Encounter with Modalism

Last night I was invited by our ward missionaries to accompany them on a visit to some investigators. They told me it was an apartment of 5 guys all of whom were zealous pentecostals. I asked the Elders a few probing questions and discovered that the guys we were going to visit were also modalists. Modalism is the belief that God is only one being, and only one person. This person manifests himself usually in 3 ways, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Modalism rejects Trinitarianism. Trinitarianism differs in that the one being (God) is also by nature 3 persons, not 1. The Elders confessed to me before arriving that they had little hope of ever baptizing these guys, and so it would not be inappropriate to engage them in a little spirited debate. 

Upon arrival each of them had 1 or 2 bibles already out and were waiting to begin. One of them even had his laptop open and ready. These guys were serious. We began talking about God, and after one of them candidly said that he does not believe in the Trinity, I informed them that they are modalists. Not one of these 5 intelligent young men had any idea what that meant. We continued to debate, and I demonstrated to them from scripture that multiple beings exist in the heavens who the biblical authors deem worthy of the title ‘gods’. We also discussed the priesthood for a while, which was a very hard thing for them to grasp. The priesthood is hard enough for seasoned Mormons to understand, much less these guys. I felt a tad unprepared, as I have not brushed up on that issue and how to demonstrate it from scripture for a while. On my mission I had long lists of scriptures by topics in the back of my bible ready for use at any time. I have recently begun preparing a new ‘war bible’ and had not yet marked the relevant scriptures (although immediately upon returning home I went to work, and am now caught up).  

We finished the evening by discussing the oldest trick in the book, that the bible says that it cannot be added to. I demonstrated quite easily the complete falseness of that doctrine, at which time they found it prudent to need to leave. It was a great discussion, with loud voices at times, lots of passion, and it ended in handshakes and smiles. I don’t know if I will go back to visit them(they did invite me back), but I certainly will be better prepared for that kind of thing in the future.

I spend most of my time studying and preparing to engage more orthodox mainstream Evangelicals. These Modalists are of course considered nonChristian and heretical by many, perhaps most Evangelicals. I admittedly am not very comfortable debating Modalism due to a lack of preparation. On the spectrum of Christian beliefs about the nature of God, Modalism and Mormonism stand on opposite extremes. On one far end lie the Modalists, proclaiming that God is 1 being and 1 person. Towards the middle are the zealous Trinitarians, declaring that God is 1 being and 3 persons. Mormons stand on the other extreme, declaring 3 beings and 3 persons.

It was a great experience and it taught me much. I really enjoy the passion and love for the gospel that my Evangelical friends have, no matter how much in error I believe they are in. I will make sure that I am a little more prepared next time just in case I happen to run into more Modalists. 

James

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