A Study of the Doctrines of the Church of God


Part Three: ``... in Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, our Lord...''


by Jared L. Olar

With this installment we commence the study of the second article of the Creed, the doctrine of God the Son. It should be clear from the number of words that the Creed devotes to this doctrine that this is the central article of the Christian Creed. Of necessity, then, we shall spend the next few installments discussing the doctrine of the Son of God. We shall begin our discussion with the subjects of the Messiahship, the Sonship, and the Lordship, of Jesus the son of Mary.

However, before commencing our discussion, let us briefly revisit and review the subject of the previous installment. Last time, we studied the doctrine of God the Father as it relates to biblical testimony, to the tradition of the Creed, and to current and former teachings of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). As we saw, throughout its history the WCG has consistently upheld and proclaimed the essence of the first article of the Creed.

It is, however, definitely worth observing that our ``Statement of Beliefs'' does not have-in fact has never had-a doctrinal article devoted specifically to God the Father.  Rather, this doctrine is only covered in passing, under the broader and more general subject heading of the doctrine of God.  This  is in striking contrast to the Nicene Creed's treatment of the doctrine of God, which begins with the doctrine of monotheism-God is One-and then treats  the doctrines of God the Father, God the Son, and God the holy Spirit in succession. The Apostles' Creed has no explicit affirmation of monotheism, whether trinitarian monotheism or monotheism of any other sort, but it otherwise shows the same outline as the later Nicene Creed-treating the doctrine of God the Father first in order, and with an article all its own.

At the beginning of this survey, I pointed out that creeds and confessions of faith are important not only for what they say, but also for what they leave unsaid. It may or may not be a related phenomenon that in recent years the WCG has placed most of its doctrinal and confessional emphasis upon Jesus Christ and the holy Spirit. Formerly our primary emphasis tended to be upon God the Father, in constrast to the past several years' strong focus upon Jesus Christ. I would suggest that this focus upon God the Son, with a concomitant weakening of our focus on God the Father, has unconsciously been incorporated into our ``Statement of Beliefs.'' In the future we shall have to improve our doctrinal synopsis by treating the doctrine of the Father under its own heading.


Jesus is the Christ:

In its nearly seven decades of history, the WCG has had an awful lot to say about Jesus Christ, so I will draw attention to just three WCG publications that have addressed ``christology.'' First and most notably, though the subject of Jesus Christ was not treated in a chapter all its own in Herbert Armstrong's Mystery of the Ages, hardly a page of that book does not touch on christological doctrines and issues. The first and seventh of Mr. Armstrong's ``mysteries'' devote a great deal of attention to our former beliefs regarding Jesus Christ. Also, some two decades ago Mr. Armstrong's son Garner Ted Armstrong, then one of our evangelists, wrote a book entitled The Real Jesus, which covers much of the same ground as that covered by Philip Yancey's recent The Jesus I Never Knew, albeit by no means as accurately or with the depth and insight that Yancey's volume displays. Understandably, since we were all starting from scratch, so to speak, and together learning about and attempting to explain afresh the Gospel of the Kingdom, over time our teachings pertaining to Jesus displayed a great deal of change and improvement. These improvements are reflected in our most recent treatment of this subject, Who Was Jesus?.

Regrettably, looking back one can see that not everything we taught about Christ was as faithful to the Scriptures, or as logically consistent, as we once thought it to be. But, as I think will become evident, in certain basic christological doctrines our teachings have never varied. Even so, it must also be regretted that, whether intentionally or not, in recent years some of our members and ministers have begun to make uninformed statements that imply, or even assert plainly, that appreciation for Jesus Christ-or even His very spiritual presence-was absent in the pre-1995 WCG. These kinds of statements have even begun to appear in official WCG publications. But anyone who is, or becomes, familiar with the past teachings and culture of the WCG (which were, it should be kept in mind, deliberately and consciously non-Protestant) will see that Jesus Christ has always been of the greatest importance to us in every way imaginable-as must inevitably be the case in a Christian fellowship. God deserves constant praise for having given us the indescribable blessing of the fellowship of His Son through the entirety of our history.

