I love my heritage in the Church of Christ. I really do. Though there was a time I was really tired of it and thought I might walk away, I have grown to truly appreciate these people who have passed down the faith to me. While I don’t always agree with them, I am thankful for their passion and desire to follow Christ. One of the things that revived my appreciation for our story was when I found out we were part of a bigger story, and that we were actually a part of the Church’s history that we wanted to pretend didn’t exist.
Church history wasn’t something we talked about growing up. As far as I knew it, shortly after the New Testament ended in about 300AD, Christians pretty much lost their way until about 200 years ago when we “fixed” everything. There was a big gap in my timeline. What revived my love for the Church of Christ was when I found out that most of my evangelical reformation friends had the same problem. Other than a few, many of my friends were telling me that they grew up with a narrow view of Christianity and thought they were the only ones whom God loved. This is true of Baptists, Presbyterian, Methodist, and other friends I’ve had conversations with. When I realized this fact, I discovered that the problem is we haven’t rooted our stories within the larger story of which we are all a part, which is something the Catholic church and those similar to it were able to do for such a long time.
What I needed to really help save my faith was to see that I come in a long line of people who have heard the story of Scripture and tried to follow in the footsteps of Christ. When I discovered that God had been at work all throughout history, and that he would continue to be at work in my life now. When I saw that our group in the Church of Christ was one of many that were trying to find out what it meant to follow Christ, I found that I had a lot of brothers and sisters throughout history, and my story was a part of a much bigger one.
We know today that kids are leaving the church after they leave home in rapid numbers compared to previous years. I’m sure there are many reasons why. The church has failed our children at times, our culture is becoming more and more secular and less and less Christian, we haven’t wrestled with tough questions about science and the Bible, etc. It is probably too dynamic and too hard to pin down all of the reasons. But I would like to add that maybe another reason is over the past 150 or 200 years, many of our churches have failed to help their kids see that they are part of a much bigger story that goes beyond our movement or denomination. I love how Ivy Beckwith puts it in Formational Children’s Ministry:
“…but most of all are stories our kids need to hear to see how they are connected to that vast cloud of witnesses the author of Hebrews writes about. That connection helps kids to see they are not alone in this life or this Christian pilgrimage. Familiarity with the history of the church helps them to see that the work of God in the world did not end with the last page of the Bible. Having an understanding of the history of the church and the people who made that history helps them to see the continued work of God over the centuries and assures them that God’s work will continue through them as well.” – Beckwith, page 46.
No matter what church you are a part of, you are a part of a bigger story that dates back thousands of years. I think it is important to capture this timeline and realize that God has been at work throughout the history of the world, intersecting his story into the stories of various people throughout history. God will continue to work through his faithful followers who seek the way of Christ. I appreciate my Christian heritage and the many others around me because I see we are part of a much larger story and a much bigger Church that has endured the test of time (literally), and will continue to do so by the power of God’s Spirit at work in the world.
When we struggle with doubt, sin, questions about the Bible and who God is, we aren’t the first to do this. We come in a long line of people who have tried to follow Jesus, have had great successes, and great failures. And each story attests to the faithfulness of God and his continued work in the world and in our lives. Let’s pass on to our children that their story of faith is a part of a much larger story, one that is cosmic in scope and finds its completion in Christ. Let’s pass on to our kids that their church isn’t some civic organization that encourages good behavior. Rather, let’s let them know that their faith is the living faith of people who have gone before them. Let’s let them know that their churches are linked with God’s global and historical Church that has come in many shapes and forms throughout the past 2,000 years. Let’s help them root their faith in a much larger story.