We are on the cusp of three third millennia since Jesus Christ walked the face of this earth. Time has marched on, and what once was has been separated from us by the years and centuries that have past.
Yet the past continues to beckon us. The Christian claim is that in this particular person the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. We believe that through his life, death and resurrection we can know God. Although separated by time and space, the past calls us because to this one man every tongue will confess that he is Lord.
We also believe that God is at work now in the community that arose in response to him. We believe that the church is the new humanity in embryo, the people of the ascended and reigning Christ Jesus.
A central part of the Christian confession has been the “catholic and apostolic church.” Yet from my own experience we struggle with the church. For many in the Western tradition, the church is a tool, a resource. Rather than being the body of Christ, the bulwark of truth, the family of faith, the church is like a loose collection of Jesus’ Facebook friends. So it comes as no surprise that within my own context that we also struggle in being able to tell the story of the church. A large number of Church history books are published every year – most of them focused on retelling particular segments from the church’s life. But I suggest that we find it difficult in being able to coherently (and interestingly) tell the 20 centuries of church history.
Church history matters because the church matters. So in the coming weeks hebel will attempt to grasp the bull by the horns and tell 20 centuries of church history in 20 posts. Church history is far more diverse and complex than what I’ll be able to do. 20 Centuries in 20 Posts is not an attempt to be the definitive guide to church history; instead I intend it as a means to provoke further study and reflection.
What I aim to do in 20 Centuries in 20 Posts is to tell the narrative of the church’s life in a way that takes seriously our belief in the “catholic and apostolic church”. So much church history that is published is western in focus; it assumes the move from Palestine to the Vatican and St Paul’s was a natural historical progression. 20 Centuries in 20 Posts will attempt to tell the church’s story giving due regards to the major branches of the church: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant/Reformed. I want to tell history that is coherent as well as accessible and interesting. I will assume no prior knowledge, but I will leave you to do further research for yourself. And I want to be generous and gracious in my interactions with the past, knowing that it’s not historical facts and figures I’m dealing with but brothers and sisters in the Lord.
According to Rowan Williams the purpose of historical study is to question and also be questioned by the past.
“A central aspect of where the Christian begins, the sense of identity that is there at the start of any storytelling enterprise, is the belief that the modern believer is involved with and in a community of believers extended in time and space, whose relation to each other is significantly more than just one of vague geographical connection and temporal succession. In theological shorthand, the modern believer sees herself of himself as a member of the Body of Christ.” - Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past?As we shall see, the Christian past belongs to the Christian present.