To begin our exploration of the second article of the Creed, here is what the ``Statement of Beliefs'' of the WCG has to say about Jesus Christ:


  ``Jesus is the Word, by whom and for whom God created all things.  As God manifest in the flesh for our salvation, he was begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, fully God and fully human, two natures in one Person.  Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, worthy of worship, honor and reverence.  As the prophesied Savior of humanity, he died for our sins, was raised bodily from the dead, and ascended to heaven, from where he mediates between humanity and God.  He will come again in glory to reign as King of kings over all nations in the kingdom of God.(John 1:1; Colossians 1:16; I Timothy 3:16; John 3:16; Matthew 1:20; Acts 10:36; I Corinthians 15: 3-4; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 19:16)     


Anyone even mildly familiar with the doctrinal tradition of the WCG will quickly recognise that the above statement neatly epitomises virtually everything this church fellowship has ever had to say about Jesus. Of course, from the first edition of our ``Statement of Beliefs'' in 1991, our doctrinal statement on Jesus Christ has since varied in several subtle but not unimportant ways. We will discuss the significance of these reforms and modifications each in their proper place. At this time, however, please note the above reference to Jesus being ``fully God and fully human, two natures in one Person.'' This is the most immediately noticeable change in our ``Statement of Beliefs,'' and I would say also that it is the most important one. On the subject of Jesus Christ's divinity and humanity, we were formerly unwittingly unclear and inconsistent. In the next installment we will explore the biblical doctrine of the Incarnation as well as its extra-biblical but logically necessary corollary, the doctrine of the Two Natures. For now it is enough to note that in every other way the WCG has really always adhered to the above-shown doctrines-it just took some time for our explanations to catch up to our beliefs.

Christianity's central and distinctive claim is that a Jew named Jesus is the Christ-that is, the Messiah (Matt. 16:16; John 1:41). His name is so important that God sent angels to both Joseph and Mary and instructed them to give Mary's son the name of Jesus (Matt. 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31, 2:21). In Greek the name Jesus appears as Iesous, a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means ``Salvation'' or ``Savior.'' Isaiah the Prophet quoted God as saying that He was the Savior of Israel (Isa. 43:3; 45:15, 21; 49:26; 60:16). In one powerful scriptural passage (Isa. 63:4-9), God explained that because no mere mortal is able to qualify as the needed Savior of Israel, He would accomplish Israel's salvation all by Himself. Thus, in the Messiah's very name the doctrine of the Incarnation is implied-the promised Savior could not be a mere human being, or else the promised salvation could never arrive. So when we sing that ``the great salvation of our God all ends of the earth hath seen'' (Psa. 98:3), we ought to know that we are really singing about Jesus-that is, about a future time foretold in prophecy (Matt. 24:14; Zech. 9:10; Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7, 11:15-18).

Why is Jesus called ``Christ''? Every Christian should know that ``Christ'' is a Greek word meaning ``Anointed One''-that is, in Hebrew and Christian culture, someone who has had olive oil ceremonially applied to his head or body. ``Christ'' is a translation of the Hebrew word ``Mashiyach'' (whence comes the word Messiah) which has the same basic meaning. However, in Hebrew culture this title refers not just to anyone who has been anointed with oil, but specifically to kings and priests (I Sam. 2:10, 35)-that is, to human leaders of God's Chosen People who were divinely designated for an important office or role. Over the course of the history of Ancient Israel, the term ``Messiah'' came to specify one particular divinely appointed Israelite leader (spoken of in Psa. 45:1, 6-7, among many other places) who was prophesied to solve all of the problems that afflict Israel and the rest of the human race. Very significantly, the Old Testament prophecies proclaim that this Messiah would combine in his own person the offices and duties of King and Priest.

We see, then, that Jesus is not the only person entitled to be termed a messiah, just as He is not the only king or the only priest. Saul, the very first King of Israel, was called ``the Eternal's Anointed One''-i.e., the mashiyach or messiah of Yahveh (I Sam. 24:6). Frequently in ancient Hebrew literature, in both biblical and non-biblical writings, when a writer refers to a ``messiah,'' he means the King of Judah or the High Priest, not necessarily the prophesied Messiah. In addition to the numerous Israelite messiahs who lived before the birth of Jesus, in a very important sense we can say that even after Jesus ascended to heaven there have been-and are still today-many, many messiahs. In the WCG we have long recognised that the consecrated olive oil used in anointing rituals signifies God's Spirit. Whenever someone enters the Church of God, he or she is spiritually (and quite often also ritually) anointed, and so becomes a ``christ'' or messiah. C. S. Lewis even described Christians as ``little christs''-or as we have commonly mentioned in our public prayers, Jesus Christ is our Elder Brother. Terms such as ``little christ'' and ``God's anointed'' especially apply to those whom God appoints as leaders of His People.

