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The Way to the Future is through the Past

Posted on April 8th, 2011

In preparation for our Emotionally Healthy Leadership Conference I spent a lot of time reading of about the impact of social media/technology on our formation in Christ along with the importance of learning from other spiritual traditions outside of contemporary evangelicalism to root us deeply in Christ.

What are the lessons I learned?

1. We need to learn from Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches and church history. Remember, Luther was anti-Semite. Calvin drowned an Anabaptist for believing in baptism by immersion. Jonathan Edwards had slaves. Azusa Street, in 1906, split on racism.  While my church historian friend, Dr. Scott Sunquist, reminds me that the roots of evangelicalism in the 18th and 19th century was marked by a generous spirit towards other traditions, that is not the case today.  We are often deeply judgmental and narrow. Our church family genogram since Pentecost has many riches and warts. By studying this history, we can see better what to resist and what to embrace.

2. The Desert Fathers (3rd to 5th century) and monasticism, in particular, have much to teach us today. Their commitment to fashion a desert in order to hear God and cleanse themselves from the idols that filled both the world and the church model for us the kind of leadership we need for the 21st century.  The Celtic missionary movement of the 5th -9th centuries was inspired by the desert hermits of Egypt. St Patrick’s memoirs reveal that his mission to Ireland was preceded by monastic training in what is now France. We too need to listen to these desert fathers today.

3. Business People with resources through history have played strategic roles in expanding Christ’s kingdom.When wealthy people have seen themselves as missionaries, it has been very significant. Our first evidence of a sustained Christian church in India (after Thomas) was a wealthy Persian business person who purchased land for a church, and sponsored a bishop and priests to come from the national Persian church.

4. Christian unity is not an option. It is at the heart of the Gospel we share and live. One of the major reasons Islam became so powerful was the church was divided and divisive in spirit at that time.

5. Ideas matter. We sometimes think we should not get caught up in theological disputes, but some ideas matter a lot. History shows us what ideas are important and which are not. This was especially true of Arius. He thought Jesus was very special, only not God (5th century). That turned out to matter a lot.

6. Conversion of individuals must lead to conversion of cultures. Christians in Ethiopia developed their own music and architecture. The same was true for Christians in Nubia. Every level of society, every expression of culture (media, education, etc) must be permeated by the gospel.

What might you add to this list?

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