Deuteronomy 4:32 “For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard.”
“If history records good things of good men, the thoughtful hearer is encouraged to imitate what is good; or if it records evil of wicked men, the good, religious listener or reader is encouraged to avoid all that is sinful and perverse, and to follow what he knows to be good and pleasing to God”Bede
Life in the apostolic church consisted of an interplay of Spirit, community, and witness.
In one sense church history is the story of the struggle to keep these three elements in proper relationship. It is the story of the tension between the church as God’s people, born of the Spirit, and it’s visible, human organization that many people today refer to as the church.
Isaiah 28:16 “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.”
The visible church is always related to a given culture. As part of history and society it inevitably has shortcomings. Yet, at the same time, however poor it’s life and it’s witness, it points to the greater reality of the ‘invisible church’, the Church as it really is before God with Jesus as it’s King.
Jesus told two parables about the harvest of time: the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the tares. The second is perhaps the more appropriate for our understanding of history. An older generation saw things differently. They took the parable of the sower as their model. They saw the see ripening, cultivated by the church and christian missions, to bear varying quantities of fruit. Liberals hoped that, when all defects of environment had been removed, society would improve; when education and equal opportunities had been made available to all, then misery and crime could be banished. It was left to the Marxists to re-introduce the element of conflict and tragedy into the story: they reminded Christians that evil, too, is a seed capable of bearing fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.
The parable of the wheat and tares–which speaks of the two harvests, helps us to deal with a series of questions that Paul Tillich poses about the history of the church: ‘What can we answer when our children ask about the child in the manger while in some parts of the world all children “from two years old and under” have died and are dying, not by order of Herod, but by the ever-increasing cruelty of war and its results in the Christian era, and by the decrease in the power of imagination of Christian people?”
How can we answer the Jews when the remnant of Jewish people, returning from the death camps was worse than anything in Babylon, in which they could not find a resting place anywhere on the surface of the earth?
How can we answer Christian and non-Christian alike who have realized the fruit of centuries of Christian technical and social civilization is the imminent threat of a complete and universal self-destruction of humanity?
What answer can we give to ourselves when we look at the unhealed and unsaved state of our own lives after the message of healing and salvation has been heard at every Christmas for almost two thousand years?
There is a harvest of of tares as well as of wheat, a harvest that sometimes seems to threaten the very survival of the wheat.
The Gravitation of Sin
“One of the reasons why it is so difficult to secure Utopia in our time or even anything very satisfactory in terms of a United Nations, is the fact that no man has yet invented a form of political machinery which the ingenuity of the devil would not find a way of exploiting for evil ends.”Sir Herbert Butterfield
The Christian faith does not have to contort itself to embrace the hard facts of history. It admits that the tragedy of history cannot be avoided, but claims that there is a power that redeems tragedy.
The two harvests belong together–the harvest of the wheat is not despite the tares, but because of them. As the parable becomes clear that all the pain, rejection, and suffering is worthwhile, so understanding our position with God makes the process more understandable.
These excerpts, taken from the introduction to the History of Christianity by Tim Dowley gives a crucial understanding to the history of the church and if we are to grasp the importance of our role within the church today it’s important to know how we got here.
Our Time on Earth
Revelation 19:7-8 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
Apart from a christian perspective, there has been little historical belief that history has been moving towards a transcendent goal.
In ancient China, Confucianists believed that there had been a golden age in the past. They used past human events to teach people how to behave in the present. The importance of ancestor worship developed in the Chinese a stronger sense of living in the present.
Greek philosophers such as Parmenides and Plato saw reality in the timeless ideals of beauty, goodnes, and truth. Aristotle regarded the passing of time as destructive, Truth lay in unchanging universal ideas—not in unique and particular events in history. In the Greek and Roman worlds, the goddess Cilo was seen as looking after the writing of history, but moving toward a goal would imply a plan under God’s control and this escaped their reasoning.
What can we say today that God is moving us toward?
Has the transcendent purpose of sharing the gospel become lost in the flurry of social justice or has it been diluted by the seeker friendly attempts in many congregations to fill the church with people, with no regard to true Holiness?
God’s has a divine plan, will you be a participant or only a spectator?
Revelation 19:9 “Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
There is a long history of faithful men and women who have taken part in His purposes for mankind, eternal purposes that have significance as God’s church. Many have gone before us and now wait for unification of God’s people, the revelation of His church which will be a pageant of glorious splendor that culminates a world history into a festival of praise toward Jesus.
There is a history and there is a present, knowing the struggle of the faithful in times past I believe makes enduring the present that much more rewarding.