Bishop T.D. Jakes, the senior pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, was challenged about his beliefs regarding the Holy Trinity during a brief, yet heated, Twitter debate on Friday — not the first time the megachurch pastor and accomplished author has been questioned about his doctrine regarding the Godhead.
This recent discussion appears to have started when Jakes tweeted to his followers Friday the following message: "God brings us together so that He can dwell in the midst of our unity, the church must lift up a standard of unity."
Another Twitter user with the handle "Defend Orthodoxy" then tweeted: "@BishopJakes: '...the church must lift up a standard of unity.' // One reason why Modalism is a destructive heresy... misleading people."
The Texas minister also began fielding accusations from Ken Silva (@RealKenSilva), pastor of Connecticut River Baptist Church in Claremont, N.H. Silva also runs an apologetics website, Apprising Ministries, where he is critical of teachings by various influential members in the Christian community, such as Jakes, Rob Bell and Rick Warren, to name a few.
Silva, an ordained Southern Baptist Convention minister, also questioned Jakes by tweeting to The Potter's House pastor Friday: "@BishopJakes Which God are you talking about? The Triune God of the Bible, or the ficticious god of modalism? Which one do you believe in?"
It was then that a minor debate ensued between Jakes and Silva regarding his beliefs about the Holy Trinity, with Jakes tweeting: "@RealKenSilva Ken I believe in Jesus Christ the only begotten of the Father. I believe in the Holy Spirit sent to the world by the Father!"
Perhaps not wanting to get into a lengthy debate about a position he has addressed before, Jakes shut down the conversation and reportedly blocked Silva on Twitter, writing: "@RealKenSilva What I don't believe in is dividing the body of Christ or allowing obnoxious communications in my space so...."
Silva continued the conversation, however, on his Apprising Ministries website, where the N.H. pastor accused Jakes of refusing to clearly define, in exact terms, his views on "the cardinal doctrine" of orthodox Christianity.
However, as noted above, Jakes has previously publicly defended his beliefs about the Holy Trinity when accused of modalism.
Modalism is the insistence that members of the Holy Trinity are not three distinct persons, but only forms of God (a singular spirit)'s self-expression.
The Nicene Creed of 381 A.D., recited in some Christian churches along with the Apostle's Creed, declares orthodox Christian beliefs regarding the nature of God, Jesus the Christ and the Holy Spirit. The primary purpose of the creed, originally crafted in 325 and edited years later by a council of church leaders during the reign of Constantine, was to challenge teachings questioning Jesus' divine nature. The creed (which can be viewed here) is professed in Roman Catholic churches, Eastern Orthodox churches and most Protestant denominations espousing a Trinitarian theology.
Adherents of Oneness Pentecostalism, a denomination which Jakes admits to having been associated with, have often been accused of subscribing to a modalist doctrine. On the other hand, according to the Christian Research Institute, members of the denomination insist that a Trinitarian dogma is akin to polytheism. Jakes, who has said "it is not the oneness of God for which I cry, it is for the oneness of His people," has specifically been questioned about the "Belief Statement" on The Potter's House website, which reads regarding God's nature:
"There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
The questions raised to Jakes and other Christians who hold this doctrine on the Holy Trinity often center on the meaning of "manifestations" in contrast to "persons" and the use of the word "existing" as opposed to "co-existing," which some Christians say drives home the idea that the members of the Godhead are never separated.
In contrast, here are statements regarding God's nature as confessed by other prominent evangelical Christian churches:
"God is the creator and ruler of the universe. He has eternally existed in three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are co-equal and are one God." (Saddleback Church)
"We believe in one Triune God, eternally existing in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—co-eternal in being, co-eternal in nature, co-equal in power and glory, having the same attributes and perfections." (Mars Hill Church)
"We believe that there is only one true and living God, existing in three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each is a distinct Person, but they are all of one essence; they all have the same nature, perfection and attributes, and each is worthy of precisely the same worship, confidence and obedience." (New Missionary Baptist Church)
"We believe in the one true Creator God, who shows God's self through self-giving love in a communal relationship of oneness displayed in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (Mars Hill Bible Church)
Jakes addressed this issue in 2000 in an op-ed article in Christianity Today, in which he wrote: "I believe in one God who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I believe these three have distinct and separate functions—so separate that each has individual attributes, yet are one. I do not believe in three Gods."
The Potter's House pastor went on to clarify: "The language in the doctrinal statement of our ministry that refers to the Trinity of the Godhead as 'manifestations' does not derive from modalism." Jakes cited 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Corinthians 12:7, and 1 John 3:5-8 to defend his use of the word "manifestation," noting that the apostle Peter also used the term in 1 Peter 1:20.
Years later, as seen in this Twitter exchange above, Jakes has failed to quiet his critics. The controversy has remained so persistent that a recent announcement that Jakes will be one of the seven pastors making an appearance at The Elephant Room next year, has caused a bit of a hubbub in the blogosphere.
The Elephant Room, a popular initiative featuring conversations between seven influential pastors filmed live and simulcast across the U.S., is moderated by James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church. Its second round of conversations is scheduled to take place on Jan. 25, 2012.
Criticism was hurled at MacDonald for inviting Jakes to be one of the seven pastors featured in The Elephant Room's new round of conversations because of the Woman, Thou Art Loosed author's perceived stance regarding the Holy Trinity.
MacDonald denied on his website that inviting Jakes to The Elephant Room was essentially an endorsement of the Texas minister's doctrinal beliefs, as he had been accused. MacDonald, under the title "I do not agree that T.D. Jakes is a Modalist," wrote in a September post on his website:
"I affirm the doctrine of the Trinity as I find it in Scripture. I believe this doctrine is revealed in the Bible and accurately expressed in historic confessionalism. T.D. Jakes website states that he believes God has existed eternally in three manifestations which is modalist language. I am looking forward to hearing him explain his position currently and how that may have changed from things he has said historically. ... I believe T.D. Jakes shows immense humility by being willing to step outside his own circles to interact with christian leaders and discuss his theology. ... We are greatly honored that T.D. Jakes has agreed to participate."
Tim Challies, one of the most influential and widely read evangelical Christian bloggers, also commented on the controversy recently.
While confessing that he does not know for certain if Jakes is a modalist, Challies wrote: "What is clear is that whatever Jakes believes about the Trinity, he has shown a continual reluctance to affirm a standard, time-proven creedal statement of trinitarian orthodoxy and that he has often used the language of modalism. This gives us valid cause for concern."
As MacDonald and Challies also noted, the express purpose of The Elephant Room is to foster relationships with and open discussions among Christians who hold disagreements about Scripture.
Perhaps it is during this 2012 discussion that Jakes will be able to silence his critics once and for all.
Jakes wrote Friday on his Facebook page what could not fit into a 140-character space on Twitter:
"God brings us together so that He can dwell in the midst of our unity. In this day and age when division in the world around us is common, the church must lift up a standard of unity. Ephesians 2:14,22 says, 'For He is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us…In whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.' "
The Christian Post sent an email Saturday to Jakes' public relations staff, but there was no response at the time of press.
The Potter's House, founded by Jakes in 1996, is "a multiracial, nondenominational church" that has grown to more than 30,000 members. The church has three campuses in Texas and one in Denver, Colo.