Friday, January 23, 2015

Evangelicals missing the boat, pt.2: Forgotten past

     In many ways, evangelical Christians are all about the here and now. (this Sunday and the next series, but rarely, last year or, our former pastor said) We are always looking ahead to the next great thing that we wish to accomplish for God, forgetting or belittling our prior endeavors or accomplishments. As the wise Yoda said to Luke, "All his life has he looked the future...Never his mind on where he was...Hmm? On what he was doing." So we, too, are paralyzed by our present and enraptured with our plans.
     And when we're not eagerly looking ahead, we're wistfully looking back, way back, to the early church of the N.T., and wondering how we can be just like them -- when that will never happen. We live in an entirely different world, where we should be applying the timeless truths of Scripture to our day and age and not applying the dichotomy of a former age to our own. This is not to say that the N.T. churches no longer have anything to teach us; their stories were recorded so that we may learn many things from them, but we cannot mimic everything they did. Our story is not theirs.
     But story is very important here. Throughout Scripture, God's people are instructed to remember God's work in the past, the people who have participated in that work, and to see ourselves as co-participants in that work. In Deut. 7:18,19, Moses both reminds the Israelites of God's great act to deliver them from Egypt and informs them that this same great power will be given to them to defeat their enemies in the days to come. The members of the honor roll of faith listed in Heb. 11 (Noah, Abraham, Sarah, etc.) form the great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on in our own pursuit of God's will in his kingdom. (Heb.12:1)  Remembering the past ties our stories together with theirs. As our stories intertwine, the great story rewrites itself; in fact, it always will, because the kingdom story is all about the interactions formed by the communion of the saints, both now and in the world to come.
     The biblical word "saints" means holy, or sacred ones. The ancient Hebrews were set apart or sanctified as God's people or nation. The New Testament gives the same designation to those who have come to know Christ and have been baptized into his body, the Church. The Apostle Paul readily points this out in the salutations to most of his letters -- "called to be saints," "sanctified in Christ Jesus," and "to the saints...the faithful in Christ Jesus," he writes. So, all Christians are, or have been, saints.
      Indeed, some have been given a special designation of "Saint" by the Catholic or Orthodox Church; not necessarily a wrong thing, but more, I think, of a human thing. They have been singled out for a certain kind of honorable designation. These people are certainly worthy of great honor and respect. We, as evangelicals, should learn and, in turn, tell their stories, for their lives of faith have, whether we realize it or not, impacted us all. We should also learn from the lives of the great Protestant reformers who labored to bring the gospel back to the forefront of the church's mission. In more recent times, Catholic, Protestant and evangelical church leaders, writers and missionaries have lived exemplary lives deserving of our contemplation. Even our ordinary, everyday fellow believers, those we sit next to and passively greet on a Sunday morning, have stories that, if they were told, would amaze and edify us profoundly.
     Writing in the book I mentioned in my last post, Stanley Hauerwas says that "sainthood is power." He reminds us that we are engaged in a cosmic war between good and evil, and as the saints of God we, along with the angels, are continually fighting this war. We cannot think that being a saint is merely about being a nice, good or "saintly" person, when it is really about being a warrior who, through the power of our Lord, destroys evil forces and conquers ground for God's kingdom.
     It is odd to think that we can fight in these battles using the power of memory. Hauerwas writes, "God gives the Church the power through our remembering of the saints to wrench their lives from the tyranny of the oppressor's history so they triumph over the forces of death. In God's memory the saints triumph." (p. 103)
     We desperately need to establish forums for telling the stories of the saints, so that we may remember their courageous role in the great cosmic battle. By remembering them, their lives take on renewed power to help us fight beside them for all that is right and holy. Instead of hurrying on to the next best thing, or thinking we can ignore church history, we would do well to stop and remember the saints of old and now, and in remembering, join our resolve with theirs to pray, "thy kingdom come."

Hauerwas, Stanley. Unleashing the Scripture. Abington, 1993. Print.

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