One of the goals of Simple Free is to try to help Christians learn about their faith in ways that aren’t always offered in Omaha. One of the things we’ve done in the last year is we’ve had study groups. Some of those were on Saturday mornings. One was on women’s roles in the church (egalitarianism and complimentarianism), one was on church leadership, one was on the history of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and our longest book study group to date (which was held at upstream brewery January-April was on a book called “131 Christians Everyone Should Know” which brought us from Eusebius and Augustine to Calvin and Billy Graham. Now we’ve started yet another book on Chuch History by Bruce Shelly. It will bring us from the time of Christ up into this Century.
Sometimes history can seem irrelevant, especially if you don’t see your place in it. Many people don’t seem to care about the history of their own family (like who is your great grandmother on your fathers side, or your nationality) or the history of their country, much less care about the history of their church. ‘
Today I got to spend some time in my hometown with my parents. Tonight there was a get together of senior saints in the church with the potential new pastoral candidate. The seniors shared stories about the history of this country church (which has about 250 people going to it) and I would say that the average age of these 30 people was probably 80. We had around 2500 years of experience in that room. One of them (who is 93) told me about stopping by a friends house (who is 99) with his wife (who is 91) to have coffee last week. I love to talk to these wise sages who have such a wealth of knowledge about the past– things most of us will never know because we don’t ask.
Some of these people in the room (like my 85 year old dad) have spent most of their entire life in this church. Some 78 year olds were talking about pranks they used to pull on people after church. Someone pointed out that my dads great grandpa and great grandkids and all the generations between had been a part of this church…thats 7 generations. That kind of history doesn’t just happen. And it does mean something, and it is remarkable.
After hearing many of these stories it was the candidates time to speak, and he said that this sort of heritage is unusual for most churches. He said many cultures have a strong tradition of passing on stories of the past to the young generations, and he said that this was really important for the church to do– for these older saints to do. He made the distinction between being stuck in the past, and being anchored in the past. Some want to escape to the past, and hide from the present and the future unknown. But the past can really help one know where to go, and where one is going. That is the healthy use of history.
That is how I see our vision for studying church history. As we learn about the history of the church– the questions asked and answers they arrived at, as well as the varieties of perspectives, many which mirror our own today, we can see models of faithfulness, steadfastness, and vision and hope for the future. We do not just copy the past, but we learn from it to remember to be faithful to our faith, its purpose, and the work God has for us in Christ.
I also just like to learn about history. Knowing is one of the ways humans can get pleasure. Squirrels– not so much. Dogs don’t like books. Hampsters do not study history, or write it for that matter. But fortunately we get to do things those cute animals do not. We get to be literate and read and reflect on things– hopefully as an act of worship insofar as we are doing what God made us to do– to live our lives thoughtfully and with real freedom.
So thats part of our motivation at Simple to study Church History. Not to be bookish or to become academic Christians, but to be fully Christian and to be fully human as God intended.
check out the study group at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=116420791711098&ref=ts
May God have mercy on us all.