Culture At Large

Being a history-aware church

Andy Rau

While I was listening this morning to the latest issue of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, this quote stood out. It's from a discussion about the importance of being aware of our history, and how the church could help people understand that there's more to the human story than just living in the moment: of the ways churches could demonstrate love of their neighbors is by being communities with a radically different attitude toward time and history--communities with practices that encourage awareness and attentiveness to history.

Ministers could set an example by being known as people who read books about history. Sermons could be seasoned by illustrations from historical sources more than from headlines or lines of dialogue from popular movies. Classes on church history could be as important as the more immediately attractive classes devoted to personal problem-solving. Historical creeds, confessions, and catechisms could be a valued part of worship, in part so that visitors would have a sense that our attitude toward the past is different from theirs: we understand time and history differently, and thus behave differently.

I don't think many people would claim that being aware of history isn't important. But I really like this quote; we as Christians have a vastly different understanding of the human story, from start to finish, than non-Christians do. Part of being a faithful witness is standing ready to explain our understanding of history, and why it's unique among all the worldviews competing for attention today.

Does your church actively engage in this sort of activity--educating itself about history, and helping educate others as well? I've seen or heard of churches who use programs like the following:

  • catechism classes that walk through important church documents and creeds throughout history (even ones that the church might not agree with!).
  • Sunday school classes or small groups that focus not just on self-improvement or devotions, but on specific themes or periods in church history--maybe the Reformation, or the Great Awakening, or the like.
  • basic Greek or Hebrew language courses to help people read Biblical texts in the original languages, and better understand the cultures in which those texts were written.
  • Following a historical church calendar of worship, and explaining the significance of the different church seasons and holidays (beyond just Easter and Christmas!).

With the close ties that many churches have to seminaries and Bible colleges, I think these sorts of history-aware activities are well within the reach of many, although certainly not all, churches. What do you think? How is your church communicating the story of humanity, from Beginning to End?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, News & Politics, History