Is Belief in the Resurrection Essential to be a Christian?

During Lent this question was raised in a discussion on Radio 4.   It led to me wonder if, in seeing people as being on a faith journey, we could accept as Christians those who did not believe in the resurrection on the basis that we hoped they would later.

This took me to St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15.  It is wonderfully clear and answers the question.  In my Jerusalem bible it has the heading “The fact of the resurrection”.

I Corinthians Chapter 15: 1-2 – Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.

Here it comes now, the Gospel of Paul.

verse 3-4 , Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures;

The terminology reminds me of the Creed….For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Then Paul gives the proof.

verse 5-8,  that he appeared first to Cephas (Peter), and secondly to the Twelve.  Next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all to me too; it was as though I was born when no one expected it.

Paul is saying, to the Corinthian church, there are people alive and among you who have seen the Risen Christ, including himself.  For Paul this was a transforming experience.

verse 9-11,  I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless.  On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.

Now we come to the nitty-gritty and it looks like people then were asking the same question about the resurrection which heads this blog.

verse 12-19,  Now if Christ raised from the dead is what has been preached, how can some of  you be saying that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless; indeed, we are shown up as witnesses who have committed perjury before God, because we swore in evidence before God that he had raised Christ to life.  For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins.  And what is more serious, all who have died in Christ have perished.  If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.

People have often said to me,  “Your faith must be a great comfort”, but if that is all it is then it is completely useless and I am seriously deluded.  This faith has to be founded on a fact, the fact of the resurrection.  Paul continues;

verse 20,  But Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep.

A first fruits offering is an offering in anticipation of a greater harvest.  Jesus has risen and because of this so will we.  Cue for some eschatology (end times stuff).

verse 21-28,  Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man.  Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ, but all of them in their proper order:  Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.  After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power.  For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.  Though when it is said that everything is subjected, this clearly cannot include the One who subjected everything to him.  And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.

So, to Paul then the fact of the resurrection is not negotiable, it is absolutely crucial.  The firm foundation of his Gospel and our faith.  For our faith is not in our faith but in a person, Jesus Christ, who died, was buried and rose again.

In answer to the opening question then, it is essential for a Christian to believe in the resurrection.  As we say in the mystery of faith during the Mass, “We proclaim your death oh Lord and profess your Resurrection until you come again” and “Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free”.