Yesterday morning in the village where I live and minister, I preached to and prayed with a smaller group than usual, but there were still three African languages present. Most of the people live without running water and very few books in their home. In an average service, English only shows up in a few songs.
Yet within that context we took an entire Sunday as a congregation to remember Reformation Day. It was not a random thought, but a settled idea based on a seed that has taken root over the past few years.
Our church (and probably all churches) needs historical context. We need to know that the truths we hold dear, the reasons that we walk the muddy paths on a rainy Sunday, and the polemical strains that reappear in the sermons depending on the text are more than plausible ways to demonstrate Christianity. Rather from one perspective, they summarize what it means to be a Christian.
Our church stands in contrast to the majority of houses of worship in our village and the surrounding areas. I think I have found one other pastor who believes the gospel of the 20 or so churches I have become acquainted with near Elim. It would seem reasonable that the members of our church may be tempted with weariness or even doubt the gravity of the situation. When we can look back through history however and show that the doctrines we preach and the ecclesiastical culture we promote are firmly rooted in centuries of practice across many national lines, it serves as a boon—a vote of confidence—for the average believer. Isn’t that what history is supposed to do: serve as one more vote demonstrating the truth of God’s Word?
There is health delivered to the soul of a struggling believer when he sees that although there are very few believers today in his region, he still stands in a long line of those who are called and chosen and faithful. Taking a day to remember the great resurgence of the gospel that started in the 16th century can kindle hope that it can happen even today—again, and in my country! Or, at the least, if it is not an immediate hope, it is heartening to hear about what seems like another world—a place where many preachers held forth what we hear each Sunday.
Since building my house in the village of Makhongele in 2006, the value and worth of the local church has been emphasized over and over in my personal experience. As social creatures, our spiritual lives can depend on the grace we receive from hearing the Word, interacting with other Christians, and knowing that we will be ashamed if we have fallen into sin. Added to that fellowship are the past ranks of soldiers who loved the same message with an even greater intensity in even harder circumstances.
By remembering the Reformation on at least one day per year, I am hoping to encourage the present believers by the past. I am hoping to strengthen those who are growing weary of always being “different.” I am hoping to find yet another key in which to repeat the refrain of the gospel. I am hoping to add historical context to a church that is not familiar with its spiritual grandfathers. I am hoping to say loud and clear to all who attend our worship, “Our church represents normal Christianity; those who differ from us, however numerous they may currently be, are the abnormal ones.”