HISTORY OF THE CHANGED VIEW ON CHRIST’S HUMANITY IN THE SDA CHURCH
Below I included a few key chapters from the book Touched With Our Feelings: A Historical Survey of Adventist Thought on the Human Nature of Christ, by the late Prof. Jean R. Zurcher, French-speaking Swiss scholar and church administrator.
In this book he provided a unique and exhaustive record, from 1844 to 1994, a century and a half of official Adventist church documents and position statements on the human nature of Christ. In this book he proved that during 100 years (prior to 1952), Adventists unanimously taught the post fall human nature of Jesus Christ as the undisputed official position.
In the very interesting tenth chapter of his book Zurcher also revealed how the change took place, and the utter chaos and theological confusion that have crept into the SDA Church from 1952 to the present day through the changed, unbiblical and essentially Roman Catholic teaching.
ADVENTISM’S NEW MILESTONE
Throughout the history of Christianity changes in doctrine have generally taken place slowly, subtly, and imperceptibly. It is often very difficult to determine the origin of these changes, or those who were responsible for them. But such is not the case with the doctrinal change about the human nature of Jesus that took place in the Adventist Church during the 1950s. Those chiefly responsible for the change have left their mark upon the beliefs of the church.
It seems obvious that the authors of this change were fully aware that they were introducing a new teaching of the doctrine regarding the Incarnation. This is spelled out in the report of the circumstances disclosed by LeRoy Edwin Froom in his book Movement of Destiny; and in an account which could be considered as the manifesto of this new interpretation, published in Ministry under the title “Adventism’s New Milestone.” This chapter will focus on the history of this new view, as traced in these sources.
The First Milestone of a Radical Change
In 1949 the Review and Herald Publishing Association requested Professor D. E. Rebok, president of the Adventist Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., to review the text of the book Bible Readings for the Home Circle, in preparation for a new edition.
This book, which had appeared in numerous editions, was widely used by Adventist families in the systematic study of the Bible. It presented the official teaching of the church in great detail. As we have shown earlier, the 1915 edition, reprinted in 1936 and in 1945, stipulated unequivocally, “In His humanity Christ partook of our sinful, fallen nature. If not, then He was not ‘made like unto his brethren,’ was not ‘in all points tempted like as we are,’ did not overcome as we have to overcome, and is not, therefore, the complete and perfect Saviour that man needs and must have to be saved.”
Froom remarks about Rebok: “Coming upon this unfortunate note on page 174, in the study about the ‘Sinless Life,’ he recognized that this was not true. So the inaccurate note was deleted, and has remained out in all subsequent printings.” As a result, the new edition of Bible Readings gives a new answer to the question: “How fully did Christ share our common humanity?” The answer cites Hebrews 2:17, with the following explanatory remark: “Jesus Christ is both Son of God and Son of man. As a member of the human family ‘it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren’ – ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh.’ Just how far that ‘likeness’ goes is a mystery of the Incarnation which men have never been able to solve. The Bible clearly teaches that Christ was tempted just as other men are tempted—’in all points . . . like as we are.’ Such temptation must necessarily include the possibility of sinning; but Christ was without sin. There is no Bible support for the teaching that the mother of Christ, by an immaculate conception, was cut off from the sinful inheritance of race, and therefore her divine Son was incapable of sinning.”
This is a significant difference from the 1946 edition. While the older version underlines the participation of Christ in “man’s sinful nature,” in “his fallen nature,” the latter strongly affirms that “Christ was without sin.” Obviously, the affirmation is perfectly correct. No one has ever claimed otherwise. But that is not the question. The question is about Christ’s humanity, about His “sinful flesh,” as Paul puts it.
As has been pointed out, by rejecting the dogma of the immaculate conception and stating that Mary had naturally inherited the blemishes inherent in humanity, Rebok leaves unexplained how Jesus did not Himself inherit sinful flesh, like all the descendants of Adam. Does not Paul expressly say that He was born “of the seed of David, according to the flesh”?
Rebok, in his editing of Bible Readings, also altered a second explanatory note, in answer to the question “Where did God, in Christ, condemn sin, and gain the victory for us over temptation and sin?” The two explanatory notes, from two different editions, are placed in parallel for comparison below:
“God, in Christ, condemned sin, not by pronouncing against it merely as a judge sitting on the judgment-seat, but by coming and living in in the flesh, in sinful flesh, and yet without sinning. In Christ, He demonstrated that it is possible, by His grace and power, to resist temptation, overcome sin, and live a sinless life in sinful flesh.”
Rebok’s Revised Text
“God, in Christ, condemned sin, not by pronouncing against it merely as a judge sitting on the judgment-seat, but by coming and living in the flesh, (omission) and yet without sinning. In Christ, He demonstrated that it is possible, by His grace and power, to resist temptation, overcome sin, and live a sinless life in (omission) the flesh.”
