Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | February 9, 2008

Why Study Church History? (Lesson 1: Part 2)

Why Study Church History?  (Lesson 1: Part 2)  

In studying church history we find that we have much more in common with the ancient church than with the medieval or reformation eras of the church.  In the medieval and reformation eras the church was powerful and influential, not so in the ancient era or today.  The society that we live in, like the ancient period, believes that it can live quite independently from the church.  These similarities may be due to the fact that the ancient period was a pre-Christian era, which is analogous to our time labeled by some historians as a post-Christian era.  Many people today think that Christianity is passé or even dangerous.  Although, it was a vital element in the development and sustainability of Western culture in the past, the thinking is that we have “graduated” into more sophisticated forms of thought.  Likewise in the ancient period the Greco-Roman culture thought the church was rather insignificant or even dangerous and certainly less sophisticated than other forms of thought.  As we see how early Christians struggled to relate to a hostile culture, we will be somewhat helped in the struggles that we face today.  

In our examination of the ancient period we will be performing a two-fold mission.  First, we will be considering how the church related to the culture of the time.  Second, we will be considering how the church developed its doctrine, polity, piety, liturgy, etc.  From our labors we will hope to learn from the history things that may be applicable to our own time.  Not only learning from the churches successful accomplishments, but also from its failures.   

In the broadest term we want to aim at seeing the emergence of the “catholic” tradition of the church.  Although, this is a controversial topic, the tactic of censorship should be avoided.  The controversy surrounding this notion has perhaps been powerfully presented by the phenomena of the Da Vinci Code. The whole premise of this novel is that the “catholic” church became a powerful suppressor of the truth.  The catholic tradition of the church is seen as a falsification, which they posit carried out the task of stamping out any remnants of the competing views.  Analogous to the shredding of documents to erase the memory of alternative traditions, they assert that the triumph of the catholic tradition allowed them the privilege of revising the true history of prior events.  An example of this would be in the conspiracy to “suppress” the truth of Jesus being married and having children.  

Unfortunately, many times the Christian’s shrill nervous reaction to these types of conspiracy theories only reinforces the confidence of those who concoct such claims.  We must concede that the truth of the matter is that there were many competing notions of how the church should be developed.  This is no surprise since any careful reading of the New Testament would reveal that there were competing views within the church.  The responses to these competing views comprise the majority of the content we have in the Pauline Epistles. The Spirit inspired John to write the letters to the churches of Asia Minor warning them of heretical teaching.  The Da Vinci Code phenomena would have us believe that orthodox Christianity proclaims that there was complete unanimity amongst the early church fathers, there were no tensions and everyone believed the same thing.  The fact that they have found that there were tensions they assert does damage to the credibility of orthodox Christianity today.  Hopefully it is evident that this caricature is extremely silly and no honest assessment of the ancient period would seek to establish that there was complete unanimity.  The truth is that there were serious tensions and controversies that had to be resolved.   Thus, we will seek to examine the details of these controversies and refrain from any attempts to deny their existence.  

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