Can the cause of Calvinistic theology, on the issue of Christ’s human nature, and the introduction of these Calvinistic doctrines into our Seventh-day Adventist faith be defended with valid biblical and/or Spirit of Prophecy evidence?
That the answer is “No” seems to be apparent even to the supporters of the Calvinistic cause. That is why they have repeatedly refused to enter into any theological discussion with those of us who are standing in defense of our spiritual heritage, our historic faith.
Our hundreds of personal appeals have been ignored. The mass of evidence that we have set forth has brought no response. The attitude of “Let’s close ranks and stonewall it” has prevailed among the Calvinists.
The defense of the Calvinistic doctrines, rather than depending on biblical or Spirit of Prophecy evidence, has generally consisted of two basic strategies: (1) personal attacks against the defenders of our historic faith, which range from the superficial to the wildly inaccurate and irresponsible, and (2) an incredibly perverse distortion of the doctrine of church authority, whereby it is maintained that it is a violation of church order for a church member to protest against the introduction of false doctrines into our faith. Thus it had been until the recent Review broke ranks.
THE REVIEW BREAKS RANKS
In a series of editorials that appeared on July 8 and 22 and on August 12, 19, and 26, 1993, the senior editor of the Review stepped out from behind the “Let’s stonewall it” position and ventured to make a defense of Calvinism. He chose to defend the Calvinistic doctrine that our Lord came to this earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam as opposed to the historic Seventh-day Adventist doctrine that Christ came to earth in the human nature of fallen man, as attested to by 400 statements by Ellen White and 800 statements by other church leaders, all published before 1957.
We greet this venture with mingled sadness and satisfaction. While it can only bring sadness to our hearts when we see the Review openly advocating error, we nevertheless rejoice that an opportunity is now given to concerned church members to evaluate the evidence that is being offered to support the cause of Calvinism. We believe that such an evaluation, when compared with the evidence being presented in defense of our historic position, can only bring positive results and will clearly reveal the abject poverty of the Calvinistic cause.
THE USE OF BIBLICAL EVIDENCE
The Review editor introduces his treatment of the scriptural evidence with this question and answer: “But what does the Bible indicate concerning His nature—was it pre-fall or post-fall? The Scriptures don’t give a specific answer….”
We ask, “Are these scriptures not specific?”
- Romans 1:3: “Made of the seed of David according to the flesh.”
- Hebrews 2:11: “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
- Hebrews 2:14: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same….”
- Hebrews 2:16: “For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.”
- Hebrews 2:17: “Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren….”
In order to weaken the force of Hebrews 2:16, the Review editor states, without documentation, that the words, “He took on Him the seed of Abraham,” should be translated, “He concerns Himself with, or helps, Abraham’s descendants.”
- Not in my Greek New Testament, which presents both of the words took in this verse in the form of the Greek word lambano (using English letters).
- Not in my first Greek Grammar (Davis) which gives the meaning of lambano as “take, receive.”
- Not in my second Greek Grammar (Dana and Mantey) which also gives the meaning of lambano as “take, receive.” Not in my Strong’s Concordance which gives the meaning of lambano as “take, get hold of, seize, obtain, etc.”
- Not in my Young’s Concordance, which gives the meaning of lambano as “accept, attain, have, hold, obtain, receive, take, take upon oneself, etc.”
- Not in my Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which says of lambano: “The original etymological meaning is ‘to grasp’ or ‘to seize.’”
- Not according to Ellen White, in whose writings we find passages like this:
“The Redeemer of the world might have come attended by ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels; but instead of this He clothed His divinity with humanity, made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, For verily he took not on HIm the nature of angels but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, December 15, 1957. [All emphasis supplied]
Please examine this statement carefully and notice the three scriptural passages that Ellen White links together. Philippians 2:7: “Made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made [Romans 8:3] in the likeness of sinful flesh. [Hebrews 2:16] For verily He took on Him the seed of Abraham.”
