By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
In a little over a week, my wife and I are heading “across the pond” to Africa for three weeks with our sons and the other missionaries at Mbale, Uganda.
My oldest brother and his family served as missionaries in Malawi, Africa, for 20 years. We’ve had up to three sons in Africa since August 2004. Two, now. Yes, they’ve made trips back this way, but we’ve never been able to head that way. It’s time.
I’ve been asked by my nephew there who directs the Messiah Theological Institute to spend a few days out in a nearby village teaching a course on church history. Their students, he says, are always clamoring for church history courses. They love to learn about the rich heritage of their faith. Fascinated by church history myself, I’m excited about getting to teach.
Trying to cut the scope of my teaching down to a manageable size, I’ve decided that we’ll focus on the persecuted church period, which spans from A.D. 98 (the death of the Apostle John) to A.D. 313 (Emperor Constantine’s Edict legalizing Christianity). Some 23 years ago, I first put together a course on church history to share on Sunday evenings with the long-suffering folks at our first “solo” church in Odessa, Texas.
Looking at that material (just the portion devoted to the period I’ll be teaching about in Uganda comes to well over 150 pages), I can hardly believe there was ever a time when folks were serious enough about learning about their roots to sit still for that much material. (I can believe Third World Christians would be happy to listen to such for hours on end. They’d walk for miles to hear it — even from an obviously cut-rate teacher like me. But I am utterly astounded that American Christians did. I was offering no credit. I hope the Lord gave them extra credit for their patience!) I tried to tell the stories about the people whose lives adorn the pages of Christian history — that’s what makes it come alive — but I still can’t believe they sat still for it.
It’s a shame we don’t.
My old church history professor at Abilene Christian University, Dr. Lemoine Lewis, was an amazing man. He earned his doctorate from Harvard and taught at ACU for decades. My mother was one of his student-graders when she was there, and I was born when she was 42.
Dr. Lewis used to say all Christians would be blessed to have four books, in this order:
1) The Bible;
2) a concordance;
3) Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History;
4) The Apostolic Fathers
Alas, it will never happen. But it would be good for us. It would save us a lot of time. So much ground we think is new has been covered centuries ago. Knowing about it would help us not to waste time reinventing wheels and re-fussing old fusses about how to install them. Hmm. Being able to fuss new fusses would be quite a luxury.
Christ’s people really do have an amazing heritage, and I’m thankful for that.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at