Saturday, April 9, 2016

History, the Path Home from Exile

The purpose of this post is not to "argue" anyone into my denomination of Christianity, or make anyone feel inadequate. My heart's longing is simply to call people to what I believe to be a fundamentally Christian idea, the study of history. I mention my own theory of why much of history has been lost which is, of course, my opinion. I would simply hope that this article causes people to go and study church history, prayerfully and thoughtfully, and be willing to accept if God uses it to challenge them, in whatever way that may be. If you want to be comfortable where you are at, I would encourage you not to study church history, as my life is much harder than it was before I studied it. My life, though, is also far more fulfilling after studying it.

I was reflecting on history and the Bible, and something hit me: most of the Bible is history. The main way that God has chosen to reveal himself is history, and in scripture we constantly see that God is known to future generations by remembrance of what he has done in the past, AKA history. The Israelites are called to look not only at their own lives and generation, but the past lives of their lineage, to see God working and to know him.
  • "When your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?' then you shall say to your son, 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand.'"
    ~Deuteronomy 6:20-21
He tells them himself to erect stones and monuments so they can explain to their children and grandchildren what God has done. When they forget these things, that's when the nation starts to go down the drain.
  • "Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side."
    ~Judges 8:34
We face the same dilemma today that the Israelites did. We study the history of the Israelites (through the Old Testament), and history of the Apostles (mainly through Acts), and we have modeled for us especially in Hebrews that God's grandest plan is known by recalling and understanding history.
  • "We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."
    ~Hebrews 2:1
Yet the whole of the life of God's church, the testimony of his work today (like Israel was in the OT), two thousand years of the spiritual family, we have lost. It is no longer in our families and in our traditions. Instead, culture rules us, and we do not see it. We are as unaware of it as a fish is of water, that Post Modernism and human movements have formed American Christianity today. Culture itself is a reflection of human uniqueness, but we now let our culture define things for us, such as bowing, marriage, worship, hell, prayer, etc. We criticize certain faith traditions for not being "biblical," but then we make our own traditions. We teach the Bible as the primary Christian authority, and yet most of us don't even know where it came from. We create definitions for communion ("It's just a remembrance of Christ"), baptism ("It's just a declaration of faith."), and the church ("Anyone who has relationship with Jesus."), and when someone comes and says "here is the history of God's work in his people," we reject them as if our definitions were from Christ himself.
  • “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”
    ~St. Anthony the Great
How our history was lost, I believe, was the sins of our fathers. The sins of past generations effect future generations. In my opinion, those leaders of ancient Rome's church around the time of the Great Schism, still with the whole Church, took a humble brotherly primacy to be supremacy over all Christians. Thus the family was broken apart, and even though the confused father (the church of Rome) was rejected later, the many sincere Protestant orphans of this broken limb of the family tree are still in much darkness. Worst of all, we are not even aware of it, because we do not know our own history and family lineage.
  • "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. 'Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.'"
    ~Hosea 4:6
Unless we are taught by the Apostles, how could we know the teachings of Christ? Christ certainly considered his teachings to be pivotal, even after the Spirit became involved at Pentacost. We must be guided by those who were also guided, implying a lineage, a New Testament spiritual family and genealogy.
  • So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
    ~Acts 8:30-31
The behaviors and beliefs of Christianity, the actions and the intellect, are foundational to Christianity and the required fruit of any true believer and any true church. However, the core of that foundation is spiritual relationship with Christ. Spiritual connection, that profound mystery of relationship, which psychology is so beautifully inadequate to explain, is also the crux of the church. We think that we can create our own church because we think and act (believe and behave) in the Christian manner (as is often defined by us). However, without the spiritual element of the church, we handicap ourselves to a degree at least on par with the rejection of scripture.
  • "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
    ~George Santayana
I believe that, if we turn to those who Christ taught through, to the Apostles and to the students they elected in their stead, we'll find that this necessary spiritual element of the church is wholly taught in scripture, and by the church fathers, and is why there must be a church which is one spirit and one body.
  • "If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth."
    ~1 Timothy 3:15
If we are to remember this history, if we are to follow what we find there, if we are to use the model of lifestyle from that fragment which God has protected in our tradition (the Bible) to return to the full tradition and teaching of Christ, then we must seek what our Lord and his appointed disciples truly taught. We must doubt ourselves in the fullest humility we can muster, speaking as Socrates that the only thing we know for sure is that we know nothing. Then will we love wisdom and instruction, and then will we able to discern what is true. It must become our prayer, to know God's truth regardless of our presuppositions. Then we can truly find the tradition that was given by our Lord, which should be not only our rule but our cherished hope, the very essence of the Gospel.
  • "So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."
    ~2 Thessalonians 2:15
Sadly, we often grow too confident in ourselves. We judge that the problem is simply those who have no morals, but the reality is that morality based on individualism is not Christian. Conscience is important, but it is by Christ, the Apostles, and the church which we know truth, not by our own intellect. Even Israel is condemned not because they do "whatever they want" but because each follows his own opinions of right and wrong.
  • In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
    ~Judges 17:6
We must seek the truth, and we must do so boldly. We must be ready to give an answer for the faith we have. We must do more than pile our own stones of remembrance, but we must seek the stones that were piled by those before us. There is no other Christian teaching than this.
  • "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
    ~Matthew 16:18
If the direct disciples of the Apostles were not correct in their understanding of Christianity, what hope have we that the gates of Hell will not prevail over us as well? We must be in connection with the whole church, and not just those in our time or place. This universality is of the very nature of the kingdom of God. We cannot be true Christians without the church, anymore than the hand or eye can live alone.
  • "One Christian is no Christian.”
We must seek the house built by the Lord, no matter what ways it may challenge us, for building our own house will lead to our own destruction. We must avoid at all cost the traditions and theology of man, and seek wholeheartedly the traditions and theology of God's own revelation. Only a church built on this foundation will last.
  • Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
    ~Psalm 127:1

