The resurrection of Jesus Christ along with his crucifixion is unique among the countless events of human history. The Lord who left the garden tomb empty is personally present in our time just as he has been personally present in every generation since he “died for our sins according to the scriptures, … was buried, and … rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). The Resurrection is essential historical fact. Among the things that set it apart from every other miracle is its day by day, continuing reality. And it is significant of its abiding power that of all the great Christian festivals, the Resurrection has had not one but fifty-two yearly observances ever since the infant Church began to meet for worship on the first, or Lord’s Day, instead of on the Jewish Sabbath.
The biography of R. W. Dale, the English theologian, tells how well on in his public ministry he “made the discovery that Jesus was alive,” and it transformed everything for him. To know the living Lord is for the ongoing Christian life indispensable. When the risen Saviour appeared to the eleven in the locked room that first Easter night and spoke of his death and resurrection, he said to them, “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). Likewise we who “have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29) are also witnesses of his death and resurrection.
“But how,” it may be asked, “is it possible in 1964 to be a witness of that which took place nearly two thousand years ago?” The answer lies in the New Testament teaching about the identification of the Christian with his Lord.
Nowhere is this truth more explicitly stated than in Paul’s epistles. Like a golden thread, it runs through his exposition of the Christian life in Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians. The logic of it is this: the believer is identified with Christ in his death and resurrection. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.… But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” So Paul declares in the sixth chapter of Romans (5, 8, RSV). And at the beginning of the third chapter of Colossians, he puts the fact of the union of the believer with the risen Lord in words of lofty beauty: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above.… For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (1, 3); while in Galatians the truth rings out like a trumpet, as Paul boldly says: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me …” (2:20).
The Christian’s witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is more than a matter of apologetics. To say this is not to belittle the value of a careful study and faithful presentation of the biblical and historical evidences for this stupendous miracle. Such study is essential; but it can never be a substitute for that personal identification of the believer with his risen Lord which the New Testament presents as the very norm for Christian experience.
In speaking of union with Christ in his death and resurrection, Paul is not talking about some special, esoteric experience available only to an inner circle of ultra-pious members of the Church. On the contrary, he is teaching the very basis of spiritual experience that normally belongs to the heritage of every Christian. That most profound of Negro spirituals goes to the heart of this truth as it asks the haunting questions, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” To these words of the original might well be added the further question, “Were you there when he rose up from the tomb?”
It is, however, a disquieting fact that what for Paul was normal Christian experience is comparatively little understood among church members today. And often when it is recognized, this normative truth becomes the subject of a “Deeper” or “Victorious Life” conference, apart from the ordinary life of the Church. Nevertheless, this truth is for all Christians, young and old. Inseparably linked to the fact of the Resurrection, it assures the believer of power for daily living through obedient submission to the living Christ who dwells in his heart by faith.
Perhaps therein lies the seed of its neglect. The price of submission is not small. It costs nothing less than the freedom to run one’s own life—a price many are unwilling to pay in a day when self-fulfillment is exalted as the ultimate goal.
In an Easter sermon, a leading preacher said, “We are afraid of the empty tomb. It brings up all sorts of questions that we would not like to have to answer.” But why should Christians who believe God be afraid of the empty tomb? To be sure, they may not understand all about it. God clothed in mystery what happened within it. No man saw the Son of God arise. His death was for all to see, his resurrection hidden from every human eye. Alice Meynell speaks of its holy privacy in these lines:
… no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.
Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.
Yet though the manner of Christ’s rising is known only to God, it is the prerogative of Christians to be certain of its fact. Therefore, instead of fearing the empty tomb, they should rejoice in it as the sign of victory over empty and defeated lives.