The differences between the two notes are small yet significant. Paul’s expression “sinful flesh” (KJV) is omitted. This revised edition of Bible Readings did not appear, however, until 1958, after the new interpretation had been nurtured by a series of articles in the Ministry, a magazine published specifically for the ministers.
Rejection of the “Erroneous” Ideas of the Past
The events that led to the new interpretation of Christ’s human nature are well known. A strong proponent, LeRoy Edwin Froom, has recorded the circumstances down to the smallest details. It all began in January 1955, when a statement appeared in the evangelical periodical Our Hope declaring that the Seventh-day Adventist Church “disparages the Person and work of Christ,” in teaching that Christ in His humanity “partook of our sinful, fallen nature.” The point of view of Schuyler English, editor of the periodical, was that Christ did not partake of the fallen nature of other men. According to Froom, English had been misled by the old edition of Bible Readings for the Home Circle.
Froom immediately wrote English, noting that he was mistaken as to the Adventist position on Christ’s human nature. “The old minority-view note in Bible Readings—contending for an inherent sinful, fallen nature for Christ—had years before been expunged because of its error.”
At the close of this correspondence, English was convinced that he had been mistaken. He issued a correction in the magazine Our Hope on the subject. Some months later he published an article by Walter R. Martin, a Baptist theologian, who, after a seven-year study of Adventists, had concluded: “To charge the majority of Adventists today with holding these heretical views is unfair, inaccurate, and decidedly unchristian.
After his initial contacts with English, Froom was introduced to Donald Grey Barnhouse, a Presbyterian pastor and editor of the periodical Eternity, of Philadelphia, and to Walter Martin, who was eager for information about Adventists to wrap up his book The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists. From 1955 to 1956 a series of 18 conferences took place between evangelicals and Adventists for the purpose of discussing the doctrine of the Incarnation.
When the topic of Christ’s human nature was presented, the Adventist representatives affirmed, according to Barnhouse’s report, that “the majority of the denomination has always held [the humanity assumed by Christ] to be sinless, holy, and perfect despite the fact that certain of their writers have occasionally gotten into print with contrary views completely repugnant to the church at large.”
According to this report, the Adventist representatives disclosed to Walter Martin that “they had among their number certain members of their ‘lunatic fringe‘, even as there are similar wild-eyed irresponsibles in every field of fundamental Christianity.” Obviously the Adventist representatives gave the impression that there were some irresponsible lunatics who had written that Christ had taken upon Himself fallen human nature.
In reading Froom’s report of these meetings, one is stuck by his strong desire to see Adventists portrayed as authentic Christians. The subtitles of his report alone are revealing: “Walter Martin Affirms SDAs Are Brothers in Christ”; “Adventists Are ‘Most Decidedly’ Christians.” He even said that the evangelicals now view this change of attitude as the result of “Early Faulty Views ‘Totally Repudiated.”
The Manifesto of the New Christology
While these meetings were taking place it was agreed that the results of the discussions would be published simultaneously in the official periodicals of both groups. The new Adventist interpretation, as a matter of fact, was published in the Ministry of September 1956, under the general title “Counsels of the Spirit of Prophecy.” In support of the new interpretation, eight pages of Ellen White quotations were carefully selected to define “the nature of Christ at the Incarnation.”
Under this title we find expressed in bold type the essential points of the manifesto: “He Took Our Human Nature, Not Our Sinful Propensities; Our Sin, Guilt, and Punishment All Imputed to Him, but Not Actually His.” The related text does a good job of summarizing the different aspects of the new Christology. The titles of the seven sections reveal the general notion: “I. The Mystery of Incarnation; II. Miraculous Union of Human and Divine; III. Took Sinless Human Nature; IV. Assumed Liabilities of Human Nature; V. Tempted on All Points; VI. Bore the Imputed Sin and Guilt of the World; VII. Perfect Sinlessness of Christ’s Human Nature.”
The subtitles of each section also convey the prominent position given to the fundamental concepts regarding Christ’s human nature: “Christ took humanity as God created it”; “Began where Adam first began”; “Took human form but not corrupted sinful nature”; “Took Adam’s sinless human nature”; “Perfect sinlessness of His human nature”; “Inherited no evil propensities from Adam.”
The explanatory notes for each of these affirmations are all drawn from Ellen White’s writings. There is not a single reference to a Bible text. This was a new slant on the subject, for up until this time the discussion had been founded on the Scriptures. This would open the door to the coming controversy because it would become essentially a problem of defining the meaning of the Ellen White statements. This was also Morris Venden’s opinion: “I think that the heaviest semantic problem that we have today is on the nature of Christ. And to me it seems that it is so heavily semantic that it is almost impossible to work on the subject.” That is why Roy Allan Anderson, secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference and chief editor of Ministry, thought it necessary to introduce the following account, which represents truly the characterization of the new Adventist Christology.”
