My wife has two degrees in history, including a Masters in Church History. Her background prompted me to take Church history seriously.
But even before we met, something just didn’t ring right about real Christianity “going underground” in the first century, only to reemerge fifteen centuries later. Protestant denominations differ on what happened. I was taught a particularly Anabaptist view while growing up. But even then, to ignore entire centuries of saints—who served Christ, built Western civilization, and frequently showed their faith through martyrdom—seemed out of kilter with reality.
The Church Fathers
Catholic writer Scott Hahn, a former PCA minister (Presbyterian Church in America), attributes a large part of his becoming Catholic to the history of the Church, and especially to the Church Fathers. The Fathers, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says, are “the parents at whose knee the Church of today was taught her belief.” And the immediate successors to the Apostles have continued to be just that, for twenty centuries now.
For most of us, talking about centuries is a bit of a stretch. I once worked for a CEO who amazed all of us who worked for him by professing he wanted to build a business that would last 300 years. Many of us silently thought, “Who today would be crazy enough to imagine an organization enduring 300 years?”
The Catholic Church has endured 2,000 years. It has no equivalent. It has outlasted rulers, nations, empires, ancient universities, corporations, and yes, even the Church’s least-noble Popes and contemporary scandals. Despite wheat and weeds sown together (Matthew 13:24-30), the Church has endured. Why shouldn’t it? Christ promised, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The Unbroken and Unbreakable Line
The Church stands, just as Christ said it would. It has both His promise and Presence: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Having been received into that Church, I can rejoice in the communion of saints. By God’s grace I stand in an unbroken line of men and women, on earth and in eternity, who worship God; who pray for each other; who profess “I believe in . . . the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life of everlasting” (conclusion of The Apostles’ Creed).
In Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel admonishes readers to respect “the ecumenism of time” (p. 134) and to reverence the rich history of the Church. Might we even say, The Church of History? “Surrounded by such a great cloud of witness,” we place ourselves in their line, “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
What a joy and privilege to be received into the Church that Jesus Christ promised cannot fail—and will not be overcome. The Church of history is also the Church of today, and of tomorrow and eternity. Truly, this is Christianity Richly!