That’s what I said as I stood in front of St. Peter’s tomb in the excavations underneath the Vatican.
We Protestants don’t have heroes. Or at least we don’t have many. I guess Jim Elliot, Lottie Moon, and Martin Luther qualify. And for a smaller subset, John Calvin. But there are thousands and thousands who have gone before us in the journey of faith and dozens and dozens worthy of following.
During my trip to Italy and Greece, I remembered often Barnabas’ encouragement that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. (Editorial note: okay, okay. Technically, and to be accurate, I should say “The writer of Hebrews.” But I would love to assume that Barnabas wrote it, so there you go…)
I’m not advocating that we worship or give adoration or even venerate certain people, but I am advocating that Protestants emerge from their historical amnesia and recognize that we would not be here today if it weren’t for the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. Church history did not begin in 1517. Nor did it begin with the invention of the “contemporary church.” Or whatever denominational titles or theological perspectives we cling to. There’s probably some stuff that got thrown out during the Reformation that needs to be rediscovered and reclaimed.
I was filled with gratitude last week, as well, when I stumbled upon the news that my distant cousin was the first native-born Methodist pastor in the United States. I was filled with gratitude for my heritage and was compelled to learn all I could about this Reverend Richard Owings.
We need role models. In Italy and Greece, I walked in the footsteps of my brothers and sisters in Christ from hundreds and thousands of years ago. I’m their spiritual progeny. And I was filled with gratitude for their lives and their sacrifices. Peter finished well. That fills me with hope and challenges me to run my own race well.