Six Benefits of Studying Church History

The church has always realized that a forward-looking church is also a backward looking church.

Studying the history of the church soberly reminds us that we take our place in the ranks of the army of God. We take up the same battle-beaten armor that the saints of old used. We use the same weapon, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we fight, not only to continue our heritage but to leave a lasting legacy for future generations as well.

 

Many of us may struggle with the feeling that the church is already too old-fashioned. If so, why should we study church history? Shouldn’t we stop looking backward to the 16th century and start living in the 21st century?

Contrary to our concerns, the church has always realized that a forward-looking church is also a backward looking church. Likewise, well-balanced, progressive Christians will be students of church history.

The Bible supports this. Christianity, as revealed in Scripture, is an inescapably historical religion. The Christian conception of time itself is linear, not cyclical. That is, time has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is within this spectrum of time that the great themes of the Bible are all rooted. The Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration of humanity are not merely ideas; they are real events that remind us of the importance of history.

Most Christians would agree that it’s important to study this history (the Bible’s history of redemption). But God’s actions in history are significant and worthy of study whether they are recorded in Scripture or not. Consider the words of the Psalmist: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all your works; I muse on the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5). Along the same lines, the Apostle John ends his Gospel with these words: “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). We don’t know all of those works but they are real history as are all the other works of God.

The word “remember” is used 164 times in 39 of the 66 Bible books. In repeating this word, God is saying, “Don’t neglect the past.” Or as C.S. Lewis so memorably put it, “Don’t be a chronological snob,”  only valuing the era in which you live. Henry Ford exemplified such snobbery when he said, “History is bunk.” It’s not. Instead, it’s filled with meaning that God calls us to learn in our day.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul reviews a portion of Israel’s history, particularly their exodus from Egypt and their subsequent desert exile. Paul tells us in verse eleven that “all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition…”

Similarly, Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7) is one monumental history lesson. It begins with the call of Abraham, moves to the people’s bondage in and deliverance from Egypt, and an account of the construction of the tabernacle and temple. The point of this lesson is that the Jewish leaders have not learned from history. Instead they have perpetuated the sins of their fathers.

Not only are we to learn from history, we must also be teachers of history. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall praise our works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” The result of this command to teach God’s history is recorded in Psalm 44:1. “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, the deeds You did in their days, in days of old”.

There are also practical considerations that urge us to study God’s history. The following six reasons help demonstrate the value of learning from and teaching history. Knowing history helps us:

  1. Appreciate the Sovereignty of God 
  2. Apply Debated Biblical Teachings
  3. Defend Against Heresies and Cults
  4. Resist Being Captivated by Fads
  5. Reevaluate Common Church Practices
  6. Live Courageous Christian Lives Today

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