Marc Cortez reports that there was an ETS paper presented by Dr. Sean Lucas (First Presbyterian Church) on how every pastor needs to take church history as a pastoral discipline. Marc gives us Lucas’ four characteristics of church history that every pastor needs to consider:
1. Church history is critical. We establish our identities through the stories we tell ourselves. In America, we tell stories about the rugged individual who overcomes obstacles and achieves outcomes that far exceed expectations. So we form our identity around concepts like individualism, freedom, and hard work, among others. We embed these concepts in the holidays that structure our calendar and shape our narrative. And, if we’re not careful, we come to think that these stories are part and parcel of the Christian narrative. But church history challenges our stories by exposing us to hear the stories that God’s people have told at different times and places. By studying church history, we come to realize that the stories our culture tells are not necessarily the same as the Christian story. Church history creates the space for pastors to be self-critical and reflective, stepping outside culturally dominant stories, and allowing the Christian narrative to become the dominant force shaping Christian identity.
2. Church history is cross-cultural. To step into church history is to step into a foreign country, a place removed from us in time, space, and culture. In this way, studying church history has the same value as talking with Christians from other parts of the world: it stretches our horizons and challenges our assumptions, allowing us to think more deeply about our own culture and how it shapes our assumptions and resulting theology.
3. Church history is prophetic. It’s easy to look at the sins of the past and recognize how wrong they are. Distanced from the muddying effects of the “present,” we can look back and see slavery, racism, and others for the wrong that they are. Great. What about our own sins? What do allow to slide past us unnoticed because they are clouded in the fog of our own present? What sins will future generations judge us for? Studying church history can’t remove all the blind spots, but it can help. Prior generations can serve a prophetic role by expressing their own views of sin and injustice, views that are often rather different than our own.
4. Church history is wisdom. Ultimately, pastors need church history because church history is all about learning from the wisdom of the past. Church history is not primarily about names, dates, and places. Those are involved, for sure. But at its core, church history is about being mentored by those who have gone before so that we are better equipped to live and minister in the present.
I agree! Read the rest of Marc’s blog and you won’t be disappointed.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.