|IS THERE CONFUSION AMONG ADVENTISTS?
Seventh-day Adventists claim to have the last message for a dying world, and thus they hold a unique place in history. If convinced of our calling, we also must accept responsibility for bearing a message that is beyond reproach. It must bring the world to decide between truth and error.
Such a mandate demands that we "know" the "Amen, the faithful and true witness" "Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Revelation 3:14; Hebrews 12:2). To vacillate about who He was and who He is calls in question the entire plan of salvation. Certainty about His relationship to humanity is imperative "for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
The doctrines we proclaim in the end-time must grow out of understanding the Author of our faith. He is the Omega as well as the Alpha. There cannot be sound doctrine without really knowing Him. No taint of confusion will stand in the final test.
This adds startling urgency to the angel's mighty proclamation: "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Revelation 18:2). These are the words of "Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness" (1:5). We need the unshakable conviction that He speaks the truth when He calls God's people to "come out of her ... that ye be not partakers of her sins" (18:4). The "wine" of Babylon produces drunkenness in anybody who drinks it, even Adventists.
Study given to the incarnation of Christ over the past years should have kept Adventists from confusion. The writings of Ellen White provide scores of confirmations that He took "upon Himself human nature, a nature inferior to His heavenly nature." As strongly as words can speak, she says that He "did not make believe take human nature; He did verily take it, He did in reality possess human nature."1 To make sure we appreciate how close He came to humanity and yet was sinless, we read repeatedly that "in taking upon Himself man's nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin."2
In the 1888 era the Lord tried to make His people see that they have a Saviour who knows all their temptations. This truth was to prepare a people for translation. Some who had even then tasted the "wine" of Babylon were not sure. In 1890 the confusion came to the surface without a shadow of double meaning:
This glorious promise displays a unity of purpose between heaven and earth that staggers the mind. What Christ was in oneness with the human family, the human family may be in oneness with Him. Here is a union that can only be compared to marriage. This makes no provision for cheap grace. If the Adventist body of Christ would believe the counsel given, we could live the more abundant life Christ promised. Church membership would not seem like a long list of prohibitions. In the words of the modern martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
The remnant church has the solid counsel: "Men may have a power to resist evil—a power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master; a power that will place them where they may overcome as Christ overcame. Divinity and humanity may be combined in them."5 With heaven's assurance that we may overcome as Christ overcame, there is no need for any confusion among us.
Unfortunately articles published in our church journal, the Adventist Review, that rightly call the members to "unity" and "balance" contain also confusion with sentiments which Augustine advocated. Sabbathkeepers are told that Jesus "became sin for us vicariously," that "Jesus only took the 'likeness of sinful flesh'" [that is, not like but unlike]. This confusion runs counter to the Adventist conscience.
The thrust of this perplexing series constrained church members to write the editor and voice their concern. Some letters were published.6 But the confusion did not end with one series of six deviant articles. A further series of three articles advocating the same theology was published five weeks later.7
These articles leaned heavily upon decisions of church councils in past centuries—the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The former was called by Emperor Constantine the Great who was noted for his compromise of amalgamating paganism with Christianity. The latter established a dictum on the nature of Christ that became the test of orthodoxy for the Roman Catholic Church. Surely there must be a better basis for establishing Adventist truth.
The second series of three articles in the Review, puts the question to the church, Was Jesus "like Adam or like us?" The answer given: "[We] lack any definitive statement in Scripture. ... He was unlike us. … He was unique." What will Adventists accept as "definitive" statements? The wording in Romans is clear: "Jesus Christ our Lord,.. . was made of the seed [Greek: spermatos] of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3). Paul's definition brings "us" into the picture and adds: "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us" (8:3, 4). The "seed of David [was] according to the flesh." It was not mysteriously outside the stream of fallen humanity. God sent His Son "in the likeness of sinful flesh" and He overcame sin in that flesh. We dare not deny what Scripture says.
The record in Hebrews is even more "definitive" beyond question, for it proclaims that Christ took part of "flesh and blood" like all children of the race. He took not "the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed [Greek: spermatos] of Abraham." It was necessary in all things pertaining to God, to fulfill the plan of salvation, that He should "be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest" (Hebrews 2:11-18). To be "made like unto his brethren" means to take a fallen nature. This is the only nature known to the children of Adam. But Jesus did not participate in man's sin.
"Seed of Abraham," "seed of David," "made like unto his brethren," "flesh and blood,"—this is "definitive" Scripture. There is not the slightest inference that "He was unlike us." To the Scripture may be added hundreds of Ellen White's statements in the same vein, each telling the church Christ took man's fallen nature, that He was "made like unto his brethren."
A Private Letter Made Public
Definitive Scripture with hundreds of Ellen White statements are laid aside in deference to a few sentences lifted from her unpublished private letter to W. L. H. Baker, a church member in New Zealand at the end of the last century. There is no record of what he wrote to Ellen White. Frequently Adventist scholars who propose that Christ did not take man's fallen nature use this one source to support their idea. They claim that Christ took the nature of Adam before the fall. But the letter will not substantiate this. We must read it in full to know what Ellen White wrote. Her presentation of this subject is not self-contradictory.8
This will be seen by considering a few passages from her letter. She describes the human nature of Christ in the same way she portrays it in hundreds of her other published writings.
This leaves no room for various interpretations. The letter says, "Took upon Himself human nature ... tempted in all points as human nature is tempted." She explains the reason for His condescension. It was not that He might merely know what it feels like to be tired, hungry, thirsty, or sleepy. His taking our nature had a spiritual purpose. He became a man that "He might understand the force of all temptations wherewith man is beset," but nevertheless He "held fast to God and His Word ... His faith ... did not waver for one moment."
