Irenaeus Highlights

Irenaeus of Lyons, unlike many church fathers, is one relatively well known to modern Christians. The second century bishop of Lyons is famous for his staunch opposition to the various pseudo-gnostic heresies that faced the church in his day, and especially for the multi-volume work Against Heresies that he authored to combat them. He also authored a lesser-known work summarizing an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith and proving its tenets from the scriptures called Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, which I highly recommend.

Here I want to briefly examine some quotes from his writings that highlight his strongly held and clearly-articulated belief that the one God of the Christian faith is the person of the Father in particular.

“And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a stedfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter III. 6.)

Due to the clarity of these quotes, comment is largely unnecessary. While Irenaeus is writing against the heretics of old his words still hold a strong rebuke for the modern semi-modalists who have taken up their mantle.

“The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God” (Against Heresies, Book I. Chapter X. 1.)

“These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.” (Against Heresies, Book III. Chapter I. 2.)

“Since, therefore, this is sure and stedfast, that no other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word, and those who receive the Spirit of adoption, [3805] that is, those who believe in the one and true God, and in Jesus Christ the Son of God; and likewise that the apostles did of themselves term no one else as God, or name [no other] as Lord; and, what is much more important, [since it is true] that our Lord [acted likewise], who did also command us to confess no one as Father, except Him who is in the heavens, who is the one God and the one Father;–those things are clearly shown to be false which these deceivers and most perverse sophists advance” (Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter I. 1.)

“And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things, and made what was not that it should be, and who, containing all things, alone is uncontained.” (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

“This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building, and the stability of our conversation: God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things: this is the first point of our faith. The second point is: The Word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the dispensation of the Father: through whom all things were made; who also at the end of the times, to complete and gather up all things, was made man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and show forth life and produce a community of union between God and man. And the third point is: The Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the fathers learned the things of God, and the righteous were led forth into the way of righteousness; and who in the end of the times was poured out in a new way upon mankind in all the earth, renewing man unto God.” (Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching)

Semi-modalism as the Greatest Problem Facing the Church Today

Church history is riddled with problems. Sin has left much of church history to more closely resemble the ancient Jerusalem of the Old Testament than the heavenly Jerusalem we look forward to. The problems the church has faced are about as varied as could be imagined, from practical issues, to sin among leadership and laity, to heresies in every generation. But which problems present the greatest danger?

I would suggest that the most dangerous errors that face the church are those that go unnoticed. When a problem is recognised as such, the table is set for efforts to be made to rectify it. But when problems go unrecognised, especially if they are unrecognised for a long time, the extent of damage they cause can be extreme, and rectifying them becomes more difficult.

Church history is full of examples of this exact sort of thing. Consider the church in the Southern United States- for two centuries sinful racism against blacks was not only tolerated but also endorsed by Southern churches. For only a relatively small portion of that time did they even face outside opposition from Christians in other regions, since most Northern Churches were equally rascist, and while they often decried slavery, they rarely focused on the great sin of hating and prejudicing others on the basis of race.

Because most white Christians did not even categorically think of racism as sin, there was no real effort to correct the problem for a long time. The effects of this are readily visible today as many black and white Christians still meet in separate churches. There still remains work to be done.

Semi-modalism is a similar problem in terms of its going largely unnoticed as being a problem. But semi-modalism also surpasses other errors in other ways as well, which, combined, make semi-modalism one of the greatest problems the church has ever faced.

Semi-modalism is a variation of the ancient heresy of modalism that keeps the fundamental principle of modalism unchanged -namely, that the person of the one God is all three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- but unlike classical modalism does not teach that he takes turns manifesting himself as each of the three persons. Instead semi-modalism teaches that the single person who is the one God eternally exists as the three real persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- simultaneously. This stands in contrast to the Bible’s teaching that the one God is the person of the Father in particular, with the Son standing in relation to the one God as His only-begotten Son, and the Spirit as His Spirit. The idea that all three persons of the Trinity constitute a single person is foreign to the teaching of scripture.

Firstly we must note that semi-modalism is among the most serious errors the church has ever faced simply because of the centrality of the doctrines it attacks. The ancient church regarded the confession of one God Who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ as the first and most fundamental article of the Christian faith, and for good reason. There is little more fundamental and more crucial doctrinally than the very identity of the one true God.

Its an especially grievous error when we consider that the purpose of all history and creation is to make known the glory of God- Who He is. Semi-modalism works to obscure that truth. It works against the very purpose for which Christians are to live. By presenting God fictitiously as though He is a person who is three persons instead of acknowledging Him as one person, the Father, this dangerous heresy undermines the very foundations of the Christian faith. So fundamental was this doctrine that the famous Nicene Creed began by affirming this truth, saying “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” and afterwards going on to discuss the Son as His Son and Holy Spirit as His Spirit.

