Lacking Context 1

I’ve found myself in an unusual situation. For most of my life, I’ve believed Jesus to be the Lord of the world and worthy of our adherence. I’ve gone on mission trips to tell people the good news. I’ve told people that this should be the focus of their lives … and yet, I don’t know too much about the history of my own faith.

Hence the question of this post:

Why don’t more churches teach church history?

In my experience, pastors don’t venture out past Revelation. They may include a quote by one of the Church Fathers or make reference to the Council of Nicea. But church history largely went undiscussed.

As a result of this silence, here’s the type of “history” I’ve been taught by churches:

  • Jesus
  • The apostles (as recorded in Acts)
  • Post-New Testament era: Council of Nicea, good. No mention of the other councils.
  • Protestant Reformation (yay, Martin Luther! … oh, and maybe Calvin, too.)
  • Us.

That’s it.

No discussion of the councils. No analysis of the Arian or Nestorian controversies, to name two. No exploration of the divide between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. No mention of Thomas Aquinas or the saints (with the exception of St. Franics of Assisi). No thought into the Luther-Zwingli divide over the nature of the Eucharist or Calvin’s sometimes strained relationship with other Protestants outside Geneva. Nothing.

I have an idea as to why this may be, but first I want to hear from other folks:

Why do you think churches don’t delve more into their own histories?

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3 thoughts on “Lacking Context 1

  1. Robert September 8, 2010 / 2:00 pm

    Hi Justin,

    “Why don’t more churches teach church history?” Good question!

    Well, to clarify, I think we could ask your question (and I think you will agree) in a slightly different way: “Why do churches teach church history as they have and do?” It seems to me that it is not that churches don’t teach church history but rather they teach church history in a particular way. And why is this so?

    There are various reasons and answers, so one must be careful not to “sweep with a broad brush” so to speak. That caveat out of the way, here are my thoughts:

    – The broader context does not support one’s position.
    When one starts to look into the details of the origins or development of a particular movement, persons and/or doctrines, these can be rather upsetting. It requires a willingness to be honest and introspective. It requires a willingness to change.

    – History taught reflects and constitutes a particular doctrinal or theological position

    – Ignorance

    – Cultural myopia of sorts, revealing a bias towards one’s position in time and history.

    – Delusion. We know better than those before us, since we have arrived on the scene! Time to (re)interpret and (re)invent everything from our perspective. This is not limited to church history.

    – Lack of historical continuity. A break with the ancient church, its tradition and authority is somewhere evident in history. This becomes evident when looking at issues, among others, such as authority, apostolic succession, epistemology and such.

    I am sure there are other reasons as well, but these just came to mind. Let me know your thoughts.

  2. Justin September 9, 2010 / 8:44 am

    Thanks, Robert! I’ll check that out when I have a moment.

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