The Sixth Advantage of Learning Church History

It’s a common concern among many of us that the church is becoming too traditional. If so, what makes studying church history important? Isn’t it time to embrace the 21st century and quit living in the 16th century?

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The church has always understood that, despite our worries, a forward-looking church is also a backward-looking church. Similarly, progressive, well-balanced Christians will know their church history.

The Bible attests to this. Christianity as it is presented in the Bible is unavoidably a historical religion. Christianity views time as linear rather than cyclical. In other words, there is a beginning, middle, and end to time. All of the Bible’s major themes have their roots in this range of time. The historical events of the Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration of Humanity serve as a tangible reminder of the significance of history.

The majority of Christians believe that studying this history—the tale of salvation found in the Bible—is crucial. However, whether or not they are mentioned in Scripture, God’s acts throughout history are noteworthy and important enough to research. The Psalmist states, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all your works; I muse on the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5). Take this into consideration. In a similar vein, the Apostle John concludes his Gospel by saying, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did which, if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). All of God’s works, even those we are unaware of, are historical accounts based on fact.

There are 164 instances of the word “remember” in 39 of the 66 Bible books. God is stating to us, “Don’t ignore the past,” by repeating this word. Or, to quote C.S. Lewis so famously, “Don’t be a chronological snob,” appreciating just the time period in which you happen to reside. One such snob was Henry Ford, who famously declared, “History is bunk.” It’s not. Rather, it is replete with lessons that God wants us to learn throughout the day.

Paul summarizes some of Israel’s history in 1 Corinthians 10, focusing on their flight from Egypt and subsequent captivity in the wilderness. In verse eleven, Paul informs us that “all these things were written for our admonition, and they happened to them as examples.”

In the same way, Acts 7’s Stephen’s sermon provides a crucial historical lesson. It starts with Abraham’s call and continues with the story of the people’s captivity in Egypt, their escape, and the building of the tabernacle and temple. This lesson’s main takeaway is that Jewish leaders haven’t absorbed historical lessons. Rather, they have continued their fathers’ transgressions.

We have an obligation to teach history in addition to learning from it. According to Psalm 145:4, “One generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Psalm 44:1 chronicles the outcome of this directive to instruct people in God’s past. “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, the deeds You did in their days, in days of old” .

We are also compelled to study God’s past for pragmatic reasons. The usefulness of studying and teaching history is illustrated by the following six points. Understanding history benefits us in the following ways:

1. Recognize God’s sovereignty

You would marvel how the church has survived at all if you spent an hour reading a factual synopsis of church history. The church has faced extreme hostility, from the first three centuries of Roman persecutions to the atrocities of today. Examining the past of the Church brings to mind the words of Jesus: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18, Cf. Belgic Confession, Art. 27).

2. Implement Disputed Biblical Precepts

In order to better comprehend such significant matters as church membership, baptism, worship, and government engagement, we turn to the customs of the early church. For instance, how can we choose which day is best for us to take a break from our work and gather with other Christians for worship? There is disagreement about how clearly the Bible responds to this query. However, there is a very strong precedent for modern churches to take into consideration when we take into account that the early Christians observed worship on the first day of the week and that this pattern has persisted for 2,000 years almost uninterrupted.

3. Protect Yourself From Cults and Heresies

Consider Athanasius. In the fourth century, he vigorously opposed Arius’s doctrines, which maintained that the Son and the Father are fundamentally equal. Arius believed that Christ was a completely separate being, neither fully God nor fully man.

Athanasius maintained that the only way fallen mankind might be reconciled with God was by the genuine Godhead uniting with the fullness of masculinity in Christ. Stated differently, Jesus can only intervene if he is God.

Understanding Athanasius’s arguments—especially those found in his work On the Incarnation—is crucial in light of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are contemporary, self-conscious followers of Arius.

4. Refuse to Be Enticed by Trends

Nowadays, a lot of churches are making a valiant effort to change their image and become more trendy. By adopting popular culture trends in fashion, technology, music, movies, and even shock-jock approaches to sexuality, churches aim to make an impression.

History buff Bruce Shelley once observed, “Church history tends to separate the transient from the permanent, fads from basics.”

5. Review Typical Church Procedures

Have you ever wondered why certain churches play romantic music while a priest calls on people to repent? It is recommended for anyone affected by religious feeling to go forward and make a choice. Why?

These are perhaps a few holdovers from Charles Finney’s nineteenth-century revival methods, which were regarded as “new measures” of evangelism at the time. The establishment of these additional procedures was, of course, motivated by religious considerations. Finney thought that a person needed that person’s assistance in order for God to regenerate them. Encouragement to “give God permission” to save people makes sense in this setting.

A broader perspective on history would enable us to see that effective expository preaching of God’s Word on a regular basis has been the primary cause of authentic revivals, rather than cutting-edge marketing strategies or psychological tricks.

6. Lead Valiant Christian Lives Currently

The British hymnist Isaac Watts, who lived in the eighteenth century, poses many thought-provoking questions that illustrate how studying church history might encourage fidelity:

“Am I a lamb follower and soldier of the cross, and will I be afraid to take up his cause or shy to mention his name? Must I be lifted to the sky on flowery beds of comfort, while others braved brutal waters and battled for the prize? Do I have no enemies to contend with? Can’t I stop the flood? Is this wicked world helping me go to God as a friend? Lord, give me more courage since I have to struggle to rule. I’ll work hard and suffer through the agony because of Your Word.”

The church is rightly referred to as the church militant until the Lord returns. Many have battled valiantly before us. But the struggle goes on.

We are soberly reminded that we have a position in God’s army as we study the church’s history. We don the same worn-out armor that the ancient saints wore in combat. The message of Jesus Christ is the same weapon that we wield. And we struggle to leave a lasting legacy for coming generations in addition to preserving our heritage.