A well-known pastor created a bit of an uproar recently when he paraphrased Jesus in John 16:7. The pastor summarized Jesus as saying: “I am not leaving you. I am changing forms.” The language of “changing” forms sounded to a lot of people like he taught the ancient heresy of modalism.
Did he teach modalism? Perhaps, but probably not because he explained himself just afterwards by paraphrasing Jesus again: “When I send my Spirit, I will be in you. So I am not leaving you. I am just changing locations.”
The point he is making, at least in this short clip, seems to be that the Spirit of Jesus makes Jesus present on earth even though he is located in heaven. In any case, it is worth reflecting on what Modalism is since—for better or worse—Christians are now discussing it.
First, Modalism affirms the oneness of God
Early Christians struggled to articulate how God can be one and yet three. One group (modalists) proposed that God in himself is one but that he reveals himself under different modes or forms. So God is one and Jesus represents one mode or form of God.
Second, Modalism denies three persons in God
While a modalist may affirm a threeness or trinity of God, such a one cannot affirm that God is three persons in one nature. In the orthodox explanation, each person in God is a distinct person of the divine nature: the Father is a person, the Son is a person, and the Holy Spirit is a person. The prior sentence represents standard, Chistian teaching which excludes modalism. God does not appear in various modes; rather, persons in God appear as persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.
Is Jesus Present in the Spirit?
Yes, the Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of Jesus like our spirit is our spirit (See John 14:6; 16:13). This relationship describes how Jesus and the Spirit can share in divine life together while nevertheless being distinct persons in God.
Certainly, someone can assert that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus while thinking of modalist theology. The pastor above may have done so. While I cannot provide an answer to that, I hope that this very brief summary of modalism has clarified what modalism is. Having done that, I will leave social media to the debates!
Mark Matthias says
Thanks, Wyatt — “God does not appear in various modes; rather, persons in God appear as persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.” Yes, by the fact that The Father encompasses both Son and Spirit; the Spirit encompasses both Son and Father, cf. 1Cor. 2:10; and the Son likewise encompasses entirely in scope, substance and purpose the Father and Spirit (John 10: 30 where “One” is a form of ‘heis’) — easily proven exegetically.
Modalism would seem like excess baggage contributing complications at the expense of clarity.
Mark Matthias says
In other words, the ‘forms’ don’t carry theological weight. God can come and go in any form He likes — I would be inclined to see the form as irrelevant as long as the substance consisted of the Spirit of God. Notwithstanding, “Second, Modalism denies three persons in God” — more complications not hermeneutically constructive.