Dear Church, Happy Birthday!
It is hard to believe that you are another year older. Not just any individual Christians that may have been born on this day. No, I am talking about the Church as a corporate body. On the day of Pentecost approximately 1988 years ago, you were born. The Holy Spirit came down and baptized your spiritual forefathers, and amazing things followed. You grew rapidly against unbelievable odds. Yet it wasn't you that accomplished this. Anyone looking back through history can plainly see that you would not have made it without God's grace.
Consider, for example, the early heresies that you had to contend with. Sabellianism denied the personhood of each Person of the Trinity, relegating them to different faces that God takes on at different times. This early heresy was a threat to you in your theological infancy, but by God's grace, you overcame it. Not long after this, you had to deal with Arius. This was probably the biggest threat to you in your early days of growing in your theological understanding. By God's grace, Tertullian, Alexander of Alexandria, Athanasius, and others held the line and stopped the forward movement of Arianism. At least, until it has resurfaced in modern times under the guise of Jehovah's Witnesses. By God's grace, we have the theological understanding of our fathers in the faith to fall back on in this modern discussion. Then, of course, we cannot forget Montanism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Donatism, and others. It was not your own brilliance that brought you through each of these difficulties. It was God's grace in leading you and raising up leaders to combat these heresies at the right time.
As time went on, God raised up leaders to help lead you through the good times and the bad. Looking back on the Cappadocian Fathers, Popes such as Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Church leaders such as Saint Patrick, Teresa of Avila, Thomas a Kempis, and countless others. They always seemed to be raised up at just the right time to accomplish what God wanted to do through them. This, I believe, is evidence of God's grace. God used your leaders not only to lead the Church during difficult times, but also to save Western Civilization. By God's grace, you not only had good leaders, but God also used the scholastic movement within the Church. I strongly believe that, without this movement, we would not have had the later growth in knowledge in the Western world as a whole.
Eventually, you started to lose your way. Your history is not without its problems. Who can forget the problem caused by the sale of indulgences? Later, when the abuse of indulgences became the spark that lit the fire of the Reformation, you saw the biggest split the Western Church had seen since the Great Schism. Although you had lost your way on the doctrine of Justification, your wandering did not have the last word. Although there were issues, Christ kept his promise. The gates of hell have not prevailed over you. This, again, was not your own doing. It was solely by God's grace that you made it through your own mistakes.
You may notice that I am focusing quite a bit on God's grace in this. I am doing that intentionally. It is by God's grace that you were born. It is by God's grace that you did not lose yourself to foolish heresies. It is by God's grace that you have persevered this long. It is only by God's grace that you will persevere until Christ returns, and you are presented blameless and without spot to the Lover of our souls. From the beginning until the very end, it is grace. Although today is your birthday, we are not celebrating you or what you have accomplished. Rather, we are celebrating God's grace. We are celebrating what God's grace has done for you and where it has brought you. So here is to another year of God's grace: the grace that birthed you, preserved you, and carries you from now to eternity. Never forget this gift of grace, lest you forget yourself. As long as you remember that everything is by grace, you will remember your proper place. May God shed his grace on you more and more in the days ahead.
Soli Deo Gloria.