Rising Above The Fall

Has preoccupation with the world’s wrongs caused Christians to miss the power of Easter’s hope?

Easter is a holiday that does not stay with us much. Even Madison Avenue, which has learned to extend Christmas for a full three months, has a hard time making the Easter Bunny last for more than a few weeks.

We in the church may understand how our secular fellow citizens miss the significance of Easter—but why do we? Why does Easter come and go with barely a “sunrise service” anymore? Why is the Easter vigil celebrated only by a handful of liturgical churches? Why, for that matter, do our church schedules remain largely unchanged during the week that was once (and, in some church circles, still is) called Holy?

One reason could be that for American evangelicals, at least, the Fall, not the Resurrection, is our primary doctrinal platform from which we view the world. We focus on the pervasiveness of human sin and lament how far the world has fallen.

In turn, we have allowed Easter to be more of an event rather than the wellspring of a life-transforming doctrine of the Resurrection. Events are celebrated, while doctrines shape our entire way of life. Holidays pleasantly interrupt the routine, but holy days invade the spirit. For most of us, Easter is a holiday. We celebrate it, and we believe in its historicity, but when it comes to that all-encompassing belief that determines how we see the world, the Fall prevails.

We hold fast to the doctrine of the Fall because it explains so well all that is happening—all that is beyond our control. Given the history of humankind, it is an easy doctrine to grasp. You do not have to be particularly religious to believe that human beings are inherently sinful, that we are incapable of anything good without Christ, and that, left on our own, we will make a mess of things. Just read the newspaper or, for that matter, attend a church softball game.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this doctrine. Knowing that the human race is lost without God motivates us to go and make disciples (or at least it should). But the doctrine of depravity needs to be held in balance by the glorious doctrine that comes out of Easter but is so much harder to believe: Always, there is hope. The disciples had difficulty believing this during those dark and hopeless days after Jesus was crucified. They should have known better, but they didn’t.

We, too, should know better, despite the darkness that often surrounds us. But we don’t. We seem to be stuck on the Fall, and lately, that is most evident in the dire warnings coming from those who act as if a Democrat in the Oval Office interrupted God’s sovereign plan for the world. Over the last couple of years, we have gone from expecting triumph to nervous handwringing. Attend any major gathering of evangelicals and you would be hard pressed to understand how we can possibly own up to a name that means good news. The “gains” of the past 12 years, we are told, have been erased.

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While in the last year there certainly have been more disappointments for Christians concerned about public policy, we must question why this has translated to a mood of pessimism among Christians. And as Easter approaches, it makes us wonder in whom or in what we have placed our hope.

The unchanged truth of the Resurrection is that those of us who name Christ as our Lord have no reason to fear what might appear to be a hopeless state of affairs. The Fall teaches us to expect ungodliness because we are all sinners, but the Resurrection reminds us that God has everything—and everyone—under control. It should not surprise us when a President does not share our view of the unborn, for example, any more than we should be surprised that another President did not share our view of telling the truth. Presidents, like the rest of us, are included in the doctrine of the Fall.

The good news of Easter is that Presidents—as well as the rest of us—can be redeemed and therefore sustained by the hope of eternal life. In spite of our sin, God’s kingdom will indeed come. All that we do ought to be characterized by that blessed hope, not just on Easter, but always. Whether the darkness appears as lousy public policy, a natural disaster, increased crime and violence, ethnic cleansing, racial strife, broken families, or personal despair, Easter shouts, “He still lives!” A truly Christian response to these and other reminders of our depravity will reflect that truth.

It is customary for believers to greet one another on Easter with the ancient exclamation “Christ is risen,” followed by “The Lord is risen indeed!” Perhaps Easter—with its spirit of hope and victory—will stay with us longer this year if we greet each other every day, the good days as well as the bad, with this affirmation.

He is risen indeed!

By Lyn Cryderman.

Rethinking Our Russian Mission

When I moved to Moscow two years ago, most Russians I met believed that the West—especially America—represented democracy, economic progress, and prosperity. Many also viewed the United States as the citadel of Christianity. Today, that fascination with the West is fading as Russians discover that welcoming us did not guarantee democracy, economic prosperity, and spiritual enlightenment. It is in this last area—spiritual enlightenment—that we should be most concerned.

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The influx of Western religions has been a mixed blessing. Not only Christians, but Eastern religions, New Age, Satanism, and cults of every kind have come to this land. In the words of Deneon Kuryaev of the Russian Orthodox University affiliated with Moscow State University, “Today Russia is not an atheistic country, but a country of the cult triumphant.” These new religions might be more welcome if they had helped improve the lives of most Russians, but they apparently have not. Russians often blame rising crime, pornography, and drug use on their new relationship with the West. In the early days of glasnost, the godly Orthodox priest Alexander Menn, who was murdered in 1990, reminded his fellow citizens that the West had both good and evil to offer when he observed that Russians were often “not connecting their pipes to the West’s faucets but rather to its sewers.”

Some of this rejection of the West is scapegoating, to be sure, but Westerners, including Christians, have earned a good deal of the negative reaction. Although a host of Western Christian organizations have brought great benefits to Russia, the activities of a few have been injurious, and some others have been culturally insensitive. In reaction, one of Moscow’s most objective newspapers, Nezavisimiya Gazeta, carried a call by academician Alexander Panchenko for the state to become more concerned about the “worldly existence of its members, the church—about the salvation of their souls.… On the TV set you can see several preachers—Protestants—on different channels at one time. This confession is natural for the U.S. and Northern Europe but is hardly suitable for our Russian Orthodox and Muslim Eurasia.”

What Russian Christians need most

Nevertheless, during the past two years, many Western Christian organizations have worked in partnership with Russian and other national Christians to fan flames of spiritual interest. In October 1992, more than 150,000 people heard evangelist Billy Graham preach in Moscow, with millions more watching on television afterward. CoMission, a coalition of 80 Western Christian organizations, has sent 300 teachers to help open 350 public schools and 18 cultural centers to Christian teaching. Hundreds of Russian pastors and Christian workers have received training and materials as Westerners have shared their resources. Western Christian professionals have established contacts with their counterparts there, while Western financial support has helped remodel and construct hundreds of new churches.

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This massive outpouring of assistance from foreigners has done much to help evangelize the former Soviet Union and strengthen the church there, contributing to a religious revival recently documented by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.

Still, recent events—not the least of which was the near passage of a repressive law on religion—compel Western Christians who wish to assist Russia to recognize and relate to new realities.

Three of the most basic realities are mandatory. First, we must give Russians only what they need. Recently a Russian Protestant leader told me he wished more Western Christians would come to Russia “who have something to offer which we need and cannot do ourselves. But now so many Americans come with their own priorities.”

Second, we must be circumspect in our own behavior. Even for the most conscientious Western Christians, discerning how best to conduct activities in Russia and the former communist countries is difficult. For Russia, at least one rule seems certain—the Golden Rule. If Westerners treat Russians the way they would want to be treated if they were found in similar circumstances, their ministries will be appreciated and effective.

Finally, we must be willing to stand aside. Whatever the future holds for Russia, it is certain that nationals carry the key to evangelizing their own country. The Westerners most welcome in Russia will be those who can equip and enable Russian Christians to continue the work of the Church.

By Anita Deyneka, cofounder of Russian Ministries.

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