Easter sunrise services are for many Christians the spiritual high point of the year. Especially when they are held outdoors in natural settings, they give the Christian participant a lift that no other religious exercise quite matches. As the dawn comes up to light the budding branches and greening grass, we get the ultimate physical undergirding of the glorious truth of Christ’s victory over the grave and the fact of new life for each person who trusts in him.
The challenge to the Christian, however, is not simply to be uplifted by the great annual celebration of the Resurrection but to try to convince non-believers of the potential it has for them.
So intense has been the controversy over the years as to what really happened in the Resurrection that those outside the Church are likely to regard it as an “in-house” event that has no meaning for them. What a pity. It is precisely for outsiders that the Resurrection carries the most importance, and they are unaware of it. This puts the pressure on those who know to let others in on the tremendous message of the Resurrection and the potential it holds for them personally.
Endless volumes have been written about the Resurrection, and innumerable sermons have been preached. Yet the real message hasn’t gotten through to many. Vast numbers of human beings still have either no knowledge or a distorted knowledge of the meaning of the Resurrection.
The central thing that Christians should try to get across to unbelievers about the Resurrection is that it means God has solved man’s greatest problems, sin and death. Some may not be very concerned about sin, but no one can be unconcerned about death, the great enemy of man. The resurrection of Jesus Christ established once and for all that death can be overcome—not on our own but through the life that Christ provides, as attested by his own victory over the grave.
Man in his fallen state tends to doubt that the Resurrection was an actual historical occurrence. Even the disciples of Jesus had a hard time believing it! Today the problem is accentuated because influential historians operate within certain strait jackets insisted upon by science. As Everett F. Harrison puts it in A Short Life of Christ, this science “obliges them to suppose a certain uniformity both in the universe and in human society. The emergence of a man from death does not conform to the pattern of what is common to man,” so it gives them verification problems. What the believer must realize is that God is entitled to do something just once, and that the Resurrection was indeed a unique occurrence, though verifiable nevertheless.
Christ’s resurrection was unique for a number of reasons. For one thing, who else has come back from the grave? But that’s only part of it. Christ had died on the cross voluntarily, as the means of paying the penalty of sin demanded by a just God. Says H. D. McDonald in Living Doctrines of the New Testament, “It is because the cross is that of the Son of God, because it is vitally linked with the empty tomb, that it becomes God’s saving act. The cross and the empty tomb stand together; and it is in this conjunction that the uniqueness of Christ’s death shines forth.”
Unfortunately, badgered Christians today often are meek and defensive about the Resurrection. We need to take our cue from the early Christians, who, once they believed, proceeded to proclaim the Resurrection with an all-out zeal. They pulled out all the stops and let the tremendous power of the Holy Spirit take over. They realized that they owed it to others to share the great hope made possible by the Resurrection. Never have human beings had the privilege of communicating a greater message.
“Acceptance of the witness of the resurrection is saving faith,” says Merrill C. Tenney in The Reality of the Resurrection, “the true foundation of spiritual life.” Isn’t that worth shouting from the housetops? Let’s challenge the skeptic to examine the record for himself. Let’s arouse the indifferent to become aware of the unparalleled significance of the Resurrection. Let’s make sharing our Easter faith a way of life!
Aves: They Try Harder
More and more, birds are being appreciated not only for their appearance and song but also for the crucial services they render. God has given us these creatures to help keep nature in balance. Their main service is keeping down the insect population. This job takes on new importance as we learn more about the undesirable consequences of pesticide use, and the growth of insect strains that resist traditional chemical killers.
The purple martin has been showing itself as a particularly desirable bird for urban North America. It is a relatively clean bird that often adapts well to human activity, and it is easy to attract to residential areas. It has a pleasant song and a graceful manner of flight. Most important, the purple martin must devour thousands of insects daily because of its extremely rapid digestive process and metabolism rate. No other bird offers so desirable a combination of qualities.
If you want to hire on some purple martins for service around your garden and patio, offer them a place to live. Put up one of the special aluminum apartments now manufactured for them. You may soon find a No Vacancy sign up and, as a result, enjoy a much less pest-ridden backyard scene this summer.
The American Baptist Churches went on record in 1968 in favor of what many would regard as abortion on demand. It is curious that some Baptists—whose forebears were staunch defenders of individual liberty and rights—do not consider the very strong argument that there is a time before birth when the fetus must, medically, logically, and ethically, be regarded as a human person. For all those who believe that pre-natal life is indeed human life, deliberate abortion logically becomes manslaughter if not murder.
Recently the General Board of the ABC passed a resolution charging that “the present national effort of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the U. S. A. to coerce the conscience and personal freedom of our citizens through the power of public law in matters of human reproduction constitutes a serious threat to that moral and religious liberty.”
If abortion involves the taking of human life—and this is the firm conviction of the pro-life forces, including the majority of conservative Christians—then of course the “power of public law” should be used to “coerce” behavior in this regard—just as it is used to coerce people to refrain from murder, robbery, and tax evasion. If the ABC leaders believe that abortion does not involve unjustifiable taking of human life, then let them argue it on those grounds. To attempt to inject the church-state issue—more accurately, anti-Catholicism—is rhetorical bombast bound to rekindle prejudice and divert attention from the basic moral issue.
Abortion ought not to be regarded as a Catholic issue because Catholic leaders oppose it—any more than liquor or gambling is a Southern Baptist issue because Southern Baptists have been in the forefront of campaigns against these practices at the state level.