Again, the Apostle Peter spoke of Christians as members of God's ``royal priesthood'' (I Peter 2:9), while in the Book of Revelation we read that Jesus ``has made us kings and priests''(Rev. 1:6).  In the past we in the WCG expected to become kings and priests after the Second Coming, which is true enough-but in recent years we have begun to see that our royal and sacerdotal state commences at baptism.  Yes, the plant reaches maturity in the resurrection, but the seed germinates and starts to grow in this life.  We don't have to wait for the return of Christ to begin to enjoy these blessings.  This is the doctrine of ``the Priesthood of all Believers''-a doctrinal concept that has always been accepted by the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communions.   It is nothing less than the realisation of God's original desire for His People (Ex. 19:5-6).

We have seen how the Christian Creed starts with God the Father and then moves on to God the Son. The other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam, disagree with the Church about Jesus' Messiahship. Jewish faith does not accept Jesus' Messiahship at all, though some Jews are willing to admit Jesus as an important (and, of course, misunderstood) Jewish rabbi. (As an aside, it has sometimes been difficult to tell whether it is the Jews or the Christians who are the most uncomfortable with the fact that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi.) In Islam, however, Jesus is actually accepted as the Messiah-but this Messiahship is limited to Israel alone. In Muslim teaching, the life and ministry of Jesus have no important consequences for the rest of the human race. Thus, while Judaism and Islam would agree with the first article of the Creed, neither of those faiths would be able to join with the Church in the pronouncement of the second article. But the Christian gospel is not a message solely for persons who can trace a genealogy to Jacob. The Messianic Promise was first announced to Mother Eve (Gen. 3:15), not to Leah or Rachel. Rather, God wants to spread to every nation on the earth the unique blessings that He has bestowed first upon the Israelites-and to accomplish that task, He sent us His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.


Jesus is the Son of God:

In the previous installment, we saw how the most important aspect of the doctrine of God the Father was the fact that the Messiah is the Son of God. In the Scriptures we find God's own affirmation of this truth in II Sam. 7:14, Psa. 2:7, and Matt. 3:17. In addition to those texts, the disciples of Jesus Christ identified Him as the Son of God in Matt. 16:16, John 1:49, and Heb. 1:1-2. Finally, the Apostle John declared the Messiah's divine Sonship in John 1:14, 18, and in one of the best known scriptural texts of all time, John 3:16.

As a rule, we in the WCG have not really had much trouble declaring that Jesus is the Son of God. However, we were confused about the way that Jesus is God's Son. For instance, we have from the very start affirmed in the strongest of terms that Jesus was the Pre-existent Logos, and had always existed with God the Father. In fact, as we saw last time, we formerly believed that the God who dealt with mankind and Israel prior to the birth of Christ was the Word rather than the Father. This was a mistaken belief, but it at least commendably affirmed the divinity of Jesus. However, Mr. Armstrong, and we his disciples, also used to teach that Jesus did not become the Son of God until He was conceived by the holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. Rather, we claimed that before His human birth the divine being who would be named Jesus was merely the Logos, not yet the Son of God.

Later we learned some vital historical facts of which Mr. Armstrong seems never to have been aware, but which have been well-known to most other Christians for nearly two millennia. It turns out that John's verbal imagery of a divine ``Word'' of God was not original to him, but came from a Jewish teacher named Philo, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, about the time that Jesus was born. Philo sought to defend the Torah against the skepticism of the Greek philosophers, and the method he chose for his defense was to explain the Law of Moses and the Jewish concept of monotheism using the language and concepts of Greek philosophy. Philo used the Stoic concept of logos (``word, utterance, reason, thought'') to explain how the infinite Almighty God manifests Himself within His finite Creation to speak to His Children. An infinite God can never make Himself completely known-cannot fully reveal Himself-to His creatures without obliterating the entire universe in the process. Therefore, in Philo's thought, God's logos serves as a sort of mediator between Creator and creature. Thus, the numerous instances in the Hebrew Scriptures where God appeared to His servants were not complete revelations of the Almighty-in the strictest sense the burning bush, for instance, was not really God-but were rather the presence and activity of God's logos. To Philo, this divine logos was God's infinite and eternal Reason and Mind, but it was not really God Himself-it is God, and yet it is not. Most significantly, Philo even likened the relationship between God and His logos to that which a father has with his son.

