My mind is officially blown. From the Acropolis in Athens to the Citadel of Corinth to the Coliseum in Rome, the last two weeks of mission work and travel have renewed yet again my love for history. The dates and dead people of centuries past that I’ve long studied and marveled at from afar became up close, three-dimensional, and fresh.
Hilaire Belloc argues that the past is in some sense retained in the spaces and places where history is made. If you’ve have traveled to historical places, you can appreciate the point Belloc is making. It’s hard to describe or quantify exactly, but there is something almost sacred about coursing through the streets, hilltops, and piazzas where generations of people have lived and died and where one history-shaping event after another has taken place.
As a Mission Team, we climbed the Areopagus in Athens to the place where Paul
reasoned with the Stoics and Epicureans and preached to them the gospel (Acts 17). Standing there and looking down on the Athenian Marketplace on the left and up to the ancient Acropolis on the right gave a whole new appreciation for the context of Paul’s unique presentation of the gospel among the philosophers.
We walked through the Corinthian Agora, touching the rock with the carved inscription, “The Synagogue of the Jews” where Paul first preached the gospel there. We stood together as a team on the Berma in Corinth where Paul was tried and acquitted by Gallio and walked the streets where Paul reasoned and preached and a church in Corinth was established (Acts 18).
A few of us ventured to Rome where Paul ministered for two years preaching the gospel with boldness and without hindrance. Tradition has it that Paul never made it to Spain as he hoped, so it’s likely Paul finished his ministry in Rome (Acts 27-28). The gospel took firm root in Rome. Basilicas, crosses, and monuments mark the skyline, testifying to the triumph of Christianity over the centuries as it spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to Rome—the uttermost part of the world (Acts 1:8)
But in the midst of all this wonder and romance, a very sobering note was rung. For right alongside these splendid antiquities was a haunting spiritual reality. In most cases, these towering churches no longer represent the life of Christianity but it’s passing. Churches are not sanctuaries for worship so much anymore as tourist attractions designed to make big business. The surging life of Christianity in Greece and Rome has in large measure faded from the scene.
It was an important reminder that buildings, monuments, and crosses can’t keep the Faith alive. Religious traditions long held and passed down from generation to generation do not in themselves contain the life-blood of Christianity. The heart of Christianity is a living work of God’s Spirit born and spread through the preaching of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s the heart of the faith. Period. And if that’s the case, then the church can never be bricks and mortar. It’s not even marble in the case of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s not even plaster and wood as in the case of our beautiful little chapel in downtown Franklin. Because the gospel is a living and dynamic reality, it is “housed” in a living and dynamic reality called the church. That is, you—the people of God.
This fresh reminder has led me to pray more fervently for God’s preserving grace. That He might be pleased to lodge the Faith within us by His Spirit to be passed down to the next generation. That by God’s grace our grandchildren and great grandchildren won’t one day visit the antebellum chapel on the corner of Church St. and 3rd Ave. to see as a ancient monument to a long gone faith. By God’s grace, they will find within these walls what we have found here—a living church teeming with gospel faith.