Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

Memory: The Fuel of Faith (Apr-May 1997)

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by David Slater
April – May, 1997

“With the Bible in my hand I besought the Lord to help me, and declared that during life that sacred Book should be my guide.”—James O’Kelly

While an affirmation of faith in the bible such as O’Kelly’s is a powerful one, in our age of cynicism it may sound trite to some. But I thank God that in every generation, including our own, there are strong faith-leaders who instill in us a profound trust in “that sacred Book.”

Members of Churches of Christ can be profoundly grateful for an enduring collective trust in the Bible as “our only creed.” Our spiritual ancestors gave us an honest allegiance to the written Word, a simple—but-not-simplistic—trust which has sustained a fellowship of people through many storms.

A landmark passage regarding the Bible is 2 Timothy 3:16, where Paul affirms Scripture as “inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (NRSV). That verse says that the words of Scripture have God’s power in them.

But Paul lovingly reminds Timothy of another empowering gift from God: the gift of memory. The apostle urges his “son in the faith” to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the holy Scriptures.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

As a child, Timothy was nurtured in the faith by two godly women, his mother and grandmother, even in the absence of a believing father. The two principal women in his life were Jews, while his father was a Gentile. These women taught Timothy to revere and to trust the written Word of God. This fact was important to Paul. At the beginning of this letter, he fondly recalled Timothy’s sincere faith which “first lived” in his grandmother and mother, and now was “alive” in Timothy’s heart as well (2 Timothy 1:5).

Paul was appealing to the sense of memory — a vital but sometimes forgotten type of faith-building resource. Paul knew that restoring steadfast faith to Timothy’s heart was not a matter of new teaching but of recollecting shared values. So even as he urges him to “fan into flame” his spiritual gift, Paul fans any dying embers of Timothy’s commitment with fresh memory.

The memory Paul invokes is not a mechanical recall of information from the past, but a recollection of meaningful stories which shaped Timothy’s identity. In this sort of remembering, the past is made alive and powerful for the present.

I know something of the gratitude Timothy must have felt for his family heritage of faith. My grandfather, Will W. Slater, preached the Word of God in the middle of the Great Depression. He was faithful in carrying the gospel to people who were poor and marginalized by society. He taught countless numbers of people to sing God’s praise. Sometimes his “paycheck” for preaching or teaching singing schools was a few plump chickens. Then he would put those chickens in the back of his Model T and drive to the next town, joyfully eager to preach (and sing) the gospel to anyone who would listen.

In the very hour of his death, Will Slater was preaching his heart out, Bible in one hand and hymnal in the other. (He had taught a new song that evening titled, “This Is Someone’s Last Day.”)

In my office, I have Granddad’s sermon book and diary. It’s an ancient, musty three-ring binder with brittle, yellowed pages. But for me, there is real power in that old binder of sermons. Why? Because it represents the man’s pure loyalty both to the words of the Bible and to the spirit of the Bible. The Bible compelled him to sacrifice the things of this world for a life of preaching. This legacy of faith is the reason I myself am a minister of the Word.

I could go on and on about Will Slater’s love of the Scriptures. But my sentimental recollections are precisely the point: There is faith-building power in remembering those who gave us a legacy of faith.
By invoking his past, Paul called Timothy to his own best identity so he could act accordingly. Timothy would be able to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” because he knew its origin. The women in his life taught Timothy the Scriptures, but the women themselves were the living texts which brought the lessons home.

This is a vital consideration for churches, grandparents, parents, and Bible School teachers today. It is important to h=shepherds, ministers, and musicians. It is important for single adults or teens who befriend small children. Many who have gone before have left us a priceless gift: a simple allegiance to the Bible as our guiding star. And it is imperative that we pass it along to the next generation.

God gave us the Bible. Our spiritual ancestors gave us a compelling model of devotion to it. Thank God for the challenge of offering an equally compelling model to those who will follow us!Wineskins Magazine

David Slater

(Transcribed for the Web from the archived print edition by Neita Dudman)

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