History: Helping Church to Love it
You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 11:19, NASB
It's somewhat ironic for me to be writing an article on helping children love church history. I love church history, and that's part of why I studied history in college. But when I was a child, I hated history. I argued with my parents about why I had to waste my time on such a pointless subject. It was boring, and it was useless. I would have much rather spent my time on math and science.
Maybe you're like I was as a child. Maybe you think history is boring and useless. You may be asking yourself why does it matter if our children love history, particularly church history. We should love history and teach our children to love it, because history is the story of how we got here and why things are the way they are. As Christians, church history is family history. It's the story of how our family of believers came to be and how God has worked in the lives of believers and the church throughout the ages.
The Bible is full of history. It opens “In the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) and tells the story of how God created the world and mankind, how sin and death entered the world, and how God saved humanity from their sins. History reminds us of God's sovereignty and His work through and for his people. Frequently the Bible tells us to remember what God has done (Psalm 105) and to teach our children (Exodus 12:26, Joshua 4:6).
The Deuteronomy 11 passage about teaching our children is specifically about teaching them God's commandments. However, even the giving of the law in Exodus is prefaced by a statement of who God is and what God has done for His people. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2, NASB)
The other reason we should love history and teach our children to love it is to protect them from making the mistakes of the past. As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” For Christians, most often the danger is falling into heresy when we forget our church history. A love of church history helps to guard against error because we know what battles have been fought before us and why our doctrinal statements are formulated the way they are.
So how do we as parents go about encouraging our children to love church history? We do it, in part, by teaching it in such a way as to peak their interest and to give them a desire to learn more on their own. This is not done by forced memorization of facts. Names, dates, and places are useful, but on their own, they are dull and boring. They are placeholders for understanding the big picture of what was going on. The important part of history is the story.
Most children love to hear stories. They often like to hear stories about their families. How did our family come to live here? Where are we from? How did their parents and grandparents meet? Church history can be approached in much the same way. We can tell our children the stories of how our church “family” came to be, where we came from, and how our ancestors lived and died for the gospel. Focus on the flow of the story and the important themes of our history. Don't get bogged down in the minutiae. It's not that the details don't matter. They do, but they'll come naturally as the children learn the stories.
To teach church history to children, I recommend reading biographies. Simonetta Carr has a wonderful series of biographies for children. From Augustine to Luther, Carr has written engaging stories that tell the history of some of the most influential men and women in church history. These biographies can be used to discuss weightier theological topics with children. For example, a biography of Athanasius could be used to begin a discussion on the Trinity and why the Nicene Creed was written.
Another good way to teach children to love church history is through historical fiction. Now, not all historical fiction is worth reading. It's necessary to be discerning. Historical fiction is fiction, so it's not completely accurate. However, the stories can spark interesting discussions over what isn't accurate and what artistic license the author has taken. Most Christian publishers have historical fiction as a genre of books they publish. I would encourage you to read these with your children. Your interest in the subject will encourage theirs.
Primary sources are an additional resource when teaching our children about church history. Historical sermons, speeches, and church documents are not quite as exciting, at times, as biographies and historical fiction, but they can be useful. For example, you could read Jonathan Edwards' “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as part of a discussion on the Great Awakening.
Movies and documentaries can also be a great way to help our children learn to love history. With the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this past year, there have been many movies and documentaries about Luther, for example, that give insight as to what was going on in the early Reformation. There are also documentaries on the people who worked to translate the Bible into English that I highly recommend. Historical movies and documentaries are a fun way to approach history.
Over all, the way to teach our children to love church history is love it ourselves and to make use of the various resources we have available to us. In this way, we can show them that history isn't boring and pointless. Once they appreciate the interesting and relevant story of history, children will come to love it.
Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of a PCA church in the Houston area and the homeschooling mother of three boys.