Not only is scripture abundantly clear on this basic point of doctrine, but the early church also labored to defend it against various heresies that arose in the first few centuries of church history. For an extensive list of historical testimony to the truth that the one God is the person of the Father in particular, and proof from the holy scriptures, see here: https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/.

Another factor that makes semi-modalism in particular, out of all the varied and serious heresies the church has faced throughout history, one of the most dangerous and damaging of all is its long history. It can first be seen in the late fourth century, creeping in without much notice amid the doctrinal chaos and confusion caused by the Arian controversy. Shortly thereafter the highly influential fifth century theologian Augustine popularized it with his books on the Trinity, and ever since it has been accepted nearly unopposed in Western Christianity.

Many have blindly followed this false teaching without question, and without realizing that they were fed a counterfeit doctrine of the Trinity, not that taught in scripture, articulated by the Nicene Creed, and defended by great theologians of the early church like Athanasius and Irenaeus. Like any error that has gained wide and largely unopposed acceptance, semi-modalism is made especially dangerous to those who hold it because of its long history, which gives it a sense of normality, and a special appeal to those who place favorite theologians who have fallen into this error above the scriptures. Rather than heeding scripture’s command to “test everything, and hold fast to that which is good”, many today would rather take the word of a favorite theologian they are impressed with over and against the clear teaching of scripture on this issue.

Finally, semi-modalism is made especially dangerous by the fact that most people simply do not recognise it at all. It wraps itself in language so similar to orthodoxy, and shares so much in common with orthodoxy, that many fail to make a distinction. It has blended just enough error in with a great deal of truth to make it seem palatable, like poison hidden in something sweet to cover its taste. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he doesn’t exist, it has been said.

But however well semi-modalism blends in, it is fundamentally different than orthodox trinitarianism. There is a vast conceptual difference between thinking of the Trinity as being a person who is himself three persons and thinking of the Trinity as a group of three distinct persons, namely, the one God Who is the Father, His one only-begotten Son, and His one Holy Spirit, as the Nicene Creed confesses and the scriptures teach.

Rather than give way to this false teaching, we must strive to think rightly of the one true God, thinking of Him as He has revealed Himself in the scriptures, not according to the imaginations of men. And the scriptures clearly reveal Him as the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not as a person who is multiple persons. Until semi-modalism is widely recognised as being incompatible with the truth scripture teaches, this problem will continue to do great harm both to the church herself and to the cause of God’s glory.

God’s ‘Preferred Pronouns’

As the world constantly strives to become more and more politically-correct, the issue of “preferred pronouns” has been receiving increased attention, especially in light of an increased societal focus on gender identification. In some states in the U.S. it is now punishable by law for a caregiver to knowingly and repeatedly continue to use pronouns that signify a person’s biological gender if they choose to identify as being another gender.

Although usually the recent crusade for using ‘preferred pronouns’ is one that accompanies sexual immorality and personal confusion as to an individual’s God-given biological gender, it is interesting to note that increasingly radicals of various stripes have also begun using pronouns for God that differ from His obvious ‘preferred pronouns’. God of course, being without a body, does not have a biological gender.  But He has chose to reveal Himself, and His Son, in scripture using a particular pattern of human pronouns nonetheless, that does carry with it meaning. That is what I hope to briefly examine in this article.

Pronouns serve as a placeholder for proper names grammatically. Instead of constantly repeating a name every time we want to refer to an individual, pronouns allow us to refer to an individual by an often shorter fill-in for their proper name. Pronouns can carry various sorts of grammatical significance, including possession, gender, and number. When it comes to God’s ‘preferred pronouns’ I want to specifically examine both gender and number.

Starting with gender, we have already noted that since God is by incorporeal, when God refers to Himself by terms that signify gender these cannot be understood in a literal way so as to imply that God does have a body with some sort of biological gender. That God always uses masculine pronouns for Himself, however, does carry significance. In scripture, the male gender is associated with headship, authority, and strength. Scripture expressly says that “man is the head of woman” (1 Cor 11). It also refers to the woman as a “weaker vessel” than man (1 Pet 3). So when God chooses to reveal Himself using masculine pronouns, we should see those associations with headship and power, although obviously God as being infinite and transcendent is far beyond man’s power and authority.

That is why it is wrong to use feminine pronouns for God. God has not revealed Himself that way for a reason. It is because submission and weakness are naturally and biblically associated with the female gender.

Next we examine number. Personal pronouns break down into plural plural pronouns like “they” and “them” and singular pronouns like “he” and “him”. God’s usage of pronouns in scripture show us a pattern: when plural divine persons are spoken of, plural pronouns are used. And when God speaks of a single person, singular personal pronouns are used.

