Saviour of the World|
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
At this point, we should pause for a brief historical background of how our own denomination has related to the issue of Christ’s human nature. An overview is important if we are going to appreciate the unique Adventist message and mission to the world.
In the 27 May 1976 Adventist Review, a group of church leaders provided a statement on righteousness by faith and certain related truths, including the humanity of Christ. After explaining both views (pre-Fall and post-Fall), the article stated that the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not have a definite position on this issue and that members, therefore, may hold either view. This was confirmed recently by the present editor of Adventist Review.
Clearly, then, both views on Christ’s humanity are acceptable within Adventism today. However, this is true only in theory, not in practice. Generally, anyone teaching or preaching the post-Fall view is frowned upon by many of the brethren, and sometimes such an individual is looked upon as a heretic. The reason is twofold.
First, because in the past (especially during the 1950s) the post-Fall view has contributed to other Christian bodies looking upon Adventism as a cult or a sect. Remember that during this era almost no Christian Bible scholars or commentaries taught the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature.
Second, the post-Fall view, as presently taught by most of the major independent ministries and by some conservative Adventists, leads to a focus primarily on Christian living. Important as victorious Christian living is, it leads to legalism when presented to a people who have very little assurance of salvation. As presented by these independent ministries, the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature focuses on Him as our Example, the One who has shown us how to overcome our sinful natures. The emphasis is on perfect victory over sin as essential to our salvation, especially for those living in the last days and who will have to go through the time of trouble “without a mediator.” These legalistic Adventists fail to realize that living “without a mediator” does not mean living without a Saviour. We will not need a mediator after the verdict of the Investigative Judgment is passed, but we will always need a Saviour this side of eternity.
This legalistic approach naturally leads to viewing the experience of sanctification as being meritorious, the idea that we are saved by faith in Christ plus what He is doing in us through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As a result, this legalistic approach has robbed many sincere Adventists of the joy of salvation and has brought them to the point of despair as they continue to struggle with the problem of indwelling sin. Although I believe the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature is correct, I also believe presenting it in a context that leads to legalism has done great damage to the cause of God and, therefore, does deserve the church’s frown.
But how did this present situation regarding Christ’s human nature come about within the Adventist Church?
Adventism may never have had an officially defined position on the human nature of Christ, but a careful look at our history shows that the general teaching of the church in periodicals, books, and Sabbath School lessons published prior to the 1950s, was that Christ took on His sinless divine nature our sinful human nature in order to be the Saviour of the world. The Anglican theologian Geoffrey Paxton documented this some years ago, in his book The Shaking of Adventism.
But, clearly, there has come a change in thinking on this topic within Adventism. What brought it about?
Beginning in the early 1950s, dialogue with non-Adventist theologians gradually began to bring about a shift in our position on the humanity of Christ. This was first noticeable in articles published in The Ministry magazine, followed by such books as Questions on Doctrine and Movement of Destiny. Older books, such as Bible Readings for the Home Circle and Answers to Objections, were revised to present the modified view on the human nature of Christ. What motivated this change?
Only the judgment will reveal the secrets of men’s minds, but many feel that the change was an attempt to gain acceptance with popular evangelical scholars and churches and to remove the stigma of being called a “sect” or a “cult.”
But not all in our midst surrendered to this theological shift on Christ’s humanity. Foremost in opposition was M.L. Andreasen. Others followed, until the church was forced, at the Palmdale Conference in 1976, to declare both views acceptable within Adventism — even if one view was more “acceptable” than the other. But Palmdale was not the final word on this debate. Most of the independent ministries have taken up the cause of the post-Fall view on Christ’s human nature. As a result, this controversy continues and is fragmenting the church.
The Adventist Church is presently divided into two major camps on this issue. On the one hand is the popular view that Christ’s humanity was like ours only in the physical sense. That is, He was prone to fatigue, hunger, aging, etc., but His spiritual nature was like that of Adam before the Fall. This camp holds to the pre-Fall view. On the other hand are those who believe and teach that Christ assumed our total sinful nature, the same nature we are born with, but that He never sinned — not even by a thought. This camp holds the post-Fall view.
Unfortunately, most Adventists who hold the popular pre-Fall view of Christ’s human nature lump all post-Fall proponents into a single class, when actually there are presently three groups within Adventism who believe and teach the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature.
Of these three groups, it is the “more insistent group” group, the major independent ministries, those that are presenting the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature in the context of Him being our example, who have greatly hindered the restoration of that “most precious message” of righteousness by faith as God brought it to His people in 1888. Their emphasis on presenting Christ as primarily our example, rather than as our Saviour, has resulted in many sincere Adventists being trapped in a subtle form of legalism or perfectionism. For this reason, I believe this approach is a counterfeit teaching that has done more harm to the cause of God’s remnant than have those who are proclaiming the pre-Fall view of Christ’s humanity.
