I was at dinner last night with a professor of church history. This is what he said...
"The ministry of church history, inside the church, is to make sure that we properly exalt saints who have gone before without making them idols."
His point is well-taken.
Looking back, we can idolize people of the past. The years have a way of blurring or dulling the daily bilge that we all have to deal with in relationships and in our own hearts. Just one instance from my last doctoral class: Jonathan Edwards, America's foremost theologian and the leader of the First Great Awakening, owned slaves. How do you write one of the most incredible sermons ever on the Excellency of Christ and own slaves?
The other side, though, is that we have a sense of what should endure and last and be worth thinking about three centuries later. Church history helps identify what is still helpful in the days in which we live. That's the "properly exalt saints" part mentioned above.
I've never thought about it in those terms before, but am glad to do so now.
I know four historians on what I would call a personal level. All of them are churchmen, men who love the church and are doing work in their own congregations to see the Kingdom of God come and lives transformed. I'm grateful for their ministry and for the ministry of church history.
But that's just me thinking thoughts...