History has always been a neutral subject for me. I’ve never hated it, but I’ve never been overjoyed by it either. Names and especially dates tend to get jumbled together in my head. If I’m honest, I also just have a hard time connecting to the past. I know history is important and I know the people of the past are important, but they always seem so distant. So, when I started my church history class in college, I wasn’t really expecting much. In my mind, it was another class I needed to graduate but not much more. However, from the very first day of class God completely changed my mind and my heart when it comes to church history. During that class, I found a beautiful picture of our sovereign and merciful God. I was humbled and awestruck by the legacy He has built.
Now I have an appetite for the past; more specifically, our past. Because it is our past. If you are a Christian, then church history is your history too. I wrote in the first blog post about the church being a family. Well, every family has a legacy, a history. We, the people of God, have an amazing and deep history. We have inherited a historic faith. What we are today is because of what God has done throughout history. One thing my New Testament professor used to say often was the Bible didn’t fall out of the sky in King James English. He said this to remind us that the Bible we have today is rooted in history. There is a history behind the stories we read in the Bible. Likewise, I think we can say the same about the church and Christianity in general. The church we have today, the faith we have today didn’t just pop up in the 21st century. Author Tim Challies says it well in his article, Seven Reasons to Study the Church’s Past, “The faith as we know it today was not simply handed to us, but was painstakingly developed over hundreds and thousands of years.” Everything we have in the church today is the result of God working in and with broken sinful people over the course of thousands of years.
How crazy is that?
God was not just faithful during Biblical times. He did not stop working in the book of Acts. He has been working, saving, and redeeming our world since the beginning of time. And the gospel message that we preach every Sunday and throughout the week, has been preached by thousands and thousands of people ever since Jesus ascended back into heaven. That should be encouraging to us as we continue to preach and share the gospel today.
Since I finished college, I’ve often wanted to get back into studying church history. I’ve wanted to refresh my memory and remember where we’ve come from. We are in an interesting period of history, both for the whole world, and for the church specifically. I’ve wanted to trace the line of our past to see how we got to where we are. I’ve wanted to see and marvel at how God has grown and changed His people throughout the ages. It’s cool to think about how over all these years, God has been behind all of it. And this time around, as I study and look back at our past, I want to invite you, my church family to join me. I want to share some of what I learn, whether it’s of people or places or events, with you. I hope that through the posts that follow, you will be able to marvel along with me at how God works through sinners just like us. I’ll be honest that I don’t know exactly how all of this will look from where I’m standing now, but I think it will be a good thing for us to take a look back every now and then. It can be easy in the day to day to get distracted and discouraged by how slow things seem to be going. The work we are doing here in Clinton may feel small sometimes. But, looking back at how much God has worked so far might help to encourage us to keep going.
Our past hasn’t always been a pretty one. There have been times of persecution, times where people have used the gospel for their own gain, times where we may question how God was at work. As difficult as it will be to walk through these things I think it will still be beneficial to us. As we walk through, I want to encourage us to remember two things that church historian Justo Gonzalez points out in his book, The Story of Christianity. The first is that “while this narrative is the history of the deeds of the Spirit, it is the history of those deeds through sinners such as we are” (pg.2).
One of the misconceptions a lot of people have about the church today is we are supposed to be these perfect people. Both inside and outside of the church there is this belief that if you are part of the church you never do anything wrong. But if we look back at the dark points in the history of the church, we have to come to terms with the fact that God isn’t saving perfect people, He’s saving sinful ones. This of course does not make sins okay. But we can let ourselves be humbled by remembering that God is redeeming us just as He redeemed people throughout history. The grace of God is not stopped because of our sins. The sins of people, both past and present, don’t make the gospel any less true. Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 3 says, “Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” The dark points of church history do not make the gospel less true or less reliable.
The second thing to remember is “it has been through those sinners and that church – and only through them – that the biblical message has come to us. Even in the darkest times in the life of the church, there were those Christians who loved, studied, and copied the Scriptures, and thus bequeathed them to us” (pg. 2). Again, Gonzalez reminds us that God works through sinful, broken people. And even in the times where God seems absent, when people are twisting the gospel for their own gain, God preserves His church. God is not stopped by sin. Even in the hardest points in our history, there are still men and women who stayed true to the gospel and who struggled to preserve it. Even in the history of Israel, in the Old Testament, God left a remnant of people who stayed faithful to Him. Even in the darkest points in history, the gospel has shone through.
There is a lot to gain from learning about the history of the church. I truly hope that y’all benefit from some of these posts. I hope that you’ll learn a little about where we come from, and even more about how faithful God is to have brought us this far. And as we learn together, I hope this brings us a little closer as a family and that we are all encouraged as we join with thousands of sinners throughout history in faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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