Many of the things we do have become so traditional and commonplace that we don’t think about when they started and why. One of those things is the practice of Christians gathering on Sundays for “worship” or “church”. After all, Christians have been gathering on Sundays for almost 2000 years!
But why? It isn’t that difficult to figure out from a thematic, theological position, but what is the history? And why is that important?
We are approaching another Easter so the topic of the resurrection is top of mind this time of year. Of course, the resurrection of Jesus is the answer to the questions I have posed.
Christians gather on Sundays because Sunday was the day of the resurrection according to the Gospel accounts (all four of them). While we take the Sunday gatherings for granted (unless you are a Seventh Day Adventist), the change from Saturday gatherings to Sunday gatherings has historical significance that supports the resurrection as an historical fact.
Easter is just around the corner so thinking about the Christian claim that a man from Nazareth in 1st Century Palestine died and rose from the dead three days later is a timely consideration. The accounts of this event don’t read like mere story or legend. They have all the characteristics of Greek biographies that are to be considered historical accounts.
Many modern scholars accept the Gospels as part of the Greco-Roman biography genre (focusing on the similarities), while others find them uniquely Jewish (focusing on the differences). Overarching this ongoing debate is the apparent intent of the authors to assert a factual, historical narrative. This is true even though they include fantastic claims of miracles and the resurrection and all of the theological statements, most of which are penned as coming from Jesus, himself.
From early to mid-19th Century, much of the biblical scholarship has leaned in a skeptical direction, and that inertia has continued robustly into the 21st Century. That scholarly trend has produced a progressive consensus that has viewed the Gospels, for instance, as 2nd Century manuscripts, written generations after Jesus lived and died, morphing the original message into something akin to legend. And, this, they say, accounts for the message of the resurrection.
This view begins with skepticism and ends with a skeptical conclusion explaining the resurrection claim by embellishment that comes with the passage of time. This was the consensus view when I studied religion in the 1970’s. But one man, wrestling with his own doubts, took the facts the skeptics would give him and pieced together an analysis that seems to nail the coffin shut on the view that the resurrection claim is a later embellishment of what the first followers of Jesus believed.
I became a believer, and then a follower, of Jesus Christ in college. It wasn’t just academic for me, though the beginning of my life as a believer and follower of Jesus began in an academic environment and was shaped and influenced by academics. I think that’s why I like the academic pursuit of faith even now, over 30 years later.
It’s important for me to be mindful that faith is not purely an intellectual affair. I think I may differ from many people in that respect, but I need to constantly be reminded of it. Faith is a relationship with the Living God; faith is a life and heart commitment; faith triggers action and change or it isn’t real faith.
I know that the words intellectual and faith probably don’t fit together in the minds of some people. Some people see those terms as opposites. They aren’t, but they can chaff with each other at times. Intellectualism, for instance, really does get in the way of faith (more so in fact than the other way around). Faith and intellectual pursuit can be perfectly compatible unless we compartmentalize them and pit them against each other.
According to Dr. Gary Habermas, Paul cites a number of early Christian creeds in his letters, and Peter cites one as well. Of first importance is 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. The other creeds include 1 Corinthians 11:26; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 4:25; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; and 1 Peter 3:18. Other scholars identify creeds in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; Romans 1:3-4; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:8; and Philippians 2:6-11.[ii]
The importance of these creeds is that they include the earliest message of the church following the death of Jesus. They reveal the most fundamental and central message of the early followers of Jesus. The significance of these creeds, then, can’t be understated, and they all have one theme – the death and resurrection of Jesus. Continue reading “The Message in the Earliest Creeds in the New Testament”→
The resurrection is the centerpiece of Christianity. If Jesus did not arise from the dead, everything is for naught. If He didn’t rise from the dead, he would be just a man. If he was just a man, he wasn’t even a wise man (like Ghandi or Khalil Gibran); he was a madman or a liar because no wise man is confused about his deity.
Most modern scholars accept, at a minimum, that the people who followed Jesus in the 1st Century believed that He arose from the dead and appeared to them in his body after his death. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, recounting a list of people who had seen Jesus alive after His death on the cross, including more than five hundred (500), some of whom Paul said were still alive.
Think about that: about 35 years after Jesus died, most of more than five hundred people who claimed to see Jesus risen from the dead in his body were still alive.