“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; for they will be a graceful wreath on your head, and pendants about your neck,” Proverbs 1:8 – 9.
Continuing our reflections on these verses from the previous post in this series:
As I shared previously, while I realize that the primary “mother” of Proverbs is a natural mother of a natural child, when I read this passage (and others) I also relate the mother to the church that we see from Genesis to Revelation, including church history. The Jerusalem above is our mother (Galatians 4:26; Isa. 54:1) and the New Jerusalem is our destiny (Revelation Chapters 21 – 22). That which is above is also on earth, and the fullness of that which is above is being matured on earth – this is an “already – not yet” proposition. We can say, “We are becoming who we are.”
We are those whom Jesus prayed for when He said, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me,” (John 17:20-21). We are built “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,” (Ephesians 2:20).
There is much that we can learn from our mother church over the years since Pentecost, just is there much that we can learn from her, in the form of Israel and the Patriarchs, prior to Pentecost. Her history prior to Pentecost was not without blemish, nor is her history from Pentecost to our present day. However, what we see on earth is not what we see in the heavens – for Christ is making her a glorious church without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27) and we do well to keep this in mind as we grapple with the low points of church history. From the New Testament epistles forward much ministry has been devoted to Christ cleansing His church and molding her for eternity – corrective ministry in the Holy Spirit is a ministry of redemption, the goal of which is the image of God in Christ – when the New Jerusalem is fully manifested nothing unclean will enter into it (Revelation 21:27) – a point we seem to miss today considering what we invite into our individual lives, the lives of our families, and the lives of our congregations. Until that day garbage trucks roam our streets – hopefully we allow them to identify the trash in our lives and remove it.
The Bible is replete with history, but it is not history for the sake of history, it is history which is intended to instruct (1 Corinthians 10:1-11). Biblical writers look back at history in order to teach their generations. The great prayer book and hymnal of the church, the Psalms, is filled with reflections on the history of God dealing with humanity in general, and His people in particular. The rich texture of the New Testament, including Revelation (a book we seem adamant in exercising unending speculation about), can only be appreciated against the backdrop of what we term the Old Testament – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. In the case of Revelation, we would rather speculate what we think the images and motifs mean, than learn the Old Testament to the point that we see its fabric embedded in what Jesus Christ gave John to write.
There is much to instruct us in both the words and deeds of the church – we can read her mistakes, we can see her faulty thinking, and we can also see her love for Jesus Christ and others. We can see her struggle to understand the Gospel and the teaching of the Apostles; we can see her struggle to live faithfully in the Word of God and our Lord Jesus. There are times she has been overcome by the world, and there are times she has overcome the world. Yes, she is not perfect as we see her, but she is still our mother. Yes, there are things she has done (things we have done) that should make us weep, and then there are things that should humble us in their beauty. It must elicit tears in heaven when the children of the church inflict pain on one another – we can learn from that, we can be warned by that, we can be reminded how deceitful our hearts are outside of Jesus Christ.
I have a photo album of my mother’s and in it are many photos from the late 19th century and the early 20th century – they are photos without names. All I can do is admire the images and wonder who they are, I cannot relate them to each other or to myself. Because she died suddenly when I was seventeen there are many questions I never asked her, many things I never did with her, such as reviewing this photo album. The condition in the church in North American is worse than that of my photo album and me – at least I have images to ponder whereas most of the church has no awareness of anything than transpired in the life of its “mother” prior to its own generation – and often not even that for we have become like the beasts of the field…always living in the moment. (We think living in the moment is commendable – strictly speaking it is a step downward for humanity).
An awareness of church history is important, for church history instructs us in both words and deeds and it informs our understanding of the Bible – yes, sometimes our forebears got it wrong, sometimes grossly wrong – and when they did we should not apologize with the excuse that they were “products of their time” – that is not a reason nor an excuse for the church of the living God – sin is sin, even if it is our mother we are talking about. We have a rich heritage that we know little or nothing of, a heritage that God has given us, and we can learn much from what our mother has bequeathed to us in her teaching – not the least of which is that we are not to live life in isolation and not to think about and understand the Scriptures in isolation – on earth our mother church may not be perfect, but she is still our mother.