We direct your attention to this because the Review editor labors strenuously (forty-four lines in article three) to convince us that these three scriptural passages cannot be properly associated together. His disagreement with the Spirit of Prophecy here is total and complete. The disagreement is lent added emphasis by Ellen White’s other usages of Romans 8:3. “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”
In her twenty-eight usages of Paul’s expression, “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” we find fifteen equivalencies in which she equates “likeness of sinful flesh” with expressions of her own. These expressions include “our nature” four times; “human nature” three times; “nature of man” twice; “in all things (points) like His brethren” three times. Her emphasis in all of these passages using the words “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is on similarity, not dissimilarity.
Next, we observe six non-equivalencies in which the emphasis is on contrast rather than similarity. In these statements we read that the “likeness of sinful flesh” made Him different from the angels (three times) and different from the unfallen Adam (twice). Then there is an interesting passage in which she contrasts “flesh” with “sinful flesh”:
“He took our infirmities. He was not only made flesh, but He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Letter 106, 1896
Finally, among these twenty-eight usages of Paul’s words “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” we find two extremely powerful inclusive equivalencies in which Paul’s words are equated with more than one of her own expressions. In the Signs of the Times, February 20, 1893, Ellen White wrote:
“He was to take upon Himself our nature …He had taken upon Himself the nature of man…made in the likeness of sinful flesh…one with the fallen race.”
Notice carefully the inclusive equivalencies: Our nature equals human nature equals likeness of sinful flesh equals one with the fallen race. Surely these statements should remove all doubt and satisfy all questions as to what Ellen White intended us to understand from her usage of Paul’s words, “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”
At this point, someone is likely to say, “But I was taught that Ellen White’s role was strictly pastoral, that she was not a theologian and that she has no authority in doctrinal matters. I was taught that she only approved of the various points of our faith after they had been studied out by others.”
Many of us were taught that. It took me a while to discover that there was not a word of truth in that teaching. Space does not permit us to deal fully with the problem in this article. We will address it later. Meanwhile, we may gain an impression of the monstrous misrepresentation which characterizes that teaching by comparing Selected Messages, bk. 1, 206, 207, with L.E. Froom’s Movement of Destiny, 110.
THE USE OF SPIRIT OF PROPHECY EVIDENCE
In an unpraiseworthy attempt to make it appear that Ellen White’s writings are “apparently contradictory” and that “In Ellen White’s writing we seem to find two opposing lines of thought,” the Review editor sets forth this quotation in his fourth article:
“He vanquished Satan in the same nature over which in Eden Satan obtained the victory.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 924
Taken by itself, this sentence could mean either that Christ overcame in human nature as contrasted with divine nature, which He never used to deliver Himself from temptation, or in unfallen human nature as contrasted with fallen human nature. But notice what happens when we read the sentence in its context as it appeared in the original source, The Youth’s Instructor, April 25, 1901:
“When Christ bowed His head and died, He bore the pillars of Satan’s kingdom with Him to the earth. He vanquished Satan in the same nature over which in Eden Satan obtained the victory. The enemy was overcome by Christ in His human nature. The power of the Saviour’s Godhead was hidden. He overcame in human nature, relying upon God for power. This is the privilege of all. In proportion to our faith will be our victory.” The Youth’s Instructor, April 25, 1901
Surely it is apparent that Ellen White is here contrasting human nature with divine nature, rather than contrasting two different aspects of human nature. It would be useless to argue that to overcome in the nature of the unfallen Adam is the privilege of all.
It is certainly not my privilege to meet the enemy of my soul in the unfallen nature of Adam. Is it yours? Or do we not all have to face Satan in our fallen human natures and learn that “in proportion to our faith will be our victory”?
Confronted with such a glaring abuse of evidence as this, some readers will no doubt feel that the discussion need proceed no further. But in order to be systematic, we will consider the Review editor’s other uses of Ellen White’s writings in which, unfortunately there is no noticeable improvement.
THE BAKER LETTER
The two longest Spirit of Prophecy quotations used by the Review editor in articles one and four are credited to the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1128.
The original source is a lengthy personal letter that Ellen White, who was in Australia, wrote to an apparently discouraged young minister in Tasmania, Elder W.L.H. Baker. The Review editor introduces his excerpts from this letter with the words, “Ellen White cautions us.”
