By Contributing Writer, Jeannette Paulson
I don’t really know what first got me interested in church history, but I suspect that my parents are largely responsible. They both cared deeply about the church and truth.
When I was about 10, I remember one Halloween going with my parents and siblings to see a film about Martin Luther. My parents explained to us that it was actually Reformation Day, the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in Wittenburg.
My parents wanted us to know church history. Knowing church history gives hope. We see the church prosper and decline, but through the darkest days God is preserving, protecting and building.
With books like Trial and Triumph, we can teach church history even to small children. The author, Richard M. Hannula, calls church history ”family history.” With a few pithy, pointed stories he captures the lives of 46 major Christians. I am as enthralled as my children.
Hannula starts with Polycarp. Taught by the Apostle John, Polycarp was arrested at 86 years of age and brought to the arena. Because Christians refused to bow down to pagan gods, they were considered godless. When instructed to point to the Christian prisoners and say, “Away with the godless,” Polycarp pointed instead to the pagan crowds and said “Away with the godless.” He was burned to death. But the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Rome was unable to stamp out the church; it only grew.
Or consider Patrick. Kidnapped from England, he found himself hungry and cold, tending sheep on the rocky hills of Ireland. Hatred and plans of revenge sustained him. But he began to be convicted of his own sin, and to sense God’s fatherly care. He escaped but could not forget the pagan Druid priests, the dark superstitions and animal sacrifices of the Irish. He returned to fearlessly bring glaring gospel light for 40 years. Thousands came to Christ and many young Irish men became missionaries.
Ambrose was Governor of Milan when the church pressed for him to be the new bishop. He hid in a friend’s house and pleaded with the emperor to be excused. But the emperor urged him to stand, and Ambrose stood — even refusing communion to Emperor Theodosius after he refused to repent for a massacre in Thessalonica. When the emperor pleaded the sin of David, Ambrose urged the repentance of David. The emperor later confessed his sin before the church and made a law to regulate the punishment of citizens.
I want our children to know about Polycarp, Blandina, Patrick, Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Waldo, and other brave Christians who stood and even spilt their blood for truth. With God’s blessing, it will give hope and ballast. Passing on what my parents gave me, I will tell our children their family history.
I pray they will see themselves a part of something glorious.