What Ever Happened to the Ascension?

Sola Fidelity asked the other day, “Where did the Resurrection go?” This question reminded me of a Horton article (Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex) I discovered quite a while ago, and forgot to blog about. An extensive quote:

Many writers today are calling for a greater emphasis on the resurrection. What’s overlooked, ironically, is the importance of Christ’s ascension.

Christ’s Ascension

The resurrection and ascension of Jesus generate a remarkable paradox. Right at the place where the Suffering Servant has been exalted as conquering Lord, the first fruit of a new creation, and the head of a body, he disappears. Then, precisely in that place that is vacated by the one who has ascended, a church emerges.

The most direct ascension account comes from Luke (Luke 24:13-27; 24:50-53). Acts 1 reprises this episode in its opening verses (Ac 1:6-11). Thus the ascension (and parousia) became part of the gospel itself. Not only was Jesus crucified and raised according to the prophets, but the Messiah will be sent again. Jesus, says Peter, “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Ac 3:20-21, emphasis added).

As they were taught by Jesus in the Olivet and Upper Room discourses and on the road to Emmaus (Matt. 24-25; John 14-16; Luke 24:13ff), the apostolic preaching in Acts follows the familiar pattern of descent-ascent-return, justifying the confession in the eucharistic liturgy, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Jesus’ departure is as real and decisive as his incarnation, and he “will come [again] in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Ac 1:11)—that is, in the flesh. In the meantime, he is absent in the flesh.

Under-realized Ascension, Over-realized Eschatalogy

One problem in the history of interpretation, however, has been to treat the ascension as little more than a dazzling exclamation point for the resurrection rather than as a new event in its own right. The ascension of Jesus in the flesh opens up an interim within history that keeps us looking forward to the return of the same Jesus. Nothing can replace Jesus in the flesh.

It was a tough decision to break off the quote there, but if I kept going, I would end up just pasting the whole article!

Horton goes on to apply this view of the ascension to questions relevant to recent Outhouse discussions of transformationalism. To the question “Is all of life kingdom work?” Horton answers:

No, proclaiming the Word, administering baptism and the Supper, caring for the spiritual and physical well-being of the saints, and bringing in the lost are kingdom work. Building bridges, delivering medical supplies to hospitals, installing water heaters, defending clients in court, holding public office, and having friends over for dinner are “creation work,” given a pledge of safe conduct ever since Cain under God’s regime of common grace. In this work, Christians serve beside non-Christians, as both are endowed with natural gifts and learned skills for their common life together.

And to the question of “Should there be Christian institutions?” he answers:

We should ask whether there should be Christian hospitals, Christian businesses, or Christian entertainment industries. Haven’t such enterprises, which often do no more than mimic their secular counterparts, distracted the church from its primary focus and ministry? What if churches were more seriously Christian, concentrating on Christ as he is delivered to sinners through Word and Sacrament, and their members were scattered throughout the week to occupy posts alongside their non-Christian neighbors instead of being driven into an ostensibly Christian sub-culture? What if, instead of trying to discipline a pagan culture, we restored the evangelical practice of church discipline in our own churches (a point made better by Paul in 1 Cor 5:9-12)?

That’s a capsule-length version of Horton’s article, but it really is worth it to read the whole thing. So go over there and read it, and come back and drop some comments!

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31 Responses to What Ever Happened to the Ascension?

  1. RubeRad says:

    Ironically, as I view it today, the article appears under a 9-Marks banner that says “Is your Church reflecting the culture, or shaping it? Church matters.” Oopx!

  2. RubeRad says:

    As Horton notes, Acts 3:21 is a great lens for Postmil prooftext 1 Cor 15:24-25.

    (And it amuses me that he felt the need to say “emphasis added” — as everybody knows, the only inspired element of scriptural formatting is red lettering!)

  3. RubeRad says:

    Also interesting to note that, addressing the question of “Christian” institutions, he avoids mention of the sacred cow of Christian education. And I wonder whether he would consider his own employer to be a Christian institution?

  4. Pingback: Whatever Happened to the Ascension? « Heidelblog

  5. Pseudo-Ron says:

    Right at the place where the Suffering Servant has been exalted as conquering Lord, the first fruit of a new creation, and the head of a body, he disappears.

    Trust a pessimilleniast to spiritualize a victory into a defeat!

  6. Mike Brown says:

    So, Rube, is your church having an Ascension Day service?

  7. Zrim says:

    “Creation work…common life together.” Classic Horton.

    It was exactly this ability to grasp the kingdoms, their natures and their relationships to one another, that got me interested in Reformed theology in the first place. Even when I was a broad Evangelical I really wasn’t, I was actually a closet Calvinist-W2K-Reformed confessionalist.

    This is a great little article, Rube, thanks for posting it.

  8. RubeRad says:

    So, Rube, is your church having an Ascension Day service?

    Good question! I would guess no, but it’s probably not too late!

  9. Mike Brown says:

    Well, you can always come to ours.

  10. Bruce S. says:

    So, Rube, is your church having an Ascension Day service?

    What is an Ascension Day service?

  11. sean says:

    “Even when I was a broad Evangelical I really wasn’t, I was actually a closet Calvinist-W2K-Reformed confessionalist.”

    Well be glad you’re a 3f guy, because they’ve been trying to shove us w2k wcf cats back in the closet despite our protests that we really don’t bat for the other team.

