Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Ways to Think About History in a Church

The history of a church is packed with host of information that can be helpful to a church as it works to fulfill its mandate. Here, I want to suggest two models (among what is surely many) for viewing the history of a church: foundation and fence.

When history is a fence, it limits, often without reason. It keeps things inside. It prevents straying. This is most commonly presented as “We have always done this,” Or “We have never done it that way before.” 

When history is a foundation, it stabilizes and supports while it informs. It allows things to be built on top of the foundation, while not traversing the boundaries of a foundation. This allows a church to build itself on the mission rather than fence itself in by history.

The dangers of a fence is that it makes a church think it is faithful because it still does what it always did. Often what the fence perpetuates is a cultural expression that was fine when it started. It worked well in helping to accomplish the mission. But it has passed it’s usefulness now.

The danger of a foundation is that a church may cantilever off of it into something that cannot be supported by the foundation. In order to support the new structure, they actually build a different foundation.

While both of these are real dangers, I am of the opinion that the foundation is a better model of church history than the fence is. What should drive the church is the mission given to us by God. While we should exercise great caution in departing from some historical traditions, we must think carefully about why we would continue them. Thoughtlessly defaulting to “what we have always done” is no more a virtue than thoughtlessly departing from what we have always done.

Chasing old fads is not better than chasing new ones. The church should be defined primarily by its mission, and secondarily by its history.

So use your church’s history to build, not to limit.

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