Every human being knows how temptation to sin comes; it came in the same way to Christ. His lack of "evil propensity" did not free Him from temptation. "His humanity as combined with divinity" does not put a wall between Him and His people or "exempt" Him from any of our temptations.
In the same Volume 7 of the SDA Bible Commentary where the Baker letter is found, Ellen White sets out on page 943 the assets and liabilities of "propensity." Her comments make clear that Christ and His people are on mutual ground. God is no respecter of persons:
Scarcely can the human mind comprehend what is the breadth and depth and height of the spiritual attainments that can be reached by becoming partakers of the divine nature. The human agent who daily yields obedience to God, who becomes a partaker of the divine nature, finds pleasure daily in keeping the commandments of God; for he is one with God. It is essential that he hold as vital a relation with God as does the Son with the Father. He understands the oneness that Christ prayed might exist between the Father and the Son.
The message is clear; our Lord Jesus Christ had no "propensity to sin." With equal force we are assured "we need not retain one sinful propensity." We must read this affirmation for what it says: "His humanity [was] combined with divinity. … [His] humanity blended with divinity," but equally certain for those "He has ransomed" will be the realization that it is "our privilege to be partakers of the divine nature." As we thus partake of this divine nature our hereditary and cultivated tendencies, our sinful, evil "inherent propensities" with which we are born, will be "cut away" from our characters, and "we are made a living power for good." The fact that "we need not retain one sinful propensity" confirms that sinful propensity cannot mean "inherited guilt" or "original sin" as promoted by Augustine and Calvin.
This word "propensity" as used by Ellen White is straightforward. There is no hidden meaning or deep mystery in it. Christ had no ingrained irresistible longing to sin. He was tempted, but by faith He rejected the temptation. This is a manifestation of "the gospel of Christ … the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16).
We "may be one with Christ as Christ is one with God." This immense spiritual attainment of becoming partakers of the divine nature leads us to having "as vital a relation with God as does the Son with the Father." Thus we can begin to fathom what Jesus meant when He prayed: "Neither pray 1 for these alone [not just His disciples], but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and 1 in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20, 21).
The universe is waiting to see a people who are "one with God" having spiritual understanding such as Jesus had when He was "made like unto His brethren."
Jesus Probes the Future
Jesus had good reason to raise the serious question: "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). The original language adds significance to this question: "shall He find the faith on the earth?" With innumerable philosophies developed over centuries and in the midst of the vast uncertainties of life, Jesus proposes a solid foundation. There will be "the faith" at the end of time when the Son of man shall return. This opens real possibilities for ordinary people to have the mind of Christ with His law written in the human heart (Philippians 2:5; Hebrews 8:10). Faith is a heart appreciation of the character of the Son of God who became the Son of man.
Depending upon the conviction Seventh-day Adventists have, these words of Jesus about faith present serious implications. Are we arrogant to consider that we could have "the" faith that will be unique and distinct in the end-time of the world? The three angels' messages must provide a clear understanding of God's purposes so that Adventists may be free from confusion. They should have unanimous discernment that befits a people who talk about translation.
Christians in past ages could not have known "the" faith peculiar to the day when "the Son of man cometh." The final generation that lives when Babylon is cast down must have an advanced, penetrating knowledge of the Author of that faith. The final generation has more to learn than we have yet discerned—more than in all past ages.
If, as Jesus suggests, there is an end-time faith, it may have some connection with another statement He made about "truth." In His long discussion with the disciples recorded in John 15 and 16, He assures them that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide "into all truth" (16:13). The disciples did not have the fulness of "all truth." Sacred history had many chapters still to be unfolded. Today the church awaits the final fulfillment of this promise. The last generation must expect to know more. "All truth" cannot make provision for plural theology, with "other faiths," or various creeds.
One thing is clear, Jesus said that He had many things to tell them but they could not then bear them. Their understanding was too dim (John 16:12). There is no record that He ever told them "all truth." The profound blessing of total understanding is reserved for that time of trouble when "Michael shall stand up." Then His people will be wise and shine as the firmament, the seal of the book will be opened as knowledge is increased (Daniel 12:1-4). In that hour the need for clear discernment of truth will be greater than at any other time in all history.
In this special session with the disciples, Jesus said that all the human race had ever hoped for, the desire of nations, would be found in just one truth. Problems would cease when His people understand that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). History verifies that this complete understanding is yet in the future. There have been only one Enoch and one Elijah. This does not satisfy the conditions of deliverance for those "found written in the book," nor the "many of them that sleep in the dust" (Daniel 12:1, 2). A whole generation of Enochs and Elijahs must know "all truth."
Accepting the word of Jesus means that eternal life is to "know" Jesus Christ. Stated another way, there can be no eternal life until He is known. Jesus said that He came to make known the Father, and if they had seen Him they had seen the Father. They did not know the Father because they did not know Him (John 14:7-9).
Logic demands that the second coming of Christ is delayed because there is not yet a unified group, a church, a corporate body, a generation of people, who fully know Him. Without such knowledge His people could not recognize the Son of Man nor appreciate the implications of eternal life.
But there is a greater problem. They could not distinguish the true Christ from any counterfeit that might appear. Until they "know" Him, He must refrain from appearing and thus create a situation in which the enemy could claim victory.
Among Adventists great confusion persists about the human nature of the Author of salvation. This must be corrected. The Review's advocated answer of silence will not provide a solution. The suggestion that "these topics need to be laid aside and not urged upon our people as necessary issues"9 evades the truth and will not bear analysis. The church cannot fulfill its mandate in the end-time until it clearly comprehends "the faith" demanded for the hour "when the Son of man cometh." Understanding the nature of Christ correctly is basic to understanding the gospel.
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