Making History for Tomorrow
This past weekend Nell and I joined in celebrating Millbury Baptist Church’s 175th anniversary. Millbury was the first church I pastored, the church that ordained me to the gospel ministry, and the church that taught me everything left out in seminary. It was so good to meet old friends, remember how significant our time together had been (even if it was way, way back in the old days) and see the good God is doing through his church right now.
When I came back to First Baptist Arlington I wandered into the sanctuary, sat down in a pew, enjoyed the sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows, and thought about the church’s lifespan. Our roots are deep. We celebrated our 225th birthday back in 2006. As I sat there I thought of all the folks who normally gather on Sunday mornings. Then I remembered those I have known and loved who have passed on and now form part of the heavenly congregation.
The past ten years of our time together have only been the iceberg’s tip. Great hosts of people have anchored their church life in this holy place over the centuries, choosing to worship God and to work for the kingdom through our church. I know a few names from the past, but most have been forgotten in the dust of history. They have been drawn to this church, wanting a faith to live by, wanting to love God and neighbor, wanting to follow Jesus. Over the years they have left a significant legacy, a heritage upon which we build today.
I moved from the pew to the ornate chair behind the pulpit. There I thought of those who have gone before me -- pastors who have brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the congregation. Some did it with the unpolished roughness of a frontier Baptist preacher, some did it with great eloquence and sophistication. Some did it winsomely and effectively, while others failed. Most tried their best to shepherd the sheep, and all of them did it knowing the task was impossible but for the grace of God. All have left their mark.
Glorying in the accomplishments over a 175 year or a 231 year span of ministry unfortunately doesn’t carry much currency in today’s world. The church must bring the power of the gospel to our world right now. There are multiple needs and issues that need to be seen and addressed from the viewpoint of Christian faith, and there are spiritually searching people who need to know that Jesus is the way, truth and life they have been seeking.
Things do change. We must not cling to the past, but discover what living Christianly for today and tomorrow means. The book of Hebrews puts it in classic yet so contemporary and relevant language: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”