“Human, but Not Carnal”
Such is the title of Anderson’s editorial. Here is his view on the subject of Christ’s human nature: “Throughout our denominational history we have not always had as clear an understanding of this subject as would have been helpful. In fact, this particular point in Adventist theology has drawn severe censure from many outstanding biblical scholars both inside and outside our ranks. Through the years statements have been made in sermons, and occasionally some have appeared in print, that, taken at their value, have disparaged the person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord. We have been charged with making Him altogether human.”
Citing numerous carefully selected quotations of Ellen White as evidence, Anderson affirmed “that our Lord partook of our limited human nature, but not our corrupt, carnal nature with all its propensities to sin and lust. In Him was no sin, either inherited or cultivated, as is common to all the natural descendants of Adam.”
Anderson declared also that “in only three or four places in all these inspired counsels” of Ellen White does she use “such expressions as ‘fallen nature’ and ‘sinful nature.'” But he added, “These are strongly counterbalanced and clearly explained by many other statements that reveal the thought of the writer [Ellen G. White]. Christ did indeed partake of our nature, our human nature with all of its physical limitations, but not of our carnal nature with its lustful corruptions. When He entered the human family, it was after the race had been greatly weakened by degeneracy. For thousands of years mankind had been physically deteriorating. Compared with Adam and his immediate posterity, humanity, when God appeared in human form, was stunted in stature, longevity, and vitality. . . When He took upon Him sinless human nature, He did not cease to be God. True, we cannot understand that, but we can accept by faith.”
In this same editorial, Anderson further alludes to the statement which “appeared in Bible Readings for the Home Circle (1915 edition), which declared that Christ came ‘in sinful flesh.’ Just how this expression slipped into the book is difficult to know. It has been quoted many times by critics, and all around the world, as being typical of Adventist Christology.”
In the end, Anderson calls upon the ministerial team “to carefully and prayerfully study the Counsel section in this issue. But let us do it with the same open mind that we recognize is so important in the study of the fundamental themes of the Bible.”
“Adventism’s New Milestone”
Associate Editor Louise C. Kleuser published another editorial on the subject, designed to promote the platform she called “Adventism’s new milestone.”26 She heralded the changes, first in regard to our relations with “our evangelical brethren in Christ” from whom “we are trying to learn some lessons,” and then with regard to Christ’s human nature, treated by Anderson in a second part of the editorial.
According to Anderson, “there is nothing more clearly taught in the Scripture than that when God became man through the Incarnation He partook of the nature of man; that is, He took upon Himself human nature. In Romans 1:3 we read that Jesus Christ was born ‘of the seed of David according to the flesh,’ and in Galatians 4:4, that He was ‘made of a woman.’ He became a son of humanity by a human birth and submitted Himself to the conditions of human existence, possessing a human body (Heb. 2:14).”
However, “when we read of Jesus Christ taking the nature of man, it is imperative that we recognize the difference between human nature in the physical sense of the word, and human nature in the theological meaning of the term. He was indeed a man, but He was God manifest in the flesh. True, He took our human nature, that is, our physical form, but He did not possess our sinful propensities.” Finally, Anderson insists that the difference between the first Adam and the Second Adam was not one of nature, but rather a simple difference of situation. “When the incarnate God broke into human history and became one with the race, it is our understanding that He possessed the sinlessness of the nature with which Adam was created in Eden. The environment in which Jesus lived, however, was tragically different from that which Adam knew before the fall.”
As a result, concludes Anderson, “our sins were imputed to Him. And so vicariously He took our sinful, fallen nature, died in our stead, and was ‘numbered with the transgressors’ (Isa. 58:12). Sin was laid upon Him; it was never a part of Him. It was outward, not inward. Whatever He took was not His inherently; He took it, that is, He accepted it. ‘He voluntarily assumed human nature. It was His own act, and by His own consent’ (Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, July 5, 1887; italics supplied).”
In the same Ministry is an article by W. E. Read, who sided with Anderson and Froom. Under the title “The Incarnation and the Son of Man,” Read presents a summary of Christology. For each of his declarations, he quotes the suitable Bible texts, followed by a passage from Ellen White’s writings. However, Read also suggested the word “vicariously” as a key term of the new Christology to enable us to understand Christ’s human nature.
Assuredly, he writes, “Christ was tempted in all points as we are. This is a wonderful, comforting thought. But let us ever remember that although it is true, it is also true that He was ‘without sin’ (Heb. 4:15). His being tempted, however, did not contaminate the Son of God. He bore our weaknesses, our temptations, vicariously, in the same way He bore our iniquities.”
