For the past two days, I have been spending time learning about the history behind Presbyterianism and how it started in Singapore. There are occasions when I question the need or the importance of studying the history of my local church. After all, it neither represents me nor defines me. Or does it?
In the Old Testament, Israel was repeatedly called to remember their past because it was through their history that they could remember the Lord’s faithfulness to them, the nation they currently were and the nation that they were meant to be. Similarly, I think the significance of remembering our church history is to recall the original intended purpose of the church, to remember God’s goodness and also to plan and make the necessary amendments so that the church may be what it is meant to be. Whenever the question “who are you?” or “what kind of person are you?” is posed, my mind flashes back to the past recalling all the different activities that took place. In the same way, when we ask “what kind of church is this?” or “what is the identity of this church?”, I believe the answer lies somewhere in history. During a short course on a survey of the New Testament, I remember the lecturer saying “The history of the church is the history of the people of God.”
Whether we like to be associated or defined by our past, is not the point. The fact remains that whatever way we want to define ourselves as a church, history reveals who we truly are. But I think history also brings another thing into the picture. Just like how we see God at work in the nation Israel and later on within the churches, we must not fail to realize that God is currently still at work even today. God’s work continues through the early church extending all the way to the 21st century. It is through the study of history that we see how God uses the most ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things. From one church to many, and eventually a synod. Not only that, history also reveals to us the times that we have fallen astray from God’s intended purposes. It is in some way, a slap to our face. A wake up call reminding us that we are sinful and at times have neglected God’s mission and purpose for us. But history does not confine or trap us in that identity. For those who do not agree with the current impression that the church gives off, something can be done. Change can be made resulting in a new identity so to speak. This however, must be built upon the foundations of prayer and the very word of God because it is through this that we may discern God’s will for us as proven in history.