Righteousness by Faith

On the new righteousness by faith report

N. R. Dower is secretary of theMinisterial Association.

ON May 30, 1973, the officers of the General Conference appointed a small but representative committee to give in-depth study to various aspects of the message of righteousness by faith, the message brought prominently before the church in connection with the General Conference session in Minneapolis in 1888 and the years immediately thereafter. Every piece of information available to the church, including the Ellen G. White documents, was care fully studied, and literally thousands of pages of materials from various sources were examined.

We approached this study with prayerful hearts that we might see and understand what God wanted to do for His people at that time, and what He wants to do for us today to prepare the way for the latter rain and the speedy finishing of His work in the earth. Be cause of the need for an ongoing study of these matters, the committee was later enlarged and renamed the Righteousness by Faith Committee.

Early in its work three smaller study committees were appointed to serve in a resource-and-research capacity on behalf of the full committee. One of these committees studied the historical background of the 1888 experience and the years immediately preceding and following it. Another committee examined the available messages of A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner in an at tempt to discover what it was in their messages that was unique and vital for the church. They also studied the extent of Ellen White's endorsements of the messages of Jones and Waggoner. The third committee approached the doctrine of righteousness by faith and particularly studied the extent that an understanding of the human nature of Christ was essential to a proper under standing of, experience in, and effective preaching of, the message of righteousness by faith.

Papers were prepared and examined and finally presented to the combined study committees. These in turn were assigned to a task force that added other pertinent materials and prepared them for presentation to the full committee.

The Righteousness by Faith Committee, with certain others who were invited, met in the month of February of 1975 in Takoma Park. The report of the task force was presented, discussed, amended, and later amended again, before final adoption.

While there are some areas where additional study will need to be given, the time has come for us to release to our ministers the basic conclusions on which there was general agreement. We hope that this will be helpful to the church and our ministry at this time. Notice especially the beautiful balance that it contains.

The incarnation of Christ is, of course, a great mystery, and some aspects of the nature of Christ are not fully under stood. Ellen White encourages us to study the incarnation, but to be careful, extremely careful, how we speak on this subject. At present there are some aspects on which there is not full agreement. It would be a great tragedy if in seeking to understand the message of righteousness by faith we were to be come embroiled in arguments and lose the experience that we must have to be ready for the coming of our Lord.

Involved in this study were some General Conference administrators who are genuine Bible students in their own right. Also on the committee were members of the Seminary faculty at Andrews University, other leaders in various phases of our work in the General Conference, two editors, members of the Biblical Research Committee and of the E. G. White Estate here in the General Conference office, theologians, historians, research men, and some very capable laymen.

It is our sincere prayer that in releasing this report we will be serving a helpful purpose. We need to be united on this topic so that we may preach with assurance and in the power of the Spirit the beautiful message of what Christ has done for us in the atonement, and what He is doing in and through us by the Holy Spirit. May God give us much of His grace as we go forth to preach the message more fully and seek to prepare a people for the coming of our Lord.

Righteousness-by-Faith Report

1. On the Unique Contribution of Jones and Waggoner. We recognize that Elders Jones and Waggoner were chosen servants of the Lord and especially used by Him in the 1888 era to bring a distinctive emphasis to the message of righteousness by faith. Ellen G. White said in 1892 regarding this special emphasis and the church's response to it: "The time of test is just upon us, for the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth." —Review and Herald, Nov. 22, 1892.

Although a complete and adequate mes sage of righteousness by faith is available in the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White (which, if properly understood and wholeheartedly accepted, would prepare the way for the latter-rain experience to the church) we recognize that the Lord sent Jones and Waggoner to call attention to certain truths that had been lost sight of or that had not previously been fully comprehended.

Because we believe that a restudy of their distinctive emphasis would be helpful to day, we suggest that our denominational publishing houses seriously consider republication of selected sermons, articles, and books that are relevant today and representative of the messages on righteousness by faith given during the 1888 era by Elders Jones and Waggoner.

2. The Humanity of Jesus Christ in Relation to Righteousness by Faith. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate Son of God, the eternally pre-existent Word of God, who was with God and was God,1 became flesh and dwelt among us.2 "Unfathomable mystery, that the human mind cannot comprehend," 3 He was at one and the same time God and man, truly God and truly man. Expressly called God in the Scriptures,4 He was the great "I AM" during His ministry on earth5 as surely as be fore His incarnation.

