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Comments on the Baker Letter

There are no extant documents from W.L.H. Baker. We have historical information on his personal life and his work in the Australasian missionary fields, but evidently he did not do much, if any, writing. He was connected with the publishing and evangelism work, and in teaching, but evidently did not care to write for our publications.

So, how can we claim that he was teaching "adoptionism"? We may not have any documents from his hand, but Ellen White must have heard him preach and/or heard about his teaching while he was working in the Tasmanian missionary field about 1895-1896.

Definition of Adoptionism

Adoptionism is an error in understanding who Christ was. It is more than just a discussion about what nature Christ assumed in the incarnation. It goes beyond that into a deeper heresy. Adoptionism is founded in Nestorianism, which surfaced in Spain during the 8th century. It taught that Christ was fully and completely a man, born on this earth without any divine intervention attendant in His conception. He was born as a son of man, not as the Son of God. He was a normal human being with exalted concepts of purity and holiness, and lived an heroic lifestyle in overcoming his "evil propensities." Then, after He showed Himself to be morally in tune with Godís willóthe "perfect human being"óHe was adopted by God as His son, and thus became "the Son of God." In this capacity, God used this "perfect human being" to work out the necessary interventions to become humanityís savioróthe "perfect sacrifice."

During the first phase of this "Christís" earthly existence, he would have been "altogether such an one as ourselves." He would have had the same "propensities of sin" as all of us have. After his adoption, this "Christ" would have been a blending of the divine and human natures as God infused him with His divine nature. The "exact time when humanity was blended with divinity" in this "Christ" was taught, by adoptionism, as being around his 30th year of earthly existence.

From this definition of adoptionism, we can now pick out the things which Mrs. White addressed in her cautions to Elder Baker. Those phrases which are in italics are the very same words which Mrs. White used in her letter. I chose them to emphasize them for clarity in this discussion.

Historical Context of the Baker Letter

We can now turn to an analysis of the content of the letter Mrs. White wrote to Elder Baker. To understand her comments in the "Baker Letter" which was written to both Elder Baker and his wife, we must consider the total historical context of the letter.

The overall tone of the letter to Elder Baker, which was probably written at the end of 1895, was very positive. Mrs. White commended him for his work, encouraged him in his "depression," and in general supported him personally. Then why has there been such a furor about this particular letter from the pen of Mrs. White? What did she say which got the attention of our theologians and which caused the extensive discussions that have continued for some 50 years?

There are only a few sentences from the entire 19 page letter which have come under intense scrutiny and contentious discussion (for the full letter, please see Manuscript Releases; Volume Thirteen, page 13).

"Be careful, exceedingly careful as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgressing. Because of sin, his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. He was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden."

"Logical" Conclusions Reached

From this short paragraph, some have selected out the first two sentences as their main rallying point in making a position for their Christological understanding. "Be careful, exceedingly careful" they say, when discussing the nature which Christ assumed in the incarnation. Then they skip down to the next to last sentence and argue that Christ did not "have an evil propensity." From this, using a type of logic, they come to the following conclusions:

  • Ellen White wrote a letter to Baker in which she cautioned him about how to present before the people, the nature which Christ assumed in His incarnation.

  • Mrs. White used particular phrases in regard to Christís nature which give clues as to what she understood the truth to be concerning Christís human nature.

  • One phrase which must be important and considered carefully is: "evil propensity," which she says Christ did not have "for one moment."

  • Since manís nature is "evil" (i.e. "sinful") then Christ must not have had any of the "natural" propensities which fallen mankind has.

  • If Christ did not have the natural propensities which fallen men have, then He could not have had the same nature that fallen men have.

  • THEREFORE (the conclusion is made from this logical progression in thought): what Ellen White was telling Baker in her letter to him was that Christ took the UNfallen nature of Adam at His incarnation.

Remember, the letter to Elder Baker was written at the end of 1895 or early 1896. Keeping our focus on the historical context of this letter and Mrs. Whiteís comments, we find that during that same time period there were extensive articles, sermons, books, and other statements from the pens of persons such as A.T. Jones, W.W. Prescott, S.N. Haskell, J.E. Evans, J.H. Durland, and Ellen White herself which plainly state that Christ, in His incarnation, assumed the nature of Adam after the fall. During this very time, Ellen White was writing Desire of Ages which contains these statements:

"Satan had pointed to Adam's sin as proof that God's law was unjust, and could not be obeyed. In our humanity, Christ was to redeem Adam's failure. But when Adam was assailed by the tempter, none of the effects of sin were upon him. He stood in the strength of perfect manhood, possessing the full vigor of mind and body. He was surrounded with the glories of Eden, and was in daily communion with heavenly beings. It was not thus with Jesus when He entered the wilderness to cope with Satan. For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation." DA p 117.