In the light of these teachings of Philo Judaeus, John's theological discourse in the beginning chapters of His gospel is shown to be a Christian adaptation of Philo's logos doctrine. In the first chapter of his Gospel, John utilised the reasoning and language of Philo in a way that Philo could not have anticipated. The divine something that Philo had dubbed God's logos, and had described as the son of God, John asserted had somehow become a flesh-and-blood human being-in fact, a Jewish man named Jesus. (Along this line, John makes a special point of drawing his Gentile readers' attention to the fact that everything about Jesus, indeed about salvation itself, is fundamentally and inescapably Jewish-cf. John 4:20-22; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22-23; etc. It seems that John found it necessary to underscore the Jewishness of the Gospel in this manner because of the threat to the Church posed by heretics like Menander and Cerinthus, who succumbed to the Gnostic repudiation of Israel's God and Israel's Scriptures.)

In other words, the Word was ``incarnate,'' a term that cannot be used for the temporary manifestations of God in a physical form (whether human or otherwise) that are described in the Hebrew Scriptures. The technical term for such divine appearances is theophany, not incarnation. Somehow God's own Mind had come down from heaven and become a human being! The human mind is incapable of fathoming just how the miracle of the Incarnation could occur, but we should be clear about one thing: the birth of Jesus was not the moment when the Word became the Son of God. Rather, in the words of Matt and Sharon Kalliman's song ``The Victory of History,'' that was when ``the Son of God became the Son of Man.''

The Kallimans' song is proof that some of us had the proper understanding of this point long before the WCG leadership learned that we as a church were in error. The language of the successive editions of our ``Statement of Beliefs'' shows that it took time for us to shed the misconception that Jesus became the Son of God. The first edition (1991) said, ``Jesus was the Word, .... During his earthly life, Jesus was the Son of God,....'' The use of the past tense throughout this doctrinal article implies that Jesus once was the Word, but is the Word no longer. But then, whether intentionally or just as a result of poorly-chosen words, we actually went on to say that Jesus was the Son of God only during His life here on earth (something I do not think even Mr. Armstrong believed). That implies not only that Jesus as the Pre-existent Word was not the Son of God before the Incarnation, but also that Jesus is not the Son of God any longer. In the 1993 version we find marked improvement: ``Jesus was the Word, .... Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, ....'' In 1995 we finally cleaned up the rest of our grammatical tenses: ``Jesus is the Word,....''

So, what do the Scriptures mean when they say that Jesus is the Son of God? As we saw last time, simply as a human being, and especially as a member of the Chosen People, Jesus would quite justly be able to enjoy the title ``son of God.'' But John insists that Jesus is God's Son in a way that no other human being is, whether Israelite or Gentile. This unique Sonship is summed up in the adjective ``only-begotten''-in Greek, monogenes . There is something about this divine Sonship that transcends the divine Sonship the rest of us enjoy. What exactly sets Jesus apart?

Simply put, it is that Jesus is the eternal Logos of God-the Mind, Personality, Thought, and Will of God the Father. As our beloved evangelist Dr. Herman Hoeh explained in 1992, because God has eternally existed it follows that His Thought has been eternally proceeding from His Mind. There simply could never have been a time when the Eternal's Thought was not being generated by His Mind. Otherwise, logically that means there would have been a time when God was ``brain-dead'' and then somehow acquired consciousness. That is almost the same as claiming that God is not eternal, but came into existence at a point in time-and a God who is not eternal is not really God. But the God of Israel ``inhabits eternity.'' And in this analogy that John adapted from Philo, the way thoughts come from our minds, or words come from our mouths, or sons come from their fathers, the Word comes from God the Father. So the divine Son is just as much the Eternal God as the divine Father-this we in the WCG have always believed, though not with enough understanding I fear.

