The advice of a devout sage is a great asset if one wishes to avoid punishment. No matter how much you esteem your strength of will, place yourself under the direction of another.
- The Rule of Comghall, Irish, 6th century
For He established a testimony in Jacob,
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers,
That they should make them known to their children;
That the generation to come might know them,
The children who would be born,
That they may arise and declare them to their children,
That they may set their hope in God,
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments;
And may not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not set its heart aright,
And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
- Psalm 78.5-8
People today are increasingly interested in learning about their heritage. At least two programs on PBS feature genealogy researchers who shed light for delighted clients on their ancestral lines. Several companies exist that will provide a DNA analysis, for a fee, so that subscribers can discover the various regional or ethnic bloodlines flowing in their veins. Many people achieve a measure of self-identity in discovering past personages or pedigrees of which they are but the latest in a line of descent.
Learning about their heritage is a big deal for many in our day. And certainly, there is no virtue in being ignorant of one’s heritage, particulary if that heritage is rich with examplars and precious artifacts, and crucial for understanding one’s present circumstances, calling, and prospects.
Christians today have but little interest in the heritage of their faith. The tendency among many Christians is to seek out only whatever is new and innovative and hip for defining their faith. We can only be authentic if we express our faith in the latest songs, worship styles, campus architecture, programming, and vernacular. And if we listen to the newest preachers or read the newest writers. Old things have passed away, you know? All things need to be done new.
But to the extent that this tendency ignores or disregards the long heritage of counsel and example from our forebears in the faith, is to be deplored.
Our generation is but the latest link in a chain of belief and practice that stretches all the way back to Abraham, Noah, and Adam, with an abundance of faithful witnesses linked up in between. Generation after generation of gifted and insightful believers have testified of their faith, expounded the Scriptures, clarified matters of doctrine and practice, composed songs and poems, created works of art, and applied the teaching of Scripture to a wide range of disciplines and circumstances.
The Christian heritage is the richest and most varied spiritual and cultural heritage in the world. We neglect this heritage to our detriment.
No, we cannot read every work of every Church father, theologian, or reformer. And we can’t sing all the “old songs” or appreciate every work of Christian art from our glorious past.
But there is wisdom to be gained in placing ourselves under the direction of a few trusted advisors from the history of the Christian movement, such as the bright lights of the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD). I find aspects of Celtic Christianity to be strange, distracting, and even a little absurd. But these do not outweigh the sound instruction, spiritual insight, cultural contribution, and valuable examples that are to be discovered by studying the primary and secondary literature of this period.
You may not gravitate to our Celtic fathers as earnestly as I, but there are many other epochs of Church history, each with its own valuable and devout sages and saints, from which you might draw strength for following Jesus in our time.
Our forebears have faithfully recorded and handed down their views, experiences, insights, and conclusions on a great many matters of significance for our day. They have created masterworks of thought and art to express their feelings, convictions, and experiences. Let us not be so foolish as to neglect their advice through ignorance or willful refusal to be taught.
Search out the ancient writers. Discover the masterworks of our Christian heritage. Learn about the great saints whose examples can guide and inspire us yet today. Let these enrich your vision of Christ and His Kingdom, and shed fresh light on your walk with and work for the Lord.
1. Where might you begin to become better acquainted with our Christian heritage?
2. How should you expect to benefit from doing so?
Psalm 78.1-4 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord)
Give ear, O my people, attend to my word,
dark sayings and parables sent from the Lord,
things we have before by our fathers been told,
which we would not dare from our children withhold.
The glorious deeds of our God in His might,
and all of the works He has done in our sight,
together with all of the words of His Law,
would we on ourselves and our children bestow.
You could begin here
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T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Ó Maidín, p. 33.