These articles were intended to prepare minds to receive “the new milestone of Adventism,” as it was to be developed in the book Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine. On the eve of its appearance, Anderson proclaimed it in the Ministry as the most wonderful book ever published by the church. Since it deals with the human nature of Christ in detail, we need to examine this book more closely.
Questions on Doctrine
This book is the result of the meetings held with evangelical representatives Donald Grey Barnhouse and Walter R. Martin. Martin was about to print his book The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism, published in I960.
Questions on Doctrine does not deal only with the doctrine of the Incarnation. It is a response to the numerous doctrinal questions typically asked by evangelicals on the subjects of “salvation by grace versus salvation by works, the distinction between moral and ceremonial law, the antitype of the scapegoat, the identity of Michael— and so on through a wide range of fundamental Adventist beliefs and practices, covering doctrine and prophecy.”
Martin and Barnhouse particularly objected to the positions taken by Adventist pioneers in relation with the divinity of Christ and the human nature of Jesus, which they quite frankly deemed to be erroneous and heretical. It was not and all surprising, then, that they asked if on these points the official position had changed. Specific questions in regard to the Incarnation were posed: “What do Adventists understand by Christ’s use of the title ‘Son of man’? And what do you consider to have been the basic purpose of the Incarnation?”
In response, almost all Bible texts relating to Christology were quoted. As to the explanatory notes, they were generally made on the basis of quotations from Ellen White. The Adventist officials did their best to show that “the writings of Ellen G. White are entirely in harmony with the Scriptures on this.” It was not denied that Christ “was the second Adam, coming in the ‘likeness’ of sinful human flesh (Rom. 8:3)”; or that Ellen White had used expressions like “human nature,” “our sinful nature,” “our fallen nature,” “man’s nature in its fallen condition.” No one argues that “Jesus was diseased or that He experienced the frailties to which our fallen human nature is heir. But He did bear all this. Could it not be that He bore this vicariously also, just as He bore the sins of the whole world? These weaknesses, frailties, infirmities, failings are things which we, with our sinful, fallen natures, have to bear. To us they are natural, inherent, but when He bore them, He took them not as something innately His, but He bore them as our substitute. He bore them in His perfect, sinless nature. Again we remark, Christ bore all this vicariously, just as vicariously He bore the iniquities of us all.”
In brief “whatever Jesus took was not His intrinsically or innately. … All that Jesus took, all that He bore, whether the burden and penalty of our iniquities, or the diseases and frailties of our human nature—all was taken and borne vicariously.”
This expression is indeed the magic formula contained in “the new milestone of Adventism.” According to the authors of Questions on Doctrine, “it is in this sense that all should understand the writings of Ellen G. White when she refers occasionally to sinful, fallen, and deteriorated human nature.”
The authors of the book published, in an appendix, some 66 quotations from Ellen White divided into sections with subtitles such as: “Took Sinless Human Nature,” or “Perfect Sinlessness of Christ’s Human Nature.” Such phrases were, of course, never written by Ellen White.
It is clear that “the new milestone of Adventism” differs significantly from the traditional teaching about Christ’s human nature in four ways. It claims that:
- Christ took Adam’s spiritual nature before the fall; that is to say, a sinless human nature.
- Christ inherited only the physical consequences of the sinful human nature; that is to say, His genetic heredity was reduced by 4,000 years of sin.
- The difference between Christ’s temptation and Adam’s rested solely in the difference of the environment and circumstances but not in a difference of nature.
- Christ bore the sins of the world vicariously, not in reality, but only as a substitute for sinful man, without participating in his sinful nature.
Presented as it was with the apparent seal of approval of the General Conference, the book Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine was widely distributed in seminaries, universities, and public libraries. Thousands of copies were sent to members of the clergy as well as to non-Adventist theology professors. The almost 140,000 copies published had a distinct influence both outside and within the Adventist Church.
The publication of this book produced a shock effect to which the reactions were not long in coming. It had hardly come off the press when it became the object of a lively controversy, which continued in intensity through the years down to our days. We will cover this in the next chapters of this study. But first it is imperative to mention here a crucial Ellen White letter that has served as one of the main underpinnings of the new theology.
By the way, below I included link to a video by Danny Vierra providing evidence that the two Church leaders who are responsible for that apostasy, Leroy Froom and Roy Allen Anderson who were also among the authors of the deceptive book Questions On Doctrine, that sold Adventism to the Evangelical Apostate Ministers like W.R. Martin, were both Jesuit implants! They were there to destroy the previously widely accepted in the Seventh Day Adventist Church belief according to which Jesus took our sinful human nature.
Read also: THE FULLY RESTORED GOSPEL UNDER ATTACK >