Category Archives: Features

Paul Walker: Resurrecting Our Belief in the Resurrection of the Body

By Pastor Paul Walker

The Apostles’ Creed Through 2016

What happens after you die? We might say, “You go to heaven when you die.” But that leads to other questions.

What is heaven like? There is no shortage of speculations. Some people imagine the Pearly Gates of heaven suspended high in the clouds. Those who are welcomed past the Pearly Gates are treated to bright lights, smooth Jazz, halos, and harps.

Others think of the lyrics of vacating this earth: “To that home on God’s celestial shore. I’ll fly away.” And still others struggle with any sort of vision of life after death.

How will we ever find clarity and understanding? As a starting point, we should resist the urge to say too little and too much about life after death. If we say too little, we risk missing out on the truth; if we say too much, we risk distorting the message of hope.

This is why we need to recapture a fresh vision of what both the Creeds and Scriptures teach us on life after death, and life after life after death. Faithfulness to Scripture and Creed can help us navigate the rough waters of confusion and caricature.

What Do Scripture and Creed Teach Us?

For starters, they teach the resurrection of the dead as the ultimate hope of the Redeemed. Our bodies will be glorified and recreated in the same manner that Jesus’ crucified body rose from the grave on Easter morning. This is not a disembodied soul going to heaven when you die. The resurrection of the body is properly not about life after death, but life after life after death. It is the promise of New Creation.

Now you might think, “How does that fit in with going to heaven when you die?” Well, while heaven may be a temporary place for the soul, heaven is not the ultimate destiny of the redeemed. As N. T. Wright notes, “Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world.” Let’s explore this further.

The Nature of Heaven

Heaven was created alongside earth in the beginning (Gen. 1:1) and will be “recreated” alongside the earth for union at the end of the age (Rev. 21-22). An ancient Jewish thinking saw Heaven as a physical place above the earth, and the abode of God. It’s perhaps best to view Heaven as not so much a physical location, but a realm and a dimension that exists both alongside and separate from ours in a mysterious interlocking relationship.

Heaven is a place where believers go in death. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this when he writes “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), or speaks of his desire to “be with Christ” upon death (Phil. 1:23).

While heaven is the dwelling place for the soul, the weight of Scripture points to an eventual future embodied resurrection of the dead, and not a disembodied existence apart from the earth. Heaven is a temporary resting place for the souls of the saints. Heaven and Earth will one day be joined as one in the culmination of the New Creation. John, the writer of Revelation, describes such a union with his description of the new Jerusalem descending from heaven to launch the new age (Rev. 21-22).

The Biblical Hope of Resurrection

The resurrection of body does not imply a disembodied soul escaping to heaven for eternity. As N.T. Wright puts it, “Resurrection isn’t a fancy way of saying, ‘going to heaven when you die’. It is not about the ‘life after death’ as such. Rather, it’s way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead. Resurrection is a second-stage postmortem life: ‘life after life after death’.”

The Creed says that our bodies will become like Christ’s resurrected body. It is a bold reminder that the New Creation that was launched on Easter morning, as Jesus burst forth from the tomb, will no longer be the “not yet” for those who wait upon the Lord. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21).

The resurrection of the body is God creating for us physical, glorified, and immortal bodies that can participate in the New Creation in which there is no longer any death or decay. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). This will take place when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead at the end of this age (Is. 65-66, 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Rev. 20-22).

Does the Resurrection of the Body Matter?

Firstly, it teaches us that God has not given up on the mission of rescue and renewal. The biblical hope boldly proclaims God has been in the process of putting the world to rights, bringing order to chaos, and establishing shalom to our violent disordered world. The resurrection of the body is God’s supreme act of rescue from the curse of death.

Christmas reminds us of this! We are reminded that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to rescue and renew us. God assumed the likeness of sinful human nature (Rom. 8:3) in the person of Jesus Christ to heal us of the curse.

As the Christmas carol Joy to the World declares, “He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found!” Christmas reminds us that Christ came to overthrow the curse of death by entering our cursedness

and overcoming it in the power of resurrection. We who are united with Christ, our rescuer, now await our final rescue through the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Secondly, it reminds that this world matters. Unlike the Gnostic inclination to devalue the material world around us, Christians confess that this is our Father’s world. A belief in the resurrection of the body is also a belief in our restored relationship to rightly rule and reign with Christ over God’s good creation.

