Jibstay

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gift or Burden?


At a dinner with a young French seminary student, father of 3 and factory worker, he turned to me and said, in intense but broken English: "Do you know what our problem here in the French church is? We have the burden of too much history!" I know what he meant. The little French church in which he is a member (along with about 30 others) is in the birthplace of the historic Heugenot movement. These committeed protestants of Calvinist background suffered greatly under the persecution of Louis XIV and Archbishop Richelieu (sp?). They were hunted down and jailed, tortured and killed by the Royalist government of northern France. But they too fought back and sometimes attacked little Roman Catholic parishes, defacing sculptures, especially of Mary and even destroying buildings during the wars of religion. The problem is that many French families have long memories of being Protestant or Catholic and some still deep animosities. There was much blood shed on French soil, often times Christians killing other Christians, and the history becomes a spiritual burden.
The church I frequent each time is St. Trophime in Arles. The photo above is of a sculpture of St. Trophime in the cloister of the church. St. Trophime was used by Constantine in 314 AD to call a council of the church to discuss issues of heretical baptisms and to fix the date for Easter. This church has a real burden of history, or is it a gift?
As I read emergent church articles and reflections, I am deeply moved by the passion and intellect of authors I know who care about the vitality of the body of Christ. They are deeply concerned about culture-bound expressions of faith that really are more cultural expressions of different ethnicities or social classes. They are rightly alarmed by the amount of time, money and energy invested in real estate and infrastructure support for large ecclesiastical edifices. They are prophetically right about the ignorance of social abuses and ecological disaster, while focussing on private spiritual attainment. They are right in their rejection of clergy power structures (read dominating senior pastors and denominational administrators) and push for the priesthood of all believers without reference to title, rank or degree.
But what about history? What about 2,000 years of faithfulness to the gospel across the globe? What about the hard working servants like St. Trophime, whom no one studies or really knows about? What about wonderful architecture and stirring art? What about the many different sounds and instruments that the church gathered to praise God?
Where does the gift of history enter the discussion? I'm waiting.

7 Comments:

At 3:31 PM , Anonymous billy said...

Great question Don. With all of the (neccesesary) self-critique going on in church, emerging church conversations, I hear much less about examples of faithfulness that could or perhaps ought to inspire us as we seek to be as faithful to the Gospel as we know how in our own context. Perhaps we fear that by lifting up historical examples of faithfulness to Christian mission, we will be asscociating ourselves with some of the dated or less desireable characteristics of their theology, expressions or ministries. I think many of us who are participating in the emerming church conversation have yet to reconcile ourselves with the redemptive aspects of our histories even as we attempt to grapple with the implications of our current contexts and our need to rethink aspects of the past. I think there are some extraordinary gifts to be recieved here and we don't seem to focus on those as often.

 
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At 5:48 AM , Anonymous kent said...

If Christianity is about the community of faith then, history is a gift. If the faith is only about the individual, then history is a burden. The author of Hebrews has it right if we are the community of faith; we have great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. They encourage us, correct us and guide us. The point to their failures as well as their successes. If we lose sight of who we are in our history then we become untethered and we drift and wander looking for a place to anchor. Our history anchors us.

It is possible to become obsessed with our history, to relive it continually and honor more than it deserves. But that is no reason to cut and run. Our history is who we are for good or ill. It is our gift.

 
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