A minister friend told me that his daughter, who attended a well-known university, invited a non- Adventist friend to visit one of our churches the Sabbath of Easter week end. After church they reviewed the worship service. Her friend expressed surprise that no attention was given to the resurrection as he was accustomed to seeing it at Easter. There wasn't much she could say in explanation.
Unfortunately that student visitor experienced what is common in Adventist churches. Furthermore, members commend themselves for what they consider loyalty to biblical principle by shunning traces of "pagan worship" that still cling to "other churches."1 Other Adventists feel that although nothing is wrong with commemorating the Resurrection on Easter, it is not vital or important practice. Both these attitudes conflict with the witness of the New Testament, and regrettably, feed the suspicion among many Christians that Adventists have not fully thrown off the trappings of a cult. Let me illustrate.
Last Easter, after our Resurrection Sabbath service, as I stood at the church door, a woman visitor remarked, "This is the first Adventist church I have been in where the Resurrection was commemorated at Easter time. All my relatives are Baptists. They appreciate many things about Adventists but do not think we are fully Christian because we don't celebrate the Resurrection. Thank you for this service. Now I can tell my relatives there are Adventists who do celebrate the Resurrection at Easter time."
Making us seem cultish because we do not commemorate the Resurrection will seem trivial to some. It is only so, however, to those who do not fully understand the significance of the Resurrection to the Christianity of the New Testament. The Resurrection is at the heart of a fundamental concept that fuels the theology, ethics, and beliefs of Christianity.
A historical religion
Christianity draws its life and meaning out of specific historical events, maintaining continuity with the religion of the Old Testament. When Paul defines the gospel, the message of the New Testament, he says it is "concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God ... by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3, 4, RSV). Within these events Paul finds the Gospel that reveals the power of God's salvation (verses 16, 17). Preaching the gospel is the proclamation and exposition of the meaning of these events to the human condition.
The New Testament writers employed the historic events to define Christianity and address the human dilemma and its solution. Everything they wrote, whether moral or theological, was an implication or explication of those events. The moral or theological is never primary; it is but the outgrowth of their accounting for the presence of Jesus in human history and the significance of His death and resurrection. They testify that in these events God's action in human history is revealed.
Of these events, the Resurrection is the most significant. It is not one event among other important events—it is the principal event. It is the event that makes Christianity what it is—a religion of resurrection.2 A. M. Ramsey, former archbishop of Canterbury, observed: "For the [first disciples] the gospel without the Resurrection was not merely a gospel without its final chapter: it was not a Gospel at all. . . . Christian theism is resurrection theism." 3
Even a surface reading of Resurrection passages, which are considerable, demonstrates the importance it holds in the New Testament. It is the center around which everything else revolves.4 With out the Resurrection there actually would have been no New Testament, for there would have been no church to write about it.5 The cross has no benefit with out the Resurrection, and without it the Second Advent is an impossibility.
By saying that, the cross is not minimized. The death of Jesus is always fundamental, but it is never isolated from the Resurrection that crowned and completed it. In fact, when Paul speaks of either the cross or the Resurrection, the other is always implied. They were two historic events, but as God's action in history, the two are one.6 In the preaching of the early church the two were always preached together. As Acts testifies, the early Christians preached "Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18, RSV; see also Acts 2:22-24,32; 3:13-15; 4:2, 10-12).
The preaching of the early church was never a system of salvation, a new ethical code of human ideals. It was not a theoretical argument with paganism or the aspirations of a new religious ideal. It was not a word about how men ought to act in an ideal society. It was a declaration, not a debate, a proclamation of the mighty acts of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was an account of the way in which God acted in history decisively and forever in Jesus.
The Old Testament prophets had long expected the coming of God's kingly power to deliver and vindicate His op pressed people. The New Testament declares that in the Resurrection, the long-expected kingdom of God broke into history with power. In the Resurrection, that invisible realm of God suddenly projected itself into history. It was no longer a dream, an expectation— the people were living in it. It had arrived!
History split asunder
So, the Resurrection was nothing less than the mighty act of God. This was the message to the crowds on the streets of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. It was the news that the Sovereign Power of the universe had split history asunder by planting a cross and an empty tomb midpoint to signal the before and after of salvation history. And the crowds shouted back, "We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God"(Acts2:ll,NKJV).
This is the gospel! This is the theme of the New Testament. The early Christians gathered to commemorate the salvation so freely given through the death and resurrection of Christ. They were now conquerors because of it. No wonder other Christians hesitate about the Christian authenticity of Adventism if we give but meager regard to the Resurrection.
How can we lead our people to understand salvation when we neglect to teach the meaning of the very act that made it possible? Ask your members what the resurrection of Christ means to them. I am sure the majority believe it to be just a miraculous verification of the personal survival of Jesus after His death and an assurance of the Christian's life after death.
Resurrection, to many of our members, is a future experience at the Second Advent. It touches the past and gives hope for the future but seems to have little relevance in the present. However, when Jesus rose from the dead, Paul tells us, resurrection began to take place and we Christians have been caught up in it (Col. 3:1; 2:12; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:3-10). We are living on this side of the Resurrection, and by faith in Christ we partake of its power.
We must not give anyone reason to accuse us of disregarding or minimizing the importance of the Resurrection.7 Let Adventists everywhere give testimony to the risen Lord. When all the churches in the land praise the Christ who rose, let not that season pass without a word or song from us. Let our voices rise above them all, rejoicing that He who rose to give us new life will come again to give us a new world.
1 I am neither defending nor advocating the
celebration of Easter. Our anti-Catholic polemics
have biased us against Christian festivals and
robbed us of genuine Christian traditions helpful
to the spiritual growth of our members. My con
cern is that Adventists take seriously the com
memoration of the Resurrection whenever we
choose to do it.
2 C. F. Evens, Resurrection and the New
Testament (London: S.C.M. Press, Ltd., 1970), p. 1.
3 A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ
(London: Geoffrey Bles, 1945), p. 7.
4 John Knox, Chapters in the Life of Paul
(New York: Abingdon Press), p. 131.
5 K. H. Rengstorf, Die Auferstehung Jesu
(Tubingen: Mohr, 1960), pp. 37ff.
6 Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New
Testament (New York: Charles Scribner, 1951), vol.
1, pp. 292ff. See also Eduard Schweizer, Jesus
(Atlanta: John Knox, 1971), pp. 53ff.; Hermand
Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1975).
7 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1950), p. 547.