Without the Literal Physical Resurrection God is Right to Reduce the Church to Extinction

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.

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