Written by Austin Jones of Calgary, AB
When you think about the past, several things may come to mind: nostalgia, progress, long-loved traditions, and things you wish never happened. We inherit the past. What does this mean? It means everything that has happened matters. It means all of history has slowly marched forward to this point.
For Canadians, this means Confederation, the Red River Rebellion, Vimy Ridge and Indigenous residential schools have all influenced us.
But what, then, does this mean for us as Christians? What are the things that we have inherited? The answer looks different for everyone.
When I think about my spiritual inheritance I think about my grandpa and my father. By looking at these two men I see a generational commitment to Christ. The Christian traditions in which I was raised, and which gave me my most fundamental beliefs, were created by these two. It was shaped by them as I am shaped by them.
I am proud to say I am the third generation of Jones men to attend South Calgary Community Church. When I think about this I think of Genesis 17:7 where God tells Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
God promises to be faithful to the offspring of those faithful to Him. What about others who, like my fiancée, do not come from Christian families? The promises God makes do not exclude these people. The Gospel of John tells us “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). All who believe are children of God. We all, therefore, are inheritors of the kingdom of God.
The other inheritance we all share is church history. In the same way our generation has inherited the world left to us, we also have inherited the long, and sometimes checkered, past of the church. This means two things for us.
First, we have nearly 2,000 years of teaching available to us. Augustine, Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, Dallas Willard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and countless others have built on this tradition. If we accept that there is nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, then these writers have tackled the same issues that we face today and have answers that we can use.
Second, we have 2,000 years of minor and major mistakes to learn from, some that have been corrected and some that still exist or repeat. One big one for the Western church is colonialism. When you add corruption, hypocrisy and environmental destruction to the mix, it’s easy to see that churches have been responsible for a lot of harm in the world.
Whether we want it, this is our inheritance as the next generation of Christians. Even if we are ignorant of how these mistakes have shaped us, many of our neighbours are only too aware of how these mistakes have hurt them.
The best thing for us to do is not to perpetuate or ignore these problems but to humbly acknowledge the harm that has been caused and begin to reconcile ourselves with those that have been victimized by any form of Christianity. It’s a journey much longer than one person’s life, which makes learning about the lives of our spiritual ancestors important if we are to avoid making the same mistakes they did.