Sunday, September 06, 2009

tradition or why I’m not the first kid around this block

I grew up keen to make a straight line between myself and the early church. If I could just get back to Acts, then all would be well with Christianity. Somehow in my naivety I used to ignore the lying Christians in Acts 5 or the fighting Christians in Acts 6. I guess those chapters never fitted my idealistic dreams.

Over the years, I’ve become more aware of the 2,000 years that stand between me and the early church. I’ve become aware that lots of Christians (probably more intelligent and more spiritually aware than I will ever be) have sought to follow God in their time.

Sadly, when I first started reading church history, I read looking for the splinters in their theology, keen to find the mistakes they had made and the errors of their ways.

But I’m increasingly aware that people will no doubt do the same to me. Some of the comments on this blog leave me in no doubt, commenters eager to point out the dirty, great big logs that make up my human fumblings to articulate the mystery that is God. All of which leads me to savour the following:

“We may view the Christian past like a gigantic seminar where trusted friends, who have labored long to understand the Scriptures, hold forth in various corners of the room. There is Augustine discoursing on the Trinity, here St. Patrick and Count von Zinzendort comparing notes on the power of Light over Darkness, over there Catherine of Siena and Phoebe Palmer discussing the power of holiness, across the room Pope Gregory the Great on the duties of a pastor, there the Orthodox monk St. Herman of Alaska and the first African Anglican bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther on what it means to carry Christianity across cultural boundaries, here St. Francis on the God-ordained goodness of the earth, in a huddle Thomas Aquinas, Simeon the New Theologian, and Blaise Pascal talking about the relation of reason to revelation, there Hildegard of Bingen and Johann Sebastian Bach on how to sing the praises of the Lord, here Martin Luther on justification by faith, there John Calvin on Christ as Prophet, King, and Priest, there Charles Wesley on the love of God, there his mother, Susanna, on the communication of faith to children, and on and on.” (Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity)

So there’s treasure in church history. Reading how humans before me have wrestled with faith, God and life can in fact enrich my faith. As the next paragraph astutely notes.

“Teachers of foreign languages say that you don’t really know your own language unless you have tried to learn a second or third language. In the same way, students of the Scriptures usually cannot claim to have understood its riches unless they have consulted others about its meaning.” (Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity)

So there’s a challenge for the week ahead. Read some history folks. Read it not looking for their splinters, but our own dirty big logs!

Posted by steve at 06:24 PM

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