I think one of the reasons why it is so important to know the history of Christianity is because, by knowing all of its history, we are in many ways looking at its future. Christianity is a religion that has evolved greatly from its conception, one that has been shaped by the times just as much as it itself has shaped it back. A brief look at its history shows us that religion is not constant, and that what we believe firmly today may be considered a funny myth to others in the future. I say this because, really, just take a look at how it began: Christianity, at its origins, was something very different from what it became a hundred years after its conception, much less two thousand years after its conception. In fact, one could even argue that Christianity at its conception was born from change; if we recall, Christianity was at one point simply a subset of the Jewish religion that broke off due to radical differences in viewpoints. It then adopted traits from the Hellenistic philosophies of the Greeks, gained a rather war-like aspect after exposure to Roman ideals, and as the years went on, continued to adopt different aspects from different cultures in order to adapt with the times. This didn’t stop in its early stages, of course; some more recent examples can be found in the past 700 years- the breaking of denominations, the prominence of Luther’s teachings that changed how Christianity was viewed by many (i.e. view Christianity as something more for the individual rather than as an institution), how King Henry’s VIII need to get divorced resulted in a pseudo-separation of Church and state, how America’s expansion shifted to a more household-focus of religion, and so much more.
The point of all this is, I think, to address the irony that so many churches, past and present, seem to have a very resistant approach to change; many view the church as something constant and existing in a different plane of existence than the rest of the world, when in reality, the church is just as much affected by the culture just as the church can affect culture itself. To say that Christianity is by large untouched by outside influences is to ignore a very long history of the religion changing and adapting itself to survive through the times. In fact, I would say that the dynamic between culture and religion is not only proof of how both entities affect each other, but also a way of seeing how religion is in many ways, a sort of ‘living organism’; not that it is literally alive, but that it changes to survive. Which isn’t a bad thing. The concept itself remains the same. But to understand that Christianity is very much a religion of change is, I think, a way to accept that change is not necessarily a bad thing; if the church wants to survive, it must adapt. If a church stays stagnant, it may survive for a while, but new generations will come, find the religion too “backwards” or flawed, and sooner or later, the church will die out. Again, just think of how so many concepts that Christianity once embraced are now looked back at and scoffed at. The thing is, when the concept was still being embraced, it was thought of as truth. Just how now, change may threaten what we think of as true or not, but the concept of Christianity itself will most likely still survive.
Christianity is a religion of change, and I think by understanding this background, people can be more understanding of how culture shapes religion and vice versa.