作者: Peter Houston
Category: 领袖培训, 正直与谦卑, 个人见证
I have noticed widespread ignorance of church history, especially among some of the younger church movements in South Africa today. Many leaders are nearly completely ignorant of the story of Christianity and their place in it. This ignorance seriously truncates their understanding of the diversity of what the church has looked like over the centuries and that others, also faithful Christians, have gone before them into mission and ministry. Theological labels have fallen by the wayside in my (younger) generation. Terms like “evangelical” and “evangelistic” get mixed up in conversations – “I’m going to hold an evangelical meeting at our youth group tonight!”
All beliefs are rooted in a history. Beliefs shape our interpretation of old experiences, our openness to new experiences and the integration of contrary experiences. All Christian beliefs, whether conscious theological reflections or an uncritically lived-out faith, are rooted in a history and find expression in how we go about being the church. To sit or kneel in a church service; to raise hands or clap; to be somber, silent or celebratory; to respond individually or corporately is to manifest a certain history, a certain theology, a certain belief.
These beliefs shape our experience of God and the world in which we live, work and try to co-exist. They betray the manner in which we view the saving work of God revealed through Jesus in Scripture. Furthermore, the universality of God’s saving action is necessarily embedded in the experiences of particular cultures. It is shaped by the insights and limitations of persons who were themselves seeking to live the gospel in a particular context at a particular time (McGrath, A., 2001).
We need to first seek out and then acknowledge how our theology is influenced by these complex historical contexts and then confront any obstacles that hinder us from a fuller understanding and worship of the triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But there are two extremes to be avoided: seeking flawless continuity of our faith tradition with the past; and thinking who we are now and what we believe as being completely discontinuous with all that has gone before. Theology is a paradox. It is shaped by and itself shapes the church and society in each Age.
On another level, the history of the church, focusing on the major doctrinal debates and developments as well as on the key historical figures is not necessarily the real history of the church. There are the other stories of the hidden, invisible, unwritten history of the faithful ordinary people of God in every generation; his-story and her-story of faithfully living and spreading the gospel that will never be told.
This tension between continuity and discontinuity of present forms of Christianity with past forms as well as the ambiguous reality of the visible and invisible church throughout time, presents us with some challenges. One challenge we face is the problematic interpretative gap of history, between the strangeness of the past and the familiarity of the present. When we seek to enroll the voices of leading Christians from even a few hundred years ago, we need to treat them with as much sensitivity as engagement with people from a completely unreached culture of today. Another obstacle is the anti-intellectual attitude displayed in some more fundamentalist strands of evangelicalism today. It can be manifested in Christians and churches as attitudes that are anti-academic and anti-history, viewing intellectual pursuits as simply being not worth the effort, and even detracting from or being unnecessary for the life of the church.
Are these challenges worth it? What is the value of understanding where we have come from? There are several benefits:
Chris Wright wrote an advance paper calling us back to humility, integrity and simplicity (http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/conversations/detail/10520). Knowing our history can guard against silly egotism when we think that God has begun something new just because we have arrived on the scene to start a ministry! God has been alive and working throughout all of history... The lessons from church history also humble us, make us truly human, when we realise that even great people made mistakes, had weaknesses, just like us today.
Let us look back to wisely and humbly move forward. Let us seek to be Biblically literate AND historically literate churches.