History: Much more than just a bunch of dates and names

jonathan-edwardsThose who know me well know that one of my passions is history.  I just absolutely love to dig into history whether through reading a book, going to a historical location, or watching a good movie/documentary.  I realize for some of you (maybe most) just reading that list of things causes your eyelids to get heavy and a yawn to creep up into the back of your throat.  I remember a time when that was exactly how I felt about history, so I sympathize, but I’m not going to let you get off that easy!  For far too long we in the church have looked on church history as one of those courses in college that you have to take to get your diploma, so as long as you scrape by with a passing grade you’ll be satisfied, sell the books back to the bookstore and ne’er remember the dronings of the prof ever again.  Shame on us!  We rob ourselves of priceless life lessons and more important some amazing stories of individual faith and community piety because we ‘believe the lie.’  I fear we have over done it with our buy in to autonomy and individuality that are so prevalent in our culture.  Everything is about forging our own path and standing on our own two feet, which aren’t necessarily bad, but who said seeking counsel and learning from the successes and failures of those who have gone before us makes us any less an individual.  Perhaps its more a question of wisdom than individuality.  I was recently reading a biography of the great American pastor and revivalist Jonathan Edwards and was stunned to find that shortly after he lead his church through one of the greatest seasons of revival this nation has ever known his church had him removed as their pastor.  This sad story was actually a source of encouragement for me as a pastor because it revealed the nature of ministry even for the greats.  The highs and lows that I have experienced in ministry seem small in comparison to the story I read of Jonathan Edwards, and yet he remained faithful to the call God had placed upon his life and pressed on.  The amazing thing about history is that it is full of stories like this, stories that speak into our life situation right where we are at and shed light on dark places for us.  Church history really is more than just an endless list of meaningless dates and names, it is the story of life.  It is the conglomeration of the stories of those who have gone before us, and one day, future generations may be looking at our stories for wisdom and encouragment.