Did the Resurrection Happen?

One of the great issues - perhaps THE great issue - facing Protestant Christianity today is the loss of a coherent and unifying authority in some quarters of the church.  While Roman Catholicism has long since vested authority in the Magisterium of the church (that is, the popes and bishops), Protestantism was born precisely by an appeal to authority of the Bible (rightly interpreted) over and against fallible human authorities (like individual popes).

The challenges to maintaining the traditional Protestant appeal to Biblical authority (and even being clear on what that does and does not mean) are several and complex, and I'll not go into them all here.  One issue from early on has been agreeing on how to properly interpret the Bible even once we have agreed that it's teachings are the word of God and are therefore authoritative.  So even the first generation of Protestants - all pointing to Biblical authority - had some disagreements about the nature of the sacraments.  

In more recent generations (sometimes) well-meaning scholars have qualified and redefined and circumvented Biblical authority to such an extent that - for those under the sway of such scholarship, including many seminary-trained clergy - the Bible in practice no longer functions as a moral or theological authority to which we must submit our ideas and our lives.  This is why we now have arguments simmering in the various historic Protestant churches about not only sexual morality (that is merely the loudest argument, and not actually the most important), but also about the nature of humanity, sin, and salvation, and the uniqueness of Christian revelation, and of Christ as the only Savior.

Against this backdrop it is no surprise that some insightful scholars have given renewed attention to authority and how it functions - under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit - within the life of the church.

I am completely convinced - with Scholars like Tom Oden, Billy Abraham, and others - that God did not simply give us a Biblical revelation and then leave us "on our own" to figure it out (though a great many seem to operate as if that were the case).  A simple reading of the promises of Christ in the discourses of John 13-17 or of the whole Book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is the guide and teacher of the Church on earth.  The Holy Spirit helps the community to clarify confusing issues and to discern God's will.  This the Spirit has been doing for some 2,000 years now, and we need only pay attention to what "the Spirit has been saying to the churches" to gain clarity on how to interpret Scripture and understand what God is revealing to us.

Tom Oden wrote of a "rebirth of orthodoxy" - a return by contemporary Christians to a posture of humble listening to what the Spirit has been teaching the great saints and martyrs down through the ages.  Orthodoxy is that Spirit-led consensus across the church and across the ages on great matters of faith.  In my own United Methodist Church (as in the Anglican tradition in which Methodism first arose) the orthodox faith is enshrined and held forth in our established liturgy, our classic hymnody, our officially established standards of doctrine - such as the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith - and in our way of ordering the church, modified from the ancient model of a holy people led by bishops, presbyters and deacons, under the Lordship of Christ and guidance of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

These official doctrinal statements are examples of that Spirit-led orthodoxy that has been held in common across the churches and across the centuries precisely because they simply restate and elaborate upon the ancient ecumenical creeds and theological formulations, as well the major teachings of the Reformers (many of which have become accepted by Roman Catholicism as well in the last century).

I firmly believe that the only way to heal the wounds and disunity that now plagues Christianity - and historic Protestantism especially - is to recommit ourselves to Christian orthodoxy as a gift from the Holy Spirit.  So you can see why I am especially excited about the emergence of several movements among United Methodists today, such as the "Seedbed" video series and the new blog "United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy."

'UM Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy' (now linked on my sidebar) has a number of good articles exploring the basic doctrinal commitments of The United Methodist Church and of the universal (catholic) Church more generally.  A recent post: "Did the Resurrection Happen" is a great example of the kind of clarity amid confusion that the Spirit can give to us when we are willing to accept what he has been teaching down through the ages.  While some in the church have endeavored to "redefine" the astonishing claims of our faith so that these claims can "make sense to the (post)modern man," this post draws upon the historical understanding of the Spirit-led church to quickly and logically demonstrate why these "redefinitions" are inconsistent with the Gospels and why the "(post)modern man" should be able to find the Resurrection both plausible and enticing.

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