Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History and God

"The greatest proof to me that God exists and this [Christianity] is all true is the history of the Church. With all the scandals and sin, if God's hand wasn't on it, it would have fallen apart a long time ago." ~ Dr. Frank James

Dr. James is a professor at RTS Orlando (one of the sister seminaries of my own). He is a brilliant scholar, knowledgeable historian, and a great professor. I had him for both of my Church History courses.

I really like this quote because it reminds me of the wonder of God's providence. If we look at the history of the Church, there are some triumphs and moments we would love to emulate or relive, but for the most part, the history of the Church has been God saving us from one predicament after another. Without His providential hand on the Church, protecting it, it would have died a long time ago. Do not get me wrong, I love the Church, but that is because she belongs to Jesus and He makes sure that I do.

Think about the history of Israel, for moment. Israel is one of the most ancient cultures still in existence, and they certainly were not a dominant one for the majority of their history. All it takes is a cursory look at the history of the Old Testament to see that most of the time Israel was botching things up and bringing on the judgment of God. They were conquered by many nations much greater than they, and yet, they are still around while most of those nations are long gone. Why? Because God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him that He would make him into a great nation, and God is faithful to His covenants, even if we are not. From a human perspective, the Israelite nation should have died out long ago and yet they lived on. Why? Because God's providential hand was on them.

Consider the persecutions of the early Church in the first few centuries. There were many Roman emperors who were intent on wiping out the pesky Christian religion, but they could not do it. Why? Because God's providential hand was on the Church, sustaining it and refining it in the fire of persecution. "Caesar and Christ had met in the arena and Christ had won."

Think about the Church scandals and fights of the third, fourth, and fifth centuries. Once Christians did not have to fight the Roman Empire any longer, we started fighting among ourselves. But, God used these controversies to help the Church define itself by determining the bounds of orthodoxy, now written down in the ancient creeds. However, from a human perspective those scandals and fights should have destroyed us, yet they did not. Why? Because God's providential hand was on the Church, sustaining it amid its own internal turmoil.

You know what this tells me? That God does not really need us. I knew that already, of course, because God is sovereign and independent. Looking at the history of the Church, however, makes this clear to my heart as well as my head. He does not need us to do anything. Yet, He chooses to use us--a sinful, broken people. Why? To answer that, let me tell you a story about a friend of mine.

In order to protect his identity on the Internet, I will change the names. This friend, let us call him Ryan, has an autistic son, let us call him Jack. Jack is 23 years old but has the mind of a seven-year-old, according to Ryan. Ryan, of course, loves Jack with all his heart. If you ever had the privilege of hearing him talk about Jack, that would be readily apparent to you. One day Ryan needed to replace a door nob in his house. Now, by his own admission, Ryan is not very handy, so what would be a 10-minute job for some people is an hour-long job for him. But, this time, Jack wanted to help Ryan replace the nob, and Ryan loves Jack, so he let him help. Now, when you add Jack into the picture, an hour-long job becomes about three hours because Jack makes mistakes or disturbs the process by doing something like playfully picking up the screws and running around the house hoping Ryan will chase him. It tried Ryan's patience, but he loves his son, so he continued to let him help. When Jack's mother got home, Jack declared to her with a huge smile on his face, "We fixed the door nob, Mom!" Ryan's heart was filled with joy at this moment. He knew he could have done it better on his own, but he also knew that Jack needs to be about the business of his father because that brings him joy.

I think this is how God views us. We are the broken race of people who really want to help but are constantly messing things up that He could have done much better on His own. In His providence, why does He let us help? Because He knows that we need to be about our Father's business because that brings us joy. So, He lets us help, and when we screw things up, He puts His providential hand on them and fixes them. This is the story of the history of the Church.

By the way, the image above is the cover of an excellent summary of Church history. If you are interested in getting the highlights of Church history in a single book, I would recommend Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley.

By His Grace,

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