Why Do We Study Church History?
Hi Friends —
Sometime in the 1960s a Unity scholar gave a six-part course entitled “Highlights of Church History.” We don’t have the author’s name, nor the date it was given, nor any audio or video. What we have is a 23-page outline. And what the outline provides is an insightful selection of people and events that explains how we have arrived to where we are in Christianity, from a Unity perspective.
The outline is uploaded and transcribed for easy browsing on your computer or smart phone. The outline was found with Unity Correspondence School materials in the Unity Archives. Some of the content indicates it was developed in the 1960s or early 1970s. That’s all we know. I would be grateful if anyone can tell us more.
The author had great knowledge and communication skills to deliver such a concise overview of the evolution of Christianity over 2,000 years in six lectures. But more important than knowledge or skills is the wisdom and perspective that the course author provides. The author opens by asking in the Introduction “Why do we study church history?” The answer is because there we find the unfolding plan of God and we will find it relevant to our religious life and thought of today.
That relevance is given in the conclusion in the final lesson, which addresses the “Future of Our Faith.” Speaking of the Unity movement, the outline reads “It seems logical to predict that ours [the future of Unity] will be a growing, expanding faith, with increasingly more room given to the thought of other religions and their contribution to man’s faith in God.”
The outline continues, reminding us that we have arrived to a place where Liberals and Neo-Orthodox disagree about the future with equal fervor. The outline then brings us together, not by logic or by argument, but rather by raising up consciousness, with the words of Emma Lazarus, whose words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty read:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send them, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
I hope you will spend some time browsing through this course outline and give some thought to how Unity—which can be uniquely Liberal and Neo-orthodox at the same time—can bring healing to today’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
Why do we study church history?
Church history is an investigation into the past actions of a particular group of human beings, known as Christians. Before the time of Jesus Christ the oldest narratives of people were generally not history, but they were myths. There was not the progressive idea of all that went before influencing the trend of today’s times. The Greeks, for instance, looked upon history as one looks upon the cycle of returning seasons. “History repeats itself,” they said, and for them there was no beginning, no progress of development or purpose, no end toward which they moved. They worshipped gods of nature, fertility, and others, and resigned themselves to fate.
As early as Israel, we see the pattern Christian history was to take. With Abraham there is the beginning of an understanding of God that is above nature and its caprice, a God who is concerned for individual man. This concern was demonstrated historically in the life of Jesus.
This course may be one of great purpose, if we observe an unfolding plan of God in the lives of the great religious leaders studies. Let us think of church history as a road that has a beginning, certain points along the path, and one that is definitely going somewhere.
It is not going there by chance, because God is with these great people of the past as he is with us today—through trial, hardship and their own indiscretions, taking the situation and moving it toward His purpose. In our study we should see the relevance Of past thought, action and developments to the religious life and thought of today.
As a Unity student, you will find many ideas which have found a place in Unity’s teaching. You will see that great spiritual leaders through out the ages have expressed the Truth ideas we seek to demonstrate in a practical way today. We trust you will find this study an enriching learning experience.
All roads that lead to God are good;
—What matters it, your faith or mine;
—Both center at the goal divine
Of love's eternal brother hood.
A thousand creeds have come and gone;
—But what is that to you or me?
—Creeds are but branches of a tree.
The root of love lives on and on.
—by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Download PDF of the Highlights of Church History