God knows that we need examples to follow—especially the greatest example, Jesus Christ—if we are to live our lives in a way pleasing to Him.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5–11)
So, it follows that we should look back at those who have come before us for examples on how to live. They are not our Lord, but they are people who loved and served God. And they were fallible, which may seem to be a liability, but I would dispute that. We are all fallible creatures, and it can be comforting to know that even the greatest saints had their struggles and failures too.
Children are inherently selfish and need to be trained to look beyond themselves and their little world. That is one of the reasons that God has placed us in families, the first “school” a child attends. Here they learn about living with others, bumping up against other little “worlds” and how to get along with them. The church provides insight into others, learning that there is more to this world, especially as seen through God’s eyes. Church history can also be used to broaden a child’s understanding about what it means to be a Christian, and teach them about what to avoid. Both good and bad examples are useful, and both can be readily understood by a child, particularly when they have already been diligently taught God’s law.
Not only is church history useful for its examples, but more importantly it shows that our faith is rooted. What we believe and teach our children to believe is part of history. Jesus really lived on earth, taught the people, and suffered and died for us. His resurrection and the beginnings of the early church are in the Bible and are part of human history. This being so, we teach our children that our Christian faith is not something made up or recently discovered. There is a flow to history, right from the beginning at creation to the present time. And God is right there in all parts of our history.
That brings us to the most important point about history itself: God has ordained it. He cares about it because it is evidence of His hand in all things and gives us examples of His work that we can see. The Old Testament contains the history of the Israelite nation from the time of Abraham to the return from exile as well as the history of creation and early civilization. The New Testament also contains history, including such events as Jesus’ birth to Paul’s missionary journeys. In other words, the Bible is a historical textbook, not for dates but for the stories that matter. The true stories that we need to tell our children for their instruction in the sovereignty of God.
Read to your children, or have them read for themselves, biographies of people in church history. Not the fluffy ones that only talk about how wonderful someone was, but the honest biographies. Books that tell the whole story of living the Christian life, that they too might emulate the good parts and be guarded against the temptations. As our children read history, they learn that God is a forgiving God who is merciful to His beloved children. They will also see that He has a plan that He is working out in history, a plan to bring glory to Himself.