  12. Mike Brown says:

    Bruce,

    What is an Ascension Day service?

    It’s a worship service on Ascension Day. 🙂

  13. RubeRad says:

    Well be glad you’re a 3f guy

    Read here how the CRC responded to OHSs Riddlebarger & Horton’s “effort to organize a confessional Reformed Church”: “When we explained what we wanted to do, they looked at us like we had three heads!”

  14. Zrim says:

    Mike,

    You so funny.

  15. RubeRad says:

    Less funny, it would seem that Episcos would have a spot on their liturgical calendar for Ascension. I know they have Pentecost. Let’s see, Pentecost is the 8th Sunday after the Passover sabbath (49+1 days), and Jesus was on the earth for 40 days after the Resurrection, so the apostles had to wait for the holy spirit, what, like a week and a half?

  16. RubeRad says:

    Hmm, apparently Episcos celebrate Ascension Day on Thursdays… (May 1 this year)

  17. Mike Brown says:

    Hmm, apparently Episcos celebrate Ascension Day on Thursdays… (May 1 this year)

    You got it! And a lot of continental Reformed do too. We had our first one last year. Horton preached.

  18. sean says:

    “Church bureaucrats have no sense of humor.”

    Well fine, I guess that isn’t the vacuum I hear over there then.

  19. Bruce S. says:

    It’s a worship service on Ascension Day.

    So why would you ask Reuben if his church is canceling worship just this one day per year?

    Run it by me one more time. What is an Ascension Day service?

  20. Bruce S. says:

    Oh. I am starting to get it. It is not on the Lord’s day. And how does this fit in with the RPW again?

  21. Mike Brown says:

    Bruce,

    And how does this fit in with the RPW again?

    And where is the command that the elders are only permitted to call the congregation to worship on the Lord’s Day?

  22. RubeRad says:

    That’s not how RPW works. You’re supposed to ask “Where is the command for what I’m doing?”, not “I want to do something. Is it forbidden?”

  23. Mike Brown says:

    Rube,

    I know how the RPW works, thank you very much. Read my sentence again. It’s Calvinistic, not Lutheran.

  24. Mike Brown says:

    Here, I’ll make it easier for you: Calvin (you know, the guy on the RPW [see his treatise, The Necessity of Reforming the Church), did he preach in worship only on the Lord’s Day, or on week days as well?

  25. Bruce S. says:

    Let me re-ask the original question more directly. Do you hold a midweek service because it is commanded in scripture or because it is not forbidden by scripture? Or is there some third option?

  26. Mike Brown says:

    Bruce,

    We do not have regualr mid-week services. We have reguylar mid-week theology classes for those interested, because I am commanded to teach (Eph 4; pastoral epistles). We occasionally have worship services on days other than the Lord’s Day because I am commanded to preach the Gospel (Eph 4; pastoral epistles) and because the elders are commanded to oversee the church as it is manifested in the local congregation (Acts 20; pastorals; Heb 13.17). Our Church Order *applies* this by stating in Article 37 that “The Consistory shall call the congregation together for corporate worship twice on each Lord’s Day. Special services may be called…”

    We cannot merely invoke the RPW. We also have to apply it. I see no command in Scripture that limits worship to the Lord’s Day only. I do see commands in Scripture, however, that call the minister to preach the Gospel, the elders to oversee the congregation, and the congregation to submit to the elders.

    FWIW, if you were in my congregation and felt conscience-bound to stay home when the congregation was called to worship on Good Friday or Ascension Day, and forego an preached exposition of Scripture, the Lord’s Table, corporate prayer, and fellowship with the brethren, on the grounds that it is sinful to participate in those things on anything other than the Lord’s Day, I would bear with your scruples, but not bring you under discipline, so long as you did not try binding the consciences of others.

  27. Zrim says:

    Bruce,

    Here is some stuff from St. Hyde. (Note that he criticizes St. Hart in the first link. Ouch. But it’s hurts so good, as the man once said.)

    http://dannyhyde.squarespace.com/journal/2007/11/28/not-holy-but-helpful-thoughts-on-the-church-calendar.html

    http://dannyhyde.squarespace.com/journal/2007/12/14/calvin-and-the-rpw-in-zephaniah.html

  28. Pingback: Easy as Sunday Morning? « The Confessional Outhouse

  29. Echo_ohcE says:

    What is the justification for celebrating the liturgical calendar?

    I think there’s liberty to call worship services outside of Sunday, and surely our respective denominations have answered that question. I really don’t think this is Bruce’s point.

    I think his point is, WHY should we call Christmas a Christian holy-day, or Easter or Ascension day, when the things especially remembered on those days are properly remembered and preached about every Sabbath?

    As Godfrey says, “Let’s take the Christ OUT of Christmas.” I love him for it.

    E

  30. Ron Smith says:

    No, proclaiming the Word, administering baptism and the Supper, caring for the spiritual and physical well-being of the saints, and bringing in the lost are kingdom work. Building bridges, delivering medical supplies to hospitals, installing water heaters, defending clients in court, holding public office, and having friends over for dinner are “creation work”…

    Since all creation is Jesus’ Kingdom, I don’t see how that dichotomy can be defended.

  31. Pingback: Redeeming Money « The Confessional Outhouse

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