“Church history matters because the history of the Church—the new covenant people of God—is the continuation of the divine drama canonized in Holy Scripture and equally “as divinely superintended by the Spirit,” as Kevin J. Vanhoozer put it in his book The Drama of Doctrine.”
Most millennials’ relationship with the history of the Church is complex.
On the one hand, we’ve seen the pendulum swing in recent years from an emergent, functionally anti-historical church trend to a notable influx of younger people—perhaps, as in my case, even ourselves—into liturgically richer and/or more historically rooted Christian traditions such as Anglicanism, Presbyterianism and even Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
On the other hand, we still live six days of the week amid a culture enamored with rapidity, novelty and the wondrous future.
In sum, we’re confused.
One way out of the morass is simply this: know the history of the Church. Here are the main reasons why.
It’s God’s Story
Much has been made in the past decade or so of the historical-redemptive narrative: the belief that the story of God and His interactions with His people fit into four categories (or stages) we call Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation (or shalom).
This has been helpful for young evangelicals as a way of understanding the larger narrative of Scripture. When we open our Bibles and read, say, the book of Daniel, we benefit from understanding that the life and trials of Daniel sit between the Fall and Redemption as the covenant God of Israel exhibited both mercy and judgment to His covenant people. It helps us locate individual narratives within the larger narrative.
A proper, robust, Christian appreciation for Church history looks much the same.
Prior to the professionalization of history as a distinct academic discipline, the professors of ecclesiastical (church) history at the major Scottish universities taught a subject slightly different than that which likely comes to mind when we think of Church history today.
For us, Church history began in the Book of Acts. For them, Church history and the history of humanity share a common origin: creation.
The Early American pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards thought much the same. His A History of the Work of Redemption, which he was unable to complete before his death in 1758, similarly cast the history of the Church alongside the acts of God in biblical times.