Here’s another angle on why to study church history… dig this:
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. Psalm 78:1-4
The Psalmist, here, commands a covenantal pedagogy. Parents were to tell their children of the mighty works of Yahweh. The works he did generations and generations before were to be recounted to the children of the present generation. By way of application, the works that our great, great, great grandparents saw (should) have been reported down the generations to us, and we’re to tell them to our children. Are you parents doing this? More on this below.
5He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God. Psalm 78:5-8
Part of the parental responsibility, as articulated here, is to train our children to train their children. God calls us to multi-generational pedagogy. Positively, we’re to train up our kids to set their hope in God, remember his mighty works, and to keep his commandments. This instruction comes, do take note, in the context of the covenant body – the people of God. Teach your kids not to repeat the unfaithful and rebellious aspects of their fathers (vs. 8). These fathers, however, are their fathers. This can be called covenant identity. Our children are part of the family of faith, which faith is passed on generation to generation. This is our children’s identity; it’s WHO THEY ARE. We baptize our children of the covenant because they deserve it by identity. We train them up to know and own their own, God-given identity, with all its attendant blessings and responsibilities.
Our fathers are our fathers. See that the rest of the Psalm rehearses a great many negative and rebellious acts of God’s people. Our fathers, whether they were unfaithful or not, are still our fathers. There’s a great deal we can learn from the sins of our fathers, often times more than we can learn from their faithfulness.
Final point: Does this command to tell our children of the mighty works of God end where the Bible ends? That is, are there no mighty works of God outside the pages of Scripture? What about the great acts of God in judging our apostate fathers (Israel) by the hand of Rome in AD 70? What about the great martyrs of the first centuries of Christianity? Is their faith not a mighty and wonderful work of God? What about the Cappadocian Fathers? Does this include Athanasius? How about Nicaea? What about Augustine? Shouldn’t Augustine’s mind qualify as a one of Yahweh’s mighty deeds? What about Boethius? The growth of the Eastern Church? And on, and on, and on… Do your children know the story of Athanasius? Do you kids know why Augustine was weeping in the garden under the tree, and what the little kid was singing outside the garden walls? They most certainly should. It’s their history. It’s their identity. These stories are some of the stories of their people, stories to which they’re entitled by covenant identity. Don’t rob them. Neither should we rob them of the “negative” stories. Our people are not only the people who suffered persecution at the hands of Jews and Romans, but we are also the people who persecuted Jews and heretics. Our stories include both Ignatius of Antioch and Tomas de Torquemada. Our identity encompasses both the selfless missionary work of Patrick, Augustine of Canterbury, Aidan, Xavier, and Geneva under Calvin and also the loathsome violence of the Crusades. In a word, our identity is quite catholic, but not in the unfortunate, narrow sense that Rome uses it (they’ve hijacked that term, but it’s not theirs – it’s ours). Rather, our identity is catholic in the fulsome, glorious, biblical sense. We belong to the people of God, a people spanning from Adam down to the present moment, and with a view to 1000 more generations (maybe 100,000 more generations). Church history isn’t just informative and instructive, it is part of our identity.
Who are your people?
A toast to Christian catholicity!
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