The Doctrine of Jesus Christ: EFCA Ordination (Part 4 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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4. We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus—Israel’s promised Messiah—was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.
As with the doctrine of the Trinity, Christians can struggle to understand Jesus’s full divinity and humanity, yet faithful exposition of the Bible leads decidedly toward the hypostatic union. In his incarnation, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, became flesh: he was born, increased in wisdom and stature (Lk 2:52), ate (Mt 9:10–11), slept (Mk 4:38), got tired (Jn 4:6), felt sadness and wept (Jn 11:35), and experienced great pain and died (Mk 15:37). But Jesus also remained fully God: he was sinless; “before Abraham” (Jn 8:58); performed miracles, including raising the dead; was understood by the religious leaders to make claims of divinity (Jn 10:31–33); didn’t rebuke Thomas when he called Jesus his Lord and his God (Jn 20:28); and in addition to all this, applied the lofty claims of Daniel 7:13–14 and Psalm 110:1 to himself (Mt 26:64). Christ’s dual nature allowed him to be our Savior: in his humanity he identifies with us, and in his divinity he is a worthy sacrifice in a way no human could be. A number of heresies regarding the nature of Christ arose in the early church that denied in some way Christ’s two natures in one person. Some such heresies were Nestorianism (two natures but not a unified person), Eutychianism (not the union of two natures but the blending of two), Apollinarianism (like a man but not quite a man), and Docetism (seeming to be a man but not). Scripture precludes these views of Christ and various church councils rejected them as unbiblical.
Some have taken the RSV’s rendering of “emptied himself” in Philippians 2:6–7 to mean that Jesus somehow became less than God in the incarnation. However, the emptying did not entail the relinquishing of Christ’s divinity but rather the temporary setting aside of his glory to take on the form of a servant. The glory Jesus set aside, by the way, has now been returned to him by the Father (Jn 17:5); there is nothing, including the timing of his return, that the risen and ascended Christ does not know as he sits on the throne of the universe.
The incarnation began with the virgin conception (Is 7:14; Mt 1:20) and proved critical in God’s uniting the humanity and deity of Jesus. Yes, Jesus was conceived, something common to humans, but his conception was a supernatural conception, a beautiful and divine interruption into the only pattern humanity has ever known: sinners begetting other sinners. In a mysterious way, the virgin birth kept Jesus from inheriting the sin nature inherited by every other human since Adam (Gen 3; Rm 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:21–22). Our salvation required a sinless Savior because only a pure, spotless Lamb could die in our place as a worthy sacrifice (Jn 1:29; 1 Pet 3:18). A sinner dying for other sinners saves no one.
To address Christ’s sinlessness from another vantage point, we can speak of Christ’s perfect obedience, which theologians sometimes view in two complementary parts, these being his active and passive obedience. We call Christ’s obedience to every aspect of the law and will of God his active obedience. The passive obedience of Christ refers to every aspect of his sin-bearing obedience, which of course culminates in the cross but was also experienced as Christ, though the perfect God-man, experienced all that comes with living in a broken world. In his earthly ministry, Jesus experienced temptations, which were doubtless many and varied (cf. the wilderness temptations in Mt 4:1–11 or the way Satan spoke through Peter to tempt Jesus to forgo the mission of the cross in Mt 16:23). The book of Hebrews even speaks of Jesus being tempted “in every respect,” which doesn’t mean he experienced every single possible temptation but that he did experience enough of the cross-section of life that he can identify and even sympathize with us (4:15). In his humanity, these temptations were real despite that he has no sin nature. Thankfully, in his divinity, Jesus was not able to sin, which we call his impeccability.
Calling Jesus the promised Messiah of Israel means the person and work of Jesus is part of, and indeed the continuation of, a story long ago begun (Gen 3:16; 2 Sam 7:11ff; Mt 1:1ff; Gal 4:4). Many in Jesus’s day expected the Messiah, but most did not expect a Messiah who would be humiliated before his exultation, yet this was God’s foreordained plan. Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus predicted his death often in both subtle ways (e.g., the parable of tenants killing the landowner’s son in Mt 21:33–46) and overt ways (cf. the passion predictions in Mk 8:3; 9:30–32; 10:32–34). But Jesus also taught that he had authority to lay his life down and the power to take it up again (Jn 10:17–18). When this power was exercised in a bodily resurrection (not a merely spiritual or metaphorical resurrection), Jesus demonstrated that he was the Promised One who would lead his people and usher in the time in which light would shine to the nations beginning the great ingathering of Gentiles (Is 49:12; 60:3; Lk 2:32; Acts 26:23; Rm 15:8–9). In our present era Jesus sits at the right hand of God as the exalted Davidic heir (2 Sam 7:14ff; 2 Tim 2:8) until his enemies are made a footstool (Ps 110:1; Mt 26:64; Acts 2:35; Eph 1:20) while he exercises the authority given to him (Mt 28:18) to advance his kingdom until his pending return (Mt 24:30–31). The session of Christ as our king (Acts 1:9; Rev 20:1–6) and his ongoing ministry as our Great High Priest (Heb 8; 10:19–22) and Advocate (1 Jn 2:1–2) give me hope as I labor to be conformed to the image of Christ amidst the brokenness of our world.
God Incarnate, Fully God and Fully Man, One Person in Two Natures
1. What is the significance of the incarnation? Why was it necessary for our salvation?
2. Explain your understanding of the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ. How do you understand Phil 2:7?
3. What were some of the Christological heresies as the early church attempted to understand and explain the hypostatic union?
Israel’s Promised Messiah (Relation to Prophecy)
4. Why is it important that Jesus be known as “Israel’s promised Messiah?” What is its importance for our understanding of Jesus? What about our understanding of the Bible?
5. What is the virgin birth, why is it essential, and what is its significance for our understanding of christology and soteriology?
Sinless Life, Crucifixion
6. What is the significance of Jesus’ perfect obedience (both active and passive) for our salvation?
7. Could Jesus have sinned? How do you understand the temptations?
8. Why did Jesus die?
Bodily Resurrection, Ascension and Session
9. What is the importance of Jesus’ resurrection?
10. How do you understand the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body?
11. What is the significance of the ascension and session of Jesus Christ?
High Priest and Advocate
12. What is the significance of Jesus’ ministry as High Priest and Advocate and how does this affect your life and ministry?