Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Sometimes distance helps us see things more clearly. Often in the heat of the moment perspectives are skewed through rampant emotions. Having emerged through some difficult times I can testify that at times it takes years to see that many things and factors were going on. An example of this would be the shameful division that took place 100 years ago in 1906 between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. Tempers flared. Feelings were hurt. Wounds were inflicted. People acted in un-christian ways.
For those immediately involved in that schism it boiled down to a split between those who believed Scripture and those who did not. In historical perspective we can see now more clearly what could not be seen then: the division was exceedingly complex. Yes, theology played a large role. But to say our division was simply between those who believed and those who did not is simply wrong.
Other factors, often so much a part of life, were simply unseen. The division was as messy as life. These hidden streams of stress became visible only with historical distance: the destruction of the Civil War; the ravages of Reconstruction; Sectionalism was often baptized into doctrine; Economic pressures were abundant; race and the "Lost Cause." All of these played into division.
Another factor, perhaps just as important as any, is often overlooked and that is the human sin factor. By human sin factor I mean human agendas, human egos, human personalities. None of those involved would have (or could have) noticed this problem. They all believed they were simply reading Scripture. But they were not! They were reading Scripture through the complexities of human existence, the constraints of their social situations . . . and yes through their prejudices.
The truth of the matter is, however, we do the same thing. Reading history with eyes that can see and ears that can hear is a humbling experience. We encounter folks like Jonathan Edwards who spent 14 hours a day in prayer and study. We encounter men like Alexander Campbell who got at 4:30 am every morning to read his Greek and Hebrew Bibles. We learn of men and women of incredible faith and dedication. We read of people that we might, if honest, feel unworthy to even untie their shoelace. And yet we also see that many of these dedicated servants of God often mirrored their contemporary world. It should cause us to humbly ask: "Am I so strong, so resourceful and in tune with God that these common human failings do not apply to me?" History is a tool that God uses to reveal to us just how limited our ability to see really is.
Church history is a spiritual discipline that helps cultivate a hermeneutic of suspicion. Not of God, mind you, but of ourselves. We should study and believe what we believe. History, however, cautions us to be less dogmatic. Indeed, history may just open up the window for God's grace to penetrate into our minds and our hearts. If it helps us identify with common failure of all humanity to live up to the divine standard, then God is pleased.
"Dear Father, help us become more and more like him. O may we be made partakers of the Divine Nature, escaping the corruption of the fallen age. We long for Christ to be formed within us, the hope of glory; for if we are like him here we will be like him hereafter.
"When we stand in the presence of the matchless Jesus, we feel keenly the sense of our unworthiness. Help us Father to crucify the ego and all the self-serving agendas that we are blind to. Help us Father to be gracious, to believe the best of your family, and to be instruments of peace. Forgive the division that we have and are causing. Amen."
A modified prayer from J. H. Garrison in Alone with God, pp. 142-143