A special year-long Christmas gift that Christian parents can give to their children would be family time spent sharing heartwarming accounts of adventure, courage, and love drawn from Christian history as well as their own lives. Go ahead and call it a “story”—just as long as the kids know it’s a true story in which parents play an important role and the kids can, too. This will give kids some “roots” and stir up feelings of belonging and a sense of their own importance in God’s plan. They need to hear the true narrative that connects them to their Christian ancestors.
Feeling like you belong to a story that began before you—and unfolds with you—helps to shape your perspective and purpose. In fact, this is the appeal of businesses that sell genealogical information. They market testimonies of excited clients claiming “Now I know who I am!”
The power of feeling connected has greatly influenced my life. When I was young, genealogical businesses didn’t exist, and my parents didn’t know much about their ancestors. However, I was not adrift. I was connected to a different history. Through accounts of brave American patriots, what they stood for, and the legacy they entrusted to me, I felt deeply connected to my country. I knew who I was as an American. Knowing that I belong to this ongoing American pageant is still important to me.
When we believe in the Lord Jesus as Savior, we become members of a new family with a rich history of its own. Even apart from our national or family history, the Bible tells us who we are in Christ. Our Christian genealogical record begins in true royalty—the Lord Jesus. Ephesians 4:11-15 identifies the church not as a man-made organization but uniquely and spiritually as Christ’s “body.”
Opposing Christianity by Misrepresenting Its Past
What we believe about our heritage influences our motivations and allegiance. No one knows this better than an enemy of either the church or America. Enemies attack by distorting history. They put their divisive slant on history by downplaying valuable beliefs that inspired many of our ancestors’ admirable feats while endlessly replaying their failures or human weaknesses. Why? People who are made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their ancestors are more easily influenced to resent—and eventually abandon—their family, country, or faith.
So, Christian parents and grandparents, let’s gift time to our kids to set the record straight about their Christian forebears. Without omitting our predecessors’ mistakes, by simply passing on the rest of their stories we can counterbalance society’s pervasive attempts to distort Christians’ view of themselves by belittling their past.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the life stories of many Christians are heartwarming accounts of adventure, courage, and love. I found this to be true while listening to Moody Radio’s Stories of Great Christians as a student at Moody Bible Institute. The ICR bookstore has a fantastic book, Men of Science, Men of God, by ICR founder Dr. Henry Morris, and Christian bookstores stock many inspiring biographies that Christians can use to explore their past. Parents, even if you’re not familiar with individual histories, you can relate the following accounts illustrating two beautiful characteristics that are historically true of the body of Christ.
The Church Loves Like Christ
The Lord Jesus’ marvelous qualities are all framed in love. Jesus is the embodiment of genuine, unrelenting love. His body, the church, has endeavored to love in the same way. Love was to be an identifying attribute of God’s people, as Jesus said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Non-Christians recognized this distinguishing behavior from the church’s earliest days. Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett’s telling book Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry details that early Christians were immersed in a culture in which “mercy and pity were pathological emotions,” and, therefore, Christian mercy and sacrificial love—especially to strangers—were “revolutionary ideas.”1 It adds that our Christian ancestors persevered, even though
Others viewed such practices [loving charity] with mockery. The pagan writer Lucian (130–200), very much a man of his world, was slack-jawed over the beliefs of those Christian misfits, easily seduced by con artists. “The earnestness with which the people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren!”1
To love as these Christians loved is nothing for us to be ashamed of today. But was that sacrificial love restricted to a special period close to the lifetimes of the Lord Jesus and the apostles? Not at all. We now fast-forward another 1,500 years to the devoutly Christian “Pilgrims” crossing from Europe to North America on the Mayflower. Upon their arrival in New England, a terrible period of sickness occurred called “the starving time” in Governor William Bradford’s historical work Of Plymouth Plantation. The beauty of Christ-like love in Bradford’s description shines through the horrible misery they endured:
So as there died some times two or three of a day…[so] there was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health…made their [the sick and dying] beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered.2
Even more memorable is the Pilgrims’ same loving care for the gravely ill Mayflower crew members who had shamefully abused the Pilgrims throughout their time together. Bradford tells how their charitable love melted even hardened sailors’ hearts.
