Is history really important? History says it is (and that is not a circular argument) as does the philosopher George Santayana whose famous quote has become a maxim.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner’s, 1905, page 284
George Orwell thought history was important, so much so that in his seminal book 1984 he stated that those who control the past (our understanding of it, the accuracy of the memory of the actual events and how they are shaped in our minds) control the future and the present. These are bold pronouncements about the significance of the narratives of times past, and if true gives them a inordinate amount of power over our lives in the present and our hopes for the future.
In recent years a lot of people have begun to decry the devaluing of our own American history. They see an obvious Orwellian recasting of the past to fit current progressive narratives. There are significant changes in the history books in our public schools, which include the systematic removal of the place and mention of religion, as well as the diminishment of the contributions of “dead white Europeans” and the elevation of anyone but them to narrative prominence. As a result many think we as a nation are in the midst of a serious problem.
But you ask, why am I bringing up these observations in conjunction with Christianity? Well, it suddenly dawned on me this morning how little, how disgustingly little, average and even above average Christians know about the history of both Israel and their own faith and Church. One might forgive us just a little for our lack of understanding of the history of Israel. One might, but how can any Christian be forgiven for the almost total ignorance that exists throughout Christendom about the history of the Christian Church, including its historical fights over doctrine, biblical interpretation, and the nature of God and the Church itself. Think about it. While untold millions repeat the Nicene Creed in church every Sunday morning how many of those people even have an inkling of how and why that marvelous assertion of belief came into being, as well as the rationale for our continuing to recite its bold statements as part of our liturgies? And what about the traditions that dont ever even recite the Creed?
Let’s get personal. How much do you know about Christian history, the history of Israel, and the historic effects of the Church on Western Civilization? Why are we so ignorant of all of this significant information? Are we so focused on Bible study that we forget that the Church, the Body of Christ, includes the shared memory of the events that got us to this point in history? Do we think that ignorance of the conflicts and events of the past will protect us from repeating them, when history itself argues the exact opposite?
Are you a pastor, a teacher, a parent engaged in home schooling, or just a parent with children? What are you going to do to deal with this problem? Do you even see it as a problem? What will spur you to fill this void in your understanding and seek to fill it in the others for whom you are responsible?
Do you think I sound a bit alarmist? Why? What defense do you offer for the status quo? If history was not important to God then why do the books of Kings, Chronicles, and Acts as well as the historical portion of the other writings even exist in the Bible?
My prayer today is that God will light a fire in our hearts to pursue an understanding of our past, of the record of our faith, so that we may learn from those who came before and in doing so be better prepared to meet what lies ahead.