I have told numerous people in recent years that I am growing in my love for church history. The bookshelves in my office are regularly being stocked with biographies, autobiographies, historical surveys of specific time periods, etc.
When I was in college, I did not appreciate church history as I should. I took classes on the Reformation, Martin Luther, and surveys from the early church to the modern church, but I didn’t pay attention to their relevance and was more concerned about getting a certain grade. Now, that I have been in pastoral ministry for close to 20 years, I lament the years wasting NOT reading church history.
The benefits of knowing our history are greater than NOT knowing them, and here are 5 reasons you should join me in reading more church history.
- God commands us to remember (Deuteronomy 32:7). A faithful God is a God worth remembering. In fact, you could say that we only know that God is faithful because we remember His deeds. Our responsibility to remember goes beyond just the acts of God in biblical history but should certainly include the acts of extra-biblical history. God is no less active outside the Bible that He was inside the Bible. Church history is His-story.
- To study church history is to study God Himself (Romans 8:28). Paul must have been thinking about history when he said all things are working together for good. God has never left His throne – even during the dark ages.
- You can learn theology by studying church history (I Timothy 2:2). This has been my experience as I have seen biblical doctrine tested throughout the centuries, as I have read about councils and debates, as I have read the accounts of martyrs dying for certain truths, etc. Read the Bible to understand the truth; study church history to see why that truth matters.
- Church history is our story. Our legacy begins in the early church, runs through the debate over the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea, travels through the battle of justification by faith in the Reformation, and is effected by the Great Awakenings from a few hundred years ago. We are who we are as Christians because of the events of the past. Our spiritual ancestry – our heritage – is informed by John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle and St. Augustine.
- The fulfillment of Matthew 16:18. My former classmate Nathan Busenitz gave this reason in an article he wrote entitled “Why Study Church History.” He says that studying church history is like studying a promise that is continuing to unfold before our eyes.
Recommended Books to Buy to Begin a Further Study of Church History
Catherwood, Christopher. Church History: A Crash Course for the Church.
Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity. 2 volumes.
Lawson, Steven. Pillars of Grace.
Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. 8 volumes.