Every Disciple Of Christ Needs To Be A Church Historian
Is church history a Biblical imperative? Since the Bible never explicitly commands believers to know church history, does that mean we do not have to study and know it? On the contrary, I believe that being a follower of Christ means that we must know and learn church history. In the great commission, Jesus tells his disciples to teach them to observe all that I have commanded you (Mt. 28:20). If Christians are to teach, this requires the use of remembering and more explicitly, remembering what God has done in time and space – in history.
The beauty of church history is to see how God’s redemptive plan is continually coming to fruition after the first century. Just as Joshua commanded the Israelites to place twelve stones to commemorate what God had done for them as they crossed the Jordon (Josh. 4), the study of church history is like seeing the “stones” of the ecumenical creeds, the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakenings in America, and so much more. In “the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’” (Josh. 4:6) and using the analogy I made between the “stones” and church history, you will have an edifying answer.
Just as a child usually refuses to eat vegetables, so too does the Christian refuse to learn church history. It is deleterious for Christians to forsake and forget their church history. This in the end just shows a selfish Christianity, thinking that we are at the center and we are the most important part of God’s plan but this simply is not the case. It is an atrocity to lose sight of what God has done over the past two thousand years of church history. A healthy Christian is one who recognizes God’s eternal plan and cares about training up the next generation of believers, not forgetting what God has done over the past two thousand years, remaining faithful to Him, and trusting that God will be working in the future.
The study of church history has very practical benefits too. Many of the heresies and problems that we face today, Christians have already faced in centuries past. Therefore, we can look to church history to help give us solutions and answers to the problems we are facing today. And lastly, studying the works of past Christians will help us mature as believers. If I asked Christians today if they have read Augustine’s Confessions, Athanasios’ On the Incarnation, Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Calvin’s Institutes, Owen’s Mortification of Sin, Edwards’ Religious Affections, Hodge’s Systematic Theology, or Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, how many Christians would say they have read at least one or maybe two of these works? How many Christians know of these theologians and pastors? When we study church history we see the transcendent power of God working in different times, people, and places for his glory and at the same time, we can have our faith deepened by the wisdom of these past saints.