For those of you who still do not think that the problems in the synod are deeply and fundamentally theological please read on. In the next seven blogs I will show that the theology of many within our synod is Nestorian. Today’s blog will present what we believe about the two natures in Christ. The next blog will define what Nestorianism is. Then the next five will apply it to our synodical situation over the last 35 years. Please bear with me on these next blogs. We will discover that Nestorianism has taken a winding path through the last fifty years of the synod’s history and finds itself camping dangerously close to all of us.
Here’s what we believe. According to the Formula of concord article VIII, Christ is both true God and true man. According to his divine nature Christ possesses all divine powers and prerogatives – essentially, which means according to who he is. He’s God. When Jesus became a man His divine nature was united with the seed of Mary. Because of the union of the two natures all the attributes of the divine nature have been communicated to the human nature so that the man Christ Jesus is truly God and possesses such divine characteristics as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence etc.
Of course Jesus did not use these divine powers during his earthly life until after his death. But he still had them. He wanted to redeem us and that required him to “set aside” the exercise of the power he had. Jesus has all divine power even as a tiny baby. He is worshiped by shepherds and wise men. The angel calls him “Lord.” Elizabeth had said the same. His glory is hidden but periodically shines through. So his disciples see his glory when he changes water into wine (John 2:1ff), when he walks on water (Mark 4:1ff), through the Transfiguration (Luke 9:1ff) or whenever he works a miracle. After his resurrection he then put into full use the divine power which – even as a man – he had possessed since his conception. So, while some passages talk about his power before the resurrection others talk about him receiving power after his resurrection (Matthew 28:1ff). Here’s what the Formula of Concord says SD VIII 51-52, Person of Christ.
The Holy Scriptures and the ancient Fathers on the basis of the Scriptures testify mightily that, because the human nature in Christ is personally united with the divine nature in Christ, the former (when it was glorified and exalted to the right hand of the majesty and power of God, after the form of the servant had been laid aside and after the humiliation) received, in addition to its natural essential and abiding properties, special, high, great,, supernatural, unsearchable, ineffable, heavenly prerogatives and privileges in majesty, glory, power, and might above every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
Accordingly, for the exercise of Christ’s office, the human nature in Christ is employed after its own measure and fashion along with the other and has its power and efficacy not only from and according to its natural and essential properties, or only as far as their capacity extends, but primarily from and according to the majesty, glory, power, and might which the human nature has received through the personal union, glorification and exaltation. (Tappert, pp. 600-601)
The Lutherans rejected both fusing the two natures into one so that “the human nature has been changed into the deity, as Eutyches dreamed,” and dividing the two natures in Christ in such a way that “the son of God is one person and the son of man another as Nestorius foolishly asserted” (p. 490). More on Nestorius next time.
All this is very interesting but is it important? Yes, for at least three reasons.
First, it gives us comfort. God is actually dwelling with his ancient people in Christ. It’s not just that he had certain titles of God or possessed some of God’s qualities. God is here. How much He values us. God himself and not another has actually come into this world. Mary bears God in her womb. They crucify the Author of life who has given Himself to atone for our sins.
Second, it gives us confidence for today. This man, now glorified, fills all things. It’s not like the God Jesus took over after the man Jesus was done. No, the God/man Jesus Christ rose from the dead, ascended, sits at the right of his Father and fills all things. The one who controls the universe can sympathize with you in your weakness.
Third and this is most relevant for today, our understanding of the two natures in Christ effects the way we approach the ministry of the gospel. Reading contemporary writers you sometimes get the impression that Jesus has finished his work, is taking a well deserved rest and has delegated to the Holy Spirit the job of getting people to believe. That is not what we believe or what the bible teaches. Rather, God – the Triune God – is active in the ministry. Jesus speaks today, washes today in His baptism, absolves today speaking his forgiveness today, what other forgiveness is there?), feeds today in His Supper, and this is done through men whom He sends today. His work today does not exclude the Holy Spirit’s life giving breath but includes it.
What a wonderful doctrine. Too bad people question it. Next time we will see how this doctrine was seriously challenged at the time of Luther.