Remember the Resurrection, to Keep it Central

Thursday is an excellent day to remember Christ’s resurrection!

“The Resurrection changed everything…

“If there is a power great enough to bring someone back from the dead, then anything can happen!…

“Is it any wonder that the news of the Resurrection became the central message of the newly Spirit-powered Christians…? Is it any wonder that the first day of the week, the day of the Resurrection, the ‘Lord’s Day,’ soon became the usual day for the believers’ weekly outpourings of rejoicing, thanksgiving, and worship?

“Is it any wonder that the early church prohibited fasting or even kneeling for prayer on the Lord’s Day? Sure there, was place for penitence, for supplication, for humiliation. But not on the Day of the Resurrection!

“What does make me wonder, though is how little attention the Resurrection receives in much of Christian worship today… Over the centuries Easter celebrations have been mixed with pagan influences…Too often this has led to a serious neglect of the Resurrection in our worship.

“Perhaps another reason for our neglect of the Resurrection is Reformed theology…–an unbalanced theology that makes salvation depend almost entirely on Jesus’ death, with little need for the Resurrection. (Footnote: “Interestingly, the Reformed theology that minimized the resurrection also borrowed from Old Testament Sabbath requirements to prop up the Lord’s Day observance.”) Or perhaps, as Western Christians mostly living in freedom and prosperity, we have lost something of the urgent sense of need for hope that the early Christians felt, and that many suffering Christians today feel–a hope that is found only in the Resurrection.”

Source: “The Resurrection Day,” an editorial by Leslie A Stover of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala in the Mennonite periodical “Hearts and Voices,” Summer 2015 edition, published by Lamp and Light. (Thanks to a blog reader for providing more information on the author!)

I think Leslie Stover is onto something important here in his comments about Reformed theology and Sabbath. However, I would note that this cross-sized, resurrection-downplaying theology began long before Reformed theology, as demonstrated by the crucifix-centered faith of medieval Roman Catholicism. (Please don’t hear me downplaying the cross! Both cross and empty tomb are essential.) Similarly, the practice of borrowing from OT Sabbath requirements to prop up the Lord’s Day began long before Reformed theology, as early as Constantine.

What was interesting to me about this article (besides the ever-needed reminder to remember resurrection) was the juxtaposition of these two ideas: A theology that downplays the place of the resurrection in our salvation has also been a theology that turns to OT Sabbath requirements to interpret and support the Lord’s Day. (See here for more on the resurrection, and see here for more on the relationship between Sabbath and Lord’s Day.)

When we turn to the OT to guide our observance of the Lord’s Day we have lost not only Christian freedom but also something of the joy and hope of participating in Christ’s resurrection. This is a tragic double loss!

I have no desire to mandate Lord’s Day observance, let alone any specific manner of observing the day. Paul clearly taught that in the Lord all days are ultimately equal, and that those who choose to observe one day to the Lord above others must not force their choice on others (Rom. 14:5-6; Col. 2:16-17). That said, when we do meet, on the Lord’s Day and otherwise, let us agree on this mandate: resurrection must be central!

After all, the new covenant cry is not “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8), or even “Remember the Lord’s Day,” but “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Cor. 6:14). Therefore, remember the resurrection, to keep it central!

Thanks for reading! Share your resurrection-rousing reflections below.

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9 thoughts on “Remember the Resurrection, to Keep it Central”

  1. Would it not be a crying shame if there were no comments on this subject? But why should it be me that comments? It almost seems that after I make a comment then nobody else does anymore. Or is that just my imagination?
    But I digress…
    The Cross and the Resurrection, is one of any import without the other?
    Was the Resurrection not to prove that God was pleased with Christ’s willingness to be put on the Cross?
    If there had not been a Resurrection, would Jesus not be just another dead ‘prophet’? Would we be any better off than Buddhists, Muslims,…..?
    What about us?
    Would Romans 6:1-11 have any meaning without the Resurrection?
    What about Philippians 3:10&11? or 1 Peter 1:3? or Jesus’ own words in John 11:25&26?
    Help me out here.

    Any further thoughts on ‘Reformed theology’s neglect of the Resurrection’? I’m not particularly conversant with Reformed theology.