Actually, this was not a general message addressed to us. It was a personal and private letter directed to an individual minister who had a particular problem which we do not have. What was his problem? We may learn about it by observing that in her letter Ellen White told Baker ten times that Christ never sinned.
She also warned him against spending too much time reading the writings of the church fathers and against presenting Christ to the people as one “altogether human, such an one as ourselves.”
There were some church fathers who advocated a doctrine of the Incarnation called Adoptionism. This was a concept that Christ, though perhaps born of a virgin, was not born as the Son of God but was altogether human, such an one as ourselves. At the climax of His spiritual progress, He was adopted to be the Son of God. Before His adoption He could have sinned, and most probably did, according to this teaching. We discuss the Baker letter in detail in our book The Word Was Made Flesh.
Here we will simply point out the problems:
The letter was written in 1895-96, a two year period in which more than 250 public statements that Christ had come to earth in the human nature of fallen man had been made by our church leaders. Nineteen of these statements had been published by Ellen White herself, and she had written strong approval of some statements made by others. Why would she then rebuke Baker for believing the same things? She rather rebuked him for carrying the idea too far and losing sight of the fact that Jesus never sinned.
Ellen White appealed in Testimonies, vol. 5, 696, that if we wanted to know what she believed, we should read her published works. Although she lived and published profusely for twenty years after writing the Baker letter, she never published it. It remained in her files sixty-two years until in 1957 the writers of Questions on Doctrine used it to offset Ellen White’s 400 statements that Christ came to earth in the human nature of fallen man!
The Baker letter contains no statement that Christ came to earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam, but it contains statements that are interpreted to mean that. Then these interpretations are set forth as evidence that Ellen White contradicted herself.
“Altogether human” and “Divine-Human” are opposite poles in meaning. There could be no divine nature in a Christ who is “altogether human, such an one as ourselves.”
THE SECOND ADAM
Ellen White referred to Christ as “the second Adam” quite frequently. Need we be uncertain as to what she meant by this?
No, indeed. In 1874 she wrote four articles in the Review and Herald in which she presented a detailed comparison of the temptations of Christ with the temptations of Adam and referred to Christ as “the second Adam.” (See Review and Herald, 1874, issues of February 24, March3, July 28 and August 4.) From these articles we glean the following lines:
“Through His humiliation and poverty Christ would identify Himself with the weaknesses of the fallen race….The great work of redemption could be carried out only by the Redeemer taking the place of fallen Adam….The King of Glory proposed to humble Himself to fallen humanity! He would place His feet in Adam’s steps. He would take man’s fallen nature.”
“The Son of God humbled Himself and took man’s nature after the race had wandered four thousand years from Eden….In behalf of the race, with the weaknesses of fallen man upon Him….”
“The humanity of Christ reached to the very depths of human wretchedness, and identified itself with the weaknesses and necessities of fallen man.”
We remind the reader that it is within this immediate context that Ellen White refers to Christ as the second Adam. And of course, all of this is within the larger context of her 400 statements that witness to the same truth. Against this background we must evaluate the Review editor’s argument that by referring to Christ as the second Adam, she was indicating that He came in the human nature of the unfallen Adam, something she absolutely never says.
This is another example of how Calvinism places an alien interpretation of Ellen White’s words. Then this interpretation is set forth as an evidence that she makes apparently contradictory statements and that her writings contain two opposing lines of thought. The disagreements are not between Ellen White and herself. They are between Ellen White and her Calvinistic interpreters.
Against this background, we must evaluate the Review editor’s use of Ellen White references to the unfathomable mystery of the Incarnation as an indication that we cannot be sure what human nature Christ came in. Her 400 statements that He came to earth in the human nature of fallen man would permit no such conclusion.
The Review editor, having set forth alien interpretations of certain Ellen White statements as evidence that she spoke on both sides of the issue, then adds, “We could list many more statements in support of each side” (article four).
Here he greatly overreaches himself. We have no choice but to firmly challenge this statement and advise our readers that the Review editor can do no such thing. May I here present a quotation from page 273-274 of our research volume, The Word Was Made Flesh:
“Untold numbers of Seventh-day Adventists just cannot believe that a mistake was made by the authors of Questions on Doctrine, et. al., and they feel confident that somewhere there must be a statement by Ellen White that Christ came to earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam.
