One of the aspects about Europe that struck me on our recent visit is that many towns, large and small, revel in and celebrate their heritage. We came across museums, outdoor “living” museums, galleries, festivals and a host of signs and placards that pointed both the locals and visitors to the heritage of an area. There was a clear acknowledgement and commemoration of the people, places and events of the past. Communities were saying, in effect, we recognise that predecessors have paved the road for us to be here. Our culture, values and character has to a large degree been bequeathed to us.
I find this attitude lacking in many churches and denominations today. Few people are aware of church history. Key days in the church year are fading away and great songs are being swept away by modern words and music. I am fully aware that the church needs to be relevant and accessible to the contemporary world. I’m not against much of the new. But I am distressed that we don’t hear much about, and from, our past.
We have had great events, people, music and movements that have moved us to the present. We owe a debt of gratitude to those in the past who have been faithful in preserving and promoting the gospel. But is more than just owing debt. By reflecting on our heritage we also confirm those values, beliefs and characteristics that have made the Christian faith and worldview strong.
Two very brief examples(from many that could have been chosen): It was the early church that first liberated women from servitude and not the Women’s Lib movement of the 1970s. It was the church that raised concern for the poor and destitute during the industrial revolution. Labour organisations came later. Because we have forgotten that perspective of history we have been slow to recognise our responsibility in modern issues such as the environment, injustice and so on. Humanists have taken up the issues but often at the expense of the underpinning Christian values that the church brought along in the past.
My challenge to pastors and church leaders is to connect your people to the past so they can see their responsibility for the present and the future, more clearly.