You Need to Know History

Henry Ford is oft quoted as having said, “History is bunk.” As with so many popular historical attributions, Ford didn’t exactly say that. But he did say something similar, several times. In a May 25, 1916 interview with Charles N. Wheeler of the Chicago Tribune, Ford said, “What do I care about Napoleon? What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? . . . History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.”

Ford’s disdain for history is repeated by millions. If it isn’t in an overt dislike for the recounting of history, it is a more passive disinterest in anything history has to teach us. This is something the Christian needs to resist since our Faith is based solidly IN history. Judaism, from which Christianity flows, is rooted in historical events like the Passover, commemorating the Exodus, God’s great salvation-movement under the Old Covenant. Christianity follows in this vein by being rooted in the historical events of the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not follow cleverly designed myths, nor the enlightened musings of some sage. We don’t just believe God became man and walked among us. We believe because He in fact, DID!

There’s an old adage that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. This is why the study of history in general and church history in particular is important for Christians, especially for Christian leaders. While the specifics of who and where change from age to age, the underlying principals and issues remain the same. Much of what the Early Church wrestled with in terms of theology and how to live the Christian life in the midst of a hostile world, are the same issues we deal with today. 

The ancient heresy of Gnosticism that threatened the Church of early centuries, re-emerges in New Age spirituality. The Greco-Roman culture’s obsession with sexual deviance resurfaces in the modern era’s embrace of “sexual freedom.” The prevalence of modern abortion mirrors the First and Second Century’s practice of rampant infanticide. Today’s churches have much to learn about how to address these things by considering how The Church dealt with them before. But it seems we’re not learning from that past that saw a sea-change take place in pagan culture as Christians simply lived out their lives in Christ simply.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Church history can be a daunting field to tackle if the student only considers older works like Philip Schaff’s epic multi-volume History of the Christian Church. More recent works take a popular and easy to digest approach. A good starting place is the wonderful Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. I highly recommend it.

Or check out my Church History podcast – Communio Sanctorum: History of the Christian Church. It’s an account of Church history in short of episodes of between 15 to 20 minutes. You can access the audio podcast at or via iTunes by searching for “History of the Christian Church.”

I am in the process of making a video version you can locate at

6 thoughts on “You Need to Know History”

  1. Thanks, Lance – good post. We both minister in a very Bible-heavy movement. How would you respond to someone who asked: “What can we learn from the study of history that we can’t learn from the study of the Bible?”

    1. Tim, Good question.
      The Bible holds all we need for faith and practice; what to believe and how to live. But even in the Bible, we find the recounting of history. The first sections of both the Old and New Testaments are history. They tell His-Story. Our Faith isn’t merely the philosophical musing of a sage. Our Faith is rooted in real, historical events. The central event of the OT is the Exodus. In the NT, it’s the cross and resurrection = Real Events, verifiable by all the same criteria used in determining other historical events.
      Church History tells us how previous generations of Christians dealt with challenges and opportunities. We have much to learn from both their successes and failures. There isn’t much happening today that Christians have had to deal with in one form or another in the past. As has been sad – Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeated them.

  2. Salute e benedizione a tutti
    Vi seguo con molto interesse e trovo che siano di aiuto a tutti i vostri commenti.
    Tuttavia vorrei far presente una anomalia nella presentazione del Vangelo di Giovanni, quando viene detto che a differenza dei sinottici Giovanni non parla dell’ultima cena.
    Se andiamo in Giovanni 13 possiamo vedere l’inizio del racconto della cena ultima e Pasquale, e che va avanti per 5 capitoli consecutivi, fino al capitolo 17, quando alla preghiera finale (sacerdotale), Gesù si rivolge al Padre per affidargli la cura e la benedizione per gli apostoli, per ciò che a breve dovranno affrontare ed al versetto 20 parla di noi, come un effetto avvenuto a causa del loro Vangelo.
    Quindi non solo Giovanni parla della cena (ultima) di Gesù, ma ne racconta tutto il contenuto dell’insegnamento fatto durante il tempo che è durata la cena.
    Vi ringrazio per il servizio che fate. Anastasio moffa pastore della chiesa del Nazareno di Campi Bisenzio

    1. Anastasio,
      Your comment doesn;t deal directly with the article, but I will reply.
      I am not sure what you are referring to when you say, “I would like to point out an anomaly in the presentation of John’s Gospel when it is said that, unlike the synoptics, John does not speak of the Last Supper.” What presentation of John’s Gospel are you referring to? There’s no reference to that in this article or in any of the content of the Enduring Word site, that I am aware of.
      You are correct when you say several chapters of John recount events of the Last Supper.


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