The Antidote to Ignorance About Church History: Learn It and Tell It
I appreciated this post by Pastor Larry Peters, and I think you will too.
I taught a seven hour class on Saturday, March 3, as I began an introduction to what Lutherans believe, confess, and teach (yes, I know, seven hours? well it is easier for people to give me big blocks of time than to give me an hour a week for x amount of weeks). I enjoy teaching this but it is a marathon to dojust the talking for 7 hours! One of the sections we spend some time on is church history. I am always surprised by how little we know history, especially our own history! Lutherans often confuse modern day differences with Rome as the battleground issues of the sixteenth century and are shocked to find out what the Reformation was really about (such as not about the Pope speaking infallibly from the throne of St. Peter but about the very essence of the Gospel and whether the Word is the authority in the Church).
Often those coming from other backgrounds are surprised to find out what their own church’s believe. I have found strange looks from Presbyterians when we talk about God’s sovereignty or about predestination. I have had Baptists say in shock “you mean we don’t believe in Christ’s presence in Communion?” I have had Roman Catholics deny that Rome teaches transubstantiation. I could go on and on. Some of them are felicitous in consistences — when the folks believe the right way (as Scripture teaches) even though the church they belonged to does not. Some of them are just plain strange (most folks could tell you that this church believes that). I don’t blame the folks. I blame the catechesis and the teacher.
History, in particular, is largely untaught and unknown in the instruction of most churches – Lutherans included. Because we do not know history, we also do not know where things come from or the relationships between church bodies. For example in a discussion about purgatory, most folks did not know that purgatory was only for those headed to heaven and not yet fully cleansed; they had confused it with a sort of prejudge station or triage for God to decide who is going to make and who is not. The division between Rome and Constantinople is often a complete unknown.
The point I am trying to make is not that the communication of trivialities and oddities is important but that we owe it to the folks to flesh out of the faith through the ages. This is very important to understanding the faith and why things are the way they are among the various churches. It is also essential to knowing what we believe, confess, and teach. It is not enough simply to teach the Gospel and leave them wondering about how we got from 12 apostles to a few thousand different Christian groups. Who Lutherans are is so much easier to understand given the backdrop of what the Church looked like in the centuries prior to the Reformation. It is amazing to me how little most folks know of such things as the Thirty Years’ War — a critical event in Lutheran history and one that had great implications for the shape of Lutheran piety and hymnody.
So I urge those doing youth or adult catechetical instruction — don’t leave out the history. BTW if you do not know the story, pick up that book from Concordia Publishing House The Church from Age to Age and learn it so that you can tell it…