Church History for Dummies: or How I Was Initiated into Tradition

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Here is (yet) another attempt at “conservative blogging.”  And I certainly don’t mean that as a political valuation, rather as a reference to the obnoxiously long and boring research that I typically post.

My reasons for enjoying the Episcopal Church, especially as they compare over and against the denominational experiences of my youth, have become clearer to date.  I have been involved in a wonderful dialogue with a Roman Catholic layman (one of those rare members of the laity that pursues their faith in all aspects, including the intellectual), and we have been swapping reading lists.  He directed me to this link as a matter of course in conversation.  However, the quote from G.K. Chesterton that it contains brought a flood of realization to the front of my mind.  Here’s the quote:

“Real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root.”

– G.K.  Chesterton

This will come as no new information on this blog or even to most readers, but it finally dawned on me in that important way – the one where we differentiate between holding a fact in that grey matter between our ears and having enlightenment.  Part of the reason I love the Episcopal Church so much is because it is not trying to run away from the rest of history.  It is using the rest of its history, and what a history it is, to energize the ministry of the Church.  It embraces history as a way to refresh the present.  The common worship of saints that has transcended centuries of tradition moves behind the liturgy I participate in every Sunday. 

Moving from a denomination that could not see farther back than 1904 to a denomination that embraces all of Church history was like jumping out of a plastic “kiddy pool” on the beach and into the ocean.


  1. What a great metaphor at the end.

    Good post. Also, that quote from Chesterton could be taken to mean that we shouldn’t completely forsake the kiddy pool and the things it taught us (like how to swim), but draw from our previous experiences to enrich our present.

    Great post, Shawn.


  2. I think that is why these conversations are so important, and hopefully it has been obvious that I am not seeking a way to abandon my heritage. You’re exactly right, of course, we should continue to honor those that taught us to swim, even if we have outgrown the kiddy pool.


  3. Lewis wrote something similar to the Chesterton quote (i forget where). The gist of it was that growth meant addition, not merely change; you shouldn’t stop liking candy just because you’ve learned to enjoy steak.

    And if I may digress, this helps explain why I could never really get into the whole emergent thing, even though I’ve always been sympathetic to it. It may be a reaction against evangelicalism, but it also grew out of evangelicalism and retains some of its problems. One of those problems is a lack of serious engagement with tradition. It seems only liturgical churches — Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox being the major ones — can maintain that engagement.


  4. Ha! Proper AG church chronology: Jesus-Acts-Azuza or Topeka (I’m an Azuza guy myself) 🙂

    I kid btw – Glen Menzies taught me church history at NCU and he was (until about five years ago he said) the only Evangelical who frequented the local Patristic gatherings. He also has been involved in the Catholic/Evangelical diologue for decades. Easily amongst my favorite professors.


  5. Jesus, Acts, Topeka, Azusa.

    See, that way we get to skip Constantine, the Crusades, the Wars of Religion (including the Church of England’s war on English Catholics, and vice versa), and 19th Century Christian imperialism…

    …and get straight to George W. Bush, the War on Terror, right-wing politics, the confusion of Christianity and psychology, and unrestrained American consumerism.

    Funny how that works out.


  6. Bah! Ha! Ha! George, you’re brilliant.

    I think that Azusa was one of those beautiful and rare moments of ecumenical, racial, and socio-economic unity in church history. The rest of the stuff you mentioned is, I suppose, business as usual.


  7. Apt metaphor!

    After being abandoned by the denomination of my conversion I was ecclesially homeless for quite a while.

    I fell into the Episcopal Church. And it was very much like falling into the ocean.


  8. Joey,

    Welcome to theophiliacs, thanks for posting! I think you will find yourself at home here (after reading your bio).

    I appreciate that the metaphor resonates, though, I must confess – my venture into the Episcopal church wasn’t like falling into the ocean as much as being drawn out to sea by a siren (a siren that my Pentecostal brethren are convinced will rip me to shreds in order to feast on the viscera of my wayward soul on the altar of idolatry). How’s that for a metaphor? :0)

    Peace to you


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