Christological Confusion & China's Reforming Churches (part 10)

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This is the tenth post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see part 12345678, and 9).


Sixth Statement: An Uncreated Body

The Belgic Confession insists the eternal Son became fully human and that "the human nature" he assumed did not lose "its properties, but remained a creature, having beginning of days, being a finite nature, and retaining all the properties of a real body" (see part 4) Our brother in Asia, however, denies that the human nature of Jesus is created. We have already observed his peculiar claims regarding the eternal humanness of the Son (see part 5), but he also denies the body of Christ was created.

Suggesting that there are only two biblical accounts of how a human being may be created--either from the dust as Adam and Eve or through sexual intercourse as the rest of the race--he concludes that since neither applies to Jesus we cannot say that his body has been created:
Is it permissible or appropriate for us to apply the word "created" to matters relating to the Son's body? Personally, I think I am not very willing to use this word, because the Son is the Creator--the Son's origin has existed from all eternity, eternity past, and what it means for the Son to have "become" flesh upon the incarnation is a mystery[1] 
More strongly, he writes that the claim that "the Lord Jesus is not only the Creator but is also created and partakes in that which is created" is "greatly problematic."[2]
Jesus is [the Creator]. If his body is created, then his whole body is self-created, and he entered into that which he himself created. Then, in the final analysis, is a portion of him a partaker of creation or does a portion of creation partake of him? You have turned him upside down! . . . The Bible never mentions Jesus having a created portion; this is the heresy of Arianism, the heresy of Gnosticism, the heresy of Witness Lee that has come to harm the church.[3]
And again,
Within Jesus Christ there is no created portion. He is the Creator, he is worthy to receive worship and eternal praise. . . . Jesus Christ is not created; in the person of Christ, there is no created portion, even within his human nature and flesh, he is still God revealing himself to man by his boundless power within the scope of flesh, and is [thereby] our savior[4]
The Chalcedonian tradition, however, is not in danger of slipping into Arian, Gnostic, or any other error by insisting the human nature of Christ is finite and created.

The mention of Witness Lee, Watchman Nee's disciple and successor, may be telling. Still living in 1991, when these last comments were first published, our speaker may have been distancing himself from Lee's teachings. Any allowance one might make for polemical overstatement, however, is undermined by his continued defense of this same position over twenty years later:
Now, was Jesus' body created or not? I say No. What I mean is that His body is entirely different from ours, because our bodies have been created . . . Jesus Christ's body was neither created from dust, nor from the union of a man and a woman. His body was not created in either of these two ways, so His body is certainly different from ours[5]
His commitment to this peculiar view--that Christ's body is uncreated--is entrenched, but perhaps not incorrigibly so.

Importantly, our speaker does not claim Christ's body is eternal or has a heavenly origin. It is not clear what other options exist, but he does not explicitly advocate the sort of heavenly flesh Christology we encounter in the radical reformer Casper Schwenckfeld, whose view took root among the Melchiorites and Mennonites, or the contemporary theologian Stephen Webb.[6] Yet he takes exception to the very idea that there is any "created portion" within Jesus Christ, the Creator, and this seems to leave no other option but an eternal and in that sense heavenly source of Christ's body. Rather than affirm as much, however, he prefers to declare the origin of Christ's body an impenetrable mystery.

In an apparent effort to protect the glory of Christ as the Creator he guts the incarnation of the greater glory of God's gracious condescension to sinners in Jesus Christ. The incarnation is an offense to humanity's fallen and constantly overreaching reason, Kierkegaard observed. Every Christological heresy can be understood as an attempt to dodge this offense--the apparent absurdity of the incarnation to finite reason. Offended by the creatureliness of the eternal Son incarnate, our speaker may be in real danger of denying the reality of the "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:5-6).

Notes:

[1] First Recording.

[2] This is translated from Q&A XIII of his 1991 booklet on Christology, published in Chinese by his ministry organization.

[3] Booklet, Q&AXIII, 1991. Arianism broadly refers to a family of Christologies that view the Son as a created being, denying he is consubstantial with the Father (and also with humanity, ordinarily). Gnostic Christologies are often docetic--one way or another God only seemed to be human. Here, however, the speaker almost certainly has in mind the common gnostic belief that creation is the work of a lesser being--a demiurge--which may or may not be associated with the Son. As for Witness Lee, the allusion is more difficult to identify, but a summary of his unusual view of the incarnation is given in his booklet, All-Inclusive Spirit of Christ (Los Angeles: Living Stream Ministry,1969):
Take a cup of plain water and mix it with tea. Now the water is more than just water. Originally, it was water, but now it is water mingled with tea. Before Christ was incarnated, He was God alone, but after His incarnation He is God mingled with man. In Him is not only the divine nature but also the human nature, the human essence, the human element. He is God, He is the Father, He is the Son, He is the Spirit, and He is man. He is so rich!
Note both the mingling metaphor and incarnation of both Father and Spirit with the Son in Jesus Christ. Whether these are Lee's actual views or just imprecise and confusing ways of expressing himself is debated.

[4] Booklet, Q&A XIII, 1991.

[5] Third Recording, in which he also says "I have examined the Christology that I have taught, namely, the printed book Christology that I mentioned, as well as my recently published book, The Eternal Christ and Jesus of History. As I carefully examined them, I believe that my basic view remains unchanged."

[6] Schwenkfeld eventually published his views in the Great Confession of the Glory of Christ (1541). Webb's work, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford, 2012), is intended to be a theological bridge between Christianity and Mormonism, but to my knowledge has not been used by any supporters by orthodox believers on either bank of that divide.


Posted January 21, 2016 @ 10:32 AM by Bruce Baugus
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