Difference Does Remembering Make?
Why is it important to do the work of writing a church history? Have you asked yourself this question? Writing the history of a church is not an easy task and you may often think that it is an unappreciated effort as well. Perhaps your experience is like mine and you meet people who say, "Oh, I didn't know you were interested in that sort of thing." You can tell that their view of church history is one of dusty papers filed away and never read.
I want to share a different view with you--one that hopefully will help you to realize that the church historian has one of the most exciting jobs available to anyone in the church. Our task is to make a record of what God has done and is doing among His people. It is as simple as that. Our God is not a passive God; He is at work in the life of each one of His dear children, accomplishing His redeeming purpose. Everyone who looks by faith to Christ for salvation has this promise, that God will accomplish His work in that believer's life. The words of Romans 8:28 and Philippians 1:6 make this truth clear. And this work that God is doing is worth noting.
Church history is that simple and potentially that personal. God is actively and intimately involved in the lives of His people and this basic fact holds true at every level: in the local church, in the denomination and in the Church universal. He cares for His Church and His faithfulness toward His people is expressed in His daily provision for them. We call that continuing provision God's providence. We cannot and do not determine God's will from His providence; it would be a mistake to try, though we see many Christians making this mistake all the time. Rather, God has revealed His will in the Holy Scriptures.
Still, God's providence does stand as a testimony of His covenant faithfulness toward His people. Thus an awareness of God's providence has a place in the life of the believer, as an appreciation of God's faithfulness, love, and mercy. Thus there is also a very necessary place for the writing of church history, in order that His people should not forget the work that God has accomplished in each of their lives.
I am frequently amazed at how we can read and re-read the Bible and yet continually discover fresh truths we had not seen before. A wonderful exercise as you read through the Bible is to be alert to how often God stresses the importance of remembering. The Bible abounds with passages that reveal the importance that God places upon our remembering His many works on our behalf. We see an example of this when Joshua is told to construct a memorial after crossing the Jordan river (Joshua 4:1-24; note esp. vs. 24). Time and time again we read in the Psalms of how God's works are a constant reminder of His unfailing love, grace, and compassion (cf. Ps. 65, 66, 89, 111). And in our celebration of the Lord's Supper, God has made provision that we should remember His greatest work in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Communion of course is much, much more than a simple remembrance, but our remembering is a definite part of that celebration. God instructs us to remember His works, to reflect on them and to profit spiritually by that reflection. Moreover, this work of remembering is not restricted to what is recorded in Scripture, but extends to what God is doing today, for the work that Christ accomplished on the cross is now unfolded day by day in the lives of His people.
Again, a word of caution is due. The Bible alone is the Word of God and we should never put anything on the same level with it. The Bible alone is inspired and infallible, and it alone tells us the will of God. We do not look to the record of Church history to determine God's will any more than we look to circumstances. Still, there is a very proper place for reflecting on the record of what God has done and is doing among His people today.
God cares greatly for His Church and He daily makes provision for it in the lives of His people. God's providence is exercised in special ways toward His people. He answers prayers. He works in and orders the events of our lives. He gifts His people for various ministries in order that they might serve the Body of Christ to His glory. All of this means that the things that God accomplishes among His people are things that are worth remembering. And this is why church histories are so important. His works are evidences of His faithfulness, mercy and purpose toward His people. In remembering His works, we develop thankful hearts and we are strengthened in knowing that He remains faithful, even when we are not.
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