Moreover, this victory is meant to be realized in the dust and heat of everyday living. Paul leaves no doubt that the truth of the believer’s identification with the risen Christ has its earthly application as well as its heavenly assurance of personal resurrection, when the believer’s longing to be “clothed upon” will be satisfied in a body like unto Christ’s glorious body. At the end of the seventh chapter of Romans, the Apostle describes the tensions inside human personality with a precision anticipative of the insights of modern psychology. “For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I …” (Rom. 7:15). And then, having dissected the hopelessness of the anguished struggle, he exclaims, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (v. 24). Whereupon he shows in the glorious eighth chapter that through the risen Christ who indwells the believer there is victory indeed. Similarly in Colossians, after reminding Christians of their identification with their living Lord (“If ye then be risen with Christ …”), he speaks with plain practicality about mortifying and putting off the sins of the body and spirit and putting on the great virtues of love and forbearance (Col. 3:1–7).
These truths are the post-resurrection pattern for the daily practice of Christ’s own words: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4). Great are the resources of the Christian life. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). The Resurrection guarantees the untarnishable reality of this shining truth.
After the death of Robert Schumann, his wife, a great pianist in her own right, devoted herself to making her husband’s works known. Along with hours of disciplined practice before her concerts, she prepared for the interpretation of the music by reading again the treasured letters the great composer had written her. But Christians have far more than the letters of a dead man. They have the inspired Word of the living Lord, the Book of which he said, “Search the scriptures; for … they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Not only so, but Christians also have within them the Spirit of their risen Saviour. And theirs is the obligation to live and walk with him in the discipline of daily life.
In his Aims of Education, Alfred North Whitehead distinguishes between “inert” ideas and ideas that are alive and effective. Held only as a doctrinal fact or accepted merely as a beautiful vision, the Resurrection may be nothing more than “inert” knowledge. But God means it to be otherwise. He appoints Christians today, as in every age, to be witnesses of this event that happened in the first century. He means them to know its continuing power through a committed life, and he means them to speak not from hearsay, but out of personal experience of the risen Lord.
Give Children Their Legal Rights
Available statistics on child abuse by parents are sketchy and do not represent the actual situation. When such physical abuse is sufficiently serious but does not cause death, the injured child is often taken to a hospital as an “accident” case. In many appalling cases of scaldings, burns, broken bones, internal bleedings, or concussions inflicted upon children by parents or guardians through brutal and abnormal punishment, doctors and hospital attendants disbelieve the alleged explanation. Yet they usually do not report these cases to police authorities since they are open to civil and criminal suit and would be unable to provide evidence that would stand up in court. Because the maltreatment, usually occurring behind the closed doors of the home, is not easily established as criminal in the courts, most cases of abuse go unpunished, and the same child returns to the hospital with successive injuries.
There is widespread suspicion that cases of parental neglect and brutality are on the increase. To meet this wanton abuse of children, the United States Children’s Bureau, in conjunction with the Office of the General Counsel of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, last summer issued model legislation on this subject and sent it to all the states. Eleven states have adopted it, and it is currently before the state legislatures of New York and New Jersey.
The Children’s Bureau’s suggested legislation would make it mandatory that “all cases of child abuse be reported to the appropriate police authority by the doctor who sees the child.” It would grant immunity from civil or criminal action to doctors reporting such cases. Adoption of such legislation by all the states would not only relieve the consciences of doctors: it would give the little children the legal protection that is their right. Christians should support its adoption in those states where parental abuse of children presently evades the law.
In ancient Rome the father had the right of his child’s life, and the practice of leaving unwanted female offspring to die was common and accepted. In conviction, the Western world has since come a long way; but it has not come far in practice if parents can abuse children to a point just short of death and escape legal apprehension.