He was also man, truly man. Not only did Peter, Pilate, and the scribes, among others, call Him "man," 6 but the term is found on His own lips, as well.7 He had a human mother, "descended from David according to the flesh," 8 was subject to the ordinary laws of human development,9 showed love and compassion,10 and knew hunger, thirst, and weariness as any other human being. 11

A study of the New Testament indicates that our Lord came not only "in the likeness of sinful flesh," but also that "since there fore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, . . . made like his brethren in every respect." 12

The same New Testament also declares that for our sake God "made him to be sin who knew no sin." 13 "You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin." 14 Not all Christians view these passages alike. For example, for some they mean that Jesus did not commit sin either in word, deed, or thought; for others they mean that Jesus not only committed no sin but was without the inherited tendencies to sin common to fallen humanity.

We agree that any contradiction to God or departure from His divine will was completely denied by Christ in His human nature. 15 "Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling." 16

Whichever of these views the Christian may hold concerning the details of Christ's humanity, we believe that the central concept is to recognize Jesus as the Saviour of all mankind, and that through His victorious life, lived in human flesh, He provides the link between divinity and humanity. When the sinner accepts Christ on these terms, he enters into the genuine experience of righteousness by faith.

Ellen White also emphasized two basic aspects in our Lord's humanity. On one hand she emphasized that "He [Christ] took upon Himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin"; 17 that "our Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities." 18 On the other, she exulted with Biblical writers in noting that "in taking upon Himself man's nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin"; 19 His was the "perfect humanity." 20 Even though He "took our nature in its deteriorated condition," 21 accepting "the results of the working of the great law of heredity," 22 He did not possess the passions of our human, fallen natures"; 23 He took "the nature but not the sinfulness of man." 24 Although "He could have sinned; He could have fallen,... not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity." 25 "He was born without a taint of sin." 26

There is no doubt that we face here an unfathomable mystery,27 especially be cause we have no analogy with which to compare: Our Lord could come "in the likeness of sinful flesh" and yet be the One in whom "there is no sin!" We believe that a person need not be sinful in order to be tempted. All that is necessary here is that temptation be addressed to a moral being who has the capacity to say No to God.

Our Lord's sinlessness is the sinlessness of the man Jesus, and involved, during His earthly life, the possibility of sinning, temptability and actual temptation. Viewed from the perspective of His human nature, Christ was subject to the possibility of falling. Sinless at every stage of His life, "yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." 28

The Scriptures, indeed, explicitly affirm not only that Christ could be tempted but that He was tempted.29 They also provide us with an extended description of His temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry.30 Satan's primary purpose was to shake Christ's confidence in His Father,31 to persuade Him to take things into His own hands and to act independently of God. Although fully God, Jesus had agreed with the Father to live as a man, sharing the results of the sins and infirmities of fallen humanity, exercising no powers in His warfare against sin that are not available to all men through faith in God. Where Adam and all other men and women have failed, He overcame, relying on the Father and refusing to take Him self out of the Father's hands. He daily chose to maintain His dependence upon God, manifesting perfect confidence and trust in Him.32

When Paul noted that Jesus was "tempted as we are, yet without sinning," 33 he was proclaiming the good news that sin is neither necessary nor inevitable. Because Jesus took upon Himself man's nature and denied Himself access to special ad vantages not available to "his brethren," His secret of victory is ours, too; He came into this world "not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could> through faith in God's power to help in every emergency." 34 He is simultaneously our Substitute, our Redeemer, and our Example. As He overcame with His Father's help,35 He invites us to overcome, "as I also over came," 36 living by faith as He Himself did. Divine power was not given Him in a different way from that in which it will be given to us.37 "His imputed grace and power," specifies Ellen White, "He gives to all who receive Him by faith." 38

Jesus our Lord not only delivers us from condemnation of sin but also from its power. Forgiveness of sin and victory over sin is the promise to every man who chooses to trust and obey God.39 In Christ, we are brought into a position of victory over sin, over deliberate acts of rebellion against God, as well as over hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil.40 Over men of faith sin no longer has dominion.41 Having surrendered to Christ, renewed in the spirit of our minds, we put on "the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." 42

3. Corporate Guilt and Unconscious Sin. For many years past, and also more recently, groups of experienced leaders and scholars have spent long hours in thorough and prayerful study of the subjects of corporate guilt and unconscious sin. Such views do not seem to us to receive major emphasis in the teachings of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, while on the other hand the inspired writings contain much concerning righteousness by faith that demands urgent study and full acceptance.

