I just received a slick publication from my alma mater, Rutgers University, celebrating the institution’s 250th anniversary. The school was founded as a Dutch Reformed theological seminary in 1766. It was originally named Queens College, in honor of British royalty. But in the first decade of its existence it was at the center of the American Revolution against the British throne, and after the War it was renamed in honor of a hero of the Revolution, Col. Henry Rutgers. In light of the college’s turbulent beginning, I was impressed by the slogan that was selected to express the theme of this anniversary year: “REVOLUTIONARY FOR 250 YEARS.”
If only we could claim this spirit for the Church of Jesus Christ! As I review church history, I see many episodes that show the tendency of Christian leaders to reinforce the walls of the institution at the expense of advocating for the poor and oppressed. I see warriors going to battle waving banners depicting the Cross; sometimes both sides have been waving Christian banners. I see anti-Semitic outbreaks against Jews, the people through whom God gave us Jesus, our Savior. I see leading Christian scholars trying to repress important scientific discoveries, such as those of Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin. I’m tempted to write as a summary “REACTIONARY FOR 2000 YEARS.”
But then another series of thoughts comes to me. I reflect on the amazing flexibility the church has shown, adapting to various cultures and customs. I realize that the monastic movement of the Middle Ages gave believers an avenue for profound self-sacrifice and service to others. I see how the Renaissance led to the creative renewal of faith in the Protestant Reformation. I marvel at the outbursts of spiritual energy that emerge periodically, as in the Great Awakening, the modern missionary movement, the charismatic renewal movement. I recognize that the church has consistently found ways to use new technologies, from the printing press to the iPhone, to advance the Gospel. Who knows what shape the Church will take in the decades ahead?
When I revisited the Rutgers anniversary book and its challenging theme, “REVOLUTIONARY FOR 250 YEARS,” I realized that this was not a statement of fact, but a statement of faith. As a twenty-first century corporate entity, Rutgers University has the potential to get stuck in the mud of reality. (Here’s a harsh reality: Rutgers became part of the Big Ten in 2014, and this year their football team has managed to lose to Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State by a combined score of 185 to 0.) If the university doesn’t respond to the challenges creatively, they’ll sink into a reactionary survival mode. That’s a fact, but their faith is expressed in the theme slogan.
So, I’m encouraging us, as the ABC family, to choose a faith theme that puts us in touch with the bright, bold, victory side of church history. Let’s embrace the theme, “REVOLUTIONARY FOR 2000 YEARS!” The Apostle Paul was carried by a driving impulse: “Straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” and he called on other believers to “be of the same mind” (Philippians 3:14-15). Here (Altadena, CA) and now (AD 2016), let’s determine to “be of the same mind” with the Apostle Paul and with all the bright stars of faith throughout church history!
— Pastor George Van Alstine