And: "This was but the beginning of His wonderful condescension. It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence

in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life." DA p 49.

From this historical context it is evident that Mrs. White was not attempting to correct Bakerís position that Christ assumed the fallen nature of Adam, otherwise she would also have written letters to the men who were widely promoting this truth around the world in our publications and at the conference sessions which took place at this time (Jones at the 1895 GC session; Prescott at the 1895 Armadale campmeeting). Since the historical context of the letter proves that her comments were NOT concerning the fact that Christ took upon Himself our fallen nature, then what Ellen White was cautioning Baker about must have been some other, more covert and dangerous concept.

What Mrs. White Did Write

Again, to understand what Mrs. White was saying we must let her own record speak for itselfóitís internal context must determine how we comprehend what she was saying to Baker.

  • The paragraphs dealing with the nature of Christ were intended as a warning.

  • The warning included, not only Elder Baker, but "every human being" who would speak and write on the nature of Christ (MR 13, page 19).

  • The warning concerned the doctrine of Christology.

  • The warning was not limited to Christís human nature, but also included His divine nature.

  • The warning cautioned Elder Baker not to present Christ as one who "was altogether human" or one who was "altogether such an one as ourselves."

  • The incarnationócombining divine nature with human natureó"is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals." We cannot understand how divinity and humanity were blended into the one Man Christ Jesus.

"It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are, and yet be without sin. The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain a mystery. That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves: for it cannot be. The exact time when humanity blended with divinity, it is not necessary for us to know. We are to keep our feet on the rock, Christ Jesus, as God revealed in humanity." (Baker Letter).

In essence, her warning to Baker was for him to not place too great a stress on the humanity of Christ at the expense of Christís divinity, which was equally as important in the salvation process. Her emphasis was that Christ did not sin, not even once, not even by a thought. We must clarify that there is a major difference in the three "natures" in the discussion about sin.

Clarifying Basic Concepts

Sinless nature = a nature completely without sin in any form, such as Adam had when he came from the Creatorís hand, such as the unfallen angels and God Himself possess.

Sinful nature = the corrupted nature, which is influenced and tempted by Satan to do those things which are contrary to Godís will, but it does NOT have to yield to Satanís attacks (this is an essential element in the Cleansing of the Sanctuary doctrine).

Sinning nature = the nature which continues to indulge in those things which are contrary to Godís will; this is an active, willful behavior from a character which is in rebellion to God.

From this we see that Christ, in His incarnation, could step down from His "sinless nature" and, in His humanity, assume a "sinful nature" (Philippians 2:5-8). By faith He kept that "sinful nature" from becoming a "sinning nature," proving to the universe that fallen, sinful man COULD keep the law of God. Therefore, Mrs. White could say that "not even by a thought" did Christ consent to sin. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15, 16). This is indeed GOOD NEWS for sinners! Christ is our example in all things and has proved that overcoming sin in this life is possible.

This concept on the nature of Christ, which Jones and Waggoner stressed in their sermons and writings, was one of the foundation pillars of the 1888 message. Mrs. White called their message the "most precious message" of "Christ and His righteousness" (Testimonies to Ministers pp 91 and 92). The nature of Christ has become a strong point of contention during the last 50 yearsí discussion regarding the 1888 message and it content.

One more point worth clarifying is the phrase "evil propensity." A propensity is "an intense inclination" or "leaning toward" (Websterís). In and of itself, a propensity is not automatically "bad" or "evil." But once an inclination is "indulged" it becomes much stronger in itís pull upon us. For example, most people who have never smoked a cigarette have no strong desire to ever smoke. But, persons who have indulged in the smoking habit, find it very hard to avoid using them again. Staying "smoke free" is difficult, and requires a constant battle against the bodyís strong desire for the nicotine rush. Habits formed which revolved around the use of cigarettes may continue to haunt the individual for many yearsólike absentmindedly reaching into their pocket for a cigarette during stressful moments.

Christ came to this earth and took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature, with all of its weaknesses, liabilities, and inclinations, but He never developed an "evil propensity" because He never indulged in any sin, not even in His thoughts. He took our fallen equipment and in that defective equipment, He wrought out the perfect performance. He kept every commandment of God, thus proving that mankind CAN be an overcomer and vindicate Godís character against the claims of Satan. Unless Christ took our nature, He could not be our example in "all things."

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