When I worked at the library at Dallas Theological Seminary during the days of my formal training, I had many beloved friends with whom I worked. We often talked about our dreams of ministry and changing the world through the Gospel of Christ. There was one girl that I worked with who was a foreign student from Burma. I will call her Stephanie. Stephanie and I became good friends. We found we had so much in common. She was incredibly passionate about the Gospel. Her relationship and commitment to Christ was something that I could not help but take notice of. She was in training to be a missionary, hoping one day to take the Gospel back to her home which was in such desperate need. Much of our conversation, naturally, turned toward theology. While we had some minor disagreements here and there, it was never anything significant through the years. She was solid theologically and in love with the same Lord as me. At least I thought . . .
It was just before I graduated that I found something out that would hit like a 10.0 on my theological richter scale. During a conversation we were having, she told me in confidence that she was Modalist. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it is a belief about the doctrine of the Trinity that has been condemned as heresy over and over again throughout church history. In essence, Modalists believe that there is one God who displays himself in three different ways, not persons. In other words, the Modalist does not make a distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit. God shows himself wearing three different masks. Historic Christianity formally condemned Modalism in 268 at the Council of Antioch and has not looked back since. God is one in essence, three in person. One what, three whos.
Getting the doctrine of the Trinity wrong is not a minor thing. Sure, I believe that people can ignorantly hold to false views of some things, being undiscipled. But what about illustrations like my friend here. She was trained at DTS. She was taught the orthodox understanding of the Trinity left, right, and center. Yet she denied it in favor of a false view.
I did not know how I was supposed to process this. For years I had no reason whatsoever to question the legitimacy of her Christian confession. Her “fruits” were ripe in every other area and every other doctrine. But now, I was left wrestling with the Lord about whether or not she, a convinced modalist, could really be a Christian.