Anyway, during my early teens, my father was going through some kind of spiritual search which took him in some fairly strange directions. There were a lot of books by Jeanne Dixon, the famous psychic, in our house, as well as several about Edgar Cayce, the "sleeping prophet." It may seem odd for a hard-core scientist such as my father to manifest an interest in psychic phenomena and occultism, but I have since seen many another skeptic indulging in attendance at Hindu ashrams and whatnot. Strangest of all -- though I had no way of knowing how strange it was at the time, inexperienced as I was -- my father was attracted to the Spiritualist Church.
Those are the people who do seances and give psychic readings and so forth. Perhaps it was the death of his mother when I was about ten years old that sent him on this quest. Anyway, he would take me along for an outing -- always something to be appreciated, since we didn't do a lot of "buddy" stuff -- and we would wind up at a Spiritualist meeting of some sort. I have attended the camp meeting at the Spiritualist camp at Chesterfield, Indiana, and seen the apparitions summoned to the stage, heard them speak. I remember wondering, "Is this real?" And if it isn't, do the mediums know it isn't real? Are they phony? or deluded? or can they actually do what they say they can do? Well, I didn't have enough evidence to form a considered opinion on it, so I just suspended judgment and let it ride.
I must have been around 14 or 15 when we attended a Spiritualist service in Terre Haute. Dad had a meeting or something during the day (which I can remember no details of), but in the evening, we wound up at this church (later, when I was in college, it was a martial arts center). I remember there was a spiritual healing service, with laying on of hands, after a fashion. I remember asking a medium for a personal reading, just to see what might come of it (nothing). But in between stuff, while Dad was talking to somebody else, I was left alone for a while, and looked around for something to read. I came across a Sunday school magazine. (Who knew that occultists did Sunday school?) It was early spring, and there was an article on the resurrection. The writer made a point of saying that Spiritualists believed in Jesus' resurrection -- but that the resurrection was from the cross, not from the tomb. In other words, going to heaven -- or the spirit world, the afterlife -- was the true meaning of resurrection. So, everybody was raised, in this sense: everybody went to the spirit world after death.
Well. I was pleased to have this so clearly stated. And I remember thinking that whatever else Spiritualism was, it wasn't Christianity. I wouldn't have called myself a Christian, had no very clear understanding of who Jesus was or what he came to do, but I understood this: Christianity taught that Jesus died, and then was bodily raised again by God. It was a defining dogma of the faith, a dogma so clear that even I, who was only a wandering observer of religion, who couldn't have begun to tell you why Jesus was raised, knew that.
About a year or so later -- times are fuzzy, and perhaps I was in college now, though I did not connect the event to my new-found faith in Jesus, if I was -- I attended a Scout weekend, a camporee or OA event or something. And in Sunday morning chapel, our District Executive preached. This was a surprise, since we normally imported a clergyman for this. I only remember one thing he said. At the end, he used the expression, "if Jesus were alive today." After the service, I went up to him and asked if he shouldn't have said that differently, since I thought that Christians believed Jesus was in some sense still alive. He replied, with a laugh and a jolly smile, that he was an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church, and the way they say it was, "if Jesus were alive today." I didn't pursue the matter; I wasn't looking to start an argument, I was just startled by his use of the phrase. And I didn't understand what a Unitarian Universalist was, but I understood now that they were not, in any sense I understood, within the bounds of Christianity. After all, belief in the resurrection of Christ was a fundamental dogma of Christianity. So they must be something else.
Well, about that time, I had a friend explain the Gospel to me, and I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, all alone in my dorm room. My friend emphasized to me more the importance of the cross and the atoning death of Jesus than the resurrection that necessarily followed it. But still, they were of a piece. And still, I had no church to belong to, no others to follow Jesus with. I fell in love, got married, and my wife also had no church to belong to, no others to follow Jesus with. We finally got tired of waiting for someone to ask us to the church dance, and went looking for ourselves. And so it was, about the time I was turning 21, that I began to have serious contact with various kinds of church leaders in their natural setting. Indeed, I was soon to have a thunderous call to some kind of ministry myself, and was to go off to seminary very soon -- but that is another story.
What I found in the process of becoming "church-broke" was that an awful lot of pastors kind of pussyfooted around the idea of resurrection. Easter wasn't painted in the bold colors of Christmas, but in pastel shades of vague feeling. I heard a lot of people talk about new life returning in the spring, about flowers shooting up through the late frost, etc. It took me a while to realize why this bugged me. What I was hearing was paganism, not Christianity. Tacking Jesus' name onto a story which is not really about him, but could equally well be told of Hyacinth or Dionysus or somebody from ancient myth didn't make it Christian. I couldn't understand why they didn't just say it baldly: We believe that Jesus was brought back to life by miracle.
And I heard a lot of blather about "Easter faith." It took me quite some time to sort out that "Easter faith," as commonly expressed, doesn't mean "belief in the resurrection as an event that really happened," but rather, "something that happened inside the disciples to make them see purpose and hope that continued on, despite the irreversible death of Jesus of Nazareth." And when I finally understood the difference, I felt great sorrow. What had happened to these preachers, to steal away their faith? Did they never believe? Did someone take their capacity to believe away? Or have they talked themselves out of belief; in trying to explain the Bible, have they just explained it away? In any case, even if they call themselves Christians, and even if they teach their beliefs in a Christian church, this is not Christianity. This is Despair.
I can understand people who never believed in the resurrection of Christ. I can understand people who have come to no longer believe in it. I cannot understand why anyone who doesn't believe it still hangs on to a position of authority and teaching in a church founded upon the proclamation of the resurrection.
As Paul put it,
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:1-19)
If even an honest unbeliever, as I was in my teens, can understand that religion without the resurrection of Jesus isn't Christianity, then it ought to be obvious to everyone, don't you think? And for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone who actually wanted to be a Christian would settle for anything less being taught to oneself or to one's family.