Barbara Brown Taylor wrote an interesting article in The Christian Century about teaching Introduction to World Religions to college students.
Taylor wrote that an odd thing was happening with her students. Her Christian students were able to talk about religions other than their own. When it came to Christianity, they failed:
They never thought about what happened during the centuries between Jesus’ resurrection and their own professions of faith. In their minds, they fell in line behind the disciples, picking up the proclamation of the gospel where those simple fishermen left off.
It is a weak spot in church leadership as well. We often “begin at the beginning,” (as Karl Barth encourages us to do), or we strive to be like the first apostles. I often hear pleas that we should be like the 1st Century Church or people claim that they are creating church anew, reinventing it for the first time.
But is that what we ought to be doing? I mean, first of all, it’s not possible. It’s like the mainliners longing to go back to the 1950s.
Plus, there have been some good times happening as we’ve evolved these two thousand years. We’ve had some smart people, we’ve learned a lot about prayer and theology, and we’ve done some amazing social justice work.
Not only that, but we ought to acknowledge the bad stuff as well. We all know how weird people get when they cannot claim their own histories. When they are ashamed of who they once were, or they repress the parts that were too painful to face. Good therapy often works to reconcile their past with the present.
We also know what happens with churches that do not acknowledge the pain or the celebrations in their histories. They develop unhealthy scar tissue in their systems. And often they are not able to digest well, and they don’t even know why.
Our histories, good and bad, are a part of us. And I’m not sure that ignoring the last 2,000 years is a healthy trend.
What do you think?
The photo is of John Calvin’s church in Geneva. It’s by howieluvsus.