Last week, I asked and briefly explored why more churches aren’t doing more to teach Christian history. I don’t mean the occasional reference to the Protestant Reformation, either (which has been my experience in church). I mean a strong effort to teach people how the church grew after the last chapter of Revelation, who influenced it, and what its struggles were.
I proposed that part of it is due to a lack of time on the part of pastors and a lack of interest on the part of their congregations.
I also suspect that we don’t dig deeper into church history because many of our departed spiritual heroes held radically different views than we do.
Until recently, I never know that many of the early Christian leaders believed the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood of Christ. I never knew that many of them saw baptism as an instrument used by Jesus to save people, and not just a symbol of grace already bestowed.
Those two views alone fly in the face of what I’ve been taught in most churches. It gives me pause when I learn that some of my views were not shared by the earliest Christians. Some of these people aren’t far removed from the apostles.
So it may be easier to just ignore them. Besides, if your interpretation of the Bible is correct, if you see your views as having descended directly from Jesus and the apostles, then what do you care if other Christians disagreed with you?
The truth is, we should care very much. Jesus promised that he would be with us always and that the Spirit would continue to lead us into truth. (Listening to others will also help guard us against the prideful attitude I mentioned in the previous paragraph.)
When we neglect our spiritual predecessors, we risk shutting out what the Spirit is trying to teach us.
We need that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) to help guide us, because they’ve been where many of us are now. If they challenge our interpretations, then perhaps our understanding has always needed to be questioned.
Charles Spurgeon sums it up nicely:
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”
Let’s never forget that we are the latest branches of a larger family tree.