“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.” [Matthew 27:50-53]
I am a Bible literalist: where God’s Word purports to be stating something literally, I believe it. “Let God be true and every man a liar” wrote Paul in Romans 3:4. Some things in the Bible are clearly not literal, but figurative, including poetry and parables, but the assertion that some deceased Christians rose from the dead upon the death of Jesus Christ is stated as a hard fact. To attempt to “spiritualize” that fact to appease doubters (including yourself) is to call God a liar or to say the Bible is not trustworthy. Either way, you’re guilty of blasphemy, which is, literally, “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” That’s Merriam-Webster’s definition – a source we tend to trust, even though dictionaries are only as reliable as the humans who edit them (a scary thought, especially when one includes Wikipedia).
We’ve just celebrated what we call “Easter,” which many Protestants prefer to call Resurrection Day to disassociate it from Easter’s occultic pagan roots and themselves from Roman Catholic traditions, but which Bible literalists call The Feast of First Fruits. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Leviticus 23:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-23.
My problem with the “Reformation,” which shattered Roman Catholic religious hegemony into a thousand independent Christian factions, was that it didn’t try to re-found the church on its original first-century foundations, but only reached back to Augustine’s fifth-century traditions, which were Greco-Roman, or “Hellenic,” and not Hebrew. For that reason most of the modern denominations share various human-created presuppositions and perspectives about the Bible that were “baked in” to Christianity from the second through the fourth centuries.
These presuppositions and perspectives aren’t necessarily wrong in their essence – celebrating “Easter,” or “Resurrection Day,” is still celebrating the same events and honoring God – but they rob the believer of true clarity of sight, like watching a television show through a gauze curtain while wearing sunglasses. Much of the fine detail, nuance and context is obscured.
Thankfully, once freedom of religious inquiry was made possible on a grand scale by Luther and Calvin’s rebellion, the first-century reality of “the Priesthood of all believers in Christ” was restored to Christendom and exploded across the world. Out of that came the bottom-up “presbyterian” alternative to top-down “episcopal” church life, grounded in the concepts of individual freedom and equality in Christ, which then spilled out into the secular world in such philosophies as the social contract and constitutionalism. Our beloved (formerly) Bible-based America was only made possible by these things.
With those changes came the greater need for reliance on the Bible itself instead of church teachings and traditions. Calvin called it “Sola Scriptura” but one needn’t be a Calvinist to be Bible-centered in one’s faith and practice.
Now back to the “Easter” miracle of the walking dead. The birth of religious freedom in the Reformation was like the tearing of the veil before the Holy of Holies, which literally ended the Hebrew restriction of access to God’s throne only through a High Priest. Because of that we can each individually come boldly into God’s throne room (Hebrews 4:16) without the necessity of any human intermediary. Further, the effect of the Reformation was also like breaking open the tombs of imprisonment to church dogma and setting loose “deceased” Christian believers who then walked among the living with an unimpeachable testimony of deliverance.
This might seem like Catholic-bashing, but it’s not. For one thing, the Reformation spurred major changes in Catholicism itself. The Roman Catholic Church today is not the same as it was then. Moreover, it is obvious to me that God chose the RCC as the primary vehicle for carrying Christianity across the centuries of the Age of the Gentiles, and it did so (largely) faithfully, showing through the lives of its best members exemplary piety and godliness, and through its works such as the great cathedrals of Europe a true reverence for and dedication to the cause of Christ. Is it an organization of flawed human beings, including many during its history with demonic influence? Quite obviously. Is it an entity wholly and ever given over to work of Satan? Obviously not.
More importantly in my theology, Christians are as free to exercise their liberty in Christ to choose the Roman Catholic denomination as they are to follow the Mosaic law in Messianic Judaism or to emphasize the gifts of the Spirit in Pentecostalism or to adhere to the Baptist Distinctives or the Calvinist TULIP or the Seventh Day Adventist Sabbatarianism. For if, as I believe, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 10:9-10, 13), and nothing can separate a saved Christian from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39), who has promised to complete the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6), then the rest is really “non-essentials.” Not unimportant, but also not a deal-breaker for God. If your faith for salvation is in Mary, you’re in deep trouble, but if your faith is in Christ, your reverence for Mary as a specially blessed but nonetheless fellow sinner saved by grace is laudatory.
What I wish we would ask each other instead of “what denomination are you?” is “how much of what you believe is the result of your own diligent searching for the truth of God and how much is just blind submission to someone else’s assertion of authority in spiritual matters?” (Philippians 2:12)
This brings me finally back to the walking dead of Matthew 27 and the test of faith it represents. I will let Paul himself address you on this point (who might possibly have had these walking dead in mind when he wrote this): “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your faith. In that case, we are also exposed as false witnesses about God. For we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead, but He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:12-16).
What you believe about the dead raised upon Jesus’ death is very much a test of your faith.
Did you pass?
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