Signs that your congregation is part of a bigger historyYou’ve probably heard it too. Some Christians claim that their congregation doesn’t have a past, that it is only connected to the church of the New Testament and not to any other. If one suggests that the church of Christ stems from the so-called “Restoration Movement,” they resist the idea violently. “Everything we do comes from the Bible and only from the Bible. We are free from human influences.” Don’t talk to them about church history, don’t talk to them about being influenced by culture, don’t suggest that they are doing anything different than what was done in the first century.
For most of us, to not say all, for most of us, it’s just not true. There are clear and obvious signs that what we do stems at least in part from what we’ve learned from others. If your congregation does any of these things, it can’t claim to be free from human influence:
- If you sing songs that are sung in other congregations, you didn’t get those from the Bible.
- In the same vein, if you have a song book, you must have gotten it from someone.
- If you have a song leader, that’s an “innovation”; the New Testament says nothing about that.
- Does your church meet in a room with seats basically facing forward, looking toward a place where “the speaker” stands?
- If you’ve got pews, well, that’s a sure sign of outside influence.
- Do you pass the Lord’s Supper around in trays?
- How about an invitation song? There’s definitely not one of those in the Bible. Nor is there a “closing prayer.”
- Dare I point out that having a bound Bible isn’t biblical? Using a Bible in book form, with chapters and verses, is a sure sign of having been influenced by people outside of the biblical writers.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. None of us is free from the past. None of us is free from the influence of our culture.
George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." [Yeah, I know… that appears in lots of different forms] Until we admit that we have a past, admit that we’ve been influenced by others, we’re locked into an endless cycle of influence. After a time, we fail to recognize which influences are human and which are divine.
Let’s embrace our past, deal with it, learn from it, and use it to help us recognize what’s Bible and what’s tradition in what we do.