Second in a series reflecting on the firestorm that occurred in our family of churches and told as a parable of the Great Chicago Fire and lessons from Scripture. To read the entire series of articles, see After the Fire .

Lessons From the Fire

Surely there are lessons from the Chicago fire that we can learn after our own firestorm among the International Churches of Christ.

1) The Fire Marks a New Age

We will always date 2003 as a major turning point among our fellowship. This should not replace all the other great dates of God’s leading us. And, of course, there were many other dates and factors leading up to this one. In the tradition of the Scriptures, it is important to understand what the good and the bad moments mean in our journey with God.

Dramatic events produce a variety of memories. James O. Brayman wrote this observation of the fire in 1880, But the eyewitness accounts also have inherent limitations. The fire was so overwhelming that no one person could encompass, let alone accurately recall, its entirety.” “It was too vast, too swift, too full of smoke, too full of danger, for anybody to see it all,” Chicago Tribune editor Horace White recalled in his own narrative.

To complicate things further, narratives written close to the event were colored by the understandably shifting moods of a traumatized populace looking for a silver lining but vulnerable to pessimism and rumor, while the ones penned later were inflected by the writer having seen or heard other stories and by the inevitable loss of reliable detail and addition of stylistic embellishment as stated on The Great Chicago Fire & The Web of Memory.

Everyone who experienced the fire that went through our fellowship certainly has their own story to tell. And we have certainly witnessed a plethora of stylistic embellishment. But we need to remember that our experience does not dictate the experience of every other disciple. In discussing these events with Christians in many different areas of the world I find that most often people project their own experience onto the rest of our churches. This has disturbing and divisive consequences. Some are still stuck in retelling fire stories. This self-focus often hinders understanding, compassion and unity. Retelling without godly redemption can even keep us from healing.

May we have the faith and integrity to hear each other’s stories, help each other heal and together embrace what God would do with us now. If our story stops here, we will remain the generation who wandered in the desert retelling the exodus story until God raised up a new generation with enough faith, courage and unity to enter the promised land.

2) God Allows His Church To Be Tested By Fire

When I think about being a New Testament Christian, I often think, “Which New Testament church?” The Corinthians were tested by their own immaturity, their culture, false apostles, class insensitivities, immorality, spiritual arrogance, etc. Galatians were tested by the tradition-bound who had deceived them into forsaking the Spirit for human effort. And so it goes. God did not redeem his church straight into heaven. The ideal of the church in Acts 2:42-47 turned into the realities of the churches that needed epistles written to them. Peter told us why God allowed them to be tested by fire: “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.” — 1 Peter 1:6-7 (Message)

I remember visiting some of the Asian churches in 2004. I really feel for disciples whose culture has little or no experience in Christianity. They have a reason for being surprised that “The Storm” hit our fellowship. Those of us who have lived through and read about the storms throughout church history should be more surprised that we didn’t do more fire drills. Again, the Scriptures are way ahead of our story:

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” — 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NIV).

God built our movement on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He used men to build it just as he did with each of the churches in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean we are the only people he is working in today.

To me, with great generalization, in the 70s, we built on this foundation with commitment. In the 80s we built with faith. In the 90s we changed to build with sales.

I believe God was waiting for us to return to faith when he finally put his foot down as a good Father and said, “Enough.” He disciplined our fellowship as Peter said by allowing the firestorm to purify our faith so we could see what would burn and what would last. He is preparing us for the Day. Click here to read part two of Lessons Learned: After the ICOC Fire: What Burned Grace and Truth, Roger Lamb