Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Prayer for Today... and the Importance of Church History

This morning I was praying from one of my favorite prayer book, John Baillie's little gem A Diary of Private Prayer. The second half of the prayer for the morning of the fifth day is a prayer I would never have considered praying before I started learning about the liturgical church. Now it's an idea that encourages me more than I can possibly express:

"O Thou who wast, and art, and art to come, I thanks Thee that this Christian way whereon I walk is no untried or uncharted road, but a road beaten hard by the footsteps of saints, apostles, prophets, and martyrs. I thank Thee for the finger-posts and danger-signals with which it is marked at every turning and which may be known to me through the study of the Bible, and all history, and of all the great literature of the world. Beyond all, I give Thee devout and humble thanks for the great gift of Jesus Christ, the Pioneer of our faith. I praise Thee that Thou hast caused me to be born in an age and in a land which have known His Name, and that I am not called upon to face any temptation or trial which He did not first endure.

"Forbid it, Lord, that I should fail to profit by these great memories of the ages that are gone by, or to enter into the glorious inheritance which Thou hast prepared for me; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen."

I was talking to the kids today after our morning Scripture reading and prayer that one of the weaknesses of evangelical "tradition" (for lack of a better word) is that it seems to divorce itself from the church history and Biblical tradition. How can we move forward without knowing where the church has been? As an evangelical, I knew *nothing* about the church from the end of the New Testament to Martin Luther posting the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg. Nothing. I appreciate the church history review we had in Lake Murray's adult Sunday School class a few years ago, but I basically had to learn about church history on my own. But the overall ignorance of evangelicals regarding church history is lamentable.

Most evangelicals would state that our main focus needs to be the Bible, God's Word, and our personal relationship with God. And they are right. But church history is rather like a map of our Christian walk, allowing us to see and avoid pitfalls and detours as well as the traps set by our immortal enemy along the way.

So where do we find this road map? For beginners, I recommend Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language. It reads delightfully like a novel and is very fair-minded in not "taking sides" in the many issues that cropped up over two millennia. For those who want a more in-depth resource, The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales (in two volumes or both volumes bound together; the link takes you to volume one only) is a great read.

If you appreciate beautifully-illustrated books, The Story of Christianity by Collins and Price is both informative and gorgeous. This is the volume that Sonlight, our main homeschool curriculum, uses as the "spine" of their high school church history course. One author is Protestant and one is Catholic so an excellent balance is maintained. E and I will be using this book as we study Sonlight's church history in-depth together neat year.

Knowing the "Pilgrim Pathway" is of the utmost importance to our Christian walk. The French writer, poet, and politician Lamartine stated, "History teaches everything including the future." I think the same case can be made for church history. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, "Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way in, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).

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