From the earliest days of the church Christians wrestled with the wonderfully mysterious nature of our triune God. The truth, as taught in the Bible, is clear enough:
1) There is one God
2) There are Three Persons: The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit
3) The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God
4) The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit
But how to reconcile these truths has always been a challenge. Not that we should expect to fully understand the nature of our wonderful God. But still, we have tried as best we could.
Others have tried – and gone seriously astray. In the 4th C, Arius tried to resolve this by teaching that the Son (Jesus) is not God; and implied the Spirit is not a person, just a force. He was seeking to counter another error – that of Sabellius in the previous century, who taught that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are all God; but they are all just different forms of the one Person.
Arius’ error has dominated false teachings about God and Christ in recent centuries, and is seen in modern-day liberalism, and the teaching of most sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But, over the last hundred years Sabellius has re-entered the building where it is built by building services gold coast. Sometimes this has been obvious: since 1914 many “Jesus only” Pentecostal denominations have sprung up (there are at least seven in Australia), accounting for some 24 million followers world-wide today. These hold that that there is only one Person in the Godhead, who is especially worshipped as Jesus.
More recently, a more subtle form of Sabellianism has come to the fore. This is where a church, that may even hold to a doctrinal statement that pays lip-service to the doctrine of the Trinity, yet in its practice, worships “Jesus only”. Not long ago, an acquaintance of mine (who is part of a church that confesses a faith in the Trinity in their brief doctrinal statement) posted: “When you think going to church is an event, and you view yourself as an audience member watching a show – it is time to repent. Going to church is not based on how good the music is, how funny are the sermons or how great is the building…” …all of which I agreed with. But then he told us: “…but it is all about Jesus. We meet to hear about Him, worship Him, pray to him and express our love for Him.” Thankfully, I believe his personal faith is better than this personal confession.
1) Sabellianism like this dominates many worship services today. One such church has, as its four Core Values: “Worship Christ, Live in Community, Get Trained, Make Disciples”. Concerning the first they say: “Above all else, we are about Jesus. Everyone worships something. We worship what we treasure, what we value most. As believers, we worship Christ because He is the only One truly worthy of such a high level of devotion and affection (Col 2:9). Worshipping Christ is the cornerstone of our church. If God is calling you to come on mission with us, He’s calling you first and foremost to be a worshipper of Christ.” It is right to worship Jesus: there are plenty of examples of the worship of Jesus in the Bible. See, eg. Revelation chs 4-5. But it is wrong if in practice He has become “the only One truly worthy of such a high level of devotion and affection.” Where in practice there is nothing of worship directed toward the Father, or toward the Godhead, Sabellius has entered the building.
2) This is also happening in the direction hymn writing has taken today. This is subtle, because many good hymns are being written today, praising Christ. But where are the new hymns praising the Father? Where are the new hymns praising God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? There are some thankfully; but not many.
Or sometimes hymns, based on Scriptures praising God, are being turned into praise of “Jesus only”. Take the Getty-Townend hymn “O My Soul, arise and bless your Maker”. It is based on Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!… The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to wrath, and abounding in mercy” etc – which is a hymn of praise to God. But their hymn goes: “O My Soul, arise and bless your Maker, for He is your Master and your Friend. Slow to wrath but rich in tender mercy; worship the Saviour, Jesus.” There is nothing radically wrong with that; except, if we keep on doing this: taking passages that praise God – either God the Father, or our Triune God – and turn them into hymns that worship “Jesus-only”, we will end up (to all intents and purposes) worshipping “Jesus-only”.
(I should say that, I don’t mean to pick on Townend-Getty hymns here. On the whole, I love their hymns and most of the time I think they do get it right. But this is a trend that I pray they will resist.)
3) The same thing is happening in public prayer today, with prayer being offered up to “Jesus-only”. When Jesus was asked by His disciples to teach them to pray, Jesus Himself said, “In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” It is not wrong to pray directly to Jesus; there are a few (though very few) instances of such in Scripture. But normally, if we are being Scriptural, we would direct our prayers to “our Father in heaven”, praying “in Jesus’ name”.
It is now almost 70 years since Loraine Boettner warned against this trend. In his “Studies in Theology” he wrote:
“The history of doctrine shows quite clearly that those who have attempted to organize the system of theology around the person of Christ, regardless of their good intentions, have tended to slight other vital truths and to drift into a superficial system. Their system is unstable and tends to gravitate downward, relinquishing one doctrine after another until it becomes anthropocentric [man-centred].”
We see this happening today as worship focuses increasingly on “Jesus-only”, loses a sense of who Jesus really is; and “Jesus” becomes more and more just a personal friend. As a result, worship loses a sense of the transcendence of God and becomes increasingly man-centred.
Sabellius long ago entered the building.
He is now the elephant in the room.