Whether it be spouted by the Jesus Seminar scholars, the Da Vinci Code author or The Lost Tomb of Jesus producer, this is the season when magazines give undeserved attention to Jesus’ detractors. In spite of their allegedly formidable arguments, confident Christians worldwide will gather in huge numbers on Easter morning chanting, “He is risen. He is risen. He is risen indeed.”
Such affirmations continue undeterred, because the arguments supporting the resurrection and the legacy of Christ-changed lives far overwhelm lame claims about some Passover Plot.
Then again, resurrection faith does have other detractors, or distracters. We who declare the confident hope of resurrection often exhibit attitudes that scream out hopelessness, despair, and defeat.
These voices of despair have saddened me more than once since I accepted the call to serve as your editor here at the Outlook. They broadcast their hopelessness by sending in letters to the editor. Many letters challenge the viewpoints of this editor and our writers, and that’s totally okay. But what breaks my heart is reading letters that sing, “Hi, ho, the church is dead, the wicked church, the church is dead.”
Such voices don’t say that the Church-with-a-capital-C, the universal Church of Jesus Christ, is dead. They have claimed that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is dead, that it is irretrievably lost and hopelessly undone. They blame bureaucracy and ideology, traditionalism and liberalism, compromises and conspiracies, plus a host of other enmeshed causes. At the end, they render their final diagnosis: dead, never to be revived.
In the process, they hurl scorn and mockery at anybody who speaks a word of hope for the denomination–their hopelessness is irrefutable.
Now to be sure, they make some valid points. Our membership has been shrinking for 40-plus years. Some books written and published by Presbyterians do sound heretical and foolish. Some governing bodies have defied our Constitution. Some arguments voiced in debate have been inane. National leaders have been too passive in addressing the church’s ills while being aggressive in pushing financial and property control. Too many actions of too many Presbyterians appear to be “just like the world”; we have been taken captive by the culture in too many ways.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic about the future. I stand with the many folks who have great hope for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Our hope is not like that of the fan whose championship dreams are excited by a mid-season winning streak. Rather, our Christian hope holds on to the memory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It remembers that the resurrected Lord promised to build his church. Accordingly, it believes in the light when darkness overwhelms. It trusts that abundance will follow want. It looks death in the eye, as Jesus did while taking the hand of a still child, and it declares, “…not dead …just asleep.”
That hope is buoyed also by the memory of God’s activities in biblical history. What was God up to in the days of Deborah, Samuel, Jeremiah, Mary, John, and Paul? God was rebuilding the community of faith at a time when things had been going awry. In fact, the great divine-human drama told throughout Scripture is one of God redeeming, restoring, and rebuilding the community of faith again and again and again. The Church has undergone seasons of upheaval throughout its history, and at every turn God has been prompting reform, correcting errors, calming anxiety, and healing diseases in the body of Christ.
When it comes to cultural captivity, the ultimate cultural captivity is found when children of God declare that a work of God has failed, when they declare that the gates of hell have prevailed over the Church–or any part of the Church. If death and defeat are the final word, if the story to be told of this or any other branch of the Church is that of the resurrection deniers, then we are above all most to be pitied.
No, let’s sing the right song this season. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today. And, holding on to our confident resurrection hope, let’s sing the right song all year long, The Church’s One Foundation: …Though with a scornful wonder This world sees her oppressed, By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed, Yet saints their watch are keeping; Their cry goes up; “How long?” And soon the night of weeping Shall be the morn of song.
Afterword: “Faith hopes for the future it remembers.” –Douglas John Hall