Lacking Context: Ignoring Other Voices

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.


Lacking Context 3

For the last couple of days, I’ve asked why more churches don’t expound on our history as God’s people. I offered a few possibilities yesterday; Robert in the comments section has offered some great observations as well.

It’s unlikely I’ll have time to post today, so in the interest of strengthening our intellectual and theological muscles, I’ll ask this:

Where do you go to research church history? The library? A Web site?

Sound off in the comments section below! (If it’s online, please provide the link so we all can enjoy.)

Thanks, and enjoy your Friday!

Lacking Context 2

Yesterday, I asked why churches don’t teach their own history.

I’m going to give every leader the benefit of the doubt (for the moment) and propose three reasons why churches are historically illiterate.

  1. Lack of training. Pastors didn’t teach it because their leaders didn’t teach them, so they keep silent about church history because they don’t feel comfortable talking about what they don’t know. If that’s the case, you have to respect someone who is mature enough not to talk past their knowledge. The downside is that they passed on their lack of knowledge to the next generation of spiritual leaders.
  2. Lack of time. Pastors are furiously busy and only have so many weeks in the year. So they spend what time is available focusing on the Bible, which is virtuous because too many of us are biblically illiterate, too.
  3. Lack of interest. Maybe some of them have taken this route, only to realize it’s not what their congregation wants to hear. How many of us ever sat in a history class in school, complaining that we’re never going to need what we’re learning? That same attitude may be present in our churches. (In my experience, I’ve never heard of fellow churchgoers demanding to know more about early Christian history.)

And yes, I’m fully aware that I just used a three-point system in which every sentence started with the same letter. Pray for me.

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?