[The Pilgrims] yet aboard showed them [crew members] what mercy they could, which made some of their hearts relent, as the boatswain (and some others) who was a proud young man and would often curse and scoff at the passengers. But when he grew weak, they had compassion on him and helped him; then he confessed he did not deserve it at their hands, he had abused them in word and deed. “Oh!” (saith he) “you, I now see, show your love like Christians indeed one to another, but we let one another lie and die like dogs.”2
Lucian, Bradford, and Mayflower sailors were astounded by these admirable Christians. Their selflessness exquisitely modeled 1 Peter 2:21: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” We belong to their daring venture for truth and to the story of their bravery. They are worthy of our respect, not resentment. By reminding our Christian offspring of these quiet acts of Christian love—and doubtless many more—by our forebears in the faith, we help fill in the side of the ledger of their stories that’s routinely omitted.
The Church Forgives Like Christ
The hardest expression of love is forgiving a person who inflicted painfully deep wounds. It seems that even much of the world equates Christianity with forgiveness. In writing a defense of Christians from state-sanctioned persecution in the 2nd century, a church leader highlighted this amazing virtue: “Know from them that a superfluity of benevolence is enjoined on us, even so far as to pray God for our enemies and to entreat blessings for our persecutors.”3 How could we possibly overlook these moving expressions of love by our Christian family? These include two recent unprompted and powerful examples of forgiveness. We shouldn’t let them simply fade away.
During a Bible study on June 17, 2015, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a young man welcomed into the study suddenly murdered nine of the twelve Christians, including the pastor, as they were closing in prayer. The next day, heartbroken family members and fellow Christians publicly and sincerely forgave the murderer. One report on Today had the co-hosts doubting whether they could forgive like these church members had.4 An interview with three Christian widows ended with them all singing “Amazing Grace,” emphasizing how it “saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” This act of Christian forgiveness left the Today hosts visibly moved.
In October 2019, news outlets in America carried a remarkable courtroom drama. As the trial of a former Dallas police officer convicted of murder was ending, the victim’s brother out of Christ-supplied love asked the judge’s permission to hug the remorseful defendant as he forgave her. Seeing firsthand where “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13), many in the court wept openly, including the judge. The defendant asked the judge if God would forgive her. In another demonstration of Christ-like forgiveness, this judge, also a follower of Christ, came down from her bench and gave away her personal Bible as she hugged the defendant and told her to begin with John 3:16.5
One faultfinder of the judge’s action said, “When’s the last time you’ve EVER seen a JUDGE come off the bench and HUG A CONVICTED MURDERER. THIS IS TOO MUCH.”6 Well, we have seen it before. The Lord Jesus stepped down from His bench to not only hug a world of convicted murderers but to die for their sins, thereby demonstrating that He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Yes, that is “TOO MUCH” for us to truly fathom…but it goes to the heart of why we celebrate Christmas.
Feeling Connected to a Magnificent Heritage
Knowing that we belong to a long, unbroken line of truly grand Christian forerunners helps shape our perspectives and purpose. Christian parents, pastors, and teachers must make time to remind the next generation of what our rarely discussed Christian ancestors did and what they were like. In spite of sinful impulses, they exemplified exceptional characteristics of selfless love, faithfulness, devotion, and invincible determination. With neither boasting nor chest-thumping, they quietly amassed a string of remarkable accomplishments. For almost 2,000 years they’ve built churches, schools, hospitals, sanctuaries for lepers, orphanages, widows’ homes, halfway houses, and myriads of other ministries to relieve suffering throughout the world. All the while, they embodied steadfastness under relentless adversity, courage in the face of painful threats, and forgiveness of their unmerciful tormentors.
Their uncommon behavior is compelling evidence of Christ’s power to impart new life to a person formerly dead in trespasses and sin. For us, they set a standard for walking with Jesus. Though they were mostly humble and obscure people by any measure of this world, as a group their deeds would argue that they are some of the world’s most impressive figures.
In fact, the Bible would rank them with those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). So, when we rise together and echo with them the words of the ancient Apostles’ Creed “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” we connect ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us—all for God’s glory. How beautiful is the body of Christ!
- Carroll, V. and D. Shiflett. 2002. Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 142-143.
- Bradford, W. 1856. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1674. As quoted in McMichael, G., ed. 1980. Anthology of American Literature, 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 42-43.
- Tertullian. AD 197. Apology, xxxi. From Bettenson, H., ed. 1967. Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 8.
- Charleston Shooting Survivors Open Up about the Power of Forgiveness. Today. Posted on youtube.com September 20, 2018.
- Sharif, D. Hugging Judge in Amber Guyger Murder Trial: Why Y’all Mad? The Root. Posted on theroot.com October 7, 2019, accessed October 15, 2019.
- D. L. Hughley, Twitter post, October 2, 2019, 4:02 p.m.
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer.