Monday, October 21, 2013

Ask Mr. Wisdom: Q & A #2

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[I have heard Christians say] that “If Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God”, but if that is the argument being made, why are the other people mentioned in the Bible who rose from the dead not God?

That is an excellent question. The answer is in the context. However even before that, it is necessary to pin down out exactly what the claim is. It isn't that Jesus rose from the dead and that makes him God. Rather, the claim is that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that he is God. That is an important distinction because it frames the resurrection as the ultimate piece of evidence that validates his divinity claims.

Note: for the purposes of this particular question, I am not addressing the issue of the Bible's historical reliability. That is, I am not addressing the question, "how do we know Jesus actually said that?" For this question, I am only addressing the claim, "if Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God," which is offered from a Christian perspective, and I will simply work within the Christian worldview to demonstrate that it is not contradictory or fallacious.

So, what is the context of Jesus' resurrection? He was a miracle worker who claimed authority, divinity, and autonomous power. He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2); when he spoke, he spoke with authority; instead of saying, "this is what the Lord says," he said simply, "I tell you" (Matt 7:29); He claimed to be the prophesied messiah (Luke 4); He took the divine name, "I am" on multiple occasions, all of which caused the Pharisees to rend their garments and take up stones to kill him for blasphemy--they knew exactly what he was claiming. There are other examples, but I am trying not to make this post unbearably long.

So, most relevant to your question: Jesus claimed authority to "lay his life down and take it up again" (John 10:18). He also made the bold claim that after his death, he would resurrect after 3 days (John 2:9). And consider what he told the Pharisees when they asked him for a sign to prove his authority. He said, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Jesus was convinced that he would be the source of his own resurrection and he even predicted the time (after 3 days) that it would happen. There can be no doubt that he was claiming divinity and pointing to the resurrection as the ultimate evidence to verify it.

What about the other biblical accounts of resurrection? None of the people who were resurrected in the Bible (other than Jesus) made any claims to be divine. Neither were their resurrections prophesied. Furthermore, these resurrections always involved some prophet/apostle who did not claim to possess autonomous power, but only to be a conduit for the power of God. Elijah and the widow's son (1 Kings 17); Elisha and the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4); the dead man who touched Elisha's bones (2 Kings 13); Peter and Tabitha (Acts 9); and Paul and Eutychus (Acts 20).

In short, the context makes it clear that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole Christian faith is a sham. Paul says as much in 1 Cor 15. That is a pretty hefty and unnecessary burden of proof to take on if the whole thing were just made up. On the other hand, the statement, "if Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God" is true; not because resurrection makes Jesus God, but because it validates his claim to be God.

Is there a dependable, UNBIASED list out there for someone searching for a church... I checked out a local Methodist church and it was verrrrry liberal. I learned that the word Methodist is painting with a very wide brush. Then there is Presbyterian, but there is FPUSA which looks like it allows a certain degree or liberalism, yet you need to go to the church to see exactly where they are. Is there a "gay marriage", "abortion", "tithing", "premarital sex", etc.... (All the biggies) sort of list so that someone could weed out what they aren't interested in?

Yes and no. Yes, there are some churches that are "confessional." That is, they hold firmly to a specific confession of faith. You would be able to ascertain what they believe about the majority of important issues before you even walk through the doors. Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian are among the most well-known churches in America that fall into that category. They tend to hold to some well-known confession and/or ascribe to a catechism (authoritative answers to a variety of doctrinal questions). However, you have rightly observed that even among confessional churches, there are often different groups. The Presbyterians have a more conservative branch (PCA) and a more liberal branch (PCUSA). The Lutherans have a conservative branch (WELS), a middle of the road branch (LCMS), and a more liberal branch (ELCA). Even so, within these particular distinctions, there is not much variation between individual congregations on what they believe about particular "hot button" issues. You can just do a quick search on the internet and get an idea what these groups believe (I quickly tested it with the PCA and PCUSA and found plenty of info) and the congregations in your area will almost certainly hold to these beliefs.

