I finally had my first class last night, and i really enjoyed it. I am often skeptical of historical study, not in exegesis per say, but in the post-biblical world. This is because i feel that tradition is often held too highly, sometimes even to the point of being equal to scripture. However, a lot of my fears were lessened greatly when during the initial hour we talked about the rationale for study church history.
One of the reasons for studying church history was to help us learn from our past mistakes and successes. My professor pointed out how foolish it would be of us to not learn from our past so that we can be all that God can make us as a body today. I had always heard this line of thought in regards to theological discussions, and i felt that it was at times nothing more than a trump card for the weaker position.
However, my view of this rationale changed later in the lecture. We were talking about why the church exploded initially, and about the Roman Empire in which it grew. The Empire was powerful, impersonal, and cold. It didn’t feel like a home, but something to obey and fear. Into this context the early church was born, preaching a message of a loving father who wanted to interact with these gentiles intimately. The idea of a loving, benevolent authority and community resonated within these love-starved people. Persecution came after the obscure “Jewish” sect had been growing rapidly, but that only caused them to fall to their knees and seek intimacy with their loving father even more, and empowered by His love they went on to grow even more, until less than 50 after the heavy persecutions began they “conquered” this great Roman Empire.
This stuff made me realize that history helps us learn how to do ministry, not just to justify our systematic theologies. These were real Christians, and we can learn from them by “exegeting the church” to see how Christ would have us live today.
The applications of this excursion into church history are 1) When we love, we grow (Jn 13:34-35), 2) Love, real love, is worth dying for (1 Jn 3:16), and 3) Love conquers all (1 Cor 13:13). This lesson has helped make concrete for me the fact that the scriptures attached aren’t just rational propositions, or life-guiding principles, but are real truths that history demonstrates to be true. Christianity is more than a system of belief, it is something more valuable than my life.