by Alexei Laushkin

In Revelation 21:12 we find these words:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

Deeds are significant in the eyes of God. Both our personal deeds and the deeds of nations and peoples. From Genesis to Exodus from Chronicles to the Psalms and the Prophets the deeds of the people, the disposition and actions are key to understanding not only what many call Providence, but key to learn from both the examples and failures of past generations.

We know God is perfectly just and merciful and while we can’t always weigh the balance correctly we can reflect on both the nature of God and the actions of his people, because it is in exploring both that we see the seeds of our own deeds and glean important lessons for the life of the present.

Looking at the past is a fuel for missions, especially missions focused on healing divisions and building bridges. Because in order to build a bridge one must understand why there is a divide to begin with.

This is particularly true around race. You can’t really understand the realities of race in the American church, both in terms of wounds but also in terms of the two very different kinds of church cultures and corresponding politics without understanding the past.

One of the reasons we don’t have a unified body in the United States is this history. A history marked by sin and the degrading of human life.

Despite a Strong Basis Looking at History Can Provoke Reaction

Not everyone is open to looking at the past within the church or delving too deeply into America’s racial history. You can hear things like ‘Well why are you bringing that up’ or ‘talking about racism is the problem.’

A Christian Post (CP) post article recently brought this home for me. CP wrote up a news report on, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s landmark report on its institutional involvement in race, racism, the confederacy, and the post civil war period going all the way up into 1950. It is a detailed look and takes some pretty graphic and detailed accounts on the theology used to justify evil. 

Although the report did not speculate as to why those who consider themselves right with God can have such horrific blind spots, the report itself created pushback from white Christians and some Mainline and Historic Black Protestant commentators as well. The Mainline commentators focusing on the lack of systematic reflection and the Historic Black Protestant commentators focusing on the active lack of pursuit of racial justice among some Southern Baptists today. Even while concern on race has risen among Southern Baptists the corresponding politics and justice focus points are not as well developed.

The social media reaction to the Christian Post article was telling. One examples was worth noting. One gentlemen in his 40s posted a rather snarky, ‘well I don’t know any slave holders today do you?’ When pressed by other commenters he simply stated leave the sins of the past to the past we’ve got to focus on mission today.

Is refusing to look at the past a sign of maturity as it relates to mission?

For Christians an unhealthy obsession with our faults and past misdeeds can be unhealthy, but one can not really get there if one has never even really looked at the realities of the past.

Living with a kind of spiritual amnesia as it relates to past generations either in or outside of one’s family line can be very problematic.

The past lets us understand the present so that we might be empowered for missions that bring collaboration, understanding, and even the possibility of common witness.

You have to look at the past in understand to help understand the present. This is key for us as Christians.

The past when accounted for dispassionately can help illuminate the challenges of the present. Shed light on the political and cultural differences but also help us learn the sensitives and concerns of Christians who are not simply like us.

It’s clear to me as I understand the history of America towards African Americans that our history books and church understandings needs to be re-written to reflect many omitted truth.

The past helps us understand divisions, human nature, the nature of truth as it relates to Christian traditions, and gives us the tools we need for building bridges in the present.

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