This is my year of traveling, searching, and scouring the world to uncover the treasures of church history. Since December I’ve been in 11 different countries (with many more remaining) and have gazed upon some amazing objects. This is, of course, all part of the project I’m calling EPIC that is meant to culminate in a book and documentary.
Some of the objects I’ve seen have great monetary value to the degree that they are rightly considered priceless. (Go ahead and ask Trinity College Library if they’ll sell you the Book of Kells or the Vatican Museum what the current list price is for Augustus of Prima Porta.) Many more are financially valueless—or very nearly so—but are still very significant for the heritage they represent or the story they communicate. (The broken old sign that hung over William Carey’s shop would not attract a ton of attention at auction, but is still a very meaningful link to one of church history’s key characters.) Regardless, each has some kind of significance, some kind of value, whether that’s historical, financial, or both.
As I’ve planned all this travel, I’ve been certain not to trace a route that will take me merely into key museums, archives, castles, and cathedrals. I’ve traced one that will also lead me to and through local churches. Whenever possible, I’ve worshipped with like-minded believers in those nations. Last weekend I had the immense privilege of worshipping in not just one but two nations on the same day. I began my day with morning worship at Trinity Baptist Church in Livingstone, Zambia, then flew 600 miles south to enjoy evening worship at Crystal Park Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa.
And it was on this day that I had a realization—or maybe it’s more of a re-realization or an affirmation: the greatest treasures of church history can’t be found behind glass in museums. The most valuable artifacts of the history of the Christian faith aren’t neatly labeled in library stacks. The most enduring relics aren’t boxed up in dusty basement archives. Those objects are wonderful and inspiring and worth pursuing around the world. But the true treasure is found in those posh edifices and ramshackle huts we call churches.
It has moved me to see Amy Carmichael’s Bible—to hold it, to turn its pages, and to read its notes. It has done my soul good to see possessions once owned and used by David Livingstone as he tirelessly explored Africa. It has warmed my heart to see George Muller’s massive orphanages, and to sit at his desk, and to imagine him there praying with and for those children he so loved. All of this has been a great blessing and tremendous honor.
Yet none of it can match the joy of sitting with saints in Jerusalem and hearing a faithful pastor preach the gospel against the backdrop of the Temple Mount. None of this rises to the heights of joy that come when singing familiar songs to local tunes in Zambia. None of this bolsters my faith like seeing a culturally-diverse family of believers from all over Johannesburg (in a nation with a history of terrible racial strife) enjoying true Christian fellowship with one another.
Museums, libraries, and archives house some of the historical treasures of the Christian faith. But these churches house the true jewels, the ones that will endure for all the ages and far beyond.