Why Study Church History?
Mark Noll in his Decisive Points in Church History lists four reasons as to why we need to study church history. He writes:
- “Studying the history of Christianity provides repeated, concrete demonstration concerning the irreducibly historical character of the Christian faith.”
By this he means that faith is lived out in real human history. Faith is not fantasy. It’s not myth. It’s reality. Church history helps us to realize that our faith is real. God has acted in history, and he continues to act in our history today.
- “A second contribution of church history is to provide perspective on the interpretation of Scripture.”
Church history helps us understand scripture. It helps us know the difference between sound and false doctrine. Do you know what the allegorical method of interpretation of scripture is? Is it a legitimate way to interpret the Bible? Many of us use it to interpret parables or to lead our Bible talks. Is this best? Church history provides perspective here.
- “The study of church history is also useful as a laboratory for examining Christian interactions with surrounding culture.”
Church history is colored by many ugly mistakes and failures of church leaders who did harm instead of good in the name of Jesus. There are many dark moments in church history. Remember the Crusades? Remember the Inquisition? Are you familiar with the sale of indulgences?
We need to learn from the mistakes of the past. What is the best way to reach cultures around the world today with the gospel? Church history has lessons to teach in this area.
- Church history teaches us “that God sustains the church despite the church’s own frequent efforts to betray its Savior and its own high calling. … Again, if the church is always only one generation from extinction, it also enjoys a peerless inheritance. The more we know about how those gifts have come down to us, the more we may humbly thank God for his faithfulness to past generations, as well as to our own.”
I’m sure you’ve heard it before. I have. That’s the adage, “The church is always only one generation from extinction.” It’s an adage, but it’s true. Therefore, we need to know how the church has been about to survive through the centuries. What gifts has God given us that we need to take advantage of in the church today? How can we make sure we aren’t that one generation that led the church to extinction? If we learn the lessons of church history, these lessons will prepare for the church of the future.