God in Trinity
The material on this page was written in the 1970s to respond to the criticisms of Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and the original “Bible Answer Man.” CRI has since withdrawn those criticisms and reversed its earlier conclusions (see “A Brief History of the Relationship between the Local Churches and the Christian Research Institute”). The text of this article is published here for the historical record, for the important points of truth it addresses, and because CRI’s criticisms, although withdrawn, are still repeated by others.
From: Answers to the Bible Answer Man (Vol. 1)
4. THE TRUTH CONCERNING THE TRINITY
The public statements made at Melodyland on October 2, 1977 regarding what Witness Lee and the local churches believe concerning the Trinity contain at least fifteen errors. Some of these errors are now openly stated and refuted by the local churches:
1. The error of public misrepresentation. The speaker charged that “Witness Lee and the local church are anti the historic view of Trinitarian theology…and have adopted an ancient church heresy known as Monarchianistic Modalism.” This is false and grossly misrepresents our own testimony. We have published several booklets available to the public for almost two years fully exposing and denying as heresy every form of Monarchianistic Modalism. These booklets also contain our belief and experience of the Triune God according to the Bible with positive affirmations concerning the historic statements contained in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed regarding the Trinity. Yet, the speaker refuses to acknowledge our confession and has publicly misrepresented Witness Lee and the local churches.
2. The error with historical data. The speaker presents to the public that there are two types of Modalism or two classic modes of modalistic theology which he says are heretical theology. These two types or two classic modes he identifies as “logical” and “illogical.” The illogical he says “recognize[s] that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit somehow exist at the same time and yet are each other.” This is a false presentation of historical data in order to identify Witness Lee with heresy. The fact is that no form of modalism believed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed at the same time; otherwise, they would not have been classified as Monarchianistic Modalism.
3. The error of the wrong interpretation of Witness Lee’s writings. The speaker and his associates claim that it took them hundreds of pages of wading and documentation to come up with the fact that the Holy Spirit is in the process of becoming the church so that the church ends up as God. What was conveyed to the public was that Witness Lee believes in a pantheistic evolution into God. This is a subtle accusation under the guise of having read Witness Lee’s writings. The speaker and his associates have not interpreted Witness Lee in the way these truths were intended. The Christian public has been deceived by the speaker’s false presentation of Witness Lee’s belief in the Triune God and His relationship to the church.
4. The error of changing the Scripture. The speaker advised Witness Lee to take some lessons in Hebrew concerning Isaiah 9:6. The speaker stated that the word for Father means “author, source, and origin” of the everlasting according to the Jews, evading the clear title Father. This is a bold thing for the speaker to do in changing the meaning of the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 9:6 for “Father.” This same Hebrew word is used over one thousand times in the Old Testament, and every time it is translated “father.” This Father in Isaiah 9:6 can only be the Father in the Godhead or else you hold two Divine Fathers. To have two Divine Fathers is heresy. The speaker should reflect on what is stated in The Pulpit Commentary by Dr. George Rawlinson on Isaiah 9:6:
The Everlasting Father; rather, Everlasting or Eternal Father. But here, again, there is a singularity in the idea, which makes the omission of the article unimportant; for how could there be more than one Everlasting Father, one Creator, Preserver, Protector of mankind who was absolutely eternal? If the term “Father,” applied to our Lord grates our ears, we must remember that the distinctions of Persons in the Godhead has not yet been revealed.
Regardless of how the speaker may interpret “The everlasting Father,” whether as “the Father of eternity,” “the Father of creation,” “the Father of the age to come,” “the Father of Israel,” or the Father of something else, they cannot twist away the title, “the Father” in Isaiah 9:6. There is only one Divine Father in the whole universe. Hence, “the everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6, regardless of how people twist it, must be the unique Divine Father in the Godhead.
5. The error of omission. The speaker did not say anything about 1 Corinthians 15:45b, which says, “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit” (ASV) and 2 Corinthians 3:17, which says, “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” Probably he ignored dealing with this aspect of the truth because he has no way to answer without twisting the Scripture and ending up with two life-giving Spirits. The whole history and weight of exegesis on these two passages indicate (without theological speculation) that Christ is simply the Spirit.
What heresy to have two Divine Fathers and two life-giving Spirits! We must tell people of these heresies, and these heresies must be exposed. We are absolutely scriptural, but those who have two Divine Fathers and two life-giving Spirits as the result of twisting these verses are heretical. Let us wait and see how they can clear themselves from this charge.
On behalf of Witness Lee and all the local churches, we go on record before the Christian public to protest against the meeting held at Melodyland on October 2, 1977. The speaker grossly misrepresented the truths of the gospel that we have experienced and proclaimed. Our speaking and writing are our response to these misrepresentations, lest silence be construed as agreement with the Melodyland meeting. The reason the speaker and his research associates make such false charges and distortions concerning what we believe is obviously ignorance on their part of what we believe and mean. This ignorance has led them into the error of misrepresentation. The areas of ignorance and misrepresentation are as follows:
The speaker and his associates have read into our quotations of 2 Corinthians 3:17a, “Now the Lord is the Spirit,” and 1 Corinthians 15:45b, “The last Adam became a life-giving spirit,” and given them a modalistic meaning that we ourselves do not believe. In March of 1977, we had a personal talk with the speaker’s associates in which we related that our use of the above verses did not mean modalism. They refused to accept our clear testimony on this point.
Then we inquired of them if they were aware of the area in biblical theology called “Pneumatic Christology.” The associates of the speaker were totally ignorant that such an area existed in the study of biblical theology. We challenged them to go outside the local church and study the contemporary theological discussions on this subject.