This may sound too simplistic to need to be made a point of, but unfortunately, semi-modalists have set out to twist this pattern of preferred pronouns to distort the truth. Although God uses plural pronouns for plural persons in scripture, such as when He said to the Son “Let Us make man in our image” in Genesis, these semi-modalists, based on their unbiblical presupposition that all three persons of the Trinity are ultimately a single person, prefer to use a singular pronoun. You will hear them say things like “He is Father, Son, and Spirit.

This usage of pronouns not only breaks with the biblical pattern that God has given us in His infallible word regarding how He ought ot be spoken of, but carries with it an obvious false implication: that the three real persons of the Trinity are all one person.

Just as the radical feminists and liberals who have taken to referring to the Father as “she” need to repent of their blasphemy and false teaching, so also those who would refer to the persons of the Trinity together as though a single person, using “He”, and “Him” for all three persons together, must repent likewise of their blasphemy and tacit false teaching.

Eternal Generation Proved from the Scriptures

It is important for the sake a sure knowledge of the truth to really see every point of doctrine proved from scripture. Our beliefs, after all, must rest in something greater than the mere opinions of men.

It is for that reason that I’ve decided it would be good to put together a brief demonstration of the doctrine of eternal generation from the scriptures below.

The doctrine of eternal generation states that the Son was begotten of the Father before and outside of time, and is therefore a distinct and inseparable person from the Father. Now lets see each part of this definition proved from the infallible scriptures:

The Son was begotten of the Father:

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 KJV)

“ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 KJV)

“The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me.” (Proverbs 8:22-25)

The Son was with the Father prior to creation:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5 NAS)

Time is created (thus the begetting of the Son is atemporal, having taken place before time):

“in these last days did speak to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He did make the ages;” (Hebrews 1:2 YLT)

The Son is a distinct person from the Father:

“And God saith, `Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26 YLT)

“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;” (Genesis 19:24 KJV)

“If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.””And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” (John 5:31, 37 KJV)

The Son is inseparable from the Father:

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21 KJV)

“But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (John 10:38 KJV)

Athanasius Highlights

Especially in light of the misnamed “Athanasian Creed” and its consistent usage by semi-modalists to sum up their belief, it would perhaps not be difficult to suppose that Athanasius believed that version of pseudo-trinitarianism that passes for the doctrine of the Trinity since the time of Augustine: the variant of modalism I have taken to calling semi-modalism.

But actually, Athanasius very explicitly supported the biblical doctrine that the one God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This should not surprise us at all when we consider that Athanasius not only helped frame, but also spent his life defending the Nicene Creed, which very explicitly defines that the identity of the one God is the person of the Father.

In truth if there is really a creed that deserves the label “Athanasian”, it is the Nicene Creed, given all that Athanasius sacrificed to defend and champion it. But here are several quotes from various writing of Athanasius in which his belief in this point of doctrine can also be seen. Let’s examine some highlights from among them:

“He it is who through His Word made all things small and great, and we may not divide the creation, and says this is the Father’s, and this the Son’s, but they are of one God, who uses His proper Word as a Hand, and in Him does all things. This God Himself shews us, when He says, ‘All these things hath My Hand made;’ while Paul taught us as he had learned, that ‘There is one God, from whom all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things.” (Defense of the Nicene Definition, Chapter III.)

Here we see Athanasius argue that all creation cannot be divided up into what was created by God versus what what created by His Son, but that rather we must understand that all creation is the work of the one God- the Father- through His one Son, His Word. Notice that he explicitly speaks of the Word here as the Word of the one God, clearly equating the one God and the Father, using the names “one God” and “Father” as synonymous.

”But if this is not to be seen, but while the creatures are many, the Word is one, any one will collect from this, that the Son differs from all, and is not on a level with the creatures, but proper to the Father. Hence there are not many Words, but one only Word of the one Father, and one Image of the one God.” (Against the Arians, Discourse II.)

Here again we see a direct equation made between the “one Father” and the “one God”. The following quotes are also clear on this:

“For there is One God, and not many, and One is His Word, and not many; for the Word is God, and He alone has the Form of the Father.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III.)

“For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Beginning of Godhead and not two Beginnings, whence there is strictly a Monarchy” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“For the one God makes and creates; but Him He begets from Himself, Word or Wisdom.” (Against the Arians, Discourse IV.)

