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Oct14TueHow our fourth doctrine calls us to Christlike humility. October 14, 2014 by Major Ray Harris
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
Two images of Jesus Christ. The first overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro and the site of the 2014 World Cup final. It's a majestic image of Christ the Redeemer. The second is set on a park bench in front of Regis College, Toronto. It's a haunting sculpture of Jesus the Homeless. What is it about Jesus Christ that prompts such contrasting expressions of art? The Salvation Army's fourth doctrine responds to this question with its own affirmation of faith: We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the Divine and human natures are united, so that he is truly and properly God and truly and properly man. Let's explore the meaning of this doctrine for our times.
Jesus is truly and properly human. New Testament writers account for this conviction: he was born in a Bethlehem stable; he grew up within a family; he was vulnerable to temptation; he learned obedience; he got tired; he prayed; he was amazed at a Roman centurion's faith; he asked questions; he enjoyed human companionship; he suffered and died. In every respect, we conclude that Jesus of Nazareth lived a truly human life.
Jesus is truly and properly God. According to the biblical writers, Jesus forgave sins; he healed lepers who had been excluded from their communities; his word calmed tumultuous seas; he restored a demoniac to his right mind; he gave a dead son back to his mother; he was worshipped by some; he was raised from the dead and exalted “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 NRSV). This is not to say that Jesus of Nazareth exhausts our understanding of God, but what we see in Jesus is truly and properly God.
In the person of Jesus Christ the Divine and human natures are united. It's not that the human nature of Jesus is expressed when he learns obedience, or that the divine nature takes over when he calms the waters of Galilee. They are united, not compartmentalized. Christ the Redeemer and Jesus the Homeless are the same person. Because of this we come to understand the character of God through the actions of Jesus, and those same actions give us a glimpse of God's intentions for humanity.
It was The Salvation Army's eighth General, Frederick Coutts, who argued that Christian holiness is “the unfolding of Christ's own character in the life of the believer.” And his character is made visible through his actions. For instance, in the hours just prior to his arrest and Crucifixion, Jesus took a towel and basin and washed the feet of his disciples, including Judas. Peter objected, but Jesus insisted: “ 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you' ” (John 13:12-15 NRSV).
Lord and Teacher, washing dirty feet. What would it look like for this aspect of Christ's character to unfold in our personal lives and corporate life as The Salvation Army? Those of us who live in the western world inhabit what has been called a culture of entitlement. Students often feel entitled to a passing grade simply by showing up for class. CEOs of large corporations feel entitled to bonuses for meeting financial goals, even if it meant cheating to accomplish those goals. In contrast, we are called to exhibit Christlike humility—personally and corporately. The basin and towel are the symbols of our authority.
The paradox is that through Christ we understand God, who watches over the cities of our world as redeemer. And through Christ we understand God to be homeless among us. Truly and properly human; truly and properly God. For good reason Salvationists sing, “To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me.”
Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. He lives in Winnipeg where he more often than not loses Scrabble games to his wife, Cathie.
Convictions Matter, Major Ray Harris' new book, is available at store.salvationarmy.ca, 416-422-6100, firstname.lastname@example.org. For the e-book, visit amazon.ca