One of my greatest passions is history. I have been able to study lots of it. In seminary, I fell in love with Church History. Today, I even get to teach Church History at Mid-America Christian University.
I realize history can be one of those subjects that seems dry and dusty. When we peer long into the past we might wonder if it is even relevant to us, or if it is just simply a collection of interesting stories. For me, history, especially Church History, is more than that. It is a valuable learning tool. We can learn from the past.
When we look at Church History, we can realize there is a lot to learn from these dead men and women from so long ago.
For instance, did you know that we have records of Christian worship services from people who knew the Apostles? Or that documents, like the Didache (80s) describe baptism and communion? Writers like Justin the Martyr wrote about Christian life and worship in the 150s!
Did you know that Church leaders compiled a “book of order” called the Apostolic Constitutions that outlined the first child protection policies in the Roman Empire? Church leaders dealt with issues of sex, gender, living in a pluralistic society and what to do when “those kinds of people” show up on Sunday. And they did this long before the internet, market research, blogs, and church strategy books.
When you read the Church Fathers, you see they grappled with complex issues. Is Jesus God? What does that mean? What is the Trinity? How do we know God? How does the Christian God compare to others and why is Christianity true in a world of infinite choices?
Not only are there those types of theological issues, but social ones as well. How do we treat the poor? What about the rich? Is war allowable? How do we think about violence? What about abortion? What do we do with orphans, widows, or the sick?
Often, we take the route CS Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” We think that because we are modern, our technology makes us superior to those who have gone long before us. The truth is, they have a lot to teach us.
I encourage you to fall in love with Church History. Go to ccel.org and read some Athanasius or Anselm. Peruse John Chrysostom and Augustine. Join the Church History reading group at City Pres!
Learn your story. The story of the Church belongs to us all.