Missions History versus Church History


I am working on teaching a course on Missions History. I have taught it before, but this version is for MaxFlex online learning which means I need to put more work in up front.

As I was developing it, I began thinking about Missions History in how it is different from Church History. Obviously the two are related, but there are stark differences. Any course on Church History would spend a lot of time talking about the Council of Nicea (325 AD). Another major event would be the “Great Schism” of 1054AD. I barely am mentioning the Council of Nicea, and I don’t think I will mention the Great Schism at all except obliquely.

Why is that? On first reflection, the obvious answer is that Missions History is a subset of Church History. This subset involves how the Christian church reaches out beyond itself to interact with and impact the broader world.

But as I thought more I realized that Church History is also a subset of something bigger. The History of the Church is very broad because the character, beliefs, activities, organizations, and participants associated with the Church over about two millennia is vast.

Obviously history cannot cover everything that happens. History is not reality, nor is it even a recording of reality. It is a artificial human construct to draw attention to patterns and meanings in the past.

Still, Church History is commonly much more narrow than it should be for having a name that sounds so broad. Typically, Church History is built around “Four C’s”:

-Creeds

-Councils

-Conflicts

-Controversies

This list is not all encompassing. I suppose that one could argue others as well (like Movements). However, many aspects of the church are not emphasized in Church History (at least as I have seen it presented). These include History of Local Church Ministry (member care and community ministry), History of Theology (thus having its own course, “Historical Theology.”), History of Liturgy, and more.

Missions History is definitely a subset of the History of the Church, but it is not really a subset of Church History as it is generally presented. This is fine— I have nothing wrong with that. However, I guess I wish that Church History was either a bit broader in its foci, or just call it what it is— “Conflicts and Movements in the History of the Church.”

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