Without the (literal, physical) Resurrection, God is Right to Reduce the Church to Extinction

Jason Micheli —  April 27, 2019 — 2 Comments

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.*

*Note: No mention of sexuality

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled Friday on portions of the so-called Traditional Plan passed at General Conference. The “gayness test” for clergy and clergy candidates was struck down by the JC so I guess my Tori Amos records are safe for now. The substance of much of the plan was affirmed by the UMC’s ruling body. Thus many ministers like myself will spend time and energy talking about sexuality in gross disproportion to the concern given to it by scripture and the creed.

Speaking of the creed, Christians already centuries ago established the boundaries by which we determine who is and who is not a legitimate Christian. Put another way, the creed alone outlines for Christians what is worth fighting over between Christians— if it’s not in the creed, it’s not an urgent concern to warrant ostracizing or scapegoating those who are different or those with whom we disagree.

Sexuality, as being fundamentally about us, has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy while the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave, as being fundamentally about the character of the Father and the truth of the teachings of the Son has everything to do with it.

 

In the same week that United Methodists will again obsess over sexuality

(gayness test…really?!)

the president of a (once prestigious) mainline seminary, Union in New York City—

where Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr, and Cone formerly taught—

gave an interview to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times (here) wherein she dismissed Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession.

 

“What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.”

Surely President Serene Jones has read St. Paul, according to whom Christianity is actually a sinful, pathetic lie if God has not raised Jesus from the dead.

Worse, says scripture, if the resurrection is not true, then Christians commit idolatry by worshipping Christians.

 

She adds to Kristoff: “The empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.”

That this is how the Easter news gets distilled to the New York Times— to a symbol…not even a symbol for God but a symbol of us— that this is someone charged with training preachers of the Gospel reveals our ecclessial infighting over sexuality to be a giant adventure in missing the point. To paraphrase Paul, if we have the right position on sexuality but have not the Gospel of Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification, then we have nothing and we are nothing.

Don’t buy the fake news:  The United Methodist Church specifically and the mainline Church generally are in hastening decline not because of our position on sexuality but because we proclaim an emaciated theology that’s become unmoored from the Gospel that “brings into existence the things that do not exist.”

Christianity, don’t forget, is not— properly speaking— a religion at all. It’s news. It’s a message about something that happened in history, making Christianity the only “religion” that is potentially disproveable.

 

To the extent we forget or downplay that Easter is a claim about something true in history, God is right to reduce the United Methodist Church into extinction.

 

Contrary to Jones, belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is the lynch pin of Christian orthodoxy. You can be damn sure cowardly Peter didn’t let himself get crucified upside down because he held a ‘Search for Spock’ doctrine of the resurrection (when we remember him, it’s like he’s still here with us)

I’m not even arguing science or history right now. I’m arguing linguistics.

 

Christian speech falls apart without Easter.

Resurrection’s the verb that makes sense of all Christian language.

Without it, Cross and Incarnation and Sermon on the Mount are all unintelligible, free-standing nouns.

 

Jesus might’ve thought all the law and the prophets hang on the greatest commandment, but— think about it— we’ve absolutely no reason to pay any attention whatsoever to anything Jesus said, thought, or did if God didn’t vindicate him by raising him from the dead.

Actually. Really. Truly.

 

If the resurrection is just a metaphor, then Jesus’ teaching and witness is just another way that leads to Death.

Even worse, if you still insist that Jesus is God Incarnate, the Image of the Invisible God but deny the resurrection you’re arguing that violence, suffering and tragedy is at the very heart and center of God’s own self-understanding- rendering a God not worthy of (mine, at least) worship.

 

In other words- in John Howard Yoder‘s words- without the actual, physical, literal resurrection of Jesus we’ve no basis to assert that the way of Jesus goes with the grain of the universe.

In other words- mine this time- if God did not vindicate Jesus’ words and way by raising him from the dead, we’re in absolutely NO position to say his teaching about the Kingdom (see: cheek, turning of) corresponds to any present or future reality. 

Put another way, that the teachings of Jesus become unintelligible or worse without the truthfulness of the Gospel’s teaching about Jesus suggests that, regardless of our debates about sexuality, liberal United Methodists and conservative United Methodists cannot afford to lose the witness of one another.

Jason Micheli

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2 responses to Without the (literal, physical) Resurrection, God is Right to Reduce the Church to Extinction

  1. Jason,
    A lot that you say here rings gloriously true. Without Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we worship in vain, or worse, worship an idol. (Many American Christians indeed do worship the idol of “self,” but that’s another story.)
    There are, however, some glaring problems with you analysis.
    Regarding the UMC’s debate regarding sexuality you say, “if it’s not in the creed, it’s not an urgent concern to warrant ostracizing or scapegoating those who are different or those with whom we disagree.” I apologize for being blunt, but this is stupid. Shall we listen to NAMBLA and start marrying men and young boys? Will we ordain a woman who is “married” to (or at least, in a physical, covenantal relationship with) her rottweiler? There are those who argue their tendencies to bestiality are perfectly natural. (And please don’t think that I am placing a committed, same-sex relationship between two adults on a par with an adult-child or adult human-animal sexual relationship. These are simply used to show that your statement regarding “the creed[s]” makes no sense.)
    Your criticism of Union president Jones is certainly warranted, and does indeed lead to you statement that “we’ve absolutely no reason to pay any attention whatsoever to anything Jesus said, thought, or did if God didn’t vindicate him by raising him from the dead.” But God did, and so we hinge our faith on those words that were spoken by the Logos, Jesus the Christ, and written in the inspired, inspirited books that make up our Bible.
    Among those words, we find Jesus saying, “If you love me, keep my commands,” and, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:15,23 NIV). Much of Jesus’ teaching, many of His commands, involve the way in which we humans are to interact with one another; His words plus many others throughout the Bible include prohibitions against sexual sins. So your critique of Dr. Jones’ statements about the resurrection actually undermine your beginning and ending presentations of the idea that the UMC’s debate about sexuality (forced upon us by those who have chosen to break covenantal promises) are not important.
    I appreciate a lot of your very thoughtful works. This one didn’t measure up.

  2. 1 COR. 15:6. Paul talks of Jesus” appearing to a group of about 500, many of whom are still alive.” I wonder why people who do not believe all of the Bible, do not believe history, do not believe Mother Nature, do not accept biology, want to be in a leadership position of the Christian Church. Hebrews 11:6. It still takes faith. Without faith it is impossible to please him , for He that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him”. Society wants organic all natural food, and same sex marriage, that is not logicical. Christianity Welcomes for all sinners, but why, so we can remain in our sin? Pauls says “shall we continue in sin so grace man abound? Paul says No. We can decide to have a Church , or we can decide not to. We can be believers, or we can be non believers. With Revelation 3:16. “ I would that you are either hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I will spu you out of my mouth. There is no future in being in the in between. Not for the Church, not for the people who pose as our leaders, not for ourselves .

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