I am a student of history, church history specifically. I have a PhD in historical theology. I love reading about what happened in the past. That is why this particular quotation from B.T. Roberts, the founder of the Free Methodist Church, hits me so hard:
We have been raising monuments to the victories of our fathers, when we ought to have been achieving still greater conquests.
How often is this true in the lives of our congregations? So many look to the past and remember some golden time when everything was great. They romanticize an earlier period in their lives and think, “If only it could be like that again, we would convert the city!”
How often is this true in our own lives? How often do we remember how Christ delivered us from some sin or vice…and leave it at that? How many of us have wonderful testimonies that read as if they had been completed years ago, even though we are still alive today (and by implication ought to have ongoing testimonies)?
I think of God’s advice to Joshua right before the beginning of the conquest of the Holy Land.
Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.
This is verse two of the first chapter! The past is over. Move forward. What happens from here will be a continuation of what has been, but it will be different and better!
I think this is why Jesus said to his Apostles in John 14:12
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
Jesus did not want his followers only looking back at the wonderful time they had with him during his earthly ministry. He wanted them to know that the future was going to be even better. It would be a continuation of his ministry because it would be facilitated by his Holy Spirit, living and working in his Apostles, but it would be better, greater, than what went on before.
And yet we seem to forget that we are called to continually move forward. It is easier to raise monuments than it is to live our lives in a monumental way. It is easy to look back on the success of our movement and forget that we are currently a part of the movement today. The past is known and is easier to handle than the future. Perhaps this is why Jesus’ last words recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew are:
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
These are words of comfort and encouragement. Jesus knows his followers can be frightened of what is going to take place in the future. He knows we have a proclivity for self-preservation and that the call to deny ourselves is a daily struggle. He knows it is easier for us to tout the successes of our ancestors than live into the story that he is still writing about the history of his Church. He knows. And he wants us to move forward.
May our lives be ones future generations read about as Christ’s story continues to unfold in the world.