This is why the Apostle Paul so closely connects the liberation of creation to the redemption of the children of God in Romans 8. When humans are put right, all of creation will be put right. God’s rescue project is more than just for individuals, but for all of creation.

This has huge implications for how we treat our Father’s world today. God’s work of New Creation has already been inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ, and in us through our baptisms. We as Christians ought to begin to live now in this age, the “not yet” promise of the age to come. This should challenge us to adjust our actions and attitudes towards the material world.

Lastly, it is a blessed hope for those whose are grieving the loss of their health. Our current bodies are wasting away, corruptible, and susceptible to disease and destruction. As a pastor I’ve sat with many people whose bodies were in various stages of giving out on them. The resurrection of the body reminds us that though we may grieve our current bodily failings, our future resurrected bodies will not fail us nor hinder us. Instead, let us look forward to the day where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).

Thanks be to God! Maranatha!

Paul Walker
Paul Walker
Resources Consulted
Justin S. Holcomb, Know the Creeds and Councils, 2014
Michael F. Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed, 2016
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 2008; Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 2006; Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues, 2014

Layton Friesen: You Are a Pacifist and You Called the Police?

by Layton Friesen

If someone broke into your house, wouldn’t you call the police?” This question is often used as a handy trump card to dispense with pacifism, but it actually presents little problem to Mennonite pacifism.

Our broad Anabaptist tradition—with the notable exception of Balthasar Hubmaierhas had the moxie to claim that while the good of society may sometimes need the use of force, and while we may even depend on military or police defense for our own well-being as pacifists, we ourselves will not swing the sword. Others will.

The Anabaptist pacifist tradition, until recently, has not been absolutely anti-war or anti-police. Read the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. It says the sword is “ordained of God” and “punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good.” So far, that’s basic just war thinking.

We cannot appeal to the tradition here to denounce every military or police action. Mennonites have generally assumed that a certain amount of killing is necessary to keep evildoers from ruining the world.

An Elite Special-Task Force

But while Mennonites have not called for the abolishing of armies, they have also seen that you cannot announce God’s good news while killing people. Mennonites have thus seen the Church as an elite, heroic, special task-force unit within God’s wider providence sent on a limited mission. We do not claim to be the totality of everything God is doing in the world, and we do not claim to know exactly how God is using our special mission within his Kingdom, but Christ has told us to exempt ourselves from killing in order to evangelize the world.

Our pacifism does not claim to be the solution to all the world’s immediate problems. It is a gesture towards the Kingdom of God that is in lock step with Jesus now redeeming the world—that’s all. In order to carry out this special task within the larger providential care of God for the world, we give up the right to kill people even for reasons of social order.

Try this analogy. Many countries recognize that doctors, politicians, clergy or others need to be exempt from combat in order to maintain the long-term viability of society. If all doctors are sent to combat, the nation will be crippled by disease; thus they can be exempt from fighting. A similar claim is made by Mennonites. God has a destiny of reconciliation in store for the world that someone needs to proclaim and live towards. Those on this mission have no weapons but love and forgiveness. It does not even occur to us that you could do what Christ leads us to do by killing people.

Short- And Long-Term Solutions for Evil

God has both short-term and long-term solutions for evil. War is apparently a necessary short-term solution to keep a lid on chaos. To simply abolish killing is naïve, for now. But killing will never redeem the world—it’s a bloody mess that only breeds more hatred. It’s only a stop-gap measure given by God to create a measure of time and space for the Church to proclaim the Gospel.

But the Church has a specific vocation within God’s long-term plan of ridding the world of evil for good. In order to be faithful to this long-term project, we have to free ourselves from some parts of the short-term plan. By preaching the gospel, by creating church communities of vulnerability and forgiveness, by working to restore justice in a zillion ways, and by refusing to kill, we put on a drama, quite the theatre, of the Kingdom of God, overcoming the world and its war—eventually.

We are the shape, the figure of Christ in the world, Gethsemane-bent in suffering love. That is our elite mission, our heroic task in the providence of God: watching, waiting, worshipping, praying, loving, evangelizing and suffering in union with the Saviour.

Our Mission is Not God’s Sum Total

And our mission is not the sum total of what God is doing in the world. God’s hands move within the world in hidden, dark places, outside the Church. In his mysterious wisdom states, kings, and armies end up doing God’s will. Their own hell-bent idolatry and savagery and God’s calm use of them seem to coexist in God’s providence. Wars can be a servant of God’s will, though again, it is foolish to draw too clear a line from the war to the will of God.

