The Importance of Studying Church History
Every local church should learn from Church History in order to grow spiritually. Church history technically starts at Genesis 1.26—the creation of God’s people—but when referring to Church history in this blog, I’m referring to the study of the history of God’s people from post-book of Acts (around AD 70) to the present. And learning from that history is a must for every Christian.
Scriptural reasons to study Church History
1. The world is headed in a certain direction
Revelation 21.1: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more—this is where all of history was headed ever since Genesis 1. If you believe God is sovereign, then you believe when He first created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, He had the end of all things in mind—He declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46.10)—and He has been working all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1.11). So any part of history you study, you will recognize God moving things toward the final state.
2. God is specifically building His Church
Matthew 16:18: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.—This is one of Jesus’ promises of victory over the devil that connects all the way back to Genesis 3.15, where God promised the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. There’s been a war ever since, and the Christian church is a part of that war. So as you study history, and look for the Christian Church, you will see Jesus building and protecting and upholding and disciplining—and always loving His Church.
3. We are supposed to learn from the errors of others
In 1 Corinthians 10, after explaining about Israel’s failures in the wilderness, Paul says in v6: Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. –Paul teaches us that Christians of the past are examples to us. Paul is inspired by the Spirit when he teaches us that we are supposed to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us.
4. We are supposed to learn from the faith of others
Hebrews 11.1–2: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation—and then the author of Hebrews tells us how all our family members of the past have done wonderful things for the kingdom, and also suffered for the sake of Christ, by faith. And we are supposed to learn from them and be encouraged by them. In other words, the inspired Word exhorts us to learn from the faith of previous generations.
5. There is a very thin line between “obey your leaders” and “obey leaders from the past”
The line is so thin that I, personally, don’t draw the line. Hebrews 13.17: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.—God commands all Christians to obey the leaders in their life. Obey your pastors. They are keeping watch over your souls. Christian church leaders are a great gift to Christians.
Right before that, the author said in verse 7: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.– “Those who spoke”—past tense—the word of God. “Consider the outcome of their way of life”—he is speaking of leaders who have died. And then he follows it right up with verse 8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
You can listen to the voice of leaders from the past because the Jesus they served is the same Jesus you serve today.
Pastors have always been the teachers of the Christian church. And so we need to remember our leaders and all the faithful leaders who have proclaimed Jesus Christ, the one who is the same today as he was a thousand years ago and a thousand years before that. Studying Church history helps us stay in the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 4).
- Dowley, Tim, ed. Introduction to the History of Christianity, 3rd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018.
- Noll, Mark. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.
- Trueman, Carl. The Creedal Imperative. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
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