Know Who’s in Your Cloud? Time to Learn Some Names

cloud of witnesses

“All Saints” by Fra Angelico

The writer of Hebrews beat Apple to the cloud concept by a few millennia. More than a binary data storage bank for easy access, the cloud in Hebrews 12:1 is composed of the faithful who’ve successfully completed the project. Their presence affirms that the journey is doable, the race can be finished, the suffering can be endured, the prize is worthy of the challenge. “Look,” they’re saying, “we did it, you can too.”

It’s time to tap into this neglected cloud.

This fall I’ve been teaching a class on the History of Christianity – a low-key, in-a-home study with a dozen women who are bravely walking the path from the first century to the rumblings of the Reformation with me. Our backgrounds vary as do our current churches of choice, but our common ancestry brings us together, and the study unveils our common foundation.

A month in and we can name a section of spectators who willingly sacrificed their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. Not just the apostles, but Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch whose tales of bravery in the face of death are updated and replayed weekly in the national and international news. Then there are the theologians and church leaders who wrestled with the two natures (fully human/fully divine) question of the identity of Jesus Christ. They wrote lengthy analyses, fought heretics on paper, and sat on Councils that shaped and wrote the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds we still recite. People like Athanasius, Tertullian, Jerome, Iranaeus, Gregory of Nazianzus, Augustine, Pope Leo I, and the hundreds of bishops who sought to stay true to the Apostles’ teaching and experience. There are thousands more whose names are lost to historians.

Denominations that follow a practice of preparation for baptism or confirmation access this cloud more than others. Catechism classes are a wonderful opportunity to teach heritage and history, and to give the reasons behind tradition and practices. These glimpses of the deeply-rutted trail back to the cross teach about the cloud of witnesses the author of Hebrews’ promises are spectators of our journey today.

Unfortunately, decisional evangelism as commonly practiced in non-denominational churches and evangelistic crusades, erases the trail and shortens the timeline to you and God in this moment.The over-emphasis on your decision in the present, neglects the chorus, the crowd of spectators, the spiritual ancestors who’ve walked this road, faced a similar choice, continued on the journey and are now cheering.

On one level the spiritual journey to Christ has a solo component – there is an individual choice to make.Yet there’s always a community of breath-holders watching that first baby step of faith and all that follow. As David A. deSilva writes, “the author [of Hebrews] wants the Christians to see themselves surrounded by the host of the faithful in every age, who have run the race with excellence and whose lives bear testimony to the reality of the prize for which we all strive together.”[1] The spectators that make up the cloud know it’s a hard road as Jesus promised his disciples in Mark 8:34-38, but they also know the joy of the finished race. When we learn their names and hear their stories, they are the ones we don’t want to let down. Plus their stores are the ones that encourage us to persevere.

Sure, the history of Christians is full of scoundrels, embezzlers, greedy, hungry for power individuals who used religion, faith and Christianity to further their own interests. But let’s focus our gaze on the faithful who learned from Jesus and the apostles how to run the race. Hebrews 11:1-39 provides synopses of the lives of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and many others. Now we can add two thousand years of stories of the faithful and extend the list.

They’re the cloud of cheering spectators we need on the tough days when we think we’re walking alone or running an endless race.There’s unlimited storage available, it’s time to find out who’s in your cloud.

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An excellent resource is a book by Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity.

[1] David A. deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude: a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 429-431.


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