We must be willing to admit that there may be some sand beneath our feet, and be willing to admit we may not have both feet firmly on the rock. He who thinks in this manner, even if he is on the rock already, will find that foundation stronger. He who will not think in this manner, or does not have time, or does not find it interesting, or doesn't feel like it, is already knee deep in sand.
  • "Why defend a lion when you can open the cage and let it defend itself."
    ~My dad on the subject of Truth
Love is equated with God, but so is truth. To reject the pursuit of truth is as folly as to reject the pursuit of love. Both these paths of rejection lead to hell. To know neither truth nor love is a guarantee that one has no relationship with God. This truth of God is beyond the intellect. To say that the pursuit of God is a matter of factual belief in him is folly.
  • You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.
    ~James 2:19
The faith is life and is a lifestyle. That's why, while history is a main genre of scripture, so also is the epistles, which discuss heavily the lifestyle of a christian. Thus, we must seek what was taught by Christ himself, the author of the christian life, and not any modern concoction. We must seek the cause of our several versions of the "one faith", and the many fragments of our "one body." We must respond to what we learn like King Josiah, who found the missing book of the law in the temple and tore his clothes, and began embracing the teachings of God.
  • Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” [The prophet Huldah responded,] "Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.'"
    ~2 Kings 22:8, 11, 18-20
I believe that each man will be judged at the end of time according to the knowledge he had. Many will walk through the gates of heaven and hear "Well done my good and faithful servant" from a variety of Christian backgrounds, and I even believe some from other religions. However, that does not excuse us from seeking the fullness of obedience to Christ. "If you love me, you will obey my commands." James says that "he who knows the good and does not do it sins." Will we be able to claim ignorance?
  • This is what the Lord says:
    “Stand at the crossroads and look;
        ask for the ancient paths,
    ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
        and you will find rest for your souls.
        But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’"
    ~Jeremiah 6:16
History is where the truth is. History is where spirituality is. History is where the church is. History is where our Christian family is. History protects us from repeating past mistakes. Without history, there is no journey, no progress, no hope. History is the main way by which we know the teachings of our Lord Jesus, who was a real historical figure and participated in the life of humanity. Study the life of his body like you learn the heritage of someone you love, for the Christian community is where Christ is found from the time of his ascension until the time of his return.

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