The Doctrine of The Human Condition: EFCA Ordination (Part 3 of 11)
I’ve been preparing for my ordination exam in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). Speaking in broad strokes, the process of ordination in the EFCA involves 3 steps:
Step 1: Write a 20-page paper that engages with the EFCA Statement of Faith, and then defend your theology in a 2-hour oral examination conducted by the credentialing council, which is composed of a dozen or so ordained local pastors.
Step 2: Complete at least 3 years of healthy pastoral ministry in a local EFCA church.
Step 3: Do “Step 1” again—except this round, everything is doubled: it’s now a 40-page paper (not 20) and a 4-hour oral exam (not 2).
This fall, I’ve reached the final step. At 9:00 AM on October 8, 2019, I will undergo the oral examination.
For the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of my ordination paper on the blog. Please know this writing is denser than anything I typically share on my blog, so don’t be discouraged if you find some of it jargon-filled. Each section has 1,000-1,800 words of condensed theology to meet the required space guidelines. And after each section, I’m including a list of discussion questions provided by the EFCA that ordination candidates are encouraged to address in their papers.
I welcome your prayers and feedback during this process; both will sharpen my thinking before the exam and make me a better pastor.
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The Human Condition
3. We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.
Genesis 1:26–27 states that God created Adam and Eve in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 5:1; 9:6; Jam 3:9). Throughout the centuries theologians have attempted to clarify precisely what attribute, or perhaps several attributes, humans are bestowed with that most corresponds to the image of our Creator, thus making us distinct from animals. However, it is difficult and perhaps unwise to be too specific about what the imago dei means. But from the way image is used in passages like Exodus 20:4, 1 Samuel 6:5, 11, and Ezekiel 23:14 and likeness is used in 2 Kings 16:10, 2 Chronicles 4:3, 4, Psalm 58:4, and Mark 12:16–17, I conclude there are many ways we are like God and many ways we represent him. Some examples of this include the way humans have moral, spiritual, mental, artistic, intelligent, and relational capacities. Resisting the impulse to define the image of God singularly on any one trait protects us from the error of too narrowly limiting what it means to be human. So, for example, if we intricately link the image of God with human intelligence, we could get to the place where a person with severely diminished mental capacities ceases being human, or at a minimum becomes in some way sub-human, which of course is wrong.
Additionally, to be human is to be in union with the first human, Adam—a historical person, created by God as our representative at the headwaters of humanity. However, when tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. As our federal head, Adam’s sin plunged himself and all subsequent generations into a state of rebellion against God (Gen 2–3; Rm 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:21, 22). Our rebellious state is both inherited and also a result of individual choices (Ps 51:5; Is 6:5; Rm 5:12; Eph 2:1–2). We are not sinners simply because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. Our inherited sin nature means people are born alienated from God and under his wrath (Rm 1:18; 2:5; 3:9–19; 3:23; 5:10; Eph 2:3). The wrath of God is his intense hatred of sin and just punishment of sin (Rm 1:18ff; Rev 19:15). While our rebellious bent severely tarnishes the image of God in us, the fall does not entirely eradicate the image of God but remains in believers and unbelievers alike (Gen 5:1; 9:6; Ps 8; Jam 3:9). This means every person—no matter how depraved or having physical and mental challenges—has dignity, value, and worth. The doctrine of the imago dei has many implications, but to name just a few of them we could say that Christians should advocate for life from its first beginning to its natural end and for the just treatment of all, including immigrants, refugees, criminals, and prisoners of war.
In the Bible, Satan is described in various ways: sometimes as a whispering serpent and other times as a roaring lion, sometimes as a thief and other times as a masquerading angel of light. But whether stalking or slinking, he is a deceptive and dangerous enemy (Gen 3; 1 Pet 5:8; Jn 10:10; 2 Cor 11:14). Everything God created in Genesis 1 was good, but somewhere before Satan’s mysterious entrance into the biblical story in Genesis 3, there must have been an angelic rebellion of sorts, presumably led by Satan. Indeed, an evil angelic rebellion seems alluded to in passages like 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. (It’s possible but not my conviction that Satan and his fall are also alluded to in the exalted descriptions of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14:12–15 and the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 26–28.) Whatever his origins, the Bible describes Satan’s activity in many places, including Genesis 3, Job 1–2, and the wilderness temptations of Christ in the Gospels (Mt 4; Mk 1; Lk 4). Satan’s evil reign often casts a dark shadow over human sin and suffering even when he is not named explicitly (cf. 1 Jn 5:19). We see this mysterious interplay in passages like Ephesians 2, where Paul describes Satan as “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” and passages like Luke 22:31, where Jesus alludes to a behind-the-scenes demand of Satan that we would have known nothing about if we had not been explicitly told about the demand. Affirming that Satan has a role in human sin does not excuse our culpability, but it does enlarge our understanding of why the world is so broken, even stirring our empathy for those ensnared and captured by the devil (2 Tim 2:26). One day, his reign will end (Rev 20:9–10). Indeed, Satan’s inferiority to God is such that upon the return of Christ, Jesus will kill Satan’s lawless one simply with the breath of his mouth (2 Thes 2:8–9; cf. Is 11:4). With the ease you and I blow dust from our laptops, Jesus will defeat the deceiver of the whole world and the accuser of the brethren. Though “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.”
The great hope of the gospel is that through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ we can be rescued, reconciled, and renewed. These three sweeping terms highlight themes of the redemptive story: rescued means sin and Satan once held us captive (Jn 8:34; Rm 6:20; Col 2:15; 2 Tim 2:26); reconciled means God mends our relationship with him (2 Cor 5:18–21); and renewed means that, although we were dead in our sins and totally depraved—that is, sin tarnishes even our best deeds and prevents us from doing spiritual good before a holy God (Rm 6:23; 14:23; Eph 2:1)—God restores us, both progressively in this life and completely in the next (Rm 8:18ff; 2 Cor 5:17; Phil 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2).
Adam and Eve, Image of God
1. What does it mean that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God? What are the implications of this doctrine for us today?
2. How do you understand the fall of humanity and its effects?
3. What does the fall teach us about the nature of sin?
4. Who is Satan, and what role does he play in the fall of Adam and Eve? What is he working to accomplish today?
Union with Adam, Sinners by Nature and by Choice
5. How do you understand “union with Adam?” What does it mean that we “are sinners by nature and by choice”? Briefly explain these concepts from Romans 5:12-21.
Alienation from God
6. What does it mean that we are alienated from God?
7. What does the wrath of God mean and what is its significance?
Rescued, Reconciled and Renewed
8. From what are we rescued? To whom are we reconciled? How are we renewed?
9. Why is it important to state exclusively that this work is accomplished only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ?