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THREE REASONS TO STUDY CHURCH HISTORY

On February 23, we will begin a 12-week Christian education course called “Christian History Made Easy.” The class, led by instructors Joe Kickasola and David Ellis, will meet on Sundays at 5:00pm in the ACC office, and will provide a general survey of the history of the Christian Church. The class will feature video-taped lectures by historian Timothy Paul Jones, as well as classroom discussion, and review of written materials.

Why is it important for Christians to study Church History? Here are three reasons you might find it helpful to learn the history of the Church.

1) God’s people are called to remember the past.

Since the biblical faith is based on works God did in former times, an important way to strengthen our faith is to refresh our memory of what he has done. Throughout Scripture, the people of God are called to recount their collective history. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years,” said Moses in Deut. 8:2. “Remember the former things, those of long ago,” said the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 46:9). The psalmist said, “Tell of all [the LORD’s] wonderful acts…. Remember the wonders he has done” (Ps. 105:2, 5). In the New Testament, Christians were told, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).

2) Learning Church History can protect us from error.

The Irish statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke, said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Learning the mistakes of the past can safeguard us from repeating them in the present. Words like “Arianism”, “Marcionism”, “Montanism”, “Modalism”, and “Pelagianism” may not be familiar to you, but they are all ancient heresies still taught (in different forms) in some Christian circles today. Knowing why former believers rejected these teachings can make us more discerning in our pursuit of truth today.

This principle is not only true with matters of doctrine, but also with matters of practice. How could doctrinally sound Christians embrace European colonialism and participate in the African slave trade? Why was the church in Germany so silent in the face of rising Nazism? What led some churches in America to oppose the civil rights movement (even though it was primarily started by Christians)? How could well-meaning followers of Jesus stumble into such sins? It would be folly to assume that we are braver or better than Christians in the past. If we learn from their mistakes, God might keep us from falling into grievous errors today.  

3) Learning Church History can fill us with hope.

It is easy to get wrapped up in our own little worlds. When we do so our problems begin to look very big to us and our God starts to seem very small. Learning the work of God throughout the world and over time has a way of lifting us out of our own situations and opening our eyes to the splendor of our Lord.

We serve a big God, who has been at work a long time. His Word has been bearing fruit all over the world in ways we can hardly imagine. Did you know that by the year 250 the Christian faith had spread to India, Iraq, China, Armenia, Turkey, Egypt, and Europe? Did you know that for its first 1,000 years the Christian Church was primarily based in Africa? Did you know that over 100,000 people in Japan converted to Christianity in the 1500’s when they heard the preaching of Jesuit missionaries? Did you know that the end of the Roman gladiatorial games, the establishment of university education, the founding of the modern hospital system, and the abolition of the African slave trade were all influenced by the work of Christians? Did you know that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in Iran today and that reportedly 16,000 African Muslims come to faith in Christ every day?

The God who did great things in the past is still at work right now. Christian historian Mark Noll wrote, “[T]he long record of Christian weakness and failure reveals … a divine patience broader than any human impatience, a divine forgiveness more powerful than any human offense, and a divine grace deeper than our human sin.” Learning the history of the Church can fill us with hope.