“Very well. I hereby offer a reward of $1,000.00 to the first person who will find that quotation and deliver it to me.”
This offer was kept open for a period of one year after the book was published. Though thousands of gift copies were sent at considerable expense to our church leaders and theologians, there was not a single response from any of them to my offer. If the Review editor knew of many such statements, why did he not accept the challenge and claim this reward? The question could have been settled seven years ago! Is it now becoming clear why the Calvinists have tried to avoid theological discussions? Perhaps the reasons will appear even more clearly as we consider the Review editor’s methodology.
PROBLEMS OF METHODOLOGY
The Review editor ascribes to himself a somewhat neutral position, affirming that it is not his purpose “to try to prove that one side is ‘right and the other ‘wrong.’” But by the end of the series, he has clearly aligned himself with the Calvinistic doctrines and has employed a methodology which we cannot accept.
Perjorative terms. In contrast to those who hold the Calvinistic view of the nature of Christ, those who hold to the historic SDA view are characterized by these words and phrases:
- Have made it a matter of controversy
- A more insistent group
- The most vocal advocates
- The outspoken proponents
- They feel so angry with church leaders
- The most vociferous advocates
- They force a sinful nature on Christ
- They are possibly driven by pride and legalism
- Wanting to contribute to their own salvation
Space limitations preclude a point by point refutation of these personal thrusts, but we will here state that they are all inaccurate, prejudicial and inflammatory. They are yet another demonstration of the time-tested principle of discussion seen so often in Calvinistic writings called the argument ad hominem (against the man), that those who have evidence will present their evidence, while those who do not have evidence will attack the man. Thus, personal thrusts of this kind should be recognized as indications of the poverty of a cause.
Twice the Review editor indicates that we who are clinging to the historical SDA position regarding the human nature of Christ are accusing those who disagree with us on this point to be guilty of apostasy. I have not yet met or heard of a person who assumes any such attitude. Those historic Adventists with whom I am acquainted are convinced that persons who hold a wrong doctrine of Christ are very likely to continue in a wrong direction, embracing false doctrines of justification, sanctification, original sin, the sanctuary, and the Spirit of Prophecy. They point to present conditions in the church which strongly support this opinion, but they do not apply the term apostasy to the opposing view on the nature of Christ in itself.
Neither do the historic Adventists believe that Christ was just like us or exactly like us, as the Review editor alleges. The editor creates confusion by skipping back and forth between references to Christ and references to the human nature of Christ. Historic Adventists have never proposed that Christ, who has a Divine-Human nature, is like ourselves, who have only human natures. Actually they have not even proposed that the human nature of Christ is just or exactly like ours. They rather follow the Scriptures, the Spirit of Prophecy, and not a few eminent scholars who say that His human nature was like ours in all points except sin.
The historic SDA’s have never proposed or even hinted that the church should return to the Arian view of Christ (that He was a created being) once held by a few of our pioneers. The question of the human nature of Christ has no relation whatever to Arianism. To state or imply that our use of the word historic commits us to Arianism is about as logical as to insist that it commits us to observing the Sunday Sabbath, as all of our pioneers did before they learned about the true Sabbath.
The Calvinists first tried to fasten on us the term traditional Adventists, knowing full well how offensive the idea of following tradition is to most Adventist people. When we defeated their purpose by identifying ourselves as “historic Adventists,” they then shifted to the new “guilty by association” tactic of trying to identify us with Arianism. Guilt by association is a weak argument at best, but when the implied association is without any basis in fact, guilt by association is no argument at all.
QUESIONS AND ANSWERS
In his fourth article, the Review editor poses a question:
Did Ellen White favor the prelapsarian or the postlapsarian view?”
We might expect that a reference to the fact that she wrote 400 statements supporting the postlapsarian view, and not a single statement supporting the prelapsarian view (remember the $1,000.00 offer?) would provide a satisfactory answer to this question. But instead of this, the editor answers an altogether different question, which has not been asked. Here is his answer: “In her thousands of comments about Jesus’ humanity, she nowhere calls this matter one of the pillars of the Adventist faith.”
