Friday, 22 January 2016

A Clarion Call: Writing Church History

Why history? Why writing the history of a Church? Of what value is history? In order to understand where we are going, we need to understand where we came from. This is the value of history in general. Knowing your trajectory allows you to understand yourself better, to put your experience in the proper perspective. What then is the value of the history of a Church? 

Without the history of the Church, Christian theology becomes theoretical rather than practical. Christianity is first and foremost the acts of God in time - and ultimately in Christ - more than its morality, doctrinal formulations, or a worldview.

Engaging history of a Church provides perspective on the Church’s interaction with surrounding culture and communities. Telling the story of a local Church - how it came to be and how it has grown and changed over the years - is always a worth-while task. If no one ever stops to remember ‘what happened’ way back, the congregation has lost a valuable piece of its identity and how it has managed to circumvent the varied complexities and challenges faced. Once the memory is gone, it is all but impossible to recover. And certainly in many Churches, long memories can sometimes block much- needed change.

Unfortunately, many modern people often think of history as a luxury, or a hobby for certain people with extra time on their hands, or an aptitude for remembering names and dates. But truly knowing and understanding your story is never a luxury. It tells you not just where you came from, but who you are and where you are headed. In fact, it is helpful to think of the local Church historian’s task as a research into a congregation’s DNA, and its particular personality. No doubt, the present-day character of a local Church often has deep historical roots.

Some of the fundamental questions that often arise when writing the history of a Church are: Was the Church formed as a result of a missionary effort, perhaps beginning life as a struggling act of faith? Or what is it a result of a protest or an opposition to a particular set of theological ideas or a denominational action? As it is true with people, early circumstances do not completely determine what a Church will become, but they can certainly set the agenda for what follows, often in subtle and surprising ways.

Fundamentally, I am advocating for serious efforts in documenting the history of churches. This will go a long way in the understanding of the past & present challenges, achievements, moves of God, etc. Importantly, trained historians should be contacted in order to have a thorough and professional work.

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