Christianity has been an assumed part of our culture for centuries. But at one time in the history of our ancestors it was something new. In the villages of medieval Europe some priest or monk made his way where the ancient gods were challenged by the Christ of Calvary. Or it might have been that one of our forebears went to war or traveled away and there heard the Gospel for the first time, bringing the good news back home. None of us can know how it was that the first generation bravely tempted the gods and spirits they had previously believed in to turn to Christ. But it happened. And though succeeding generations varied in their faithfulness and the reality of their commitment to Christ, over all the message was handed down one generation at a time. Someone somewhere was faithful.
For those of us who call The Salvation Army our spiritual home we have a similar legacy. All of us with the right resources could likely trace our spiritual heritage directly back to William and Catherine Booth. What we would find is not only that we share this common heritage but that there are many names of people we never knew existed. There were corps officers and Sunday school teachers, local officers and headquarters officers. They each carried in their heart the precious message of redemption and with their proclamation of it one of our spiritual forebears heard what was said, considered that the way of Christ was better than the way of sin and humbly asked Him for the forgiveness of sins. They heard because someone was faithful.
But the life of Christ is more than preaching. It is day to day living. It is utterly foolish to think that there was ever an easy time to be a Christian. It may have been that this generation has seen more sins openly flaunted than in times past but there are no new sins, there are no new temptations. Every person deals with appetites that must be managed. Everyone must fight the demon of selfishness or the serpent of pride. No matter how saintly we want to make people from the past, sometimes they fell as have we. But they learned to not surrender but to press on. Faithfulness is not defined by a lack of difficulty or an absence of failure but rather what is done in the face of struggle or collapse. There can be overcoming without obstacles. No race is won without the strain of the course.
Each person has their faith tested. An untested faith will not carry you any more than a papier-mâché pony can lead a cavalry charge. The saints of the past were bewildered as to what course to take, confused sometimes as to what branch in the road was God’s will, left to wonder in retrospect if they had indeed done the right thing. But these very difficulties were the tutors that taught them that circumstances may cloud their way but as long as they kept their eyes on Christ the end result would be sure. They were faithful in believing that God could redeem what man may have mistaken.
We remember them. Our minds drift to them through the years. We relive conversations and shared jokes. We speak of them to those who knew them as well and try to explain them to those who never had the joy to meet them. We sometimes read their names and feel the heaviness in our chest because we miss what they were here among us. But we take courage because they proved to us that whatever happens a person committed to Christ can always be faithful.
We are challenged by their example. We hope that we too have lived up to the expectations of the Lord who redeemed us while at the same time relying on Him for the strength to make faithfulness possible. We don’t know who is observing us. We don’t know what acts will be forgotten in the moment they occur or what may be recalled past the breadth of our own lives.
Not that we can be overly concerned about who is looking. Glancing up to see who is watching us in the grandstand will mean we miss the action on the field. The game is not played by cheerleaders but won by those fulfilling their assignments and focusing on the win.
What we do know is that we are a link in a chain of faithfulness. It is a sacred trust. We must hold on so those who come after us can also hold on. Faithfulness begets faithfulness. And at the last day we shall hear the blessed words "'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!'" (Matthew 25:23).