It seems to me that our view of church history would no longer be merely informative and educational. Rather, it would now have some normative effect. I have always been taught that the writings and development of historical Christianity can be understood as interesting academic exercises. But those developments and writings are not to be considered as having any normative value.
You see, the hermeneutics of my heritage begin with the assumption of restorationism's validity. If we see historical developments in Christianity that are inconsistent with our restoration hermeneutics, we conclude that those developments are departures from God's way. But we never question our starting point. Is restorationism, in fact, valid?
Could the New Testament be the record of the laying of a sure foundation upon which the Christian movement was built? And then the record of history tells of the continued development of that movement? Perhaps, but at least difficulties arise in my mind related to this possibility:
- History tells the story not of a unified voice within the Christian movement, but of vastly divergent voices. So it would seem that an effort to understand the life, practice, and teaching of Christianity in the light of church history would just as much an interpretive process as is restoration hermeneutics. Some traditions which place a higher normative value on the historical record attempt to determine either majority or consensus historical views as a way to find God's voice amidst the divergent historical voices. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that discerning a majority or consensus voice is a task that can be often accomplished. In fact, I wonder if it can be done at all.
- Furthermore, God has never limited himself to working only through majority or consensus. How do we know if the minimal voices of history are God's voice instead of the dominant ones?
- Finally, if history is to be viewed as God's continued work and thus carrying normative value, how are we to view reform movements within history. As a part of history, it would seem that they may be God's prophetic voices at that time in history calling his people back to faithfulness. However, their messages were often contrary to historical developments. This would seem to equate to God's prophetic voice rebuking God's historical voice! We can't have that, now can we?