1) History shows you who you are.
How do you know who your father is? He’s whoever your mother tells you he is.
And who your father is, and who his father was, and who his father’s fathers were, directly influences who you are today.
I am proud to look back at my family history. The land my family in Germany lives on today has been in the family for about 800 years or so, maybe more. The land was settled in the days of the Holy Roman Empire. When the land was settled the man in charge was the local Bishop. The man who was second in command was the Voogd. The Voogd represented the Bishop and was charged with protecting and managing the land and the people. When the land was settled, the Bishop was allotted the first piece of land, and the Voogd the second piece. To this day, the address of my family’s land is #2 Wilsum. This is a history I can look back at, and, whether I like it or not, it identifies me, it shows me who I am.
Infinitely more important than my earthly heritage is my heavenly heritage. My Christian fathers have been working, building, spreading the Gospel for two thousand years. Who they were, and what they did, defines who I am, and what I do today.
I know who I am by studying the lives of Christians who came before me.
2) History shows you where you’re going.
Here’s a well known story you may have heard before…
A young woman was preparing a ham dinner. After she cut off the end of the ham, she placed it in a pan for baking.
Her friend asked her, “Why did you cut off the end of the ham?”
And she replied, “I really don’t know but my mother always did, so I thought you were supposed to.”
Later when talking to her mother she asked her why she cut off the end of the ham before baking it, and her mother replied, “I really don’t know, but that’s the way my mom always did it.”
A few weeks later while visiting her grandmother, the young woman asked, “Grandma, why did you always cut off the end of a ham before you baked it?”
Her grandmother replied, “Well dear, otherwise it would never fit into my baking pan.”
When we don’t know our past, we don’t know why we do the things we do now, and we don’t know what we will do in the future.
When I study Christian history, I can see the past things that were done which were good and which were bad, and the results those actions had in the long-term. Then I can make an informed plan for the future.
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” ~Mark Twain
I recently read about Constantine. There was a fast growing, yet persecuted church in the Roman Empire. Then emperor Constantine gets converted and ends persecution for the Church. Good, right? Or not? Some say that the elimination of persecution killed the Christian movement. Church and State were merged. Or perhaps Christianity grew and spread in ways it could have never before?
So I can study this and ask questions: What would happen if the king of Cambodia became a Christian? The king is highly respected and loved as a father figure. What would that do for the spread of Christianity in Cambodia? Or, do I really care if the Prime Minister of Canada is a Christian when Canadians have no respect for their political leaders?
When studying Cambodian history I ask: Does trying to fill a building on Sunday morning and singing “Hillsong” music make any sense? That doesn’t fit into Cambodian history/religious-culture at all. Cambodian religious history (and present times too) revolves around monasteries. Hmmm, monasteries…
Know your history, know your future.
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” ~Winston Churchill
3) History connects you to those who went before.
Have you ever read about Adoniram Judson? Or Tertullian? Or Barnabas Mam? There are plenty of books and articles about Christians in the past working for Christ. You can read about people who lived a century ago, or ten centuries ago. And no matter where and when they lived, when you read about them, you will find you have a personal connection to them. They are not just empty names living in forgettable times. They are brothers and sisters. They and you serve the same Father. What they fought about, were happy about, and suffered about are all things you can relate to.
With that connection to the past believers we can be encouraged to push forward in what we’re doing now. There is a point and an end to what we are fighting for. We are part of a much greater community which surpasses our own little corner of the planet and our own little breath of time.
So, where to start? Here’s a good book I suggest. It is a good intro to Christian history.
Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark A Noll