The Church’s Heritage

While walking through the forest one day, a man found a young eagle who had fallen out of his nest.  He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens.  One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens.  The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it had never learned to fly.  Since it now behaved as the chickens, it was no longer an eagle.

“Still, it has the heart of an eagle,” replied the naturalist, “and can surely be taught to fly.”  He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth.  Stretch forth your wings and fly.”  The eagle, however, was confused.  He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.

The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, “You are an eagle.  Stretch forth your wings and fly.”  But the eagle was afraid of his unknown self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food.

Finally the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain.  There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, “You are an eagle.  You belong to the sky.  Stretch forth your wings and fly.”  The eagle looked around, back toward the barnyard and up to the sky.  Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble.  Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, soared away in the heavens.

It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia.  It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard.  But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.

(Theology News and Notes, Oct. 1976, quoted in Multnomah Message, Spring, 1993, p. 1)

Christians, the eagle was created to fly through the sky.  It was not created to scratch for chicken feed on the ground.

We were created to fear God and keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13).  We were not created to serve Satan or ourselves.

And yet, when we chose sin we fell short of the glory of God and His purpose for us (Rom. 3:23).  Instead of soaring through the sky as eagles, we joined the chickens on the dirty ground.

Christianity — the gospel — calls on us to remember our heritage…and embrace it.

“Heritage” is defined as follows:

“The traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation.”

(Merriam-Webster – Essential Meaning)

Merriam-Webster lists additional definitions:

“property that descends to an heir”

“something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor”

“something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth”

I want us to think about the heritage of the church.  Consider the definition of heritage which is “property that descends to an heir.”

Peter wrote:

1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

We have the inheritance of heaven!  It is given to us by God because we are His heirs!

Galatians 3:26-29 (ESV)
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Heaven is our heritage, and for that I am very grateful to God.

Think about the definition of heritage which is “something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor.”

Remember what Paul told Timothy?  Do you remember what he said about his inspired teaching to the churches of Corinth and Thessalonica?

2 Timothy 2:2 (ESV)
2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

1 Corinthians 11:2 (ESV)
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)
15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 (ESV)
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

“Tradition” means “something which is passed down.”  Man-made traditions must never supersede God’s Word (Matt. 15:1-9; Rom. 16:17-18).  However, the traditions which are found in the divinely-inspired New Testament — the traditions taught by the Holy Spirit-inspired apostles — are to be cherished, studied, meditated upon, and obeyed by all who wear the name of Christian.  They are our heritage.

Think of the definition of heritage which is “something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.”

Now think about the salvation given to you by God.  We do not have that “as a result of one’s natural situation.”  Calvinism is wrong when it teaches that God chose us individually before we were born to be saved or condemned unconditionally.

However, salvation is very much the “result of one’s…birth.”  As Jesus said to Nicodemus:

John 3:3-5 (ESV)
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Compare this to what Paul wrote to Titus and to what Peter said to the Jews on Pentecost:

Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Acts 2:36-39 (ESV)
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The salvation we have because our sins are forgiven comes to us when we are born again, born of water and the Spirit…baptized.  Our salvation is our heritage, for which I am extremely thankful.

Think of the definition of heritage which is “the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation.”

Merriam-Webster defines “group” as “a number of people or things that are together or in the same place; a number of people who are connected by some shared activity, interest, or quality.”

The church (ekklesia, assembly) is therefore a group by definition, considering that we are literally an assembly (ekklesia, assembly) and assemble together (Heb. 10:24-25).  We are definitely connected by shared activities, interests, and qualities…namely, Jesus and following Him.

The church is also a nation in the sense that we are a kingdom (Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:28).  Granted, we are not a physical kingdom (John 18:36).  Rather, we are the kingdom of God.  We are the citizens of that kingdom.  We are called into the kingdom by the gospel (1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14).

Our heritage consists of our traditions, which as said before are made up of the doctrine of the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6).  Our beliefs are based on the Word of God (Rom. 10:17), thus making them the “one faith” which is recognized by God (Eph. 4:4-5; Jude 3).

And what of our achievements?  They must never be for our glory, but rather all of them, no matter what they may be, must be for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

They must be centered around the goal of saving souls (1 Cor. 10:33), bringing souls to Christ and helping them grow (Matt. 28:19-20; Eph. 4:15-16), and doing good to all at every opportunity (Gal. 6:10).

All of this is part of our history, the history built by and shared with the saints who came before us, upon whose shoulders we stand.

Christians, will you and I continue this heritage?  What are we personally doing to add to the heritage of the church of Christ?

1 Corinthians 3:10-11 (ESV)
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

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