Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.\
“If Not…Our Preaching and Faith Are Vain!”
So writes the inspired apostle Paul to the church in Corinth (I Cor. 15:14, 17). Some in Corinth were saying “… there is no resurrection from the dead” (v. 12). To these, to those who believed in Corinth, and to all of us and the church of all ages the apostle states flatly, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain . . . ye are yet in your sins” (w. 14 and 17).
From time to time in previous issues we have reported on the so-called Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal scholars who have been discussing and debating Jesus’ words and deeds biannually the past decade. This group (nearly forty in number) met last March to discuss the resurrection of Jesus. They concluded, “that Jesus probably did not rise bodily from the dead, but that the ‘resurrection tradition that developed in the first-century church was an effort to promote the vitality of Jesus’ message.”
According to various theories expressed at the meeting, Jesus’ followers mistakenly went to the wrong tomb and thought their teacher had risen, female disciples mistook their subjective grief experiences for actual post-death appearances, and early church leaders spread resurrection stories to counteract their own guilt—Peter for having denied Jesus three times, Paul for having persecuted believers. Discussions of Jewish apocalypticism were also a prominent feature at the meeting.
“The execution of Jesus caused a crisis in the circle of the disciples,” said German University of Gottingen theologian Gerd Leudemann. He called New Testament resurrection accounts “historically worthless” and “the product of imagination and fantasy.” Reports have it that the scholars did not support a swoon theory. They did not argue that the disciples stole Jesus’ body, nor did they portray Jesus as delusional. The Jesus Seminar will hold its last formal meeting in October. After that a Paul Seminar will begin. After what these scholars have done with Jesus’ words and deeds, it isn’t difficult to predict that when they have finished with Paul there will be precious little of the New Testament left. We wonder why, after they have denied the resurrection of Jesus, they are going to bother with Paul.
The Christian faith stands or it falls on the resurrection. If Christ be not raised, the church’s preaching and faith are vain. They are empty, devoid of truth, fruitless, without effect, to no purpose, according to the literal meaning of the Greek in verse 14. The Holy Spirit uses a synonym in verse 17 which means devoid of force, truth, success, or result. So crucial to the faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Not only is our preaching and faith vain, we are yet in our sins, we have no comfort with respect to our believing loved ones who have died for “they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” If Jesus did not rise from the dead, our hope is limited too this life and we are of all men most miserable (v. 19).
Imagine, for a moment, going to church on Easter Sunday morning and hearing the preacher say, “Jesus probably did not rise bodily from the dead! His disciples went to the wrong tomb. Those women mistook subjective grief experiences for actual post-resurrection appearances. The disciples and early church leaders spread resurrection stories to counteract their own guilt and to promote the vitality of Jesus’ message.” Why go to church? Why believe in Jesus? Why suffer for His sake? If there be no resurrection there simply is no Christian faith.
Thank God for telling us all about Jesus’ cross and resurrection and for giving us and all of His children in the nations the grace to believe it! Thank God for faithful preachers who with the apostle proclaim, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept…. Behold I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed . . . O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? . . . But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (vv. 20-58).
If I could not read this and similar passages of Holy Scripture at committal services in the cemetery and if I could not preach this blessed gospel, I would resign from the office of the ministry and never preach again!
Women in Church Office…Again!
In spite of our having reported on this issue so many times already, we do so again. It is news, it is big news, and it is all around us. Classis Wisconsin has overtured the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Board of Trustees to rule, “that delegates from Classis Grand Rapids East be given the privilege of the floor, but be denied the privilege of voting on all matters before synod until such time as Classis Grand Rapids East complies with the decisions of synod on this matter.” In other words, Classis Wisconsin wants the vote taken from Classis Grand Rapids East until and unless they urge member churches to rid themselves of female elders. Presumably Classis Wisconsin wants the churches of Grand Rapids East who currently have women elders to comply with the urging.
As reported earlier in these columns there are other overtures coming to the CRC synod demanding that individual congregations who have already ordained women as elders be disciplined. At the same time, there are’ at least seven overtures coming from classes urging synod to open all offices to women or to allow greater latitude to local churches on the question. “Greater latitude” means if a church wants women in office it ought to be allowed to have them. If a church wishes to retain the status quo that is fine too.
As we noted a month ago, the CRC is a house divided against itself on this question and “a house divided against itself…” (Luke 11:17).
REC News Exchange
Calvin Gets New President
Gaylen Byker, a Hudsonville, MI native, is the unanimous choice of the thirty-one member Board of Trustees of Calvin College to become the next president of that school. Byker currently is vice-president of Offshore Energy Development Corporation in Houston. He will succeed Anthony Diekema, who plans to retire August 31. Diekema has been president of the college for some twenty years.