On the other hand, while Assemblies of God, Episcopal/Anglican, Baptists (other than Reformed Baptists) and Methodists have basic statements of beliefs, they tend to allow for some amount of individual church autonomy. So, one may be very liberal and another very conservative. And I am not just talking about what the pastors believe. Even if the pastor would candidly give conservative answers to the tough questions, his congregation might be largely unaware of his positions. These denominations will all basically affirm the main points of traditional Christianity reflected in the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed; although some (like Baptists and AofG) will not usually appeal to the creeds. In any event, it will not always be possible to know ahead of time what they might believe about certain "hot button" issues.

With all of that said, I wouldn't say that a confessional church is objectively better than a non-confessional congregation or vice-versa. You may find that you enjoy the consistency and clear doctrinal teaching of a confessional church, but you might not agree with them across the board. As a layperson, that may not be an issue. However, if you were going to teach, preach, or represent that denomination in any way, it would be very important. On the other hand, you might find it frustrating to search for a non-confessional church that suits all of your particular theological leanings, but you might like the freedom that they allow in non-essential issues.

All of that lengthy exposition to basically say... it just depends on what you are looking for. Confessional churches will require less time, research, and awkwardness in order to find out what they believe on these issues. With non-confessional churches you will just have to figure it out on a case by case basis.

A question I have had for a while is the issue of Christian getting tattoos. I realize many things have changed since the Old Testament, but would the idea of a Christian getting a tattoo (even a Christian one) fall into the New Testament category of not blending in with the world?

The New Covenant follower of Christ is not bound to the letter of the Old Covenant Law, and as such, the apparent prohibition against tattoos is not applicable. I say "apparent," because I do not think that Moses could have conceived of the modern process of tattooing. What seems to be in mind in the Leviticus 19:28 is the process of mutilating the body as a sign of mourning--a pagan practice--not decorating it by adding pigment in particular patterns. For example, it seems clear that piercings were acceptable for women. Speaking of the redemption of Israel, (and by extension, of all true Israel), God says, "I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head." I think that is more comparable to the modern practice of tattooing than what was forbidden in the Law. Furthermore, I specifically say that we are not bound to the "letter" of the Law because we are still obligated to observe the principle of the Law--since they were given to reveal God's holiness and our desperate need for a Savior. You are right to point out that we should not be actively seeking the approval of the world. However, if a person is getting tattoos purely for the sake of popularity or gaining the approval of the world, the real problem is not in the his skin, but in his heart. The good news is that by Grace, the blood of Jesus purifies hearts and justifies them to God. And so, a person who has gotten tattoos, even for totally wrong reasons, has nothing to be ashamed of before God if they are in Christ.  

Even so, I will leave you with one additional thought. As someone who has 3 tattoos, I can say that I still do not think getting tattoos is the wisest decision. Consider my friends who, like me, wanted to get tattoos when we were younger and/or playing in the band, but unlike me, they never got a tattoo. I think they made the wiser decision. To a certain extent, getting the tattoos puts me "in a box." That is ironic, because everyone who gets tattoos thinks they are breaking out of the box (there is some deep spiritual gold to be mined in that). But, people will inevitably think certain things about me when they see me at the pool with my son or wearing a pair of shorts (which I cannot do at work). Does that mean that I regret getting them? No, not necessarily. They mean a lot to me (I have a Lion, Paschal lamb and a lamp post that says "Every New Day"). I didn't get them to impress people. Most people never see them. And one day, I may even get the last one that I originally planned on getting (to complete the theme I was going for), but have not been able to afford. But if you don't have any, I would suggest that it is a much wiser decision to stay tattoo-less (apologies to my friends who tattoo people for a living). The question is not whether or not it is acceptable for a Christian to get a tattoo. The real question should be: "is it wise for me to get one?" Hope those thoughts help out.


1 comment:

  1. Love reading these. I agree with the tattoo sentiment. I love looking at the artwork in tattoos and appreciate the work that goes into them. I would never get one myself, as I don't know what I would want to "permanently" put on my flesh as well as I tend to change my mind and might regret the decision.