- Studying church history shows the historical character of the Christian faith. Unlike many other religions which are based on philosophies and various theologies, Christianity is not simply a collection of doctrines or a comprehensive worldview. Rather, it is first and foremost about what God has done and will do in real time and real space.
- Looking to the past will give us perspective on interpreting the Scriptures. It keeps us from assuming that way we read the Bible is the way it's always been read - not that church history should make us constantly doubt our exegesis, but should give us valuable perspective. We should be very careful when we find ourselves understanding Scripture differently than the church has for 20 centuries.
- Perspective itself is a benefit of studying church history. How often do we hear that the modern world is the worst it's ever been? Or that we've finally found the one answer to our theological problems? Such histrionics, whether pessimistic or optimistic, would be tempered if we took seriously the study of Christ's church.
- We have a heritage to claim and enjoy, so let's get to it. Whether it's our specific heritage, like the Covenanters, or the heritage enjoyed by the whole church, like the church fathers, we ought to honor those who have gone before us and claim that heritage.
- We can learn great lessons from the saints in the past. As we learn about how our mothers and fathers of the faith faced down the pressures of the world and walked wisely (and sometimes unwisely), we will find wisdom and conviction.
- Similarly, most of the battles faced by the church have already been fought. If we forget that and neglect to pick up and wield the weapons forged by our ancestors, how much the poorer are we! The most recent and painful example of this was the church's frantic arm-waving over the Da Vinci Code. Yes, it's bad and blasphemous and all that. But it's already been answered - all this heresy and silliness wasn't invented by Dan Brown. Were the church instructed in her history, would so many be so tempted or worried?
- Studying church history will lay bare the great grace of God in sustaining an imperfect church through many centuries.
- Perhaps more than most generations, our Christian generation operates in a historical vacuum and hast lost the power of the historic Christian faith. The church must find a stronger foundation than the self- and chrono-centric one she stands on now.
- Finally, as hinted at by Psalm 78 and Hebrews 11, studying the history of Christ's reign with His people, studying church history builds faith. There is strength and courage and belief to be had when we lay hold of these stories - who doesn't need more faith?
My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"
22 August 2006
Why Church History
Sunday morning the college class began a semester-long overview of church history, mostly using the outline provided by Mark Noll in Turning Points. The big discussion on Sunday was, "Why should we study church history?" This is most helpful to me, a recovering church-history scrooge. Here are some of the reasons Noll gives to study church history, to which we added a few more: