Readers of this blog are going to have to find their history fix elsewhere. Though I enjoy reading about history, I have discovered that writing about it succinctly is like trying to describe occupants of a moving train while I’m still in the station. So I’m bailing on my attempt to write about four key historical figures in church history. I’m sure none of us will loose any sleep.
Why did I bring this up in the first place? My original motivation for writing about church history was twofold.
First of all, without an understanding of our history, we forfeit lifetimes of experience that could guide us today. Where would we be without the grueling theological discussions that took place at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD? While Christianity was rapidly expanding only a couple hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there was a controversy stirring regarding the question of whether or not Jesus was divine. Around 300 bishops from every part of Christendom gathered for a discussion that would provide important theological direction for all believers.
Of course, we continue to discuss and interpret Scripture, but we have the benefit of some important and difficult theological discussions that have already taken place. If you ever doubt that events like the Council of Nicea had implications for all future followers of Christ, then read through the Nicene Creed and consider the fact that most evangelical church congregations today would say it matches what they believe.
Second, the road the church is on now was paved by those who have gone before us. This unfortunately includes the errors and misjudgments of the Church, but also those who have listened to the voice of God’s leadership and have exemplified what it means to follow Christ.
For example, in 1865, William and Catherine Booth started a ministry called The Christian Revival Society in the East End of London. They served the neediest members of society, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes. Booth was often derided for his ministry of soup kitchens and Bible teaching, but he was determined that God had given him a vision to feed bread to the poor if he was ever to feed them the gospel.
Booth’s ministry, The Salvation Army, is currently one of the world’s largest providers of social aid. They spent around $2.6 billion in 2004 helping more than 32 million people in the US alone. They operate community centers, provide disaster relief, and work in refugee camps, especially among displaced people in Africa.
Booth followed Christ toward the poor by showing then telling them the gospel. He is one of the many who paved the way for our growing emphasis in the church on a whole-person gospel.
In some way, the members of every generation of Christ-followers are pioneers. Since God is always doing something new, we are pioneers with God.
However, it’s important to realize that we are linked with every previous generation of pioneering believers. We have their achievements, their mistakes, and their words to guide us, to inspire us, to awaken us. We stand on their shoulders and would do well to be aware and thankful for their Christ-centered labor. But above all, we share with them a universal need that can only be satisfied by God’s mercy and grace.