Something That Needs Promotion
Monday of Pentecost 13
9 September 2019
While I was a college student, I was stunned to hear Lutheran clergy espouse the heresy of adoptionism. They argued that Christ did not become divine or not fully divine until some specific point in His earthly ministry. Usually, the adoptionists argued that He was fully divine only after His baptism and testing in the wilderness. This viewpoint raises some serious questions about the identity of the one the church confesses as the only Son of the Father, begotten from eternity. First, it raises the question: Who was He that was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary when the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God" (Lk 1:35)? Who then comes from her womb and suckles at her breast. A child like any other? Well, yes and no. He is a child like any other because he is flesh of our flesh conceived in Mary, just as we were conceived, except he was without sin and was conceived virginally. But if He is only flesh, the best of human flesh perhaps, then the account of His conception and birth is just another baby story, of which we have as many as we have babies. The story is hardly worth telling if it is like every other pitiful, poverty-stricken birth in the first century of our era. Luke and Matthew are wasting their breath talking about this birth if it is not the birth of God's Son, or if He might be God's Son to be named later, like some promising draft choice. He is not like any other child in that He is God of God and of one substance with the Father.
Second, it raises the question, "How does Jesus become adopted as God's Son?" What change was necessary in His person that He should now be considered worthy to divine honor and glory, who was not worthy of it previously? It is a kind of Christological work righteousness, in which the Son becomes God by doing...what? What is it that Jesus could have done to "become" divine? What extraordinary labor could have merited the full worship as God? What doing makes someone who is not God into God? It is no wonder that those who are adoptionists Christologically are also proponents of some form of work righteousness in salvation. If Jesus can work Himself into the Father's good graces, then why can't we?
Adoptionists are also unwitting Arians. The Arians argued that there was a time when the Christ "was not" and that perhaps somewhere along the line He was promoted to something more. Athanasius, whose commemoration day it is, makes mockery of this viewpoint by pointing out that the Bible is full of the claim that the Christ existed in the glory of His Father, even from eternity. How could he be worshiped by Abraham in his tent, if He did not yet exist, or was not yet worthy of worship? Well, you see how problematic this is. Christ our Lord needed no "promotion" to a higher name or authority. There was no authority or better name that He could earn. He came not for self-promotion, but to promote us from the broken flesh which we inherited from our fallen father to the full rights of sons (Gal 4:5). Now that is something that needs promotion.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Athanasius of Alexandria
"For if Christ was not, or was truly, but only afterwards promoted to divinity, how were all things made by Him, or how in Him, was He not perfect, so that the Father delighted in Him (Pro 8:30)? And He, on the other hand, if now promoted, how did He before rejoice in the presence of the Father? And, if He received worship after dying, how is Abraham seen to worship Him in the tent (Gn 18:2; Jn 8:58), and Moses in the bush (Ex 3) and, as Daniel saw, myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands were ministering unto Him (Dan 7:10)? And if, as the Arians say, He had His promotion now, how did the Son Himself make mention of His glory before and above the world, when He said, 'Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed' (Jn 17:5)? If, as Arians say, He was then exalted, how did He before that 'bow the heavens and come down' (Ps 18:9); and again, 'the the Most High uttered his voice' (Ps 18:13)?
"Therefore, if, even before the world was made, the Son had that glory, and was Lord of glory and the Highest, and descended from heaven, and is ever to be worshiped, it follows that He had not promotion from His descent, but rather Himself promoted the things which needed promotion; and if He descended to effect their promotion, therefore He did not receive in reward the name of the Son and God, but rather He Himself has made us sons of the Father, and deified men by becoming Himself man."

Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1.38
Psalm 18:1-19

I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils,and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (ESV)
Lord Christ, You were ever our Lord and God, and needed not promotion to Your divinity. Grant us in our day to live by the power of Your divinity which You hid under Your flesh of Mary. Show us that Your becoming Man raises us to our heavenly home with You, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For President Trump, his cabinet and advisers, that they might be upheld in every good deed
For the safety of all who travel as a requirement of their profession, that the Lord of all would guard their journeys
For all those who are recovering from seasonal diseases, that they might receive strength from their gracious God
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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