"For inquire, please, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have searched out.
For we are but of yesterday and know nothing,
for our days on earth are a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you
and utter words out of their understanding?"
When the Beatles first hit American soil, I was in the first grade, but already I was singing along to Hard Day's Night, and marveling at those young men and their shaggy haircuts. I remember having a conversation with my mother about men and long hair and how this was the first time men had ever had long hair! She assured me there had been many times in history that men had had long hair, and it dawned on me that it was the first time in my very short history that men had long hair, and I realized then that much time and history had preceded me. As a young child, life was all about the present, the here and now, and history had no realm in my understanding.
George Santayana quipped, "Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it." And it was Karl Marx who said, "History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real and living, who do all this." It is not only foolish, but it's also arrogance to assume that we, in our own space and time, know all there is to know, and deny the great thoughts and accomplishments of those gone before. But, that is exactly what Modernity/Post-modernity preaches; "We are it! We are the People! We're da man! To heck with the old fogies." So, alas, we are doomed to repeat history.
"Reading feeds the brain. It is evident that most minds are starving to death." ~ Benjamin Franklin
Arts, education, economics, politics, anthropology, the Church; all these areas have suffered the effects of no longer looking, and learning, back through time. I would suggest that the Church bears the largest responsibility of abandoning it's understanding of the past, and that the aforementioned areas - and more - are thereby affected. The Modern/Post-modern Church hasn't even done a good job of looking far into the future - perhaps because of spending too much time waiting for Jesus to return and not enough time keeping her lamps filled and wicks trimmed. Instead, the here-and-now, experiencially-oriented modern Evangelical Church has concentrated only on the present, perhaps a bit into the future, but certainly not on the past; and that is simply a symptom of failing to mature and see past one's self.
The Church has an amazingly rich heritage and deposit of wisdom and understanding from which to draw. Not only is there the Old Covenant, from which the New Covenant drew, but there are the Church Fathers. Why have we have ceased to study the writings of the men of the early church who were only a generation or two removed from the Lord Himself? The writings and wisdom of Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and more have been preserved for us in letters. Augustine wrote prolifically, and don't forget those who preceded the Reformation - indeed established its foundations - such as Groote and Wycliffe - then the Reformers themselves - Martin, Calvin, Bucer, and many more. Through history, there have been wise men and women who worked, suffered, and left us a rich legacy even to our own time: Chalmers, Kuyper, Sayers, Schaeffer, Lewis. In order to walk wisely into the future, we cannot cut ourselves off from the strong foundations of our past. As it's been said, "The old ways are the best ways after all." We must know where we've been in order to know where we are and where we are going.
"For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and what the fathers have searched out."