Episode 8: POV - Larger Box Pt 2 - Church History
In this episode Jimmy and Patty continue the conversation in their Point of View (POV) series.
Taking a step backwards to see how our box fits into the larger box of the bible and church history is the next step in our POV series.
In part two of this larger box discussion we will be looking at the story of church history to see how our denomination or tradition fit into the larger story.
Graphs and Handouts!
UNDERSTANDING CHURCH HISTORY IN ITS BROADEST STROKES
Church History is a fun and intensive study that could literally take a lifetime life time of study, and still not know it all. Every believer, at any stage of their life, must make it a priority to understand church history, even if it is just in understanding church history in its broadest context.
We may not know all of the people involved and all of the nuances, but the basic story needs to be understood. This is our family history, and it is up to us to remember it. Our deep past effects us in more ways than many of us can imagine. The story of the church history is still here with us-- it is like a ragging river full of rapids and dangerous rocks. We can either understand the river of church history, understand our part in it and help to move the story forward, or we can be willfully ignorant and let the currents toss us around and throw us against the rocks.
You can learn to navigate the present by understanding the past, and move into a greater future. Or you can be swept up and caught up in forces and a larger story that WILL act on your life and your loved ones whether you are aware of it or not.
SECOND - HOW DOES YOUR CHURCH FIT INTO THE LARGER STORY
Our church tradition fits into a larger story that is fundamental to our identity as christians. This influences what a church teaches, what it preaches, and what it values. This in turn effects the type of church cultures that are created, and what types of relationships exist within the church.
In episode 6 we learned about how many different church denominations are out there. Those denominations are a record of different church cultures and a different set of value systems. This is key to understanding your own POV and the POV of others.
How the story of church history has played out in the way it has historically is important to understanding the larger drama that we are caught up in. The river of history that is carrying us along is very real. The danger of the rapids and the rocks is a very true and very present danger.
The key to navigating all of these hazards in understanding the Bibles emphasis on unity.
UNITY - WHY UNITY IS IMPORTANT
In both testaments unity is very, very important. A key principle in building your life, your church, and your relationships around the bible is to understand what is important to the authors of the Bible, and strive to make it important to you as well.
Unity in the Old Testament:
Unity was very important for God in the Hebrew Bible. It was important for his people remain a separate and distinct people group, and remain separate from their Canaanite neighbors and the world at large. A lot of what goes wrong in the old testament is that the Israelites fail to keep themselves as one unique people group. They fail to keep themselves unified as a separate and distinct people from the rest of the peoples of the world.
Unity in the New Testament:
The authors of the New Testament makes a lot of direct calls for the unity of all believers. The gospel authors, who actually knew that they were writing scripture, call out for unity often. The most famous is John 17 where Jesus has a speech and prayer about the importance for the believers to be united. The author of Luke and Acts addresses the concept of unity in a lot of places. The Jerusalem council specifically addresses this concept of unity between gentile and Jewish believers. All of the letters directly address the fracturing of the church along Jewish and gentile lines.
The reality of modern day Christianity seems to directly contradict the hopes and dreams of both the authors of the New Testament and the authors of the Old Testament. The body of christ (the church) has been shattered, and picking up the pieces and bringing it all together seems like an impossibility.
Bringing the world back together starts with us. Believers everywhere must strive to come together as one united family of God. Every age and every generation is called to this great task of unity. It is the great call to which we have been called. The great task that most of us are not even aware of.
WHERE DID EVERYTHING GO WRONG?
It’s hard to say if there ever was a united church. Especially before there was a new testament, it is hard for our modern sensibilities who get united behind what we believe to be the correct interpretation of scripture, to understand how a church defined itself before it had a new testament.
The study of the writings of the church fathers is a fascinating glimpse into the period right after the apostolic period, where the new testament cannon was being finalized. That is beyond the scope of this podcast, and I will refrain from geeking out about it. I will link some great resources for anyone wanting to go deeper there.
But it is safe to say that this desire to spit up and go our own way has been with us from the beginning, and that we are called to be partners with God to bring the world back together at all times, in every age, and during every generation.
We have some handouts!
While these are not ours, they will be useful for our discussion. The first is a portrait of what we think the Church Family tree looks like today. Lets take a look at this handout to see what observations we can make, and discuss whether this is a useful exercise to do in your own life.
You can download your own copy here:
The key is to find where your own tradition fits in and work backwards from there. Take note of the traditions that are closest to your own. Are there any surprises? Do you know some of these stories behind the spiting branches, and the different denominations? Do you have a good understanding of all of the branches getting down to the trunk?