The NT Basis for Missional Pacifism

The New Testament basis for this missional pacifism is simple. First, the sum total of our existence as humans is now to preach the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:31-33). Second, Christ bids us to follow him in the total abandonment of killing even for the benefit of society—that’s what the Kingdom looks like right now in its hidden fruitfulness within the world (Luke 6:27-31; John 16:20-22). Third, the New Testament never condemns the state’s use of the sword. In fact, the sword in the hands of the state is praised and appealed to by Christians themselves as an instrument of God to bring justice to the world (Acts 23:16-24; Rom. 13:1-4).

Implications

This does not mean that Christians cannot be involved in government, though some Mennonites have drawn this conclusion. The New Testament forbids Christians to kill; it does not forbid them to take leadership in their communities where this can serve the Church’s mission. Our modern welfare state provides many good ways to serve the world without being directly involved in killing.

This does not mean we cannot actively oppose unjust wars, military actions, or police brutality. God has not given governments a blank cheque to kill whomever they will. It may be that as the human community develops better methods of justice and conflict resolution, war will become like slavery, useless and stupid.

We should use whatever wits we have to find more peaceful, humane and effective ways of resolving conflict. For example, “restorative justice” is in many cases a vastly better form of justice than brute punishment. Capital punishment is an antiquated, ineffective, brutal way of solving crime. Romans 13 does not require us to keep it on the books. There’s no reason we can’t point that out in public.

When we do oppose a military action though, we should not simply say, “Christians do not kill; therefore neither should the military.” We should know the situation in, say, Syria, and point out exactly how a military action there will be useless or unjust. We have to provide factual knowledge of a specific action, not just general condemnations about armies and swords.

There will always be grey areas, murky places where discernment is hard and we are not sure how the Church’s vocation and the world’s sword relate. That in itself is not a weakness—any true Kingdom ethic will sync with society in fits and starts. I would rather be inconsistent than wrong.

This pacifism makes no sense if the Church is not proclaiming Christ to the world. It is not merely an “ethic” or a “moral,” though it is that. Pacifism is one of the necessary conditions of the Church carrying out the Great Commission.

There are other pacifisms, but this older Anabaptist version seems to me to deal with both the place of the sword in the state and the rejection of killing that Christ bids his followers to do. I invite all to join me in discerning this vocation of the Church. Can this be sharpened, pointed and fueled more fruitfully?

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

Layton Friesen, ThD (candidate), is an EMC minister who has served as co-pastor of Crestview Fellowship and as senior pastor at Fort Garry EMC. He is a columnist within this magazine and is our conference’s representative to the Mennonite World Conference. He lives in Winnipeg.

Dr. Darryl Klassen: Teaching the Christ-Centred Gospel

by Dr. Darryl G. Klassen

EMC Convention 2016

For the past half-century or more the North American Church has promoted a gospel that emphasizes getting saved.

While salvation is certainly important, the focus on getting a ticket to heaven has left many wondering what value the gospel has for this present life. Do we give the impression that believing in Jesus is only about eternal life?

Somewhere in the history of our church-culture a shift has taken place that convinced us that we need to get people to make decisions for Jesus. But did Jesus say we should go and make converts—or make disciples?

The new Vision Statement for the EMC says in part, “We envision teaching the gospel with a Christ-centred approach to Scripture, affirming Anabaptist convictions.” If we are to take this vision to heart, we need to consider how we truly define “gospel.”

An Apostolic Pattern

To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must follow the Apostolic Pattern handed down to us. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we read about Paul’s intense concern that Timothy hold on to the gospel.

Paul knew that Timothy was struggling to preach the gospel of Christ according to the apostles’ teaching. Certain parties wanted to add to the gospel and to make it more relevant. Timothy felt this pressure and grew ashamed of the gospel.

It is no wonder then that Paul was quite blunt with Timothy and his timidity about the gospel. If the gospel appeared weak because Paul was in prison, Paul responded, “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

So Paul writes to encourage Timothy, to bolster what is in danger of growing weak. He reminds him of the source of the gospel: “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

What the Gospel is Not

We struggle with similar temptations, and you would think that we would all agree on how we define the gospel. But I have come to discover that there is quite a broad spectrum when people speak of the gospel. We do not all agree.

What are some wrong conceptions of the gospel?

