Summary: We remember for a reason. If we lose apostolic doctrine, we lose Jesus Christ.
Alzheimer’s is a memory-destroying disease. Yet, this disease isn’t merely content to take away a victim’s memory; it tries to take down an entire family with it. When one person in the family has lost his memory, the others have to pick up the slack. The family has to do what the victim has forgotten how to do. They even have to remember memories long-forgotten for the one inflicted with Alzheimer’s. So deadly is the disease, this loss of memory.
The Christian Church is a living reality, also with a memory. The book of Hebrews speaks of this collective memory, telling the Church not to succumb to a spiritual Alzheimer’s.
Yet, in many ways, it’s already too late. Spiritual Alzheimer’s has afflicted the Church for centuries. We’ve forgotten much of what we’re supposed to remember. And this remembering isn’t something optional. When the Church loses her spiritual memory, she has not only suffered something terrible, she has lost a large part of herself.
Our sacred text for today tells us: “Remember your leaders, those who have spoken God’s Word to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:7-9).
Yes, even today, we are to remember our leaders, those who have spoken God’s Word to us. But today, I ask you to consider the Book of Hebrews and when it was written: In the 1st century. Even back then the Church was to remember--yes, their current pastors--but most especially the Apostles and those whom the Apostles taught, those in the past, “those who [had] spoken God’s Word” to them.
Even in the 1st century, as spiritual grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Apostles began to fill the Church, the Book of Hebrews told the Church to remember the Apostles and their first pastors. When the Book of Hebrews tells us to “remember your leaders,” it isn’t focusing only on me, your current pastor. No, Hebrews is hailing us back to the Church’s first pastors: The Apostles and their students.
In an important way, the ministry of those first pastors continues. As we remember what they taught, they are still teaching us today. When we forget what they taught, that’s when we get “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings,” teachings that do not strengthen us “by grace.”
Our memory, even going back to the Apostles and their students, is to be as a focused spotlight on their teaching of God’s Word. The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians that Christ “Himself gave--on the one hand, apostles; on the other, the prophets, the evangelists, and pastor-teachers.” Why did Christ do this, this giving? So He could outfit His saints with spiritual armor and move them into works of service. But most of all, it was to bring and keep them in the Church, the body of Christ.
And what is the result of all that Christ does for us. He brings us into the fullness of the faith. He brings us into the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, into Christ’s full measure of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Now why do you think we are to remember all the way back to the Apostles? Ephesians 2:20 tells us the Church is built on the “foundation of the apostles.” That’s why, to this day, pastors are called to preach and teach apostolic doctrine. When today’s pastors do that, that’s when they proclaim Christ for our salvation. That’s why the Book of Hebrews tells us to remember. For when we forget, we end up forgetting Christ and how He comes to save us.
At critical times in Church history, when dangerous, false teaching was eroding the faith, the Lord raised up faithful pastors. They stood up to resist and refute heresy, teaching and encouraging the faithful.
In the 3rd and 4th centuries, even before the Church recognized what books made up the New Testament, the Church focused her energies on true and faithful doctrine. For many were teaching lies about Jesus. And the Church realized that if these lies about Jesus were not refuted, nothing else mattered.
It was only after the Church formalized the Creeds to refute false teachings about Jesus, that the Church even bothered to compile the list of books that make up the New Testament. Why? Simply knowing what books make up the New Testament is of little help if we don’t find the real Jesus within its pages. That’s why the Bible exists--to bring us Jesus for our salvation. And that’s why we still confess those Creeds to this day.