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Central UMC Blog

The Pastor's Corner: Matters of Creed:I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting

Posted by Dr. Steven K. Pulliam on

With this entry, we come to the end of our blog series focusing on The Apostles’ Creed. By no means have Dr. Jan Davis and I covered everything there is to say about the creeds. Innumerable volumes have been written on these foundational beliefs of the Christian faith.  In fact, the creeds themselves do not say everything there is to say about the Christian life and faith. In ancient times, these summary statements of the faith were used to instruct candidates for their baptism, which took place on Easter. The statements of belief would be posed as questions.  For example, candidates would be asked, “Do you believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary?” and they would respond, “Yes, we do so believe.” They would then be asked the next question from the creed, “Do you believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died and was buried?” Again, they would answer, “Yes, we do so believe.” Following this series of questions, the candidates were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1]

For this last blog entry, the focus is on the Church’s belief “in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” The creed has already affirmed the belief that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. This is important, because as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being: for as all die in Adam so will all be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, NRSV). In sum, what happened to Jesus will happen to us. We, too, can live with this great anticipation that we will be raised from the dead. Pastor and scholar Matt O’Reilly observe, “For Paul, hope is all about the resurrection of the body. Why? Because that’s what happened after Jesus died. And Paul sees Jesus as the prototype for Christian hope.”[2]

The belief that we will be raised bodily has great implications for how we understand our ultimate destiny. Oftentimes, we mistakenly believe that the final destination of the Christian is heaven. However, that is not the complete story of the Christian faith. Certainly, those who die in Christ are in a place so wonderful that Jesus calls it paradise (see Luke 23:43), but heaven is not the final destiny for the believer. Our ultimate destiny is life everlasting in the presence of our Triune God in the New Heaven and New Earth (see Revelation 21-22). This is what the early Church proclaimed to the world.

I like the way N.T. Wright articulates the full Christian vision of resurrection as being “life after ‘life after death.”’[3] Wright makes the observation that in the first two centuries of the Church the focus of the great teachers of the Christian faith was squarely upon the resurrection. He boldly states,

“Resurrection” doesn’t mean “going to heaven when you die.” It isn’t about “life after death”... It’s about “life after ‘life after death.’” After you die, you go to be “with Christ” (“life after death”), but your body remains dead. … What is promised after that interim period is a new bodily life within God’s new world (“life after ‘life after death’”). I’m constantly amazed that many contemporary Christians find this confusing. It was second nature to the early church and to many subsequent generations. It was what they believed and taught. … God’s plan is not to abandon this world, which he said was “very good.” Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does, he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.[4]

When the candidates for Christian baptism were asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?” they answered, “Yes, we do so believe” with a clear understanding that God’s rescue and renewal mission would culminate in bodily resurrected believers from all tongues, tribes, and nations who will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever in the New Heaven and New Earth. May we all answer with hearts full of faith, “Yes, we do so believe."

 

[1] Timothy C. Tennant. This We Believe! Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. (Wilmore, Kentucky: Asbury Theological Seminary, 2011), 13-15.

[2] Matt O’Reilly. The Letters to the Thessalonians. (Franklin, TN: Seedbed Publishers, 2020), 39.

[3] N.T. Wright. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), 218.

[4] Wright, 218-19.

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