Why church history?

Posted: June 12, 2013 in CE/Youth MInistry

I’ve been asked this question before, why study church history? What purpose does it serve?
The answer to that question may also serve to answer why we study history in the first place.
But before I get going on it, let me say this. I am shocked when people ask me that question, but still think it’s important to learn secular history in the schools. They’d feel bad if an Amreican student didn’t know about Abraham Lincoln, George washington, or important events like the fall of the berlin wall or the civil rights movement, but how can this be? I mean, how could we think the history of the Nation or people we belong to, whatever that may be, takes precendence of our history as God’s People, the church? Our primary people, our primary nation or kingdom we belong to, is the church. And our students grow up being able to list almost all the presidents but couldnt’ even name the most Major persons from Church histroy such as Augustine or Luther? for shame.
But i digress. The point is that if the history of our secondary people group matters, it only follows that the history of our primary people group matters.
But the reason for history is often stated as “we need to know how we got to where we are.” Or something like “being aware of our roots keeps us connected to our past” which I think is not the important point.
Or a statement is made such as “those who don’t learn from Histories mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” I think this gets closer, though cheesey.
The reason why history is such a valuable study, why my dad says all the best insights come from the history guys, is that reality is always far more complex than we could theorize. Thus as we experience it, our concept of it is deepened. History is the secret of weaning from others experiences, corporate or individual, just as we would learn from our own experiences. When this ceases to be the goal of historical study, it becomes nothing more than learning stories to satisfy curiosity. But in learning from experiences, oh the richness, the insight we gain that we could not with all our theorizing. We see how beliefs we hold dear have been held in the past, what has led to their demise or what dangers that belief system holds. We see what patterns emerge and so are aware of them, able to discern patterns in social reality just as there are patterns in nature. We see what makes great movements start, what has been in all of them, and what makes them fall apart. All of us makes us so wise as if we actually had lived for hundreds of years. But, just like our own personal experience, it is learning from it that matters. Thus history, if it is a blind fact science, is useless. Philosophy and reasoning must come in for it to become practical.
So I urge us all to know history, and to see the patterns that happen so we can better interact with the world God has put us in.
May the church go forth!

Comments
  1. majorhillman says:

    Good points. Pretty much convinced me. I don’t care for Church history, not because I don’t care for history and what not, but because it’s done. The Church is established. Going back to learn about the it from the fathers of old isn’t like learning about Nazis or the Romans; I would approach learning about Church history to learn about ideologies, doctrines, and various theologies. Why did some succeed and some fail? Why do we hold fast to some traditions of old and not others? Those questions drive me to learn about Church history.

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