Over the years, I have come to the realization that most Christians as well as Christian leaders have a great disliking of studying Church history. If at any given point you find them studying, it is because they are taking a course on church history from a program that is being offered where it is a requirement.
Many people say that church history is difficult because it requires much attention to detail, i.e., knowing names, places, persons, dates, events, etc which is a bit difficult for most people to do. However, I have come to the conclusion that studying church history is of crucial importance to any serious Christian. This is not the task of the scholar alone but for us to understand where we came from and where we are in God’s scheme of redemption.
Now, why do we study church history? There are several reasons why we study church history and am going to share with you a few of the reasons why it is of paramount importance.
- In studying church history, we understand how God has been faithful in keeping His word concerning the church. Jesus had earlier said that he would build his church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it (Matt 16). Not only so, but he gave the great commission to the church (Matt 28:18-20) from which he promised them that he had all the authority in heaven and on earth, hence, he would be with them always to the ends of the earth. The continued existence of the church on earth is a clear indication that Christ is indeed the truth (John 14:6), and he is watching over his word to fulil it (Isa 55:11) since he upholds al things by the word of his mouth (Heb 1:1-3). The church has been threatened by all kinds of evil forces which sought to exterminate it from the face of the earth, but with Christ in it, who is the head of the Body, the church has never been defeated, even in the midst of great trials, persecutions and tribulations. So studying church history helps us appreciate the faithfulness of God to his word and how no one single promise of God has failed (1 Kings 8:56).
- We also study church history to find encouragement and comfort. This is necessary because “there is nothing new under the sun”, wrote Solomon. When we take cognizance of the fact that many Christians were killed and suffered for their faith, we understand that they have left for us an example to emulate since they did not recant the faith even in the midst of great perils and dangers. Like biblical characters, reading stories of Christian heroes and martyrs only helps to encourage and strengthen our faith. We need to be stong and vigilant and stand true even in the face of death just as the Lord himself has said, “be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10).
- In the midst of a new kind of Christianity that promises a no persecution and no suffering Christianity, we study church history to help us examine our faith and our stand in the world. Jesus said that in the world, we will have persecutions. However, this does not seem to suggest that Christians will be on the forefronts of causing commotion and inviting persecution on themselves, but rather, those who live righteously in Christ will suffer persecution. While there are many areas in the world where Christians are experiencing persecutions, we who do not yet experience it should not consider ourselves to be more righteous, or that, we are being spared because we have such great faith or holiness. Rather, we should focus our attention to purposeful praying for the persecuted church, reach out to it and minister to its needs. Suffering and persecution is inevitable, however, this can be in certain regions or can be a universal persecution. But as we discern the times, we discover that we are headed towards a great persecution and as martyrs for Jesus, most Christians will be killed for their faith and witness. Yet, we need to remain strong and pray that if possible, we would be counted worthy to escape.
- Studying church history is like taking the church to the laboratory and examines it to see its current state. How has the church in recent times influenced societies, governments, education, etc.? What errors have we done and how have we rectified them? What are the common mistakes that the church has made in history and how can these be rectified or avoided in our time? These and such like questions should occupy our minds and can only be answered by discerning the church in history. One of my seminary professors used to say that each time he read the book of Acts; he sees how far the modern church has drifted from the biblical pattern and has lost its touch in the world. It has put its light under a bushel and the world continues to plunge into more darkness because the church is hiding its light and refusing to shine.
- Christian history gives a sense of proportion and shows what’s been held in common over the centuries, focusing our strongest commitments on what matters most. It helps to study different eras and different cultures. If we do not investigate such issues, we will likely repeat the same mistakes of history.
- There are many exciting stories and examples of heroism and extra-ordinary exploits of ordinary believers that we learn from church history which can be good illustrating means in our sermon presentations. Moving from the biblical narratives, stories of Christian martyrs can inspire faith and acts of great heroism among believers as they continue to see that the God of the Bible is the God of history and has not ceased to work with and within his church as well as in the world.
- Church history also helps us to know certain doctrines and traditions that have crept into the church, how they started and why, the factors that contributed to their developments and yet, the Bible is silent on those issues. Church history can help bridge this gap by providing us with answers and explanations. This will enhance our understanding of certain customs and traditions that are found in the church today. For example, why do we have Christmas, Saint so-and-so’s day, why clergy wear special robes, the use of holy water and certain dressings, the use of the symbol of the cross, etc. These are not taught in the Bible but were later developments in the history of the church, hence it is important to study and know church history.
- While there are some who claim to walk by revelation alone, church history is replete with several individuals who once walked that path and some of them were very sincere, honest and dedicated men, and yet, they introduced and masterminded some of the most dangerous heresies that have continued to this day. The removal of shoes in worship, the use of holy water, veneration of prophets, etc., all stems from certain periods of church history.
- Church history also helps us to recognize new and strange teachings that appear to be modern and yet they are an incarnation of old time heresies. Today, there is a major outbreak of all kinds of spiritualities and yet, the Christian is at the mess of the new religious movements some of which are so subtle and deadly and yet, many people because they lack Scriptural truth and discernment, ends up following the false and the evil. By studying church history, we come to recognize several of such movements and heresies that may only change their outward appearances but inwardly, they don’t.
I have chosen to be an informed believer and I will not want anything to stand in my way and God. The Holy Spirit and the Bible are my guides and, a study of church history will enable me to understand many essential things that I will need to understand the times and discern the future. What about you? Do you think it is important to study church history or not? Would you like to share thoughts and insights about this topic? I would be glad to answer some questions you might have. God bless!