The REV. LOU TISCIONE
“There is nothing new under the sun” Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:9c
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
Each of these men reflected on the course of history and the need to know it. History is His, God’s, story. That is history belongs to God. God ordains the steps of men, Proverbs 16:9. He has progressively revealed Himself throughout history. Therefore, it seems reasonable that there is great benefit in studying history.
I recently asked our adult class, “Why should we study church history?”
I received an immediate response from a man in the class. “So that we don’t make the same mistakes.”
We all had a great laugh, but the fact is some Christians think that the church only has a history that dates back about 150 years. But, the history of the church can be dated to the time of Abraham. The word “church” means those called out by God. This is what God did: He called a man, then a family, then a nation, then members of all nations of those who are in Christ through the gospel. It would seem obvious that much can be gained by studying the church’s history.
The church has a long history, thousands of years of men and women called by God to follow Him and thousands of years of those same men and women making the same mistakes over and over again. In the words of Albert Einstein, they could be defined as insane. Part of the reason for the insanity is a failure to consider the past.
For example, it can be said that there are no new heresies. There are only old ones dressed up in new clothes. Essential doctrines like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the bodily resurrection have been under attack since the early days of the Christian Church. False teachers persist in re-dressing these heresies in new clothes and succeed in deceiving many.
Likewise culture is not immune to the effects of ignorance of history. Ancient civilizations have died as a result of ignoring certain moral behaviors even in the face of historical evidence of past collapses. In addition, civil leaders have also tried to tweak old systems thinking that they somehow could make failed systems work. Socialism, for example, has had more recent failures than perhaps any other social/economic construct and yet, there is a never ending list of politicians advocating it under different names and slightly different methods.
My concern is for the evangelical church. I remember a sermon delivered by one of my heroes, James Montgomery Boice, as he reflected on what came to be known as the Church Growth Movement. He said, “Using man’s methods yield man’s results.” No matter how often we use man’s methods with the best of intentions we still get man’s results. We can fill churches by meeting needs or offering programs, and fail at teaching what it means to repent and believe in the gospel.
As the church makes learners and followers of Jesus, He has promised to be present with us, Matthew 28:19-20. This is God’s method and it will yield God’s results. The “seeker” approach is tried over and over again. It yields large churches filled with members who live just like the world. The hope persists that if just the “right” method is used, the result will be different.
The history of the church reveals a different approach. It has been a history of teaching the truth. May we learn from the giants of our faith and avoid the errors they toiled to correct and remain faithful in using God’s methods by their example, expecting God’s results!
The Rev. Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).