It’s been an interesting experience teaching Church History to a group of seniors who are at the cuff of graduating. There have been a number of times I’ve been asked, “Why do we need to take this class?” or even more directly “Why does this class matter?”
This class picks up the Church’s narrative where the New Testament leaves off. We open by discussing the persecution faced in Rome. It is to this world 1 Peter 2:15 writes, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” These early Christians were told not to lash out at those mistreating them worse than Christians are treated around us today. This instruction applies to us today in our daily lives when we are unfairly targeted for our faith.
The Church History class sees how the Church deals with false teachers, schisms, those who would see the Bride of Christ destroyed, and, in short, sinful people. I frequently like to point to a picture I have up in my classroom that says “‘The Church needs to get with the times,’ said every failed empire for the last 2000 years.” When Christ said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, He meant it. So when we see scandals, abuses, and false teachers rocking the Church, we can have confidence that the Church will stand, even if steeples are falling (to reference the hymn Built on the Rock).
I remember when we first moved to Fort Wayne, there were so many options for where to worship, including a plethora of LCMS churches. Furthermore the number of churches that weren’t LCMS was simply staggering (specifically there’s 360 according to the city’s fact sheet). Clearly Fort Wayne is the City of Churches. How does one select a church to attend? This question is one that I poised to the seniors: when they go off to college how will they determine what church to attend while away from home? There are many ways to evaluate a church: What is their worship style? Are they friendly and welcoming? Do they have coffee and donuts? Most importantly, are they founded on God’s Word?
When we studied the beginning of many of the different denominations, it gave the students a way to evaluate them. So when these students move away to college they already know the beliefs of many of the different church bodies that they will encounter, taking much of the guesswork out of finding a place to worship.
There are many reasons to study Church History. It is poignant for us, and significant for these seniors who are about to leave their families, their friends, and their churches. It truly has been a blessing to be able to give these students the tools they need to grow in their faith in years to come.