    1. Wayne, good emphasis on the importance of both the cross and the resurrection.

      About “Reformed theology’s neglect of the Resurrection”:

      First, as I said above, I don’t think it’s historically accurate to pin the blame only on Reformed theology. Second, I am aware of many Reformed theologians today who are eager to emphasize the resurrection.

      But it is true that the resurrection has historically been under-emphasized by Reformed writers. Here is what Spurgeon wrote early in his preaching career: “Reflecting the other day upon the sad state of the churches at the present moment, I was led to look back to apostolic times, and to consider wherein the preaching of the present day differed from the preaching of the apostles… I was surprised to find that I had not been copying the apostolic fashion half as nearly as I might have done. The apostles when they preached always testified concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and the consequent resurrection of the dead… This is a doctrine which we believe, but which we too seldom preach or care to read about. Though I have inquired of several booksellers for a book specially upon the subject of the resurrection, i have not yet been able to purchase one of any sort whatever.”

      Adrian Warnock, a contemporary Reformed author whose book on the resurrection (Raised With Christ) is my source for this quote, adds this: “I too have scoured the Christian bookshops, and although there are now several helpful books on the resurrection, there are fewer in comparison to other subjects. Why has this vital doctrine been so neglected?”

      I am sure there are many answers to Warnock’s question. Here, I think, is one: A central concern of the pre-Reformation church was the problem of guilt. How can we secure forgiveness for our sins and assurance of entrance into heaven? What role do things like the sacraments (penance, mass, baptism, etc.) play? And what about indulgences and purgatory? A central emphasis of the Reformation was to provide a better solution to the guilt problem. This emphasis led naturally to an emphasis on the cross, on Christ’s atonement and our justification. We have much to be thankful for in this Reformation focus! But we should not imagine that if we correctly understand the cross we have fully understood the gospel.

      Perhaps if the central problem of the Reformation was the question of how to help people walk in newness of life, living holy and empowered lives, then we would have seen an emphasis on the resurrection. Which makes me ask: Did the Anabaptists emphasize the resurrection more than the other reformers did? I suspect they may have, at least somewhat, but I really can’t answer my own question well.

      1. Do you think there is also less emphasis on the Christian’s new life or resurrected walk?
        Is Ephesians 2:10 not included with Ephesians 2:8,9?

  2. Reformed theologians almost always emphasize penal substitutionary atonement. Thus it is quite natural to accidentally de-emphasize the resurrection and it becomes an after-thought. No doubt some will argue otherwise…or say two aren’t related but the empirical evidence seems pretty overwhelming to some of us. And the logic follows. If Christ’s death on the cross was the penal substitution that gained our atonement then that is what we celebrate.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Josh. I think I would want to put your observations within the larger context I suggested in my reply to Wayne above—the context of a long history of focusing on salvation as providing freedom from guilt. Within this context, the theological category of soteriology has become focused on theories of the atonement. So no one—not Roman Catholics or the reformers to responded to them—developed any discussion of “theories of the resurrection.” Why don’t we have any such theories (or, better, biblical images) as a vital part of our soteriology? While atonement and freedom from guilt are certainly essential and central aspects of what salvation entails, they are not the whole.

      Secondly, within that context of narrowly focusing on the atonement as the center of soteriology, Reformed theologians have emphasized penal substitution as the central (and sometimes only valid) theory of the atonement. I am much happier to talk about a variety of biblical images of the atonement. I am not convinced that penal substitution occupies a primary position among atonement theories, and I am certainly convinced that it is not the only way the Bible explains the significance of Christ’s cross-work.

      That said, I think atonement and freedom from guilt are hugely important, and that penal substitution seems to indeed be one way the Bible discusses these matters. And (a) if we aren’t stuck in reaction-to-Catholic-theology Reformation-era thinking that focuses on correcting wrong solutions to guilt and (b) if we don’t reduce salvation to resolution of guilt in the first place, then there is nothing about penal substitution that intrinsically leads to a de-emphasis on the resurrection. Currently, in fact, some Reformed writers are among those actively renewing our emphasis on the resurrection.

      Spurgeon, in a continuation of the quote I referenced above in my comment to Wayne, suggests something similar about the history of thought about the resurrection: “Heresies have not risen up respecting it; it would almost be a mercy if there had been, for whenever a truth is contested by heretics, the orthodox fight strongly for it, and the pulpit resounds with it every day.”

