What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:9)
It’s impossible to appreciate those words without understanding. And I think that’s especially true in Church history. For example, there’s been a lot of recent controversy about the existence of hell. A good understanding of Church History will quickly reveal that this is a perennial debate. What goes around comes around. So let me offer 5 reasons you should study church history:
If you want to stay faithful to the truth, you need to understand the attacks truth has suffered in the past. Learning about Adoptionism, Pelagianism, Arianism, Donatism, or Gnosticism will help you see some of those same heresies in the teachings of many modern preachers and teachers. Without studying Church history, these doctrines may seem new and creative. But that’s certainly not the case.
It’s impossible for us to understand where we are now if we don’t know how we got here. Seeing the rich, 2,000 year history we are a part of inspires me to carry the torch—that is, the Gospel—in my own time. It also inspires me to transmit that faith to the next generation with a profound sense of humility and honor. Without studying Church history, it’s easy for us to become myopic and lose perspective, restricting both our vision and our ambitions.
One thing that my studies of Church history revealed is how quick we are to over-correct. Reading through our history I saw the pendulum always swinging from one extreme to the other. To think that we’re any different today would be foolish.
Without historical perspective, it’s easy to think that we are a lot smarter than we are. Seeing the wide breadth of past mistakes made by brilliant people who passionately loved Jesus makes me realize that I’m probably missing something too. No one has a perfect theology; we all have errors somewhere. And studying Church history cautions me about becoming prideful in my own theology. Studying Church history has forced me to acknowledge that I have my own blind spots. I’m not perfect either.
it’s also very easy for us to think that the Church is in a very dark age; darker than ever! Reading Church History helps me see that this is simply not the case. Compare our modern times against the persecutions of the Roman empire, the constant warfare of the middle ages, or the intellectual challenges of the Enlightenment, and you’ll see that the situation in America is far from hopeless. Every generation thinks that this must be the end. And we’re certainly no different. But the Church still has a mission, and we are still called to preach the Gospel to all nations.
If you’re ready to read more about church history, here are some of my recommended reads:
- Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church by Earle E. Cairns
- Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought by Alister E. McGrath
- The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today by Edwin S. Gaustad
- Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition by Bruce L. Shelley
- Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity by Mark Noll
Are you convinced that you should at least consider studying Church history yet? Have you read any good books that made the subject very accessible? Can you think of any other reasons to study this subject? Let me know!
About Daniel Delgado
Daniel is an M.Div. student at Western Seminary. He met his wife, Connie, while they were both serving in the Air Force in Alaska. Daniel, Connie, and their two-month old daughter attend Colossae Church in Tigard, OR. He regularly blogs at www.flathillfaith.com.