First, most of us have grown up with the conception that the gospel is about personal salvation. Second, our predominant understanding of the gospel comes from Paul’s letters where he presented the essence of the gospel as “justification by faith.”Third, if the gospel means justification by faith, why didn’t Jesus preach in those terms?

The end result is that the word “gospel” has been hijacked to mean “personal salvation.” This is why we focus on making a decision, why conversion experiences trump the process of discipleship, and why gospel as we know it is different than what it meant to Jesus and the apostles.

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Credit: Jessica Wichers

What is the Gospel?

If you want a nutshell of the gospel, Paul told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8). The gospel Paul refers to can be found more fully represented in 1 Cor. 15:1-5. These are perhaps the oldest known lines of the gospel. Before there was a New Testament, this was the gospel. For Paul, the gospel did not begin at Matthew 1:1, but in Genesis.

It was in this manner that Paul preached the gospel of Jesus. Every sermon in Acts and every New Testament writer saw this gospel as part of a larger narrative. What was that gospel?

The Story of Israel

The Story of Israel, or the Story of the Bible, begins this odyssey that is the Gospel. We know the essential parts of this story: Adam and Eve sinning, the calling of Abraham and the choosing of a people, Israel’s failure to be a missional people and testify to God’s purposes. The important thing is to note how this not only sets up the gospel, but is, in reality, “the good news of God” in that He kept speaking into our world despite the failure of humankind to obey His commandments.

The Story of Jesus

The story of Jesus is the story of God sending His Son to establish His Messiah or Christ, and to finally establish His kingdom. Now, we cannot understand this part of the story without understanding the Story of Israel. The Story of Jesus is first and foremost a resolution of Israel’s story, and because the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel, it saves.

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Credit: Jessica Wichers

The Plan of Salvation

Then we can talk about the Plan of Salvation for it flows out of the Story of Israel as completed in the Story of Jesus. The Plan of Salvation is not the gospel. The Gospel cannot be reduced to four spiritual laws or five points. If we do, we will find that men and women will get “saved,” but they won’t have a clue about discipleship, or justice, or obedience.

Anabaptists believe that Christ is the centre of Scripture. If you believe that, then you will read Scripture with Christ as your lens. You will see that all Scripture speaks to the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

Guard the Content

To teach the Christ-centred Gospel we must guard the content of this teaching. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14).

How do we guard the gospel?

Entrust The Gospel

Entrust the gospel to faithful people who will carefully handle its truths. Paul tells Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). You are Christ’s representatives when you live your life with Jesus as Lord. In short, the Story of the Gospel continues with you.

Endure the Suffering

Endure the suffering that will surely come from holding to this gospel. The time that Paul predicted when people will not put up with sound doctrine seems constant in every generation. Sound doctrine, the true Gospel, does not resonate with those who have a different agenda. To suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and hold on to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). This is happening even within the Church.

The Gospel Story, that Jesus Christ is Lord, the fulfillment of all that God purposed for our lives, will be rejected by those who think it is too judgmental, too exclusive, too simplistic or too theological. Are you ready to suffer as Paul did for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

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Credit: Jessica Wichers

Proclaim the Gospel

Faithfully proclaim the gospel story. Guarding the gospel is not achieved by burying it or keeping quiet about it. Proclaiming the Gospel preserves it as well as declares it. This is critical; in the face of a hostile world that cannot grasp its own lostness and a God who has entrusted us with this incredible message, we cannot be quiet.

darryl-klassen
Dr. Darryl Klassen

Into every facet of life, the messy and rough situations of marital breakdown, and personally self-destructive tendencies, speak Jesus as Lord into those places. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word!” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).

Dr. Darryl G. Klassen is the senior pastor of Kleefeld EMC. This article is based on his message of Saturday, July 2, at the EMC’s 2016 national convention.

Dr. Harvey Plett: “I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins.”

by Dr. Harvey Plett

The Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed is a profound summary of the essence of the Christian faith. It is brief, concise but does not elaborate the meaning of the various statements.

This statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is, in the estimate of the writer, the essential essence of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel, no redemption, but only condemnation. Without forgiveness we would not be able to have a relationship with God.

The only way to bring humankind back into relationship with God is forgiveness. Similarly, in order for me to have a relationship with a fellow human who has hurt me I need to forgive that hurt whether that person repents or not though our relationship will not be restored unless the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrong and seeks forgiveness (Mk. 11:25).

