Do Roots Matter?
This Life, therefore, is not righteousness
but growth in righteousness, not health
but healing, not being but becoming, not
rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be but we
are growing toward it, the process is not
yet finished but it is going on, this is
not the end but it is the road. All
does not yet gleam in glory
but all is being purified.
Why Study Our Roots?
By a triple birthright American Evangelicals (of which Restorationists are a part) bring a healthy skepticism to the past -- even their own history.
First, as children of the Reformation we cling to sola scriptura rather than Tradition for authority.
Second, as Americans of the “first New Nation” we tend to dislike granting one generation wisdom over another. We cherish our own commitments rather than those handed down to us.
Third, as heirs of Fundamentalism we bristle at the suggestion that the historical process, rather than divine revelation has shaped us. We often go to the extreme of denying that history has had any impact on us at all.
Restoration groups are especially susceptible to ignoring history. We have a “tradition” of having “no tradition!” There is a long line of groups from well into the Medieval period that claim to have “No Tradition.” This sense of historylessness is very seductive and can be very hazardous to ones health . . . Even more so because we tend to be unaware of it.
C. S. Lewis spoke to the need of the living to be open to the past (speaking to the second item above). In his essay, “On the Reading of Old Books,” he says we need to open our windows to the “clean sea-breeze of the centuries.” History helps us to overcome, as Lewis says, our “chronological snobbery.”
Christians without history are like a fish out of water. God has chosen to reveal himself to Humankind in and through history. The authors of the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua - Kings), Chronicles, Luke-Acts, etc were Spirit led historians. For this reason alone we Christians should be students of history.
History not only allows but promotes “fellowship” across generations that can inspire, warn, instruct, and broaden and deepen our vision. By instruction I mean history delivers us from the tyranny of our own time and limited experience. The conceit that I am somehow wiser or more honest and dedicated than those who have gone before.
Examples: from Ignatius we learn of total dedication, from Minucius Felix we learn of being truly “aliens” in this world, from Augustine we learn of the power of sin and the glory of grace, from Anselm we gain insight into the cross, from John of the Cross we learn of fervent prayer, from Martin Luther we learn about the righteousness of God, from John Calvin about the sovereignty of God, from Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell we learn of a passion for freedom and unity. These are worthy of our time and effort to learn. Plus there are thousands of women that we learn the same traits from.
But perhaps most of all history teaches us about the assumptions of our own age. Those assumptions that you and I unconsciously have built into our worldview. They shape the way we see everything . . . Including the Bible. In fact they can seriously distort the way we see the Bible. Thus history can function much like a good or bad pair of glasses that filters information before it reaches the eye.
The Tragedy of A Man Without Memory (i.e. History)
Imagine, if you will, what life would be like if you could not remember the past (and memory is nothing but “history”). Oliver Sacks in a book called, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat, provides a vivid account of what happens when a human cannot remember.
Sacks tells the story of a 50 year old man named Jimmy. Jimmy, as the result of alcoholism, suffered from sustained memory loss. Jimmy can remember his life up to the age of 20, but after that there is nothing. More devastating is the fact that when anything happens to him, he can only remember it for a few seconds.
Imagine. He meets you and talks excitedly with you, yet in a few seconds you are a total stranger that he had never seen before . . . Again! Every morning he wakes up, looks in the mirror and is surprised to see a stranger looking back. Everyday he gets lost in the halls of the sanitarium where he lives. He cannot play most games or follow the plot of a comic book. Every few seconds Jimmy’s life and world begin all over again.
Behind his friendly, childlike eagerness there lies infinite sadness and the haunting loneliness of a man lost in time. Jimmy had lost his past. . . And that loss has emptied his Present of any real meaning and has clouded his future. Indeed he can never envision a future.
The same is true of Christian identity. Without that memory of our origins, of the perils, the triumphs along the way, and of the people who have shaped our faith we, like Jimmy, wander aimlessly, unsure of who we are or where we hope to go.
Hopefully this will be the beginning of a glad and delightful journey for my readers. It is a hopeful and even delightful exercise. But we too have a few skeletons in our closets we might discover which will serve to remind us that we are saved by God's grace and not because we have any and all patterns figured out.
Leonard Allen points out that we are selective in our memories. I call this selective amnesia. This disease strikes in the most dreaded of ways. Sometimes if we just “remember” we can avoid severe heartaches - like schisms and splits. As we journey into the 21st century it will pay rich dividends to explore our family tree.Shalom,