The Adventist church’s position on the nature of Christ has been ambiguous to say the least. An official position would be hard to pin down as the church since its inception has had no formal creed. In my naivety I had previously assumed that this was because as a people we believed truth to be progressive, that we were to be open to walking in increasing light. Recent historical studies belie that notion.
The truth is that many of our early pioneers were ordained ministers or members in the Christian Connexion. This group of 19th century Christians did not accept the doctrine of the Trinity. They were Arian in their beliefs, teaching that since Christ was begotten he could not have existed from all eternity. The wording of a statement so dear to the heart of Adventists, that the Bible and the Bible alone should be our creed, comes directly out of the doctrinal beliefs of the Christian Connexion.
While it took the early Christian church almost four hundred years to iron out its understanding of the nature of Christ, the Adventist church made the transition in a little more than 50 years. With Ellen White’s statement in 1898 that “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived”, Adventism was well on its way to losing its reputation as a sect and becoming a part of the orthodox Christian community. (1)
However, without an official creed, the repudiation of Arian thinking and the acceptance of the trinity did not mean that there was a consensus of opinion on the nature of Christ in the Adventist church. The pietism of early Advent believers gave way in the first half of the 20th century to a case of full blown perfectionism that saw character development as a perquisite to the Second Coming. The human Jesus was sent forth as the model to emulate. In the second half of the century, beginning with Froom and continuing with Ford, increasing stress was laid on the notion that it was God in the flesh who lived and died among us and accepted us on his merits alone. Whether seen an example or as a substitute, the answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am” continues to rattle the ranks of the faithful.
Just as the early church needed a Christology that meshed with their Soleriology, so Adventism has struggled to define Christ as one who was enough like us to be our example and different enough from us to be the perfect sacrifice. Depending on one’s understanding of Jesus’ role and of God’s expectations, two polar positions exist regarding Jesus’ human nature that vie for acceptance. “On the one hand, it seems, he must be one of us in order to save us; but on the other, he must be different, or he himself will need salvation.” (1) Put another way, did Jesus have a sinful human nature as we do or was he the “second Adam” and have a sinless human nature as did our first parents.
My own position on Jesus’ human nature is a third alternative. Was he just like us or was he different than us? Neither and both. He was one of a kind. He was the “body thou hast prepared” and he was “that holy thing”. (Hebrews 10:5, Luke 1: 35) While I see Jesus as being a real, flesh and blood human being with all the limitations and liabilities of a first century Jewish male, having a human nature in common with all humanity, I also see God as “active and present in Jesus in a unique, decisive and definitive way.” ( 2 )
Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception. This meant he was conscious of God’s special closeness and intimately aware of God’s presence in a uniquely profound way throughout his entire life. This knowledge permeated and illuminated all of his life experiences. As a result of this consciousness, the “glass” through which Jesus viewed the world was clearer and more transparent than the one though which we see.
Jesus’ sinlessness did not consist of his never saying “damn” when he hit his finger with a hammer or of by-passing a glass of fermented wine. His sinlessness was reflected in the fact that he was an authentic human being, a truly well-integrated, totally selfless person. Accused of breaking the Sabbath, associating with the misfits of society and not observing the niceties of ceremonial cleanliness, he never freely chose to act contrary to the will of God.
My soleriology is such that I do not need a perfect sacrificial victim to die in my stead. My God does not need an offering of blood, even the pure blood of his son, in order to forgive me; he is forgiveness personified. Neither do I need a super-human example to prove I can keep the law. God’s law is a description of the nature of reality. It does not need the acquiescence of a mortal being for its validation. While God did not need his Son to die in order to forgive humankind, He did need a faithful witness to his character and his kingdom. Jesus was faithful to his mission - faithful unto death - even a death on the cross. Jesus’ revelation of his Father was vindicated when God called him forth from the tomb and he came forth from the grave by the life that was within him.
*This article is not put forward as a definitive statement regarding Christology, but merely my own personal understandings of these things as I currently see them. Neither is it meant to be a comprehensive statement on my understanding of Soteriology.
1. White, Ellen, The Desire of Ages. Pacific Press Publishing Association, Mountain View, Page 530
2. Rice, Richard. The Reign of God. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews UP, 1985. Page 157
3. Lyons, Enda. Jesus: Self-portrait by God. New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist P, 1994. Page 66.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3235