I finished a two–part series at the Lake Victoria Bible Institute this trip with History of the Christian Church 2. Last trip for five days I taught  History of the Church 1, from the time of Christ through the Middle Ages. I had to skimp a bit on the Middle Ages because of too much material and too little time. So, this trip, though my topic was the Reformation to  Modern Times, I began by revisiting the Middle Ages on the first day. To many Americans, such history is dry and uninteresting. But as I have taught this material, some strange things are happening on Buvuma Island.

I chose to teach history because the church leaders isolated out on the island in Lake Victoria are entirely ignorant of how they came into being Christian-wise. They don’t know how many have died under persecutions just so they can have religious freedom today. They have no appreciation of their extensive heritage. I decided, or was led by the Spirit, that if I was to give thorough training, they needed to know theology, but they also needed to understand the history of our faith in the wider world.

The approach I took, again by the Spirit, was to lead with the idea that “if we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it.” This, of course, is not original with me. Several have claimed to have originated this statement, but the contest seemed to narrow down to George Santayana or Edmund Burke. Finally, though, the prize must go to Edmund Burke who said it first in the 1700’s, it seems.

Next, I attempted to teach the history of each era with stories and illustrations rather than dates and dry fact lists. I  also focused on progressions, how one thing led to another so the students could come to understand how things became the way they did, and how the systems they are familiar now with arrived here in the present. For example, even I was surprised to find the rise of the idea of democracy in the 1700’s actually progressively rose from the rediscovery among the churches of the biblical doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” during the Reformation in the 1500’s. This idea led to the concept of the equality of all men, which was then politically translated into democratic ideas. Who knew?

Then, my strategy was to summarize each epoch of Church history with a question and some observations: What lessons have we learned from this period of history? Then I followed up with: What biblical errors did you discover that were made by the Church during this epoch? One of my main repeating themes during the two five-day history classes has been the gradual movement away from biblical teaching contrasted with the sudden awakening that occurred when the Bible became available through translation and the invention of the printing press. It is no coincidence that in 1517, after 1,000 years of darkness and oppression, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, the act that is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation, barely 65 years after Gutenberg printed his first Bible in 1452.

So this is how I chose to teach Christian history to the church leaders on Buvuma Island. I wondered throughout the process if anyone was getting it, though, I admit, they seemed to be eating it up with both excitement and amazement. Then, the bishop told me a story when we first arrived in September. One of the students took home the English class notes from History 1 which I had handed out. A friend of his, an evangelist, visited him and happened to read the notes. His testimony was that immediately his spirit was revived within him as he absorbed this information because he could see the progressive Hand of God working down through the centuries , and he is now using the stories in his preaching and teaching to illustrate spiritual principles. This is just from the written summarizing notes –  he never attended the classes.

There are also numerous testimonies from other students that these teachings about history have revolutionized the way they see their faith and revitalized their personal experience with God. I hear these testimonies and am somewhat shocked – I was simply telling them the history of how Christianity developed over the centuries. I had no idea how transforming it would turn out to be for their personal faith.

I think I have taken this history a little for granted, having received a good education with excellent teachers, for the most part. Now I am reevaluating. I am discerning that the Spirit has done something with this information that I did not foresee or plan. People are awakening to who they really are in Christ by visiting those who have gone before us, seeing their sacrifices, and realizing the price that has been paid. I confess, I am in awe of once again seeing that I make my plans in faith, but God has the end of the matter.