John Clements has been researching the history of his church, and believes we have much to learn from the people of faith who have gone before us.
So, whose faith do you follow? For the disciples, it was Jesus. They were led directly by their experiences of the life of Jesus, himself. Today, we have the Word of God and, for those who have believed, we have the Holy Spirit living inside to instruct and guide, and we do, in a very real sense, have to make our faith our own.
But hopefully, many of us also have those role models in our lives that we can look up to, learn from and can follow. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells his followers to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”. Philippians 3:17 says “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”
I am thankful for the many figures throughout my life that have poured into me the Word of God, shared with me their life lessons, and have pointed me in Truth, often without even having to say a word. It starts at the top with my family and then builds from there with the church body and friends. The words “Whose faith follow” from Hebrews 13 verse 7 were inscribed on my father’s grave and over the years have inspired me and challenged me to be as faithful a minister as he was.
In today’s challenging world, perhaps we need inspiration and role models more than at any other time. But, hold on, have we forgotten the early days when Congregational Churches were first gathered? They were very dark days indeed for Bible-believing Christians. If you erred from the State Church, you risked imprisonment and even torture! The founders of my chapel had to spend years in exile to escape persecution.
In the minds of many, history is a subject to be tolerated when necessary, but ignored whenever possible. Sadly, this is also true for church history. The philosophy behind this attitude is that whatever was done in the past is dead and gone, but what is happening now is living and vital.
But Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes 1: 9–10, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us” (ESV). Several times in Scripture we are told to learn from the things done in the past, that we may become wiser (1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4), and this is especially true regarding church history.
I am not a graduate in church history, but I am greatly inspired by the giants of faith who walked before, often in very challenging and difficult situations. The sort of faith that we read about in the Bible, the type that can move mountains is hard to find these days. Yet, if we can learn about those who founded many of our chapels, perhaps some of their faith might rub off onto us.
I had never written a church history before, but felt God was calling me to do it. I was really helped by reading a pdf booklet published by the Congregational Library in America. It is free of charge and you can download if from www.congregationallibrary.org – it’s called Writing a History of Your Local Church.
I have just completed writing one, and it is now being published in America by Parson Porch Books. If you would like to get a copy you can purchase it on Amazon.co.uk – it’s called “A Brief History of the Old Meeting House Congregational Church (founded in 1643): Our Story So Far.” Not only are book sales helping church funds to grow, but it is also helping many to capture the vision of those who first gathered the chapel. If your church or chapel does not have one you might consider writing one.
So, as I end this article may I ask, whose faith do you follow? But I would follow that by asking: Is your faith one that others should follow?
I can’t say that I follow Christ perfectly in my life, but I am seeking to walk with Him. Thank you to those ahead of me, whose faith I follow. Thank you to those beside me, who walk alongside as we stride to be more like Him daily. I pray for those who may follow me, that I may be faithful in my walk and in pointing them to Christ (Galatians 2:20).
The truth is - we are all role models ……so who and/or what are we leading others to? If you don’t have anyone to follow why not find out about some of those who have gone before? You might just find some inspiration that would make a difference in your life now.
Dr John Clements is Pastor of the Old Meeting House Congregational Church in Norwich, pictured above.
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