All of these truths are contained within, and implied by, the Apostles' Creed's words ``His only-begotten Son.'' Later, due to the rise of Arianism-the belief that Jesus was merely the highest created being but not fully God-the Church incorporated explicit affirmations of the Son of God's full divinity into the Creed: ``Born of the Father before all ages. God of God; Light of Light; true God of true God. Begotten not made; of one being with the Father; by Whom all things were made.'' The WCG's ``Statement of Beliefs'' echoes this doctrine-and I would say that, despite our confusion (I for one had no real understanding of what was meant by ``born of the Father before all ages,'' or ``begotten not made'') on a certain level we have always believed these things about Jesus. Indeed, we always would have been able to affirm the christological doctrines of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds (though formerly we had heterodox, even heretical, misinterpretations of some of the relevant clauses). I am very happy that we finally have it all clear in our minds-and that our words, our convictions, and our interpretation of the relevant words of Scripture, have finally been brought into harmony.

It is now clear just what the holy Spirit's intent really was in proclaiming through Nathan the Prophet that the Messiah would be God's Son, and God would be the Messiah's Father. It is also clear what Jesus really meant when He asserted, ``I and My Father are One'' (John 10:30), and ``My Father is greater than I'' (John 14:14). God and His Thought are One, even as we and our thoughts are one-and yet God's Thought is subject to and dependent upon Him just the way our thoughts are subject to and dependent upon ourselves. In the light of all of these profound truths, it is apparent that the words of Heb. 1:1-4 declare an unsearchable mystery pertaining to God's very essence.


Jesus is Lord:

Here we come to a topic that in a Christian fellowship ought to be one of the least controversial aspects of the christological doctrines. It certainly has been for my church. We in the WCG have always believed that Jesus is our Lord. Indeed, even those who deny that Christ is fully divine can accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Of course, that would be missing a very important aspect of Jesus' Lordship, but it is all the same quite possible to commit one's self to submission and obedience to Jesus Christ without understanding who He really is. It can be, and often is, the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage that brings one in due course to a more complete relationship with Jesus.

I have already discussed the poor choice of words found under the doctrinal heading of Jesus Christ in the first edition of our ``Statement of Beliefs.'' Returning briefly to that subject, it should be mentioned that at first we did not include an explicit affirmation that Jesus is Lord in our ``Statement of Beliefs.'' Admittedly, this was strongly implied, but it was never made explicit. Furthermore, we stated:


``During his earthly life, Jesus was the Son of God, worthy of honor and reverence ....''


We have already seen that this sentence implies that Jesus was Son of God only during His life on earth. Thus, it also implies that Jesus was worthy of honor and reverence only while He was walking on the soil of the land of Israel. Of course, that is something that we in the WCG have never believed even for an instant-it was nothing more than a wretched choice of words-which is why the next edition of our ``Statement of Beliefs'' replaced the above sentence with the following words:


``Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, worthy of honor and reverence.''


The Lordship of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in such Scriptures as Luke 2:11; John 13:13, 20:28; Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 15:31, 47, 57; and Phil. 2:11. When He had only been conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, even then He was Lord (Luke 1:43). And as Mr. Armstrong used to exult, in the future Jesus will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). In the meantime we His People acknowledge Him as our Lord-and heaven help us if we merely say, ``Lord! Lord!'' but do not do whatever He commands us. For we walk by faith, and yearn for the day when every knee shall bend at the merest mention of His blessed name. So let us be sure our own knees bend.

Our modern word ``Lord'' carries the connotation of authority and power, but I was delighted to learn that the ancient form of this word was Hlaford, which literally means ``Bread-giver.'' Thus, at first the word ``Lord'' connoted not just someone in authority, but even more, someone in authority who provides for the needs of those whom he governs. . That is the kind of Master we Christians have-not a domineering and tyrannical taskmaster, but a leader who ``gives us this day our daily bread.'' Would that all our earthly lords governed us according to the example of our heavenly lord!

Having compared the Lord Jesus with human lords and rulers, I want to be sure we recognise that Jesus is not just Lord because He has obtained or acquired a dominion that He did not always have. That is the case of ordinary human rulers, but Jesus' Lordship is a divine attribute, meaning it is an eternal attribute of the Son of God. When the Church says, ``Jesus is Lord,'' She means that He is the divine personage called Adonai by the Jews (cf. Psa. 110). He is the Lord because He is the Lord God. The Nicene Creed emphasises this fact by referring to Jesus as ``one Lord''-His Lordship is just as unique as His Messiahship and His Sonship.

Seeing all these things-the Messiahship, the Sonship, and the Lordship of Jesus-I eagerly add my voice to the chorus of believers who affirm, ``I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only-begotten Son, our Lord.''


To be continued ....

Part Four


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