Dangerous teaching – T.D. Jakes

I was disturbed to see the teaching of T.D. Jakes being promoted by Orthodox Christians recently. When we follow the instruction of someone who is not Orthodox in faith and practice then we cannot hope to become Orthodox. We will become like the one we have chosen to become disciples of. This is surely common sense. I am particularly sensitive to the case of T.D. Jakes, a multi-millionaire preacher of the false Health and Wealth gospel, because I have recently been teaching on some of the Trinitarian heresies of the past, and he represents a teaching which denies the Holy Trinity, and considers that the One God simply manifests himself in different ways, rather than being three Divine Persons.

He has produced lots of memorable self-help type quotations, such as ….

I have certain standards for myself so if something drops beneath that standard or if the opportunity doesn’t fit who I am authentically at my core – I don’t invest time where my brand isn’t respected or where what I have to offer isn’t appreciated…

Many people seem to like these sort of ideas. But I don’t find them Christian at all. A Christian doesn’t seek to be respected or appreciated. Our Lord Jesus was not respected or appreciated. This isn’t Orthodox Christianity. But if T.D. Jakes were only the peddler of modern individualistic self-help teaching then he would be not much worse than many others who cause harm, unwitting and unappreciated harm, to those Orthodox Christians who follow them. He also teaches outright heresy, not just something that is not entirely Orthodox, but heresy that even serious Protestants reject.

What is it necessary to say about the Holy Trinity, according to Orthodoxy, Catholicism and serious Protestantism? The Evangelical Alliance, the main organisation representing Evangelical Protestants in the UK says…

We believe in the one true God who lives eternally in three persons — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And the United Methodist Church teaches the faith in which Wesley instructed them, saying…

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The Baptist Confession of Faith, says…

The Lord our God is but one only living God…     In this divine and infinite Being there are three persons, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit.

While even the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, in its own statement of what is necessary for all members to believe, says…

We believe in the unity of the One True and Living God who is the Eternal, Self-Existent “I AM”, Who has also revealed Himself as One being co-existing in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Pentecostal Assemblies of God describes in an Orthodox manner what it means by this statement when it adds…

Accordingly, therefore, there is that in the Father which constitutes him the Father and not the Son; there is that in the Son which constitutes Him the Son and not the Father; and there is that in the Holy Spirit which constitutes Him the Holy Spirit and not either the Father or the Son. Wherefore the Father is the Begetter, the Son is the Begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the one proceeding from the Father and the Son. Therefore, because these three persons in the Godhead are in a state of unity, there is but one Lord God Almighty and His name one.

And of course this same confession is found in Catholicism, where we find in the Catholic Catechism, the official directory of the beliefs of the Catholic Church…

The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire.

And finally, in our own Orthodox Faith we read the teaching of St Athanasius who says…

Let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called. There is, then, a Trinity, holy and complete, confessed to be God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Less than these Persons the Catholic Church does not hold, lest she sink to the level of the modern Jews, imitators of Caiaphas, and to the level of Sabellius. Nor does she add to them by speculation, lest she be carried into the polytheism of the heathen. And that they may know this to be the faith of the Church, let them learn how the Lord, when sending forth the Apostles, ordered them to lay this foundation for the Church, saying: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19) The Apostles went, and thus they taught; and this is the preaching that extends to the whole Church which is under heaven.

What does St Athanasius say? It is that it is necessary to hold to the teaching about the Holy Trinity, that our One God is Three Divine Persons, not less as if there was one God manifesting himself in different ways, nor as if there were more Persons. But by confessing one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the faith of the Apostles was preserved and all error rejected.

If T.D. Jakes only taught a self-help Gospel of personal well-being and satisfaction then he would be a bad teacher of a false Gospel. But in fact his failure to teach the doctrine of the Holy Trinity means that he is not a Christian at all, according to the definition of St Athanasius, and indeed according to the faith of all traditional Christians, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.

What do we find on his own website? It is a description of his own understanding of the faith. He says..

There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What do we find different here in his words? It is that rather than speaking of three Divine Persons, eternal and of the same Divine Essence, he speaks of three manifestations. Now this is exactly the language of those who denied the Holy Trinity in the early centuries and came to be known as Sabellians. Indeed, we see that St Athanasius condemns these false teachers by name. What did Sabellius teach? It was that God was indivisible, with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being three modes or manifestations of one divine Person. A Sabellian modalist would say that the One God successively revealed Himself to man throughout time as the Father in Creation; the Son in Redemption; and the Spirit in Sanctification and Regeneration.

This is in fact just what Oneness Pentecostals insist. These are those Pentecostals ejected from the wider Pentecostal movement because they rejected the Christian teaching about the Holy Trinity. T.D. Jakes attended such Oneness Pentecostal churches before he began to lead his own. One of these Oneness Pentecostal groups, the United Pentecostal Church International, expresses this Sabellian teaching in its official statement of faith when it says…

We believe in the one ever-living, eternal God: infinite in power, Holy in nature, attributes and purpose; and possessing absolute, indivisible deity. This one true God has revealed Himself as Father, through His Son, in redemption; and as the Holy Spirit, by emanation… This one true God manifested Himself in the Old Testament in divers ways; in the Son while He walked among men; as the Holy Spirit after the ascension.

This language of revelation and manifestation, rather than the confession of three eternal Divine Persons, is the hallmark of Sabellianism. Likewise the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God says…

We believe that there are three that bear record in heaven – the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost. These three are ONE manifested in the person of Jesus Christ who being in the image of the Invisible God is the Creator of all things.

Again, we see here the idea of manifestations and not Divine Persons. And this is not reading too much into these statements. Indeed, on the UCPI website it says clearly…

In distinction to the doctrine of the Trinity, the UPCI holds to a oneness view of God. It views the Trinitarian concept of God, that of God eternally existing as three distinctive persons, as inadequate and a departure from the consistent and emphatic biblical revelation of God being one.Thus God is manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration.

Thus, the Oneness Pentecostals explicitly reject the Christian teaching of the Holy Trinity and have adopted the heresy of Sabellius. And this is what T.D. Jakes also teaches. Again, his website says..

There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Manifestations, not Divine Persons. Heresy, not Christianity. The message of T.D. Jakes is certainly exciting. He speaks about fulfilling our potential and destiny. Letting go of people who are holding us back. He has much to say about self-help. But he is a teacher of Sabellianism. St Athanasius says that those who teach such things are not Christian. That is not a judgement of whether he is a good man or not, but his teaching is heresy. Serious heresy that is not compatible with Christianity of any sort, let alone Orthodoxy.

If we are serious about being Orthodox Christians then we should surely be committed to being Orthodox disciples. If you have already dismissed Orthodoxy and are looking elsewhere for insights, then I urge you to reconsider Orthodoxy. I don’t think you have yet understood it, or participated in it. But for your sake, and for God’s sake, do not become the disciple of a man who is not even teaching Christianity, but a heresy that has been universally condemned. We become what we follow, and the teaching of T.D. Jakes cannot help us become the authentic Christian people God desires us to be. Don’t listen to him. Don’t watch him. Don’t read him. Become Orthodox through the serious study of Orthodoxy while you have time.

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