Sophist’S Guide To Sex
In a column called “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Sex,” Karen Durbin writes in the March issue of Mademoiselle, “The assumption that a woman is promiscuous if she sleeps with a lot of people leaves no room for the possibility that she might be an affectionate person with a large capacity for intimacy. Or maybe she is mixed up—but the point is, you can’t generalize.” Ms. Durbin then goes on to some generalizing of her own, but never mind that. What matters to the Christian is that here is an explicit espousal of the new morality. Ms. Durbin goes on, “There’s no form of sexual behavior that’s appropriate for everyone. But there is a touchstone beneath all the theories, moral, political, or psychiatric. It’s the information that our bodies give us: desire, or the lack of it.”
To call desire the touchstone of behavior, sexual or other kind, is to adopt a line of argument that collapses under thoughtful scrutiny. The intelligent woman will have to look elsewhere for a guide.
Regrettably, many Christians may read Ms. Durbin uncritically and, impressed by the air of open-mindedness and by the warm, positive humanity of such concepts as “affectionate” and “large capacity for intimacy,” assume that this truly is the route of rationality, Christian principles notwithstanding. Sophistry, whether intentional or not, should be challenged by thinking believers wherever and whenever it comes up. Many evangelicals buckle under specious arguments. This is absolutely unnecessary. Christian moral standards have been reasoned out more carefully than any other system, and anyone who dismisses the powerful apologetic on which they stand exhibits ignorance.
For Goodness’ Sake
Two hundred years have passed since Oliver Goldsmith died, and much of his writing, such as his letters and poems, is little read today. But the novel The Vicar of Wakefield and the play She Stoops to Conquer still rank high in English literature. They share a quality generally missing among modern authors: a sense of goodness.
Goldsmith takes Dr. Primrose (modeled after his father, an Anglican vicar) and his family through the vagaries of fortune. The subtitle of the book could well be, “Pride goeth before a fall.” The family, impressed with themselves and their fortune, soon lose their inheritance, and then their respectability. The eldest daughter is seduced, Primrose is unjustly carted off to jail, and his elder son is thrown in jail for fighting his sister’s abductor. Through his trials Primrose comes to a more faith-oriented approach to his professed Christianity. For example, he uses his time in jail to preach to the inmates of God’s faithfulness in trying circumstances. While not specifically evangelical in approach, Goldsmith’s vicar shows strong belief in God and his absolutes of right and wrong.
That stress on God’s moral absolutes is a major theme in all of Goldsmith’s writings. Misfortune comes when man forsakes those absolutes, or when he fails to fight against the three forms of pride mentioned in First John 2:16. The Irish author urges to hold to God’s absolutes and practice charity toward our neighbors. Rereading Oliver Goldsmith as we mark the two-hundredth anniversary of his death this month challenges us to practice our profession of faith, and also provides a pleasing antidote to the morally degrading literature much in evidence during the last few decades.
Beware … And Grow
While First Peter is concerned with inspiring confidence and steadfastness in Christians under threat of persecution, Peter’s second letter deals more with the danger of doctrinal deviation, of “destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). This and other factors—such as the author’s putting Paul’s writings in the same category with “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16)—have led many scholars to date this epistle after Peter’s death and ascribe it to an unknown hand. The differences between First and Second Peter can be exaggerated, however, and it is certainly not unreasonable to suppose that the Apostle Peter recognized Paul’s writings as inspired Scripture during Paul’s lifetime. Both Peter and Paul had to face the problem of false doctrines springing up in the earliest Christian congregations, so taking a stand against doctrinal error does not in itself suggest that traditional views of the chronology and authorship of the material must be rejected.
Steadfastness in the face of persecution, a main theme of First Peter, can be tremendously enhanced by an awareness of the mystery of God’s election and of his sustaining grace: You, Peter tells his readers, “are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). But if our faith is uncertain, or in error, then there will be none of the confident assurance necessary to face persecution. Therefore we must carefully guard the purity of our doctrine, lest, in Peter’s words, we “be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose [our] own stability” (2 Pet. 3:17). Nevertheless, an awareness of the danger of false doctrine, though important, is in itself not enough. We must also “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (v. 18).
The command to “grow in grace” might sound a bit odd when we consider that the biblical concept of grace is unmerited favor, i.e., something that we cannot earn or increase by our own efforts. The answer is, of course, that we are not being told to “increase” the grace we now enjoy; rather, already standing in the grace of Jesus Christ, we are told not to remain stationary or sterile but to grow and be fruitful (cf. 2 Pet. 1:8).
This also explains the coupling of grace, something we cannot increase by our own effort, with knowledge, something we might ordinarily think ourselves able to augment by study. The grace and knowledge (here epignosis, i.e., authentic, personal knowledge, not gnosis, which may refer to speculation and insight) of Jesus Christ constitute the ground on which we stand. It is on this ground that we can not only take heart when faced with adversity, as in First Peter, but also devote ourselves to the self-development that he designates as growth.
Ordinarily we would not attach great importance to the specific order of a series of attributes. However, since Second Peter 1:5–8 speaks of supplementing one quality with a second, and the second with a third, here the order seems significant. Faith is first of all to be supplemented, not as might be expected with knowledge—that will come next—but with virtue. “Virtue” is an unappealing concept for the modern world; for the world of Peter’s day, it implied strength or greatness of character, and a character conformable to the highest ideal. For the pagan, philosophy or the arts might define that ideal; for the Christian, it is defined by the person of Jesus Christ.
Peter suggests supplementing one’s faith by showing a virtuous character, a character in conformity with the faith professed. Then knowledge is to be added, and self-control. These, with the attendant qualities he describes, will “keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8). Beware of carelessness about doctrine; take your stand in the grace of Jesus Christ and your personal knowledge of him, but do not merely stand: “make every effort” (1:5) and “grow” (3:18).
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