woensdag 9 maart 2016

Lessons from Christians of the past

In the Apostle’s Creed it is confessed: I believe a holy, catholic church, the community of the saints. Contact with experienced and exercised believers, can be a great help for believers who just started the run the race of faith and surely not only for them. We can not only learn from Christians of the present but also from Christians of the past. Witnesses whose lips have fallen silent, but who speak through their writing sand the stories of their lives.
The Bible tells us that God is the Lord of history. He fulfills his council in history. We know its content to save the whole church for which He sent his Son to the world. The Bible does not only tell about God’s saving acts in history but also how his grace is applied to believers, how they are drawn from darkness to light and start and continue to walk with Him.
Every real Christian loves the Biblical story. Every Christian ought to have an interest in church history. Church history gives us a testimony that despite attacks from outside and heresies within God cared for his church and sustained here.
When you want to make a start in learning from church history or deepening you knowledge of it, I can heartily recommend you Silent Witnesses: Lessons on theology, life and the church from Christians of the past. Its author is dr. Garry J. Williams, director of the John Owen Centre at London Theological Seminary and visiting professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadephia, USA.
In Silent Witnesses he describes both famous and less well-known figures from the fourth to the twentieth century drawing lessons from their lives and theological insights. Williams divides his book in three parts. The first covers some of the essentials of theology: the Bible, the incarnation, the cross, grace and justification.
The second looks at issues related to the Christian life: loving God, suffering, identity. The third section is especially addressed to pastors and elders and concerns the priorities the church ought to have. Names of the first part are among others William Tyndale, John Calvin and Owen. In the second we read again about Calvin in relation to trusting in God in trials. We hear the voice of the Puritans in general to learn from them what it means to love God with all our heart. 
Calvin is the theologian and Christian for whom our attention again is asked in the third section. We can learn from him what priorities we must have in the church. I found the chapter on Luther and preaching very instructive and also delightful. He may have his theological shortcomings, but Luther not only as a theologian and reformer but also a Christian with such a joyful character is a great gift of God to the church.
Williams finishes with an epilogue. He strongly states that God has revealed to us his view of history. Aware of our failings and shortcomings we must be humble historians, but not neglect to tell the story of what God has done in the church of the church and that with the aim of glorifying Him. I would also share the insight of Williams that Christian historian should be optimistic. 
It is only the gospel that provides a foundation for all knowledge. We may be sure that the Lord Jesus Christ will win. ‘Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.’ (Heb. 12:1–2).

Garry J. Williams, Silent Witnesses: Lessons on theology, life and the church from Christians of the past (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2013) hardcover 240 p., £9,60 (ISBN 978-1-84871-217-1).