Cards on the table: one of the reasons I study the Church’s past is the same reason I study the American past for a living: I’m a giant history nerd. But I hope to convince you that studying the Church’s past is of great value to all believers, even if you won’t all get that kid-in-a-candy-store look in your eyes while you’re doing it, like I do.
Here are a few reasons why I live out my Christian life in the company of the dead:
IT HELPS ME STAY ACCOUNTABLE
Christianity isn’t about you and God. Or me and God. It’s about us and God. Through Christ, God is not merely creating a multitude of individual relationships He can enjoy forever. He is creating a community, a people, a nation – a family. There’s no “solo mode” option when it comes to Christianity. As frustrating as it can be for my rugged American individualism, the truth is that God has entrusted the gospel, the kingdom, the Scriptures, and the sacraments to the Church. Not just to you, not just to me. And He expects us to be accountable to the others to whom He has entrusted these sacred things. We practice this accountability through interacting with our fellow Christians here on earth, of course; however, I would challenge you to think of accountability as something that connects the various members of the Church through bonds that even death cannot sever.
I would encourage you to be accountable to the dead.
On August 12, a protest by various white supremacist groups against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly. That murder was part of yet another confrontation over how we as a nation ought to treat Confederate monuments and displays of the Confederate battle flag. And of course, these confrontations are really conversations about how we ought to remember the Civil War and the Confederacy itself. This particular on-going round of national debates began a little over two years ago when a white supremacist murdered nine African-American Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. It might surprise you to know, however, that questions about how to remember the Civil War and the Confederacy began right about the moment the last guns fell silent.
In short, the United States has never fully stopped fighting a war that ended 150 years ago. As Southern writer William Faulkner once penned, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”