A Strange Accusation
Are those who claim that the Church should “stick to religion and stay out of public affairs” lending support to Karl Marx’s slogan that “religion is the opiate of the people”? Bishop Reuben H. Mueller of Indianapolis, president of the National Council of Churches, believes that they are. At a special luncheon in Baltimore he told the National Council’s policy-making General Board, “There are those in our day who object to the Church, or the Church’s ministers (whether lay or clergy), having anything to say, or anything to do with life’s issues in politics, in industry, in civil rights, in international relationships. These people say, ‘Let the Church be the Church and stick to religion. Let it be spiritual.’ As I see it, this is a corollary to Karl Marx’s teaching, that ‘religion is the opiate of the people.’ ”
If Dr. Mueller, senior bishop of the Evangelical United Brethern Church, was drinking only of those who believe that neither Church nor laymen nor clergy should have “anything to say, or anything to do” with life’s social issues, he was thinking of a very rare breed of Christian indeed. But as other parts of his address indicate, Bishop Mueller had in mind also those Christians and churches that believe that the Church’s task is to preach the Gospel to men in all their social needs, but not to formulate social, political, economic, legal, and cultural programs and policies, nor to send recommendations on foreign policy to the White House and State Department. The churches and Christians who believe that such implementation of Christianity should be left to individual Christians and to the institutions to which it properly belongs, will not accept Mueller’s appraisal that they hold a religious position that can fairly be associated with Marx’s description of religion. Such a misunderstanding of what many churches and Christians believe to be, and not to be, the proper task of the Church, is no asset to a president of an ecumenical organization.
Bishop Mueller claims only that this is “as I see it.” But he told the General Board of policy-makers (and the official release of the National Council gave it emphasis), “Either way [whether or not he sees it rightly], the intent is for religion to put the people to sleep so they will docilely submit to those who oppress them.” Here Dr. Mueller asserts that those Christians and churches whose view of the Church’s task differs from his have as their deliberate purpose to dupe the people into submitting to oppression. In this judgment Bishop Mueller reveals an even profounder misunderstanding of the theological position of those churches and churchmen with whom he disagrees, and an appraisal of their intention in which there is little charity. Such a misunderstanding of a position widely held by many Christians in the United States, and such a cavalier manner of associating them with Karl Marx and his understanding of religion as an opiate of the people, ill become the leadership of an ecumenical organization that seeks greater understanding and unity among all Christians. Differences will not be resolved by attributing the intentions of Communists to those who disagree with us.
What the Christian churches in the United States need is greater emotional restraint, carefulness of speech, and informed, sympathetic reflection. Without these they will come, not to better understanding of one another, but only to further estrangement.
The Christians’ Stake In Appalachia
The survey of the plight of Appalachia by Dr. Holmes Rolston in this issue (p. 27) may serve as a disturbing reminder to those better placed in our affluent society. And it may remind the parent who has run out of ideas for gifts for toy-sated children that there are penniless parents in Appalachia who send their children to the homes of neighbors at mealtime, hoping they will thus be fed.
There are those, it is true, who extol the advantages of poverty, but these persons are generally well fed. We should perhaps be better advised to hear of these advantages from the poor themselves.
Assuredly, even the poverty of some Americans is the envy of the dispossessed of the Orient and elsewhere, though the stark contrast of pockets of poverty amidst American plenty has provided ready grist for the Communist propaganda mill.
But American hopes of improving our image abroad are hardly sufficient or worthy motivation for the alleviation of distress at home. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that Communist solutions are not basic or profound enough to penetrate to the root of an American problem that is common to all mankind. For the Communist view of man is deficient in failing to sense the deep seriousness of man’s plight. Why will some of the rich pamper themselves while averting their eyes from their starving neighbors? The Bible answers by telling us that we are all without exception members of a fallen race.
Humanitarian ideals alone are inadequate to cope with the problem. Churchly handwringing over the Appalachian predicament can be only a first step. Christian men dare not lag behind politicians in active concern. The Lord of the Church is the one who said: “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat.” His compassion preceded action, which saw him feeding more than 4,000 men, women, and children.
Here the churchman may and must go beyond the politician. True Christian compassion is not content with a dead religious traditionalism, however “orthodox.” The Church, while never forgetting its primary concern for proclaiming the Gospel, must also accept its responsibility for doing something about human need. Appalachia does not stand alone; it is a symbol of the needy everywhere.
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