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is taking the wrongs done to you, absorbing the consequences, letting them go and not holding them against the perpetrator whether the person repents or not and thus removing my side of the barrier that hinders our relationship.

Jesus came to redeem us. The only way He could do that was by forgiving us. And to forgive us He had to take the consequences of our sins against Him, absorb them, and then let us go free. His death on the cross was His way of forgiving us. He had to experience the separation from God. On the cross He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Those were the consequences of our sin against God and the cost of forgiveness.

In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” And in Colossians 1:13-14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Much more could be said but here we have a concise definition of redemption: “the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary death. He did it because that is the only way forgiveness was possible. All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. So by His death Jesus wiped out death and brought forgiveness.

Let’s apply it to our life. If you forgive someone who has ruined your reputation, what happens? You accept the ruined reputation and let the one who has done it go free; you do not hold it against him nor do you seek justice. That briefly is what forgiveness is. It is substitutional; the one sinned against absorbs the hurt and pain of the evil done and does not hold it against the guilty party. This is what Jesus did.

The Bible says the soul that sins will die. He has brought forgiveness, but it doesn’t become yours until you accept it. To accept it means you acknowledge you have done wrong, are sorry for it and ask for forgiveness. And then Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We are then free and in relationship with our Saviour.

What About Repentance?

That is very essential, but not for the forgiver. If the guilty one wishes to experience forgiveness than she or he will have to confess and repent of the wrong done and seek forgiveness. The hurt party forgives whether the guilty party repents or not.

But if the one who is guilty wants to experience forgiveness in his or her life, that person must repent. So the person repents, apologizes and asks forgiveness. The forgiver does what a friend of mine did to a repentant person. He said, “I have forgiven you a long time ago.” But you go on to say, “Yes I forgive you gladly. I forgave you already but I am happy you are seeking the forgiveness for yourself.”

At that point the final step in forgiveness can happen—reconciliation. The forgiver has already forgiven, but full reconciliation can only happen if the guilty party repents and seeks forgiveness.

What about Restoration?

For example, what happens to what was stolen? The forgiver forgives and does not demand repayment. If the guilty party offers restitution, the forgiver receives it not so much for himself but to help the guilty party find peace and freedom.

Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing

The hurt party forgives, for this is necessary to be healed. If one does not forgive, one will struggle with bitterness, anger, and avoid the wrongdoer. So forgiveness in this sense is therapeutic. It brings healing to your soul and will help one to love the wrongdoer.

The wrongdoer must repent and seek forgiveness to become free and move toward healed relationships. We will not forget some of the serious hurts we forgive, but when the memory comes we decide to not indulge in those memories but set them aside because we have forgiven them.

In forgiveness the wrongdoer and the forgiver each has or her his part. Each can only do his or her part. The forgiver forgives whether that is accepted or not. The sinner repents to experience that forgiveness. Forgiveness is complete when this happens. This is what is modeled by Christ forgiving the repentant sinner. Christ has died for all. Forgiveness is available for all but only those who respond to the offer of forgiveness experience that forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a Decision

You have to decide to forgive just as Jesus decided to forgive our sins and then took the consequences—death. But forgiveness becomes ours only as we acknowledge the wrong we have done, repent, and ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is my decision to absorb evil done to me and not hold it against the doer. This gives me peace in my soul. For the wrongdoer to experience that forgiveness, the wrongdoer must repent, confess and acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness.

This forgiveness now makes it possible for reconciliation between the two. It may take time to move forward for the forgiver as well as it may take time for reconciliation to come to completion. But forgiveness makes that possible as one commits oneself to walk in forgiveness.

This is the will of God. Rejoice in the forgiveness of Jesus and, with the resurrection power that is yours because you have Jesus (Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 1:3), walk in continual forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.

Here are some key biblical references that speak to forgiveness: Matt. 5:23-24; 6:12, 14-15; Mk. 11:25; Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:12-13. Why not study them personally or in a group.

We are to follow Jesus’ example. He forgave our sins through His death before we repented and we experience that forgiveness only if we repent and accept it. You and I are too always forgive the person who does wrong to us whether the other person repents or not. That is loving the other. The one who did the wrong needs to repent if he or she wants to experience forgiveness. When that happens, reconciliation and a renewed relationship become possible and should emerge.

Dr. Harvey Plett
Dr. Harvey Plett

Dr. Harvey Plett has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching,

counseling and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on August 22, 2016.