I must first thank Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri for being the first who ignited the fire which warms me still about Church History. That’s why I’m pretty excited about teaching the Lutheran Bible Training Institute (LBTI) Church History Course I starting on March 11, Every Tuesday 8pm at Bangsar Lutheran Church (alternative transitional BLC experiment Site here)
Justo L. González has a beautiful invitation (introduction) to the whole learning process. Let me enter into a conversation with some excerpts:
"From the very beginning, the Christian message was grafted onto human history. The Good News Christians have proclaimed through the ages is that in Jesus Christ, and for our salvation, God has entered human history in a unique way. History is crucial for understanding not only the life of Jesus, but also the entire biblical message." (p. xv)
We are often a people with amnesia especially in matters of history or even our own story. We are hurried along quickly to the next and the new, we forget where we have come from. And even in matters of our faith and beliefs, we are tempted to talk about it devoid of historical content and it generates into free floating statements of shallow slogans emptied of their original punch.
So, when I discussed with the new dean for the LBTI, a nudge inside me strongly pushed me to propose to do a church history course. The fact is many Christians today tend to jump straight from the Book of Acts to present day church. Some would at least not ignore the Reformation. We hear many voices of how God is doing a new thing today, forgetting He has not stopped for a long time 🙂
González’s after comment on Luke-Acts draws me deep into what I said above:
"What it means for those who share in Luke’s faith is that the history of the church, while showing all the characteristics of human history, is more than the history of an institution or of a movement. It is a history of the deeds of the Spirit in and through the men and women who have gone before in the faith." (p. xvi)
There can be more than meets the surface in our grasp of the story of Christianity obviously. But there’s more …
"Like it or not, we are heirs of this host of diverse and even contradictory witnesses. Some of their actions we may find revolting, and the others inspiring. But all of them form part of our history. All of them, those whom we admire as well as those whom we despise, brought us to where we are now.
Without understanding our past, we are unable to understand ourselves, for in the sense the past still lives in us and influences who we are and how we understand the Christian message." (p. xvii)
There is no clean slate for anyone. What is written above can (minus the last part on Christian message or replaced by something else) could have come from a book on human psychological development or even political history (Election fever is running higher now in Malaysia!).
I recall my naive pride put into check when I once blurted out my lack of sympathy for some of the controversies in the early church at a Christian Theology class, only to be reminded they lived in times where much were challenged. And the surrounding fire forced our ancestors in the faith for refining times in thought, word and deed. We may stand on their shoulders today, but I learnt that we cannot stand in superiority because of our hindsight and relative comfort zones.
"… if we are to break free from an undue weight of tradition, we must begin to understand what that tradition is, how we came to be where we are, and how particular elements of our past color our view of the present. It is then that we are free to choose which elements in the past — and in the present — we wish to reject, and which we will affirm." (p. xvii)
It’s painful and disappointing when Christians throw so many babies out with the bath water. Sometimes, I feel when I walk away from a conversation, babies are all over the floor crying because someone has decided on a "feeling" or a "preference", or a "frustration", or an "unknown-but- I-just-can’t-believe-this" rationalization.
Sure, there will be areas we better leave behind … that we may be freer to move on. But what are we leaving behind, and what are we bringing with us? Are we honest enough to admit the "colors" which taint our view? Are we willing to change those "colors" if they are hindering us from true freedom? Or is our apparent "liberal" outlook a mere camouflage for our unwillingness to be accountable? or our "conservative" stands trying to hide our fear that the elements we hold our illusions we need because we don’t like the tsunami of change which is overwhelming?
"It is at this point that doing of history converges with the making of it. When we study the life and work of past generations, and when we interpret it, we are doing history. But we must remember that future generations will read about our times as past history. In that sense, like it or not, both by our actions and by our inaction, we are making history. This is both an exhilarating opportunity and an awesome responsibility, and it demands that we do history in order to be able to make it more faithfully." (p. xvii-xviii)
Sobering challenge … an invitation I can’t resist, I mean, I won’t resist, would you join me? How about a group who would take up this responsibility (even some responsibility)?