Welcome to the Former Faith

This is the first post of a blog written by me, Matthew James Derocher, that has the goal to make history of the Christian church accessible to the average Christian and doing it in such a way that it does not lose its integrity.

Church history helps us understand how we got to where we are

It might surprise some, but the modern church does not operate identically as the first-century church did. For example, the list of which books were considered to make up the New Testament was not finalized until after AD 300. Think of that for a moment.—the church operated for more than three centuries without the “Good Book.” We say every good Christian reads their Bible, but what does that mean when you don’t have access to a Bible? (Which is still the case today in some countries where access to the Bible is limited.)

Another example is that while the New Testament certainly gives scriptures that talk about God being a Trinity, the formal declaration of this doctrine was not made until the Council of Trent in AD 325.

When we study history, we can learn where we adopted certain doctrines and customs into our practice. Depending on what we find in our study, we may hold onto these principles stronger, or we may let them go altogether if we find that they were founded mostly upon a cultural basis rather than a biblical one.

Church history can give us pointers on what to do and not do

Most will be familiar with the saying, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” There are things we can learn from those that have gone before us that can help us in our lives.

Church History does not usually receive from working ministers the attention it deserves. Especially does the history of Doctrines assist one in understanding the truth, and in comprehending those objections and erroneous tendencies, which under different forms reproduce themselves in every age.

—John Broadus

Church history can remind us of how God uses people

I want to be careful here since some people have read the providence of God into many places in history without any biblical evidence for doing so. The biblical account of Job gives us an example of the error of trying to figure out what God is thinking based on natural circumstances. Job’s friends were sure that Job was a sinner because otherwise, why would God allow bad things to happen to his life? (See Job 4:7-8; 8:20; 11:14-15, 17.) Though the Bible makes clear that Job was considered a righteous person and not a sinner (Job 1:8). The lesson is that we cannot always know what is God’s judgment or what is his blessing.

We should also be cautious that we don’t take stories from history out of context. “The past is a foreign country,” as L. P. Hartley said. There were different cultures, ideologies, social mores, technology levels, and political laws in the past than we have today. We can do a disservice to someone if we yank them out of their time-frame and ignore the complexity of their lives and societies while we use them as a simple object lesson.

That being said, I believe that hearing how a simple shoe salesman like D. L. Moody became a world-known preacher or how that a man like Jim Eliot was willing to give his life as a martyr for the sake of the gospel can help encourage us in our faith.

Why another blog on church history?

I have been interested in church history since I was a teenager when I read several books on the subject that I acquired from friends and relatives. After reading those books, I wanted to go deeper into the subject, I wasn't sure of where to go. A simple Google web or Amazon book search can bring up some results, but the sheer amount of results can be overwhelming. Plus, these results were collected by a computer algorithm and they have not necessarily been ranked by how historically accurate the content is.

Things get even more difficult to navigate when you are interested in a specific subject or time period within church history. I have an extreme interest in church history in the 20th century, especially the church's actions in and responses to Word War II. My initial web searches about this subject were mostly fruitless. After a couple of years of learning better methods to search for content and by following leads and looking up resources in the bibliographies in the few books that I first found, I now have a trove of books and leads about this subject, though it was anything but easy. (Expect to see some articles here in the future about church history during WWII.)

I know I am not the first person to feel lost or overwhelmed in their pursuit of the past. I have heard other people say that they are also interested in church history, but they don't know where to start. While I will be creating original content for this site, I also want to help solve the problem of discoverability by gathering and bringing attention to other great work that has already been written. This would include both current resources as well as documents from church history itself, such as quotes and sermons from historic preachers and theologians. Some ways that I can imaging to help will be to write book reviews, compile lists, and share links to articles written by others.

I will also be experimenting with interactive and multimedia experiences to help teach history for those for whom reading is not the best way for them to learn.

Feedback is appreciated

This site is a work in progress. For several years I have wanted to start this site and started coding it several times, but I always got bogged down with trying to get the style and functionality just right before I launched. Needless to say, a site can never be perfect, and the desire to get it there kept me from launching.

This time I made a list of the most basic things the site would need for it to be launched and included them in this initial release. There are many features that I would like to add in the future, such as an RSS feed and the ability to leave comments, but since these were not essential to the site, I did not take the time to add them in immediately.

The content of this site will also be a work in progress. When I was a child and even a teenager, if you asked me what I was, I would have said, "a writer." It has been several years since I have used that title to describe myself, and I am not as familiar with English grammar as I was in high school and got straight A's in English. I am also new to the world of historical research. Because of these things, I expect the content of the site to only get better as I practice and learn about writing a history blog. It will be a journey, and I'm excited for you to join in with me.

If you have any feedback on the site or its content, feel free to let me know. You might also have a question from church history that you have wondered about. Let me know, and I might research it for an article. You can send an email to hello@theformer.faith or tweet at me @theformerfaith with your suggestions or comments.