Three Things I Have Learned From Church History

First Council of Nicaea, 325 AD

First Council of Nicaea, 325 AD

One of my IHOPU classes this quarter is Church History with Jono Hall. Our family history is scandalous, embarrassing, dysfunctional–and glorious, inspiring, and blessed. Through it all, some patterns and truths emerge.

1. Church history is reactive.

I used to wonder why, if truth doesn’t change, theology seems to go through “mood swings.” The answer is that new expressions and emphases are usually in reaction to previous expressions or emphases that got out of hand. In the second century, a sect called the Monatists held that their prophets carried canonical divine authority and often claimed to lose control and be “possessed” by the Holy Spirit while prophesying. In response, the Church excommunicated their leaders and settled on a closed canon of Scripture. However, as a side effect of the Monatists’ ecstatic prophecy, the Church also began moving towards a cessationist belief, that all gifts of prophecy had ceased.

In the 16th century, the Reformation confronted certain abuses and errors within the Catholic church such as the sale of indulgences, relic worship, and penance. This shift eventually resulted in a group called the Anabaptists, who rightly opposed infant baptism and were frequently martyred for it, but also became so focused on sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) that some, led by Menno Simons, rejected all worldly things not directly prescribed by Scripture. Menno Simons is known as the father of the Mennonites and by extension the Amish.

Of course, modern church history is highly reactive as well. Modern charismatic culture is partly a reaction to overly conservative denominations, and some conservative denominations have tightened down on their cessationist beliefs in response to charismatic excesses. And round and round the wheel turns…

2. There is nothing new under the sun.

The church has always battled heresies that threaten the foundation of our faith, and the same old lies keep rolling around. One of the earliest heresies was gnosticism, which is broad enough as to defy precise definition but is centred on the Greek idea of dualism- that the physical realm is evil and the spiritual realm is good. I grew up assuming some remnants of this idea, and I was aghast at first at the idea that my future glorified body would be tangible and some sort of physical, and that I would live on a physical Earth forever. Modern culture prefers to see heaven as a mystical, ethereal realm of light and glory, but the truth is that God likes matter. He designed the universe–including heaven–to be physical, and it will be physical forever. This is an Hebraic idea that flies in the face of ancient Greek gnosticism and modern Western thought.

This also affects how we see Jesus. Jesus really became a real physical Man, and He really will be human forever.

3. Ultimately, Jesus is building His church.

In between all the messy bits, God has been guiding the history of the Church. This is Jesus’ bride, and He is not giving up on her. There is always a remnant of true believers passionately pursuing God. Through the centuries we see church councils fighting for unity and orthodoxy, monks and mystics seeking Jesus in a consecrated life (some even establishing centuries of 24/7 worship), scribes and translators labouring for the spread of the Word, and reformers fighting for open access to God by grace through faith.

Church history gives us hope for the church today. No matter how corrupted or politicised the religious landscape may become, God has already brought us through so much, and He is committed to bringing us to maturity.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6 ESV

“On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Matthew 16:18 ESV

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. David
    Feb 20, 2015 @ 12:38:39

    Very good analysis.

    Reply

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