Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bishop Tamaki and the Resurrection

Published in Challenge Weekly in 2011

The latest controversy which has broken out over Destiny and Brian Tamaki raises important questions. If it is true, as Cult Watch and Garth George have claimed, that Bishop Brian denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus and is asserting that all believers are Christs and divine, this position is not in line with historical evangelical Christian faith.

The first question raised is whether Jesus' resurrection was bodily or spiritual, or in some sense, both. As Garth George demonstrates in his article in this paper, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian belief. Late last year I blogged on this myself, going into some detail to demonstrate from the NT writings that the Jesus who entered the tomb killed by the Romans, was the same man who left it ( The Jesus who died is the one who was raised with the same body now transformed. In many ways his resurrected body conforms to what it was during his life on earth. He can see, hear, speak, eat, drink and be touched. Yet, the NT also shows that, while he is the same Jesus with the same body, he is transformed into that and more. The raised Jesus is able to move freely in and out of this world, translate across vast distances from place to place, and pass in and out of seemingly secure rooms. Scholars talk about this resurrected Christ being ubiquitous (omnipresent) or able to be in all places at all times. He is thus bodily but not confined to his body. How this works of course is beyond our understanding. To describe the mystery of Christ's resurrected body, Paul calls it a 'spiritual body,' a body animated by the Spirit and with many of the properties of the Spirit. In the resurrection, Jesus' 'body of humiliation' has been transformed to a 'glorious body' that is imperishable, immortal and glorious (1 Cor 15:50-54; Phil 3:20-21).

When we discuss Jesus' resurrection body we can go in one of two directions, we can stress continuity with his pre-resurrection body and highlight the bodily dimensions of it. Alternatively, we can highlight the discontinuity with his earthly body, its spiritual elements, whereby Jesus is a 'life-giving spirit' (1 Cor 15:45) – a phrase Bishop Tamaki uses. However, if Jesus is a 'life-giving spirit,' he is still very much the same Jesus raised from the dead. He remains incarnate (en-fleshed).

All this is very important when it comes to the doctrine of the general resurrection where all believers are raised to eternal life at the consummation of this age. The resurrection of Jesus was the firstfruits of the one great resurrection of the righteous at the conclusion of time (1 Cor 15:20). His resurrection is the pattern for the resurrection of God's people who will be set free from the consequences of the Fall and sin, death, and raised to eternal life. Paul writes that at the return of Christ, believers in full bodily form will rise from their graves and will be with him. Just as Jesus' body was transformed in this way, believers too will go through a process of transformation in the twinkling of an eye, where their 'bodies of humiliation' will be transformed to be like his 'glorious body.' We too will have glorious spiritual bodies, these same bodies we have now, raised to eternal life, now immortal and imperishable.

As such, any denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus would be to step outside of orthodox faith. This was seen in the 1960s when Presbyterians in this nation debated this issue rejecting the radical claims of Lloyd Geering. The question is, does Bishop Tamaki really mean that Jesus did not rise from the dead in bodily form? If so, the wider church would be right to challenge him and his teachings and raise questions about the 'Christian' status of his church. In the Herald article however, (17 Feb, 2011) Bishop Tamaki has clarified his beliefs, stating that he and his church affirm the bodily resurrection of Christ which is good news. However, some questions remain as to what he was trying to say and his claims to revelations from God concerning the resurrection. Such claims of revelation are not unusual in some quarters of the church, but they can be problematical; how can we know for sure that they are from God? I suggest it is better to follow the Scriptures as far as they go and live in the tension of the mystery; or, as Paul puts it, 'do not go beyond what is written' (1 Cor 4:6).

The other main issue raised in the controversy is the idea that all believers are divine, 'the actual same divinity and substance of spirit as God.' I have blogged on this in some detail previously ( suggesting that this is a dangerous place to go and potentially crosses the line into a form of idolatry. The Bible affirms that when we become Christians we are joined to Christ and are 'in Christ' (e.g. Rom 3:24; 6:1, 11; 1 Cor 1:30). This means that we are spiritually joined to him, participating in his death, life and salvation. It also means we become one with him in the great body of Christ with Jesus as head (e.g. Rom 12:5; Eph 4:11-16). This is a glorious idea speaking of our identity and status; we are children of God in Christ! However, we have to be really careful with this doctrine. If we push the idea too far we can easily begin to see ourselves as mini-Christ's or 'gods.' Scholars call this divinisation or theosis. The idea is that we are swept up into the God head (Trinity) and have the status and power of God himself. This is going too far as the Bible is very clear that there is one God Yahweh, one Lord Jesus, and that we never cross the line from being the created to the creator (e.g. 1 Cor 8:4-6; Rom 1:18-23). Our status is glorious as resurrected humans, but we are not gods, we are not Christs. There is only one God, and one Christ, Jesus of Nazareth raised, Jesus Christ our Lord, Saviour of the World. We are dependent on him and live for him by the Spirit's leading and power. None of us is his equal, we all in our individuality live out our part in his ongoing mission with the gifts he apportions to us. The crossing of the line to see ourselves as gods is the very mistake Adam and Eve made in the garden (Gen 3:5), and some would say Satan (Isa 14:13). It would be concerning if that is what Bishop Tamaki meant.

We must be careful not to be too hasty to condemn Bishop Tamaki and his church. The theology in them appears questionable, but he deserves a chance to respond as he has begun to do on the resurrection. In the meantime it is important to maintain unity as we move ahead as in these challenging times, we cannot afford as the body of Christ to be divided unless it is clear that the gospel is irrevocably violated. My prayer is that unity is maintained and the gospel upheld by all who name Christ as Lord in this nation.


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