We do believe, as evidenced by the Annual Council appeals of 1973 and 1974, that there is a need to "forsake the spirit of insubordination that too long has influenced individual and church decisions." We also recognize that the attitude of the leadership of the church today in all organizations and institutions must be in harmony with the counsel of the Lord in every respect.

4. The Humanity of Christ and the Ellen G. White Endorsements of the Messages of Jones and Waggoner. In Ellen G. White's endorsement of Jones and Waggoner's presentations, we do not find either an explicit endorsement or rejection of their description of the divine or human natures of Christ; neither do we believe her endorsements encompass every statement or concept set forth by these men. Believing that the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy constitute the doctrinal norm for the determination of the full message of righteousness by faith and the doctrine of Christology, we emphasize those concepts in the messages of Jones and Waggoner that are in harmony with these norms. We today want to accept wholeheartedly the "most precious message" the Lord sent His people during the 1888 era.

Although the concept that Christ took upon Himself sinful human nature was important to Jones and Waggoner, it was not their dominant theme during the 1888 era. Other important themes included the attributes of God, the divine attributes of Christ, the relationship of Christ and His righteousness to the law, the power essential for victorious Christian living, and the cleansing of both the human character and the heavenly sanctuary, thus preparing a people for the coming of the Lord.

We do not wish to see the church em broiled in controversy over issues of Christology, but believe our attention should be focused on Christology as a very practical truth related to the accomplishment of the Lord's purpose in human hearts—Christlikeness of character.

5. The 1888 Era. In reviewing the history of the 1888 era, we are led to the conclusion that it was a time of unparalleled opportunity for the church. The Lord actually gave His people the "beginning" of the latter rain and the loud cry in "the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer." Review and Herald, Nov. 22, 1892. The attitude and spirit manifested by too many at that time were so displeasing to Him that He had to withdraw this special blessing.

While nothing is gained by disputing over the actual number of those who accepted or rejected this blessing, we recognize that those who heard the message of 1888 were divided in their response. It is clear that the marvelous blessing that God wanted to bestow upon the church was not received at that time nor subsequently. In the light of these facts of history, our special concern now must be to remove every barrier that holds back the promised power, and by repentance, faith, revival, and reformation clear the way so that the Lord can do His special work for us and through us. We recognize that the principal responsibility in this respect lies with the leadership of the church.

We take our stand not only with the messengers whom the Lord used in 1888 to proclaim the most precious message of righteousness by faith but with all who may have faithfully presented it in the years since. This is a day of emphasis on revival and reformation on the part of the leadership of the church, and we join in an earnest desire with our faithful member ship to embrace the full truth which will allow us to enter into the genuine experience of righteousness by faith. We desire to benefit from the mistakes of the past so that rebellion, stubbornness, insubordination, suspicion, and envy shall not be found among us.

We sincerely regret that that element of the book Movement of Destiny which so publicly demanded an "explicit confession" from those who saw the 1888 experience in a different light from that in which the leadership of the church viewed it was allowed to slip into print. We would recommend that this element be removed from any future printings of the book.

Conclusion

We wish to express our confidence in the leading of the Lord and in the loyalty of His people who love the message of righteousness by faith. We thank God that His Spirit defends the remnant church from those terribly divisive influences of Satan that would rend assunder families, churches, and nations. We believe that as His people are first of all committed and loyal to Christ and to the principles of the message entrusted to us, and as they appreciate the true significance of the facts of our history, they will sense the constraint of the love of Christ to remain loyal to church leadership and organization. We rejoice in the confidence that, as we humble our hearts and recognize the true principles of religious liberty in Christ, Satan will suffer defeat after defeat as God's people come rapidly into the wonderful unity Christ prayed for in John 17 and Paul pleaded for in Ephesians 4.

We choose to emulate the example of our worthy pioneers, who found unity as fol lows:

"We sought most earnestly that the Scriptures should not be wrested to suit any man's opinions. We tried to make our differences as slight as possible by not dwelling on points that were of minor importance, upon which there were varying opinions. But the burden of every soul was to bring about a condition among the brethren which would answer the prayer of Christ that His disciples might be one as He and the Father are one." 43 "Even if you are fully convinced that your ideas of doctrines are sound, you do not show wisdom that that difference should be made apparent. . . . My husband had some ideas on some points differing from the views taken by his brethren. I was shown that however true his views were, God did not call for him to put them in front before his brethren and create differences of ideas. ... If there is difference upon any parts of the understanding of some particular passage of Scripture, then do not be with pen or voice making your differences apparent and making a breach when there is no need of this." 44

Finally, we rejoice in the unifying work of the Holy Spirit among us where diverse views have been and are entertained by brethren of differing circumstances. We gladly unite on those points on which we now find agreement, and purpose to study prayerfully and charitably those points on which there still may exist apparent differences of opinion.

