This is a thesis paper I wrote for American Nation in my undergrad at CBC. In this paper I acknowledge the history of Modalistic (early Oneness) believers in the American colonies.
MODALISM IN EARLY AMERICA
Early America was settled by Europeans looking to start a fresh life. Some families looked to the New World as a place of opportunity to own land and raise a family. Others, however, sought refuge in the American colonies from religious persecution in Europe. Several religious groups, such as the Puritans and Pilgrims, are usually highlighted in the pages of text books. However, one thing that is commonly overlooked is the Modalistic view of many of these early American settlers.
Modalism is an anti-Trinitarian view not to be confused with Unitarianism. Unitarianism is a doctrine that not only denies the doctrine of the Trinity, but also rejects the deity of Jesus Christ. Modalism, however, is a name that has been ascribed by historians to those who reject the Trinity and “believe in both the individual oneness of God and the full deity of Jesus Christ.” Modalism (now referred to as “Oneness”) understands the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as manifestations, modes, or relationships that the one God has displayed to man.
Prior to the colonization of American, Modalistic Anabaptist suffered persecution in Europe at the hands of both the Catholic Church and the Reformers. Martin Luther disputed against Modalistic Anabaptist over the issues of the Godhead and baptismal formula:
“The practice of baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is no new phenomenon in the history of the Church. Martin Luther encountered a dispute over the formula in his day.”
John Calvin was instrumental in petitioning the tribunals to sentence Michael Servetus, a Modalistic Anabaptist, to death, as a heretic for re-baptism and for publishing his book On the Errors of the Trinity. On October 26, 1553, “the court found Servetus guilty of anti-Trinitarianism and anabaptism . . . and condemned him to be burned at the stake.” Anabaptist described themselves a pious Christians who had been baptized into Christ and “speak with tongues.” Likewise, various sects of the Quakers or Friends movement also “denied the received doctrine of the Trinity.” The Early Quakers saw no distinction between the pre-Incarnate Christ and the Father. In addition, the Quakers understood the distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “defined in terms of operation and manifestations rather than of Persons.” Both Anabaptist and Quakers suffered persecution from the Church of England. Therefore many of these Anabaptists and Quakers sought asylum in American colonies.
In 1681, King Charles II awarded a charter to a large piece of land in America to William Penn as payment for a debt the king owed Penn’s father of sixteen thousand pounds sterling. Penn was anxious to secure this land as a both a retreat to those who suffered religious persecution, and to establish a form of government which would serve as an example to other nations. William Penn was well acquainted with religious persecution, having priorly been imprisoned in England for attending Quaker meetings, and for publishing several tracts including The Sandy Foundation Shaken in which he condemned the doctrine of the Trinity as being a tradition of man and nowhere found in Scriptures. Penn was falsely accused of denying the deity of Jesus Christ and confined to the Tower of London unless he recanted his doctrinal beliefs. Later, Penn answered this charge from prison with his tract Innocency with Her Open Face in which he stated that Jesus Christ is “the same one holy, just merciful, Almighty, and eternal God, who in the fulness of time took, and manifested in the flesh,” thus further affirming his view of the deity of Christ.
Penn’s desire was for a colony free of religious persecution. Although many Quakers had immigrated to North American, New England Puritans were equally hostile to them as the Anglicans were in England. Early Quaker meetings are described as members “quaking” or “trembling” under the influence of the Holy Spirit. William Penn alluded that he had been baptized into Christ’s name and baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire. Thus, modalism and early forms of Pentecostalism made its way into North America via the Quakers, the German Anabaptists, and other similar sects.
Shortly after the Great Awakening of Jonathan Edwards and other Congregationalist, Unitarian churches began to form in America. However it may be that many of these congregations were unwarrantedly regarded as Unitarian, when in fact they recognized the deity of Christ. Denominational beliefs were not as distinct from one another as they might be today. For example, early Baptist churches declared in their articles of faith that believers must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Likewise, the early Plymouth Brethren “in some of their numerous ramification, and other sects, have grounded upon the words, ‘be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ,’ a tenet that baptism should not be conferred in the name of the Trinity, but in that of Jesus alone.” So, it is highly probable that various congregations or Christians sects in early America were in fact Modalist.
It is interesting that whereas Quakers were active in converting Puritans, Anglicans, and other denominations to Quakerism, Pennsylvania was a sanctuary to all religious beliefs. The Christological views of early American Quakers may have been eclipsed by William Penn’s political aspiration of a colony or state with religious freedom, nevertheless, the religious freedom he granted to all belief systems set the standard that would shape our Constitution and our Nation. Likewise, the Modalistic views of early American settlers helped pave the way for anti-Trinitarian or Oneness Christian revivals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“A Brief Confession or Declaration of Faith, 1660.” 1999. The Reformed Reader. 16 April 2016. <http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/tsc.htm>
Bernard, David, The Oneness of God (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 1993)
Blunt, John Henry, ed., Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties and Schools of Religious Thought (London: Rivingtons,1874)
Braght, Thomas J. van, Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians, trans. Joseph F. Sohm (Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 1938)
Hughes, Mrs. (Mary), The Life of William Penn (Boston: Monroe & Francis, 1828)
Penn, William, A Collection of the Works of William Penn volume 1 (London: J. Sowle, 1726)
The Sandy Foundation Shaken (Trenton, NJ: Francis S. Wiggins, 1827)
Slick, Matt. “What is Unitarianism?” n.d. CARM. 16 April 2016. <https://carm.org/what-unitariansism>
Stokes, G.T., The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Armstrong, 1893)
Synan, Vinson, Aspects of Pentecostal - Charismatic Origins (Plainfield, NJ: Logos Int., 1975)
Weisser, Thomas, Anti-Trinitarianism of Early Quakers (n.p., 1985)
Williams, G.H., The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962)
 Slick, Matt. “What is Unitarianism?” n.d. CARM. 16 April 2016. <https://carm.org/what-unitariansism>
 Bernard, David, The Oneness of God (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 1993) 15
 Synan, Vinson, Aspects of Pentecostal - Charismatic Origins (Plainfield, NJ: Logos Int., 1975) 158
 Williams, G.H., The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962) 614
 Braght, Thomas J. van, Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians, trans. Joseph F. Sohm (Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 1938) 400
 Wallace, Robert, Antitrinitarian Biography (London: E.T. Whitfield, 1850) 1:115
 Weisser, Thomas, Anti-Trinitarianism of Early Quakers (n.p., 1985) 7
 Wallace., 138
 Hughes, Mrs. (Mary), The Life of William Penn (Boston: Monroe & Francis, 1828) 51
 Penn, William, The Sandy Foundation Shaken (Trenton, NJ: Francis S. Wiggins, 1827) 10
 Hughes, 55
 Blunt, John Henry, ed., Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties and Schools of Religious Thought (London: Rivingtons,1874) 464
 Penn, William, A Collection of the Works of William Penn (London: J. Sowle, 1726) 1:268
 Ibid., 238
 Blunt, 606
 “A Brief Confession or Declaration of Faith, 1660.” 1999. The Reformed Reader. 16 April 2016. <http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/tsc.htm>
 Stokes, G.T., The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Armstrong, 1893) 140-41