There are two reasons I believe these independent ministries, this “more insistent group” group, are presenting an incorrect view of Christ’s human nature. First, as already mentioned, their emphasis in presenting the post-Fall view is in the context of Christ as our example. This leads naturally to legalism or perfectionism. Second, they present the post-Fall view of Christ’s humanity (as does the pre-Fall view) in the context of a vicarious substitution. This undermines the truth of Christ’s actual substitution as expounded by Paul in his teaching of the in Christ motif and the truth of the two Adams (see Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 of this book).
Some years ago, Ministry magazine published two articles on the human nature of Christ. Both were written by Adventist scholars, but one defended the pre-Fall view and one the post-Fall view, with the emphasis of Christ being our example and our vicarious substitute. Not long after these articles were published, I had the opportunity to speak to the editor. He told me that these two articles generated more response, from both sides, than any other articles published by Ministry magazine during his time as editor. But what disturbed him most about these responses, he told me, was the spirit of many of the letters coming from those who upheld the post-Fall view. Some were so nasty, he said, and un-Christlike, that it made him want to cry. In fact, he even questioned in his mind if these people were truly converted Christians. He saw this attitude as the natural fruit of a wrong view of the nature of Christ; naturally, this turned him away from the post-Fall view of the human nature of Christ.
Sad to say, he has not been the only one to experience such negative attitudes on the part of those holding the post-Fall view. This critical and un-Christlike spirit, coming mainly from this “more insistent group” group, has turned many a sincere pastor and church member from objectively studying the correct post-Fall view. As a result, many in our midst today identify the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14, the most precious message of 1888 which Ellen G. White defined as righteousness by faith in verity, with the evangelical gospel, the so called “new theology.” The vision God gave this movement, of proclaiming the unique Elijah message in preparation for the second advent, is gradually being destroyed in the minds of Adventists. Most Adventist youth today no longer see this church as having a unique message with a global mission.
I believe this critical spirit on the part of many who teach the post-Fall view of Christ’s humanity is instigated by the enemy of souls, not the Spirit of Christ. I believe it calls for serious reevaluation on the part of those who have misrepresented the post-Fall view and have caused so many to look at the correct understanding of Christ’s human nature as heresy. Nothing is gained when we take pot shots at each other and call each other names, as some on both sides of the debate are doing today.
A friend sent me the following quotation. I have not been able to locate the source, but it gives excellent counsel regarding our search for truth — counsel that is very relevant to our present discussion on the human nature of Christ.
Fellowship in the Quest of Truth
The quest for truth unites us in a bond of fellowship with all fellow Christians who are engaged in the same endeavor. We will never permit this quest to degenerate into an attempt to prove our own opinions right and someone else’s wrong. Truth is truth, despite all of the ingenious arguments that can be arrayed either for or against it. If we are sincere in our own search for truth, we will credit other men (or women) with being as sincere as we are, and leave with God any question as to their motives. They are His sons (or daughters) and our brothers (or sisters) in Christ, and it is infinitely more important to be motivated by the Spirit of Christ than to take the kingdom of heaven by force of argument.
Unless we are willing to come together in the spirit of love and mutual understanding, God will never be able to settle our differences on this important topic. The apostle Paul declared in his great chapter of love:
1 Corinthians 13:2
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love [agape], I am nothing.
As a result of the present Christological controversy within Adventism, the church is sadly divided over the gospel. Therefore, we find ourselves in a confused state of affairs regarding our God-given mission, especially when it comes to proclaiming the all-important doctrine of "substitution."
One group within Adventism, that “more insistent” group, is proclaiming a vicarious substitution in the context of the post-Fall view — the idea that one man, Jesus Christ, took fallen human nature instead of, or in the place of, all mankind. They claim that this is historic Adventism.
Another, more popular, group is also proclaiming vicarious substitution, but in the context of the pre-Fall view — the idea that one man, Jesus Christ, substituted Himself for all of fallen mankind by taking an unfallen spiritual human nature. This is evangelical Adventism.
The third group is desperately trying to restore the 1888 message of a post-Fall view in the context of an actual substitution — the idea all mankind was actually in the humanity of one Man, Jesus Christ, who assumed our corporate, condemned, sinful human nature at the Incarnation in order to be the Saviour of the world. This is the unique Adventist message God brought to our church more than a hundred years ago.
As the Anglican theologian Geoffrey Paxton challenged us some fifteen years ago, “Will the true Seventh-day Adventist please stand up?”
Let us, then, press together as we see this wicked world plunging deeper and deeper into sin. Men and women are searching everywhere for solutions to their problems; mankind desperately needs to see Christ in His people, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). We face today the same challenge Mahatma Gandhi flung down before the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, when he was fighting apartheid as a young lawyer: “When you Christians live the life of your Master, all India will bow down to Christianity.”
This is the challenge Adventism faces today in our God-given mission. Paul said to the Corinthian believers:
1 Corinthians 3:3
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
Only when we Adventists love one another unconditionally, as Christ loved us unconditionally, will all men know that the gospel is indeed God’s power unto salvation and that we are truly the followers of Christ:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”