*Youtube has great videos that paint a great picture of church history, and we will link some of them in the deep dives.
**Understand that church history can be a hotly debated topic. Almost every single branch of the tree sees the story a little different, and many would have some disagreements on how this diagram is arranged. Use this handout as a guide to deeper understanding and not as absolute truth.
FITTING YOUR DENOMINATION INTO THE LARGER STORY
Understanding that history is often recorded by people that are operating out of a specific frame of reference, a specific POV, and a specific box. Timelines and diagrams are useful for not only understanding what actually happened, but also for understanding what some people think happened.
What people think happened, or how they interpret what the facts mean is very important to our discussion of POV, and in our season of listening. What is often most important, is not what actually happened, but what people believe those events mean. The handout below was created by someone on the same branch of my own church tradition. Specifically from the Stone-Campell Restoration Movement branch of the Christian Family Tree.
Check out the site where I downloaded it from to find more about the church this diagram comes from:
Studying this is very revealing to see where my own personal tradition comes from, and it empowers me to choose where I want it to go. As discussed in the podcast my own tradition currently would have serious issues with this diagram, however even a few decades ago this is definitely what was mostly taught. Studying this can help us understand the larger POV of church history by narrowing it down to the recent church history, of where my specific church came from.
Looking at my own churches website you would think we sprang into existence in 1983 from disciples that came from somewhere else that is not really mentioned. However, there has been a bit of revisionist history going on in my own church tradition, that I personally think is a shame. (See NYCCOC History Video)
I think a better approach to church history is to look at the good and the bad and embrace both of them as part of our identity. Part of understanding our church history is looking at all of it, good, bad, and ugly so we can understand and learn from it. Even painful memories from our past has shaped our present. A lot of healing can come from embracing our painful past, and learning to be grateful to it for shaping who we are today.
I believed a lot of things that I now think are wrong, and I am sure that I am wrong about a lot of thing now. But what I am sure of is the need for transparency and to face the truth head on, and resisting the urge to rewrite our own histories-- no matter how much we may want to.
Ask your own church tradition if they have a useful timeline like this to see if you can better understand your own church's history, and begin to think about how that history could be effecting your own personal history. I personally had a bit of trouble finding reliable unbiased sources for my study of my own traditions past, but I will try and link what I have in the deep dives.
Challenge of the Week (C.O.W.)
Every journey starts with a single step. Our goal is for us to personally share our takeaways and put things into action. Do you want to be held accountable? Or hold us accountable?
Choose one or two of the challenges below.
Welcome to the Life to the Full Community!
Episode 8 C.O.W. (POV - Larger Box Pt 2 - Church History)
No challenge this week you over achievers!
In the meantime why don't you check out one of our book recommendations or deeper dives. That should keep you nice and busy for now.
Book nerds! Below are this episode's book recommendations. If you are interested in purchasing any of these books, then please use these links below.
They help support the show with no additional cost to you. Thanks in advance!
Bruce Shelly's Church History in Plain Language is a great introduction to the twisted tales of church history. While it is light in some important details, and it is a very protestant centric POV, this classic work is a very readable and concise primer for the beginning student of church history.
Okay this section is for deeper dives. Here we will be recommending a variety of resources that we could not fit into the podcast. Some were mentioned on the podcast and some were not mentioned at all. They are videos, other podcasts, online classes, and other ramblings that Patty would not let Jimmy bring onto the podcast otherwise it would be a four hour show.
Also all promised handouts should be found here.
Extra Credits is a youtube channel that makes and produces short animated videos that illuminate a historical topic. What I love about them is that they teach history by telling stories. The best history teachers and books are the ones who teach by telling stories. While it is not incredibly in-depth they do an excellent job of talking about this early time in christian history in a fun and easy-going style.
Also, if you like there style check out the rest of their videos about various ages of history you will not be disappointed.
For a more academic POV for the history of christianity, and one that would be more at home in a classroom setting check out Ryan Reeves videos on church history.
Ryan teaches historical theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and he has graciously recorded two church history survey classes and posted them on youtube for free!
You can find more about him at thegospelcoalition.org.
Early and Medieval Church History (Church History 1)
Reformation and Modern Church History (Church History 2)
My current church tradition comes from the International Churches of Christ family of churches. Steve Kinnard does an excellent series of lectures on church history, and he was great source for me when I wanted to know more about the Restoration and Stone-Campell movements. While I found them to be slightly biased towards the restoration movement, his lecture series were invaluable to me when I was first trying to wrap my head around how my local church fit into the larger story of church history.
You can learn more about Steve at his blog kingjesushearald.com.