The emphasis of “Pneumatic Christology” is a fresh attempt to come back to the simple and clear statements of the Bible concerning the action of Christ as the Spirit. An example of other biblical theologians speaking to this issue is Dr. Hendrikus Berkhof of the University of Leyden in Holland in his book, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The following is a sample found on page 21:
The Spirit as the action of the exalted Christ: So far our main interest has been focused on the consequences of Christ’s being the bearer of the Spirit, and as such also the sender. Now we have to shift our attention and to lay full emphasis on that second aspect: Christ the sender of the Spirit, the Spirit sent by Christ. How are Christ and the Spirit related here? This difficult question is of the greatest importance. It has found different answers in the course of church history, and these answers have created different types of Christian life, institutional as well as individual.
Then continuing on pages 24 and 25 he says:
In the field of biblical theology, several studies have been published in the last years which throw a new light on the relation between the Spirit and Christ, primarily in the letters of Paul. From these studies and from an open-minded examination of the New Testament, we must draw the conclusion that we have to think of the Spirit in strictly christocentric terms. This means that we have to start where the first group starts and to say that the Spirit is always and everywhere the Spirit of Jesus Christ. When we go a step beyond the traditional position, it is not to weaken it but to strengthen it. That the Spirit is bound to Christ is far more true than is meant and expressed in classical pneumatology. In John 14:18, Jesus, aiming at the sending of the Spirit, says: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” We find a parallel saying in the last words of Matthew: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (28:20). This identification of the Spirit with Christ is found in all the New Testament traditions. We think of 1 John 3:24 which says that we know Christ abides in us “by the Spirit which he has given us.” In the letters to the seven churches, it is the risen Christ who speaks, but who at the same time says: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, etc.). We think, however, mainly of Paul’s words: “Now the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17a). Some think that we have to reverse subject and predicate, and to translate: “Now the Spirit is Lord,” the Spirit wields lordship; but the word “Lord” in verses 17 and 18 always means Christ. He himself is the Spirit; as the close of verse 18 repeats: “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Other features of this conception in Paul are found in 1 Corinthians 6:17: “he who is united to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him,” and in Romans 8:9-11, where the divine principle which dwells in the faithful alternately is called the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and Christ. It is also clear that the Pauline expressions en Christoi and en pneumati are synonymous.
Dr. Berkhof’s book is sold at Melodyland Bookstore. In fact, we would encourage the speaker, his associates, the faculty and students of Melodyland School of Theology, and the Christian public to make an objective and honest study of the history of the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 6:17, 1 Corinthians 15:45, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Romans 8:9-11, and Acts 16:6-7 from the great expositors of the Bible in the past centuries to see whether on the level of experience others have not said the very things for which we have been charged as heretical.
The speaker at Melodyland on October 2, 1977, said:
Witness Lee has perverted the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and has adopted an ancient church heresy known as Monarchianistic Modalism. That’s a fifty-cent word, but translated it boils down to this. There are two types of modalism, the logical person who realizes that God cannot be both Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time and then they say God was first the Father, became the Son, and then became the Holy Spirit. The illogical ones recognize that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are spoken of at the same time and therefore try to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit somehow exist at the same time and yet are each other. That’s the two classic modes of modalistic theology…
With the above statement the speaker then charged Witness Lee with both of the classic heresies. The first classic mode is surely that type of modalism represented by Sabellius. The second classic mode of modalism which the speaker calls “illogical” is in fact not the second classic mode of modalism. All students of Christian doctrine know that the other classic mode of modalism is called dynamic modalism represented in the unitarian, Paul of Samosata, who denied the preexistence of Christ and reduced the Son and the Spirit to “virtues” or “powers” rather than “Persons” in the Godhead.
The speaker, however, misrepresented a man named Callistus as one who represented one of the classic modes of modalism, and utilized him to charge Witness Lee with a so-called classic heresy.
The section that the speaker twisted for his own use is found in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Volume II, page 579. The following is what was referred to over the radio, October 8, 1977, by the speaker and his associates:
Callistus differed from the ditheistic separation of the Logos from God, but also from the Sabellian confusion of the Father and the Son, and insisted on the mutual indwelling (perichoresis) of the divine Persons; in other words, he sought the way from modalistic unitarianism to the Nicene trinitarianism; but he was not explicit and consistent in his statements. He excommunicated both Sabellius and Hippolytus; the Roman church sided with him, and made his name one of the most prominent among the ancient popes.
Firstly, according to Philip Schaff, Callistus is surely not represented here as one of the “classic modes of modalistic theology,” but on the contrary “sought the way from modalistic unitarianism to the Nicene Trinitarianism.” In fact, J. F. Bethune-Baker’s book The Early History of Christian Doctrine, pages 103-104, indicates that, with Callistus’ statements related to the distinction of the Father and the Son, the essential principle of modalism is lost. Therefore, this is a direct misrepresentation of historical facts in the name of scholarship and research in order to label Witness Lee and the local churches with heresy.
Secondly, the speaker indicated that Callistus represented the illogical ones who recognize that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit somehow exist at the same time and yet are each other. This is an outright falsehood in relation to what Callistus actually believed according to Schaff. Callistus “insisted on the mutual indwelling (perichoresis) of the divine Persons.” The speaker represented Callistus as believing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each other, but Callistus actually believed that the Father, Son, and Spirit are indwelling each other. The omission of the word “indwelling” by the speaker was a subtle falsehood. To say “are each other” is modalism. To say the divine Persons mutually indwell each other is the proper biblical understanding of the relationship between the Persons in the Godhead.
Therefore, the speaker’s so-called classic mode of illogical modalism is exposed as a fabrication of his own mind and not a fact in the history of doctrine. This is irresponsible misrepresentation in the name of research and scholarship in order to falsely charge Witness Lee and the local churches.
Copyright © 1994 Living Stream, Anaheim, CA, USA. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.