals attending. Although I emphasize the Trinity in my classes, I listen closely to my oneness students. What they object to, at least the ones who articulate it well, are things I would object to as well. Most contemporary oneness folks, while not fully trinitarian, are on the way to understanding some eternal differentiation in the Godhead. What they strongly oppose is what we call social trinitarianism – a belief that there are three centers of consciousness in God. Where the oneness folks struggle with divine differentiation, social trinitarians struggle with how God is truly one.

    Jim G.

    • says

      Jim G.
      I hope this isn’t flak-y like.
      Do your oneness students think of God in a modalistic type of way: as in the Father was Old T God, Jesus was Gospel God, and the Spirit is now [NT] God?
      And how do you think of Jesus not knowing all the Father knew [like the timing of the end] and what do you think of the idea inherent in “not my will but thine be done.”?

      • Jim G. says

        Hi Mike,

        I don’t take what you said as flak. it’s a good question. Most of my oneness students tend to not be very precise theologically. Most of them are less precise than their ministers, who are not usually well read on historical theology themselves. There is a lot of ignorance and battling at straw men. I know there are some that characterize the persons as temporal modes as you state. The students I have interacted with do not do that. They seem to understand an eternal differentiation, yet they cannot put it into precise language.

        We must also remember that there is no historical link between oneness and ancient Sabellianism (or Reformation-era Socinianism for that matter). Oneness grew up out of barely-literate, fundamentalist-leaning, and theologically-naive Pentecostalism of the 1910s. That is right smack in the middle of the modern avoidance of the doctrine of the Trinity historically. They just put into writing what most of the rest of the church was doing anyway from a practical standpoint.

        As long as I get a commitment of eternal differentiation, I am satisfied I am making progress, and that the student is my brother/sister. I am just there to help them better articulate it from the perspective of orthodoxy.

        Jim G.

        • says

          Jim,
          Thanks for the answer. It sounds like you are making progress with them.
          But could you also answer the 2nd question:
          “And how do you think of Jesus not knowing all the Father knew [like the timing of the end] and what do you think of the idea inherent in “not my will but thine be done.”?

          I am asking it because i know next to nothing along the ideas of separate consciousness line of thought and i wondered how it meshed with what I was thinking.

          • Jim G. says

            Hi Mike,

            I think your first half of the question (Jesus not knowing the end) is one of the most difficult trinitarian questions there is. Since the days of Athanasius, that question has generally been answered based on his hermeneutical method of partitive exegesis. That means that any Scriptures pertaining to his equality with the Father spoke to his ontological oneness of being with the Father, while any Scriptures that spoke of any type of subordinationism (including the one you asked about) spoke of his economic condescension in taking on flesh in the form of a servant. Though I think partitive exegesis satisfactorily answers most of the equality/subordination difficulties, I think this text, with its eschatological context, probably reveals a side of the economy about which we know very little. I’ll stick with a pinch of Athanasius and a bushel of my own ignorance on that one.

            The second question (the garden agony) is in my mind easier to answer. I can agree with Maximus the Confessor and the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople that will is a property of nature, and not of person. Jesus possessed a will in connection with his divinity and a will in connection within his humanity. The “my will” is the latter and the “thy will” is the former. To say that the will of the eternal Son is different from that of the eternal Father is to imply two (and obviously three) wills in God, which comes too close to tritheism for my comfort. Others (social trinitarians) do not see real danger here, but I do. And, surprisingly, so do my more astute oneness students!

            Jim G.

  11. says

    From the blog cripplegate:

    The Athanasian Creed adds this:

    Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [universal] faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

    and…
    Modalism (a.k.a. Sabellianism) was soundly condemned by the orthodox church—even before the doctrine of the Trinity was defended at the Council of Nicaea. For example, second and third-century church leaders like Tertullian (160–220), Origen (184–254), Dionysius (3rd century), and others clearly denounced it.
    Since the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381), modalism has been universally understood by every major branch of Christianity as heretical—falling outside the boundaries of theological orthodoxy.

    http://thecripplegate.com/modalism_oneness_and_td_jakes/

    • says

      First I believe we are talking about a Being multidimensionaly superior to ourselves and trying to figure out what three dimensional box to contain Him It in. Then we must wrestle with the word echad. Jesus prayed that we would be echad in the same way He and the Father are echad…hmmm. That’s tricky then. Then Jesus prayed for Father’s will and chose it. Yes He emptied himself and thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Hmmm…lots to chew on…but I know the aleph tav is creator in Genesis 1:1 and I know He is the lawgiver otherwise Moses would have died. But I have no adequate box here on earth at my disposal. I see the Holy Spirit cone on the prophets of old. So He is the there as well.Hmmm…my box is inadequate.

  12. says

    I also don’t find creeds in scripture used as tests of faith. Faith is walked out in obedience. Obedience is the test of whether you have faith or not. Somehow I think it is more about walking in line with Gods ideas of what is important and making it prioritized in your behavior than saying the right magic words.