Notes

1 John 1:1.

2 John 1:14.

3 E. G. White, Signs of the Times, July 30, 1896.

4 See for instance John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Titus 2:13.

5 John 8:58.

6 See Acts 2:22; John 7:46; 19:5.

7 John 8:40.

8 Romans 1:3.

9 See Luke 2:40, 52; The Desire of Ages, pp. 70, 71.

10 Mark 10:21; Matt. 9:36.

11 Matt. 4:2; John 4:6; 19:28.

12 Phil. 2:7; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:11, 14, 17.

13 2 Cor. 5:21.

14 1 John 3:5.

15 The same truth we find expressed on the lips of Jesus: "The ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me" (John 14:30); literally, "He has nothing in me." Satan possessed nothing in Christ. He had no hold on Him, no power over Him because Christ never consented, not even once, to a sinful thought or act. "Which of you convicts me of sin?" was the unassailable truth about Jesus, the sinless Son of man (John 8:46). These passages teach us the sinlessness or moral perfection of the human Jesus. He presents Himself to us as the living impersonation of holiness and truth inseparably united. Not only did Jesus never ask God for forgiveness, but He did not need regeneration, conversion, or reform.

16 Undated Ms. 73 (see also Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 45).

17 Youth's Instructor, Dec. 20, 1900.

18 The Desire of Ages, p. 117.

19 Selected Messages, book 1, p. 256.

20 The Desire of Ages, p. 664.

21 Selected Messages, book 1, p. 253.

22 The Desire of Ages, p. 49.

23 Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 509.

24 Signs of the Times, May 29, 1901.

25 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on John 1:1-3, 14, p. 1128.

26 Ibid., on Heb. 2: 14-18, p. 925.

27 1 Tim. 3:16. "Was the human nature of the Son of Mary changed into the divine nature of the Son of God? No; the two natures were mysteriously blended in one person the man Christ Jesus. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When Christ was crucified, it was His human nature that died. Deity did not sink and die; that would have been impossible. Christ, the sinless One, will save every son and daughter of Adam who accepts the salvation proffered them, consenting to become the children of God. The Saviour has purchased the
fallen race with His own blood.

"This is a great mystery, a mystery that will not be fully, completely understood in all its greatness until the translation of the redeemed shall take place. Then the power and greatness and efficacy of the gift of God to man will be understood. But the enemy is determined that this gift shall be so mystified that it will become as nothingness." --Letter 280, 1904. (Emphasis supplied.) "/( was a mystery to angels that Christ, the Majesty of
heaven, should condescend, not only to take upon Himself humanity, but to assume its heaviest burdens and most humiliating offices. This He did in order to become like one of us, that He might be acquainted with the toil, the sorrows, and fatigue of the children of men." --Child Guidance, p. 436. (Emphasis supplied.)

"It is impossible for finite minds fully to comprehend the character or the works of the Infinite One. To the keenest intellect, the mostly highly educated mind, that Holy Being must ever re main clothed in mystery." --Steps to Christ, p. 105. (Emphasis supplied.) "It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are, and yet be without sin. The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain, a mystery." The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on John 1:1-3, 14, pp. 1128, 1129. (Emphasis supplied.)

28 Heb. 5:8 (K.J.V.).

29 Heb. 2:18; 4:15.

30 See for instance, Matt. 4:1-11.

31 John 5:30; 6:38.

32 See E. G. White's account in Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 267-289.

33 Heb. 4:15.

34 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Heb. 1:15, p. 929.

35 See John 6:38-40; 7:16; 8:26-28; 12:48.

36 Rev. 3:21 (K.J.V.).

37 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Heb. 1:15, p. 929. Ibid. Christ's Object Lessons, p. 420.

38 Ibid.

39 Christ's Object Lessons, p. 420.

40 The Ministry of Healing, p. 453.

41 John 5:14; Rom. 6:14.

42 See Eph. 4:23, 24.

43 Testimonies to Ministers, p. 25.

44 Counsels to Writers and Editors, pp. 75-79.

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N. R. Dower is secretary of theMinisterial Association.

August 1976

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