Moana, Church History, and Me

(C) Disney

Moana resonates with me. Though I’m from the suburbs, while Moana is from historical Polynesia, we have something in common: a love for family history.

Though Moana could consider the coconut and its uses, list the names of her parents and grandparents, and give a detailed explanation of her role as the chieftain’s daughter, that’s not the family story she tells. In the song “We Know the Way,” Moana discovers that her family tapestry is richer than she realized. After she learns the ancient secret, she runs out of the caves, shouting, “We were voyagers! We were voyagers! We were VOYAGERS!”

When I study church history, I feel the same excitement. Church history isn’t about dry old men quibbling over trivialities. It’s our family history of believers who lived, struggled, and changed as we do. My church experience is limited to my brief years and vantage point. As I breathe the words of history, I enter a larger story. Church—the body of Christ—no longer concerns my liturgical comfort, theological ease, and social satisfaction. Church is an everlasting mystery of unity with the Godhead, and it is my privilege be part of it.

History gives perspective. The latest scandals, disappointments, and cruelties are less overwhelming when I stand with the historical body of Christ. I don’t study church history for convenience, but for challenge. The patterns I see in the lives of historical Christians push me closer to the Trinity, testing my ability to contextualize faith and live the redemptive power of the Gospel.

In the film, Moana’s gifting leads her away from her immediate family for a time. She reclaims her family’s past while providing for later generations. History saves their future.

Through a series of long events, American Christianity developed less historical focus than other streams of the Church. Though evangelicalism has commissioned dozens of thousands of missionaries, made Scripture easily accessible to billions, and seen a huge growth in the family of God, we are losing our family history. By ignoring the past, we ignore our brothers and sisters who faithfully spoke the word of God to spiritual generations that led to our conversions.

Moana offers a powerful warning to those who forget history: we lose perspective, drown in fear, and are unable to face contemporary problems. History doesn’t have all the answers. Yet, history can give us perspective and courage in facing our troubles.

In “We Know the Way,” the ancestors sing, “We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain.” We can’t separate ourselves from our historygood or badany more than we can remove our DNA. Let’s learn from the past, ground ourselves in the present, and prepare for the future.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB

Interested in digging into accessible church history? Start with online articles, a book on historical devotional practices, and an overview of significant historical events.

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