Fathers are not always biological.
Early in my baby days of faith I remember eagerly soaking up every morsel of truth from Bible teachers who taught dozens of college students in evening studies. Their words of faith and stories of God’s miraculous works parented me, inspired me, and guided me on my own journey as a Christ follower.
And there were others … spiritual fathers and mothers who I never met but whose words in books and audio became strength and vision for me.
My experience is not unique. The Christian life is a really long relay race with many hand-offs of the baton between start and finish.
In the early church, the original 12 disciples chose the followers who would carry the message after them. Many wrote letters and books, like Polycarp who learned about Jesus from the apostle John. How cool was that? We know this name and so many others who walked “The Way”!
One of my favorite verses, among more than I can count, is Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
The history major in me wants to tell you of these men and women; so many of them, like Perpetua, a young mom who was martyred rather than deny Christ. Or Irenaeus who wrote, “the Father is the invisible of the Son, and the Son is the visible of the Father.” They by their lives and words shaped us today.
Reading has been foundational and anchoring for me so I will recommend to you two books on these remarkable Christians who have given us more than we can appreciate. To us, they are much like parents who are rarely valued by their children as they should be.
Both of these jewels are from Gerald Sittser, our friend and author of our favorite book on grief, A Grace Disguised. His book, Water From a Deep Well is a rich collection of stories of men and women from Augustine in the early years after Christ’s ascension to several in the 20th century. Knowing even some of these brothers and sisters in Christ gives us modern believers connections, a family belonging we long for in our distant digital age.
Sittser’s newest book, Resilient Faith, is focused entirely on the discipleship methods of the first three centuries of the infant church. Unlike the Romans, Sittser writes, “Christian fathers were expected to serve … Christian women were encouraged to use their gifts in the church and remain single, if desired, with no loss of social status. Christian children were treated as disciples and welcomed in worship as full participants.” And surrounding this new model of equal value, begun by Jesus, Sittser fills pages with beautiful quotes and stories from saints we will marvel to know in Heaven.
As you remember and honor your earthly father this year, I hope you will remember those who parented you in the faith. The faithful transmission of truth about Jesus from generation to generation, from fathers and mothers to those who came after, should be remembered. Their words still guide us to the living water today.
We need this heritage today. As Sittser writes, “Calling out across the centuries, they tell us it is possible now, as it was then, to live as faithful followers of Jesus the Lord in a culture that does not approve of it or reward it.”