St. Nicholas, Christmas, and Reasons to Teach Church History

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St. Nicholas, Christmas, and Reasons to Teach Church History

What does church history have to do with Christmas? Well, for one, it tells us that Santa Claus did not originate as a way for Macy’s to sell more jewelry in December.

Though the historical record is sketchy, we think that The Real Saint Nicholas was a bishop in Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 300s. He might even have defended the doctrine of the full divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicea, though that might just be legend.

This little tidbit gives us a taste of what church history is like: it sheds light on our modern traditions, worship styles, and how we talk about doctrine.

The idea of Santa Claus, for example, didn’t pop out of thin air. Even the very notion that Christians should or could celebrate Christmas is something that our predecessors wrestled with before accepting it into common practice.

Far from a dry list of dates and names, church history is the story of people trying to follow Jesus and figuring out what that means for their doctrines and how they live in the world.

It’s the story of how the Gospel spread from a tiny Jewish community in the Middle East to the largest faith in the world. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but it sure has been interesting!

So if you’d like some fascinating fodder for Christmas school this year … or if you’d just like to learn some interesting history with your children this season, why not dig into a little Christmas history? The Saint Nicholas link above also includes intriguing short articles on the origins of Christmas trees and why we celebrate on December 25 instead of, say, May 20.

But aside from curiosity’s sake, why should we teach our children about historical Christian figures and the old councils of the church?

I believe our children deserve to know the broad strokes of Christianity’s past. I want our children to know

  • that Christianity is a historical faith
  • that it didn’t start with Martin Luther (or the chief theologian of your particular denomination)
  • that Christians have been working to understand and stay faithful to the Bible and Christ for 2,000 years—with varying results

I want children to see their lives in the context of the bigger story God is telling. We live in the exciting chapter between when Jesus came to earth the first time and when he returns. We are co-laborers with Christ to bring his work of redemption, truth, love and healing to the world!

Sonlighters naturally pick up church history along their way as they read missionary biographies throughout the years. But the real depth comes in high school, with Sonlight 200: History of the Christian Church as we spend a dedicated year looking at world history through the lens of church history.

Even if high school is years away for your children, I encourage you to skim the description of Sonlight 200 to get excited about why we tell our children the story of our faith. Let’s let them know how Jesus of Nazareth has truly changed the world forever.

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