Home > Church Fathers > The Antidote to Ignorance About Church History: Learn It and Tell It

The Antidote to Ignorance About Church History: Learn It and Tell It

March 9th, 2012
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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…

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Categories: Church Fathers
  1. March 9th, 2012 at 09:45 | #1

    I blame the lack of catechesis and the teacher and the individual’s Church.

    The strangest part is the lack of the drive of the individual to even care to learn about his Lutheran Church as the Gospel shower passes and some Lutheran denominations fall into apostate positions!

    I fear for the future generations of people that belong to these apostate Lutheran Synods will never learn how to truly know:

    “what we believe, confess, and teach”

    Who will be left to teach them?


  2. MeToo
    March 9th, 2012 at 10:46 | #2

    I often find it incomprehensible what little, if any, history people know today. Whether it be the history of their nation, of the world, the church at large, or Lutheranism and those that have gone on divergent paths from confessional Lutheranism. One needs be afraid to ask, “How long did the Thirty Years War last?” History, and especially the use of primary sources, has become like a car rear view mirror to many. It’s something to hang things from but not look into … despite the fact that what is behind you (in the past) may catch up and cause you harm. I have had a man who considered himself knowledgeable, and this is some time ago, tell me, with self assumed authority, how the Missouri Synod came over from Germany. He wasn’t quite sure where in Germany Missouri was and was further surprised that German unification did not occur until 1871. Then there was the lady who over heard me discussing the Book of Concord with someone. She interjected to ask if I was interested in wines as she was. It is an imperative to have some grasp of “what we believe, teach, and confess,” but also why. If you think there was just one Reformation, you might not understand why there is a difference between what confessional Lutherans should believe and Calvinist theology and its variations. Those are just a few reasons to know history, church and other.

  3. Gabriel Borlean
    March 10th, 2012 at 03:20 | #3

    I AGREE. WHY history matters and the knowledge of it is the 1st step. Many ppl. don’t like history for various reasons: boring teacher in middle school, lack of interest in reading books and non-electronic resources, false belief of irrelevance of subject matter, not good with numbers/dates, etc. I like to confront ppl with a situation they can relate to. I ask them if they know their uncles, aunts, great-grandparents, met them or heard stories about them. Same with the Christian family … don’t you want to know who you are today because of the testimony or lack there of, from generations before?

  4. March 10th, 2012 at 08:35 | #4

    Pastor Peters and the three gentlemen that have sent in comments have surely hit the nail on the head. I have found that people that tend to have arguments with members of other christian denominations usually have little or no true historical knowledge about the history of the 2000 year old church. Besides the fact that they really don’t know the history of the other denomination but they don’t truly understand the history of their own church. I am a simple man but I have always tried to educate myself about the church. For the past few months I have been studying the Early Church Fathers in detail. I don’t think that any christian should consider himself truly educated in church history unless he reads about the Fathers. These men were the “originals” and from where it all started. They were the students of the Apostles and had to try to spread the Good News while fighting heretics along the way. In many ways they had to fight to preserve the purity of the Faith just as we are attempting to do today. I think there is a move among people who seek the truth
    to get back to the basics of our Faith and make a connection with our forefathers. I have found it very rewarding to do historical research of the church.

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