The news that the Angus Library in Great Britain has secured funding to help make Baptist history more widely known is very welcome.
As a nation, Britain seems to be obsessed by history – partly, perhaps, because we are taught it in such a disconnected fashion at school nowadays.
Not all the TV programs that feed this appetite are terribly good – the History Channel has a rather disturbing preoccupation with Nazis and concentration camps, for instance – but some are very respectable.
“Time Team” is a fun and informative British program. “Who Do You Think You Are?” is often fascinating, and there’s the odd gem like Professor Robert Bartlett’s “The Normans.”
It’s strange, then, that the knowledge of church history in the average congregation is so slender. And Baptist history is even more slender.
One reason for this is that it is not generally as colorful as the lurid landscapes of the Catholic or even the Anglican story.
We don’t do bishops and beheadings; our heroes and heroines are serious types, bloody-minded perhaps but not bloody-handed.
Another is that in spite of the plethora of history programs, many people don’t have much sense of historical context.
An academic was complaining recently that a generation had grown up not knowing whether the Victorians were after the Romans or before them – exaggerating, we hope.
It’s more worrying that Baptists don’t know our own history, though, if it’s because we don’t care.
If it’s all about the new, if the language we speak is all about the future, if we no longer consciously identify ourselves with those who’ve gone before us, we are cutting the taproot of our life together.
We are not, like other churches, held together by a hierarchy or a rigid structure. Our unity is based on owning a shared story. If we forget the story, there’s not much left.