“The Triad, then, although the Word took a body from Mary, is a Triad, being inaccessible to addition or diminution; but it is always perfect, and in the Triad one Godhead is recognised, and so in the Church one God is preached, the Father of the Word.” (To Epictetus)

If you would like to see more of these quotes from not only Athanasius himself, but many other church fathers, please see my extensive collection of them available for viewing here: https://nicenefaith.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/i-believe-in-one-god-the-father-almighty/

Dr. Sam Waldron on the one God being the Father in particular

While the doctrine that the person of the one God is the Father in particular has fallen on hard times (for a very long time), there are a few modern theologians from varying traditions that have noted this fact. The first of several I hope to share on this blog is a Confessional Baptist pastor-theologian named Dr. Sam Waldron, who is also the President of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Waldron’s denominational standards, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, unfortunately, do not agree with the statements quoted below. Instead they explicitly state semi-modalistic beliefs, as I hope to examine in another post. While Dr. Waldron has expressed his agreement with the problematic articulation of the Trinity found in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, in his blog series ‘Who’s Tampering With the Trinity’ he avoids the pitfalls of the confession and instead witnesses to the pure biblical trinitarianism of the early church, even though he expresses contrary opinions in other writings.

He does this in the third installment of a series of blog posts he authored back in 2011 on the topic of the Trinity. Since this installment is relatively short and his observations are valuable, I have decided to quote the post at length below. The original can be found at: https://cbtseminary.org/whos-tampering-with-the-trinity-3/

Dr. Waldron writes:

“I suspect that many evangelicals today would choke on the very first words of the Nicene Creed—if they are really thought about what they were confessing. Here is the first paragraph of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

How far many of us have drifted from historic Trinitarianism is revealed by how queasy these words make us feel when we think about. “Surely,” we think, “The Son is also the Maker of heaven and earth. And does the Nicene Creed really mean to say that there is some distinct sense that we are to identify the Father as God? Does this imply that the Son and Spirit are not God?”

If these kinds of questions and concerns come to us when we really think about what we are confessing in the Nicene Creed, it should make us wonder if we have really understood and whether we entirely hold the historic Trinitarian creed. So what are we missing?

We are missing, first of all, that the creed is squarely biblical. In a number of important passages when the persons of the Trinity are being delineated the Father is given the personal name, God.

This happens in John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The context of these verses it is to be noted is not the economy of redemption. Orthodox Christians read these verses as speaking of the period at the beginning of the creation of the world. One cannot read into them the incarnation and the economy of redemption in which The Son became a man. They are speaking of the Trinitarian relationships which existed before the creation of the world—at the beginning. In speaking of these eternal relationships describes one person of the Trinity as “the God.” (The Greek definite article is present in both occurrences of the prepositional phrase, “with God,” in these verses.) The Apostle describes the other person of the Trinity as “the Word.” So in these verses you have two persons: “the God” and “the Word.” Both of these persons possess the entire divine essence. The Word is as to His substance and being God. Yet in the language of these verses, He is not “the God.” Clearly, in some distinct personal sense the Father is God, while the eternal and divine Son is “His” Word. Thus, the Nicene Creed confesses and must confess: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

Another illustration of this way of describing the Father is found in one of the most important assertions of the Trinity in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 13:14 contains this Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Exegetes have often noted the unusual order of this benediction in which the Son is mentioned first, the Father is mentioned second, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned third. Egalitarian Trinitarians have leaped to the conclusion that this means there is no particular order in the Trinity. This conclusion is misguided for a lot of obvious reasons. First, it ignore that there is a common, ordinary, and dominant order in the mention of the person of the Trinity in the New Testament. It is usually Father, then Son, and then sometimes Holy Spirit. It is simply wrong to use the unusual order of 2 Corinthians 13:14 to contradict and undo this usual order and deny that there is a particular order in the eternal Trinity. Other objections to this use of 2 Corinthians 13:14 might be mentioned, but the true explanation of the order of this benediction is that the Father is here given the central position in the benediction. The grace of the Son is traced up to the love of the Father and brought down all the way down to us in the fellowship of the Spirit. So even in the order of this benediction the first-ness of the Father is maintained. And what makes this so clear is the name given to the Father here. He is not called the Father in this benediction. In language which echoes John 1:1-2 he is called “the God.” How can we miss the implication that in some sense the Father occupies the first place among the persons of the Trinity? That is why the Nicene Creed must confess first its faith in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.””

Myriad Modalists

Statistics are always tricky, but according to some estimates there are about 330 million “oneness pentecostals” worldwide. For those not familiar with the group, their theology is that of classical modalism. This would not account for all the additional classical modalists in other traditions.

Given these numbers, it is interesting to note that classical modalists today outnumber JWs by about 42:1. I think that’s interesting given the fact that it seems like so much attention and energy in the church is given to combatting the heresies taught by the watchtower association, and yet I see relatively little directed against modalism.

Of course, if semi-modalism were included in these statistics, the numbers would be off the chart. But it’s worth noting that at least in terms of numbers the neo-arianism of the JWs is not nearly as big of a threat to the contemporary church as modalism is.