As believers, when we encounter the term “history,” what sentiments do we associate with it? In school, the subject may have felt like a chore, a dry recounting of long-past events and forgotten personalities. However, as we mature in faith, we realize that history—particularly church history—is not merely about the past. It’s an exploration of the journey of faith, the chronicles of believers before us, and a guide for our present and future spiritual walk.
This journey of Christianity through the ages is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s a story filled with shining moments of bravery, where believers defied societal pressures to deny Christ. It depicts moments of the church’s triumph, displaying the love of Christ in action and preaching the gospel’s good news. However, it also carries dark chapters when we, as the church, lost our way, succumbing to power and self-love, and losing sight of Jesus. It reminds us of the times when we were the persecuted and, sadly, the persecutors.
There is much wisdom to glean from these accounts, and here are three compelling reasons why every Christian should delve into church history:
- Engaging in Obedience through Memory
Repeatedly, the Bible instructs us to “remember,” particularly recalling the deeds of God (Exodus 13:3, Deuteronomy 5:15, 7:18, 8:1, 8:18, 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 105:5). In this sense, studying church history becomes an act of obedience, a way to cherish what God has done. By recalling His past actions, we reinforce our faith in His promises and gain assurance that He will fulfill His purposes in the world.
- Drawing Inspiration for Faithful Living
The stories of God’s people from the past can serve as our roadmap for faithful living. They provide us with examples of perseverance during troubling times. As Western Christians, we’ve enjoyed relative peace and comfort. By studying the lives of those who’ve faced persecution, we learn how to navigate the trials of faith. We also gain insights into avoiding the pitfalls that led others astray.
- Protecting Our Belief from False Teachings
Throughout history, the essential truths of faith have often been challenged. Various heresies have sought to distort the truth and replace it with falsehoods. But, as paradoxical as it may sound, these heresies have played a significant role in refining our understanding of faith.
As Bruce Shelley astutely points out in his book, “Church History in Plain Language,” heretics inadvertently served the church by forcing it to develop a more robust, systematic explanation of biblical revelation. Were it not for these heretics, we may not have had the New Testament canon, the doctrine of the Trinity, or a comprehensive understanding of Jesus’ divine-human nature.
Recognizing these historical debates helps us tackle modern challenges. Heresy still exists today, subtly creeping into our faith, distorting the nature of the Trinity, denying human sinfulness, or rejecting the goodness of the physical world and our bodies. By understanding our history, we can discern these false teachings and stand firm in our faith.
Stepping into the Past:
So where do we start this exciting journey? Begin with something straightforward, like Bruce Shelley’s “Church History in Plain Language,” an accessible and clear guide to church history. If you’re an audio learner, try the podcast “Five Minutes in Church History.” As your interest deepens, consider exploring “Church History, Vol. 1” by Everett Ferguson, “2000 Years of Christ’s Power” by Nick Needham, or “The Story of Christianity” by Justo L. Gonzalez.
Remember, the depths of church history are limitless, and the wisdom it imparts is invaluable. So why wait? Begin your journey today and discover the richness of our shared Christian heritage.