      What we have seen, if not heresies about the resurrection, is an active attempt in the past couple centuries by non-Christian skeptics to deny that the resurrection actually happened. More recently, in liberal theology and thus within professed Christianity itself, we have seen attempts to reinterpret the resurrection as a merely spiritual event that has nothing to do with either Jesus’ body or ours. In response to this latter (primarily post-Spurgeon) heresy, we have seen a renewed and healthy orthodox emphasis on the resurrection, defending both its historicity and, more recently, its spiritual significance. (N.T. Wright is one who has strongly emphasized both; his status as Reformed is of course debated.) The majority of scholarly books on the resurrection, however, still seem to focus on questions of historicity rather than theological significance. Perhaps this is partly explained and justified by the emphasis we do see on things that the resurrection made possible—things like the Holy Spirit and Christ’s return. But I still think we need more discussion and awareness of the theological significance of Christ’s resurrection for Christian living today.

      Anyone want to help me start a heresy, to get the orthodoxy wheels going? 🙂

      1. “But I still think we need more discussion and awareness of the theological significance of Christ’s resurrection for Christian living to-day.”

  3. Well, how flattering to find my article quoted here! A friend introduced me to your blog not long ago, and I’ve occasionally been back to visit–and was startled tonight to see my name here!

    First, I ought to make two disclaimers: one, I am indebted to your excellent post on Sabbath-day observance for crystallizing some of my own ideas on the subject. Second, the juxtaposition line was actually not my own, but a comment by a reviewer that I thought was worth tacking on (it appeared in the article as a footnote).

    I appreciate your clarification of the subject as well as the discussion here. The limited space of an editorial in a music-focused periodical did not give room for delving into the surrounding theological issues. I think both suggestions are correct–that the neglect of the resurrection began long before the Reformation, and that the Reformation perpetuated and perhaps increased that neglect by its fixation on guilt and penal substitutionary atonement, and by it’s rejection (or at least over-looking) of the deliverance/Christus Victor models and motifs that are more directly tied to the Resurrection. (I may have used the term “Reformed Theology” somewhat incorrectly to simply mean the theology that came out of the Reformation and not necessarily that of the modern Reformed Church in particular.)

    Anyway, I’m really not qualified to tackle theological discussions of this nature, and look forward to continue learning from the rest of you. I do thank you for your kind evaluation of my article and the opportunity to engage in this discussion. And for the great blog in general.

    And I would love to hear your “resurrection heresy”! Or at least some theories. Like you say, there have been all kinds of ideas proposed as to how Jesus’ death accomplished our salvation, but very few (that I’ve run across, at least) about what exactly was accomplished in the Resurrection, and how.

    (I’d also be tickled to hear how you discovered “Hearts and Voices”, and, if you’re acquainted with the periodical, what your evaluation of it is and what suggestions you might have for improvement. You can use my submitted email address to respond if you wish since this is off-topic.)

    Blessings on the great job you are doing here.

    For the Praise of the King!
    Leslie Stover

    1. Leslie, what a pleasant surprise to have you comment here! Now I can thank you directly for your article, which I enjoyed both for its content and as an example of skillful writing (clear, engaging, persuasive).

      And what a surprise to hear that you had already seen my post on the Sabbath! (Then again, that post is one of my top five most-visited pages on my website; it seems to have addressed a need.)

      Your clarification about your use of “Reformed” is also helpful. That makes sense; such terms can be slippery.

      As for resurrection heresies… I hope I don’t have any. 🙂 But I have thought it would be useful to write, say, a 40-day devotional for use after Resurrection Sunday—something to balance Lent for those who follow the church calendar, and something which would explain as clearly as possible the difference that resurrection (Christ’s and ours) makes in our ongoing and final salvation experience. Oh for more time for such writing!

      I think I may have heard of “Hearts and Voices” before, but my encounter this time was through my mother, who quoted some of your article to me over the phone (the “Reformed theology” parts), knowing I would be interested. She then mailed me just your article. (So in my first version of this post I had just your initials to credit!) Thus I can’t respond to your periodical as a whole, but I wish you Godspeed as you seek to serve him and his people through your writing and editing. One little blog or periodical may not change the world, but we should not underestimate the blessings that will come as we diligently and humbly communicate truth and love!

      For Christ and his Church,

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