I recently heard a worship leader, in a moment of extemporaneous prayer, say, “Jesus is the Father and the Spirit and the Son!”
I’m going to chalk that little bit of heresy to (1) the leader being young; (2) theological education being low both within and without the churches; and (3) the teaching of Trinitarian theology being especially low.
Jesus is not the Father.
Nor is He the Spirit.
The view expressed by the worship leader is a position known as Modalism, Sabellianism, or the Oneness view. It is the view that that God is a single Person who takes on three different forms or roles or activities. Like an actor changing in and out of costume, the One God becomes the Father, or takes on the role of the Son, or acts as the Spirit, depending on the situation. Historically speaking, modalism is considered a “heresy.” In Trinitarian theology, Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct Persons in one substance.
Now, GES has been criticized for denying the necessity of believing in the Trinity (i.e., the deity of Christ) to be saved. You only need to believe that Jesus is the Christ, i.e., the one Who gives everlasting life, to have it. We affirm the Trinity but would say that doctrine is a good reason to believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life. And it is important for understanding the Bible, and hence, important for developing to spiritual maturity.
But what evidence is there that Jesus isn’t the Father or the Spirit?
The short answer is that Modalism contradicts Biblical passages in which Father, Son, and Spirit are depicted as separate persons. For example, consider Jesus’ baptism:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:13-17).
By any normal reading of this passage, are Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit depicted as the same Person taking three roles, or as distinct Persons?
In this scene, Jesus is getting baptized, the Spirit is descending like a dove upon Jesus, and the Father is speaking from heaven. Those are three different persons doing three different actions (i.e., baptism, descent, speaking) in three different locations (i.e., earth, air, and heaven). Jesus is not the Father praising Himself or the Spirit descending upon His own shoulders. Reconciling Jesus’ baptism with Modalism would take very complicated mental and hermeneutical gymnastics.
Can you see why the early Church insisted that the Father, Son, and Spirit were different persons?
That’s why Paul would write the following benediction to the Corinthians:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Cor 13:14).