For reasons I really can’t recall, I decided I’d judged the Presbyterian church (PCUSA) that I’d grown up in a bit harshly since becoming a Christian. So on Easter Sunday 1975, I returned, hoping to settle back in and make it once again my church home. Its proximity to my house enabled me to drive my motorized wheelchair to services, thus eliminating the ongoing struggle to procure transportation.
Being PCUSA, the church tried to be innovative even as it retained a certain degree of liturgical order. That Easter Sunday, for instance, the pastor and the seminary student who did his internship at the church staged a rehearsed debate in place of the sermon. The question up for debate: Was Christ’s resurrection literal or figurative?
I don’t remember the arguments on either side, nor can I tell you if either man bothered to substantiate their points with Scripture. But I most definitely remember the pastor walking front and center stage at the end to offer the ultimate conclusion that he wanted us to draw.
Whether the resurrection was literal or figurative, he informed us, didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Christ lived in our hearts.
The minute he gave the benediction, I spun my wheelchair around and headed home without speaking to anyone. I was far too angry to exchange pleasantries with people. The mishandling of God’s Word and the denigration of Christ’s resurrection infuriated me.
43 years later, it still infuriates me!
The literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. 1 Corinthians 15 details its critical importance to every believer.
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. ~~1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV)
A figurative resurrection of Christ would mean that heaven is equally figurative, and thus following the Lord is, in the end, pretty much inconsequential. We might as well live according to our own desires if we can interpret the resurrection any way we see fit. I mean, what’s the point of forsaking sin and denying self if there’s no hope of eternal life with Christ?
Praise the Lord, He did rise physically from the dead, with a glorified body that His eleven disciples literally handled (Luke 24:36-43, 1 John 1:1). Each of those men, as well as countless men and women who believed their preaching, suffered persecution and often martyrdom for proclaiming the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Really, would anyone willingly face death for something figurative?
I don’t regret leaving that PCUSA church after that rehearsed debate in 1975. I only regret my cowardly failure to tell them why I withdrew my membership. I wish I’d had the intestinal fortitude to declare to them that the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ matters very much. That their eternal position absolutely depended on whether or not they believed in it.