Monday, February 28

Know Your Dead Guys

....you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God's household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NET)

All believers everywhere and throughout all ages are being built into a glorious building: God's house, a holy temple. Without question, the preeminent person in the building is Christ. The apostles and prophets who cooperatively form the foundation of our temple are important, too. They're dead, but they still speak to us through their written testimony, and we join with them in forming the one dwelling place of God.

But how well do you know the other dead guys--the rest of the no-longer-living contributors to God's building? They're not apostles and prophets in the same sense that Peter and Paul and James and all the others were, and their writings aren't God breathed like the apostles' were, either. Still, they stand with us in the temple construction; they are part of the ever-growing temple of God.

They, too, can teach us. They faced different battles than we do, so their strengths may have been in different areas than ours. Where they were successful, we can copy them. We can learn from their missteps, too. We have the advantage of hindsight, which allows us to examine their mistakes in a way they couldn't, and this gives us an opportunity to avoid making the sames ones.

Many of these believer lived in more difficult times and places than we do, so they had a depth of insight and faith that we don't. If you've read some of the quotes, poetry, and sermons from the Puritans posted here over the past month, you've seen firsthand how they expressed the beauty of Christ, the depth of God's love, and the wonder of salvation with a richness that's hard to find among our contemporary writers. We don't know those things the way they knew them because we haven't experienced what they experienced, but we can catch a glimpse of what they knew and experienced in the writings they've left for us.

From J. I. Packer in Why We Need the Puritans:
The Puritans lost, more or less, every public battle that they fought. Those who stayed in England did not change the Church of England as they hoped to do, nor did they revive more than a minority of its adherents, and eventually they were driven out of Anglicanism by calculated pressure on their consciences. Those who crossed the Atlantic failed to establish new Jerusalem in New England; for the first fifty years their little colonies barely survived. They hung on by the skin of their teeth. But the moral and spiritual victories that the Puritans won by keeping sweet, peaceful, patient, obedient, and hopeful under sustained and seemingly intolerable pressures and frustrations give them a place of high honor in the believers' hall of fame, where Hebrews 11 is the first gallery. It was out of this constant furnace-experience that their maturity was wrought and their wisdom concerning discipleship was refined.
Yes, we need the wisdom and maturity of the Puritans, but it's not only the Puritans who can help make our spiritual lives richer and our faith stronger. There are the church fathers, along with men like Augustine and Anselm; the Reformers, the Anabaptists, the Methodists, and many more. None of them are perfect, some are more flawed than others, but we can learn from them all.

When Jesus prayed for his disciples just before he was crucified, he also prayed for those who would believe in him through their testimony. That means he was praying for you and for me right alongside the other dead guys--the ones that came after the apostles and prophets, but before us.
I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one--I in them and you in me--that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. (John 17: 20-23)
Jesus prayed that we would all be one: his disciples and all those through the ages who read their words and respond in faith. If we're one with the dead guys, shouldn't we get to know them?
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