Because the doctrine of the Trinity has the aspects of both the one and the three to explain, the disputes concerning it have not been resolved even after all these centuries. Furthermore, the truth of the Bible cannot be comprehended by man’s limited mentality.
Suppose two blind men touch someone’s head. The first finds that there are seven openings in it. The second checks the head only from the back; he declares it has no openings. They argue, accusing each other of lying. Who is right? Both are, because a head has both a front and a back. Neither of them has the complete picture; they are arguing out of blindness.
Theologians have treated the matter of the Trinity in much the same way. Some argue from the side of the oneness of God’s being. Others argue from the side of the three Persons. This battle continues even today. Those who take an extreme view in favor of the side of one may fall into the heresy of modalism. Extremists on the side of the three are called tritheists. We must be careful not to overemphasize one side or the other, lest we fall into error.
Several years ago a brother in Hong Kong opposed my saying that Christ is the Spirit. One day he came to visit me at home, and we talked together about this. I asked him, “Brother, how many Gods do you believe in?” Without hesitation he replied, “Three. The Father is a God, the Son is a God, and the Spirit is a God.” Isn’t this unbelievable! Yet many Christians really believe in three Gods. They do not dare to express their belief openly, because it is contrary to the Scriptures, but in their way of thinking of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, They are three Gods. Part of the fault for this erroneous concept lies with the use of the term Persons for the Godhead. Because of the limitations of language, we sometimes have to use this term, but if we overemphasize the concept of three Persons, we may be led into tritheism.
Modalism is another heresy, resulting from taking an extreme position. Its leading exponent was Sabellius, who claimed that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit were not eternally co-existent. In modalistic thinking the Three are merely three successive manifestations of the divine Being or three temporary modes of His activity. Passages like Isaiah 9:6, where the Son is called the everlasting Father, and John 14:9, where the Lord says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” are used to support modalism’s position.
Just as tritheism pushed the matter of the three Persons too far and ended up with three Gods, so modalism pushed the oneness of the Godhead too far and taught that when the Son came the Father was over, and when the Spirit came the Son was over.
This teaching we cannot accept. The Scriptures clearly tell us that all Three eternally co-exist. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is the Son. He was present in eternity with God, the Father, and was God. In John 17:5 the Lord prayed concerning the glory He had shared with the Father before the world was. Both the Father and Son, then, are coeternal. That the Spirit also is eternal is clear from Hebrews 9:14, where He is called “the eternal Spirit.” It was this Triune God who said in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” All Three were there before man’s creation.
Both tritheism and modalism have tried to explain the mystery of the Trinity and have gone too far. One went to the North Pole and the other to the South! According to what we understand of the Scriptures, we have taken a position in the middle.
(Life Messages, Vol. 2 (#42-75), Chapter 31, by Witness Lee)