“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
John Adams penned these words to his wife Abigail after the committee he served on with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin delivered the Declaration of Independence to the Second Continental Congress. Even though he was technically speaking of July 2nd, 1776–the day the congress approvingly voted on independence from Great Britain–his sense of historical gravitas was spot on. When he died on July 4th, 1826, the United States of America had been celebrating Independence Day for 50 years. Yesterday marked the 237th anniversary of this day on which the Declaration was signed with all the games, guns, and fireworks (“illuminations”) John Adams anticipated.
Our nation’s commemoration of Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day wisely creates space for us to remember our history. Brave men and women dreamed, debated, fought, and died to provide the freedoms we now enjoy, and our remembrance of their work helps us clarify who we want to be as Americans and the freedoms we intend to preserve. History matters for knowing both where we came from and where we are going.
History matters even more so in regards to our citizenship in the kingdom of God. The historical events of Jesus’ death and resurrection are so essential to our identity as God’s people that we are to remember them frequently through preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s supper. Like Israel’s feasts, these reminders both point us back to the mighty works of God on our behalf and forward to the day of final deliverance at Jesus’ return. Without this sacred history, faith and hope are impossible and love has no substance.
Beyond this fundamental role of God’s work in time and space, the Scriptures often recount the stories of fallible yet faithful men and women as markers of what life with God is to look like. The accounts of Israel’s kings consistently compare each monarch to a historical referent–typically godly David or wicked Jeroboam. In Ezekiel 14, Noah, Daniel, and Job are referenced as examples of righteousness. Most famously, the author to the Hebrews, who calls the church to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12), walks through the history of God’s people to recount how Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and a dozen others exemplified the very faith to which we are now called.
Thus the Bible sets us on a trajectory of remembering our spiritual heritage in order to live faithfully in our day. As we look back over 2,000 years of the church’s history, we find courageous brothers and sisters who endured persecution for the sake of the gospel, committed scholars who fought for accurate articulations of Biblical teaching, radical believers who loved the poor and advocated for the oppressed, and visionaries who took the gospel to distant cultures. Regretfully there are as many cautionary tales as there are inspirational accounts, but through it all we gain greater insight into where we as the church have come from and where we are going.
On Sunday, July 14th, we will begin an 8-week course on The Story of the Church. With 2,000 years’ worth of ground to cover, this will get us to the Protestant Reformation (1517), and we will save the rest for Part II of the course later this year. Whether you are familiar with church history or not, I strongly encourage you to join us during the training hour each week (9:30-10:30) in the Fireside Room to be informed, inspired, and challenged by our heritage as God’s people.
Remembering with you,