This provides no answer whatever to the question that was posted. It is an adroit sidestep.
While it is true that Ellen White does not describe the humanity of Jesus as a pillar of our faith, it is equally true that she did not so describe His virgin birth, His incarnation, His resurrection or His second coming. Are we to conclude that these truths are therefore so insignificant and unimportant that divisions of thought regarding them should not be a matter of concern? Suppose some of our members openly denied any or all of these truths. Would we yet consider them faithful Seventh-day Adventists?
If Ellen White’s 400 statements that Christ came in the human nature of fallen man do not satisfy us, what is the real problem? Would we be satisfied with 4,000 or 40,000? Hardly. The problem is not with the evidence. It is with our stubborn, unbelieving hearts. Confronted with a similar problem, Jesus said that some persons would not believe though one rose from the dead. What a horrible condition to be in! May God deliver us!
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?
To summarize: We have found that the Review editor’s five articles in defense of the Calvinistic doctrine that our Lord came to this earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam do not bear up well under investigation. The writer has employed rejection of Spirit of Prophecy evidence, accusing Ellen White of contradicting herself, using a Spirit of Prophecy quotation in total violation of its context, withholding Spirit of Prophecy evidence from his readers, and representing a subject about which Ellen White and our pioneers had no doubts at all so if it were so mysterious that we can hardly hope to understand it.
This mystery technique has a long history, from the fall of Lucifer to the present:
“Everything that was simple he [Satan] shrouded in mystery, and by artful perversion cast doubt upon the plainest statements of Jehovah.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 41
“These [Jewish] teachers spoke with uncertainty, interpreting the Scriptures to mean one thing, and then another. This left the people in great confusion.” Review and Herald, March 5, 1901
“The same thing is done today. The Word of God is made to appear mysterious and obscure in order to excuse transgression of His law.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 39
We will find it helpful, when confronted with challenges about mysteries, to distinguish between the what and the how. We can know what Jesus did, in coming from heaven to be born of a virgin and to take the human nature of fallen man. These truths are clearly stated and can easily be understood and embraced. This is not to say that we can explain how He did it, nor is any such explanation necessary. Confusion occurs when we lose sight of the distinction between the what and the how.
When to the above list of grievous problems are added the personal thrusts, the judgment of motives, and the inaccurate accusations, all wrapped in words of praise to Jesus, the picture is depressing indeed. We regret the necessity of placing before our readers such a somber picture of present conditions at the Review.
We regret even more the necessity of pointing out that these Review articles do not differ in any significant degree from the other defenses of this Calvinistic doctrine that have been attempted since its first recommendation to us in the book Questions on Doctrine in 1957.
In our book, The Word Was Made Flesh, a 365 page research report, we have set forth the fully documented evidence which demonstrates conclusively that the statement about the human nature of Christ in QOD is a methodological monstrosity and an historical fraud. And it appeared to establish a pattern that has been followed by most, if not all, of the defenders of Calvinism from 1957, until now.
And in imitation of teachers of error in all ages, leading Calvinistic Adventists have now launched a massive campaign to thrust out of the church those who wish to be true to our historic faith.
We would identify the first major move in that campaign as the publication of the Issues book by the officers of the North American Division. The second move may well be the Review articles that we have just examined. The third appears to be looming up before us in the proposed changes in our church organization, completely contrary to the counsels of the Lord, that will place greater power in the hands of fewer men and will give to conference committees the authority to disfellowship members from local churches! (See Vance Ferrell’s Pilgrims’ Rest, October, 1993.)
Should this alarm us? Not at all. It should cause us to look up and to lift up our heads, for our redemption draweth nigh. But it should alert us to the fact that we are now entering a very dangerous phase of our pilgrimage. We must proceed with our guidebooks—the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy—always close at hand. We cannot afford to place blind confidence in any human being or in any human organization. We must be prepared to stand alone and to suffer for our faith, if necessary.
“We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” Life Sketches, 196
“Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.” Isaiah 26:20