SDA Fundamental Belief Number 4 (Son)

God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Through Him all things were created, the character of God is revealed, the salvation of humanity is accomplished, and the world is judged. Forever truly God, He became also truly humanman, Jesus the Christ. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God. By His miracles He manifested God’s power and was attested as God’s promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf. He will come again in glory for the final deliverance of His people and the restoration of all things. (Isa. 53:4-6; Dan. 9:25-27; Luke 1:35; John 1:1-3, 14; 5:22; 10:30; 14:1-3, 9, 13; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4; 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:17-19; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-19; Heb. 2:9-18; 8:1, 2.)

Aside from re-arranging the texts and inclusive language, the only significant change voted in San Antonio was the addition of “to heaven” after the word “ascended.” This was intended to state explicitly what was formerly assumed, that the ascension was to heaven not some other place.

This statement is a marvelous example of the church choosing to express itself in a way that all can agree on without taking sides in the internal debates. The language here seems to deliberately echo some of the creeds in the early Christian centuries. The statement carefully balances between pre- (Jesus had the human nature of Adam before the Fall—“sinless”) and post-lapsarian (Jesus had the nature of Adam after the Fall—“sinful”) positions. It carefully leaves room for both sides to live according to their consciences while staying unified on the things that are most clear. One might wish that the same approach had been taken in regard to FB6 (Creation), where the recent action at the General Conference in San Antonio codified a more narrow position that might not prove helpful to the very people who need clarity on this issue the most (scientists).

It is interesting that FB4 states things very differently than some or most early Adventist positions. This is one of the current fundamentals that our earliest pioneers would have had a hard time signing on to. Joseph Bates, James White and Uriah Smith would probably have rejected language like “God the eternal Son” and “Forever truly God.” E. J. Waggoner, of 1888 fame, never accepted the eternity of Christ, and he flourished five decades after the Millerite movement. Ellen White never challenged the views of Waggoner and Jones on this matter, possibly preferring to protect their view of the gospel rather than challenging their deficiencies in the area of Christology in the early 1890s.

The other possibility is that she herself was still growing in her understanding of this subject. Recent historical evidence suggests that Ellen White’s own shift in regard to issues of salvation and the deity of Christ occurred in Australia in the year 1896, when she attended a camp meeting lecture series on the Gospel of John by W. W. Prescott. The series focused on these very issues and articulated positions she took in Desire of Ages (1898) and later. It seems providential that SDAs moved in this direction (deity of Christ). We would have had a much harder time engaging other Christians in the 20th Century and beyond had our views on Christ been less orthodox.

On this doctrine Adventists are very much in line with the orthodox tradition, the great creeds of the early church. But if you go back to the fourth and fifth centuries, the orthodox position on Christ was anything but sure to win the doctrinal contest. In the early centuries Arianism (the view that the heavenly Christ was not truly divine but was a created being) was more popular than the orthodox position, so the early church’s move to the full deity of Christ and the Trinity was a bit startling when it occurred. While to us many of these ancient debates seem “much ado about nothing,” early church leaders were seeking to safeguard the essence of salvation. If Jesus is anything less than God, how could He truly be our Savior? In a real sense, salvation and the nature of Christ are closely related.

It is sometimes said that heresy is the mother of orthodoxy. In the early church debates, people often explored both extremes (Christ was primarily divine or human, for example) and then the mainstream of the church reacted by saying the truth couldn’t be either extreme, it must, therefore, be somewhere in the middle. The reality is, orthodoxy is almost always more complicated than heresy. Heresy is often the result of over-simplification. The resulting orthodox view of the trinity and Christ expressed things differently than the New Testament did, but was as faithful to the Bible as possible, given the nature of the questions people were asking at the time.

Something to think about. What if Christianity had come to the United States as an Asian religion rather than a European one? What would it have been like? What would we be like? But that is a speculative point. As it is, Adventism came to embrace the full orthodoxy of the Christian church on the subject of God and Christ. Adventist uniqueness becomes visible in other points of doctrine.

3 thoughts on “SDA Fundamental Belief Number 4 (Son)

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      A good response would take a book. I would understand that Jesus was born with the consequences of human sin, thousands of years of physical and mental weakness, but without an inborn tendency to sin. So in one sense He faced Adam’s original choice all over again and in another sense he was quite handicapped. I think that is a feeble summary of Ellen White’s view, it is certainly not sophisticated, so don’t press me on every word. 🙂

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