Earlier this month, I was praying from one of my favorite prayer books, 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 thank 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."
Benjamin and I have been reading about the Reformation in his ABeka World History textbook. It's a well-known text used by many Christian schools and homeschooling families alike, but I cannot emphasize enough how disappointed (and sometimes downright angry!) I was at their treatment of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in the Lord. (The other three kids read this textbook as well, and while we definitely discussed these points, B and I delved into the nitty-gritty of the topic and the way in which it was mishandled because I'm reading the text aloud to him.) Because I know church history fairly well (also another subject in our home school this year--again for the fourth time), I was alert to their obvious bias which, to my perhaps over-sensitive spirit on this topic so near and dear to my heart, seemed to border on hatred and was definitely built on exaggeration and half-truths.
I'll not get on my soapbox about "majoring on the majors" as far as evangelicals and Roman Catholics go (besides the fact that we share 85% of Christian doctrine in common), so I'll focus on the topic at hand, This journey through the Reformation highlighted one of the weaknesses of evangelical "tradition" (for lack of a better word) in that it often seems to divorce itself from church history and Biblical tradition. How can we move forward as God's ambassadors 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 truly appreciate the church history review we had in Lake Murray Community Church's adult Sunday School class many years ago, but I had already invested several years of study into the topic on my own before the class was taught. To me, the overall ignorance of evangelicals regarding church history is lamentable and decidedly unhelpful in being an ambassador for Christ.
Almost all evangelicals would state that our main focus of study as Christians needs to be the Bible, God's Word, and our personal relationship with God. And they are right. But church history may be compared to a map of our Christian walk, allowing us to recognize and thus avoid some of the 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 have 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" for their high school church history course, and it's the book that Benjamin and I are reading now for our church history elective. One author of this lovely book is Protestant, and the other is Catholic, so an excellent balance is maintained. Our other three kids have either read this book or I've read it aloud to them during their school days
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).
One of my favorite Scripture quotations is from Psalm 84;4 in another of my devotional books, The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle (a series in three volumes)in which this verse is translated beautifully as:
"Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrim's way."
~Psalm 84:4, The Divine Hours
Wishing you all a blessed week in the love and grace of our Lord Christ!