Church History Matters
Okay, I’m going to admit it right at the start. I am biased. In fact, I am very biased when it comes to church history. I love it. I derive great pleasure from reading church history. It challenges me and my beliefs. It frees me from today’s fads by showing how God has worked in other times and places. It gives me great hope for the work of God is utterly amazing to behold.
I also find great delight in reading history in general. I have discovered that you can learn much about how God works by reading history. The nuggets you gather along the way are very rewarding. So I often focus on Medieval History, European History, and American History with a special focus on the 1700s and the 1800s.
These days I am being asked, “What are you going to do now that you have retired?” The first thing that usually pops into my head is, “I’m going to read as much as I can.” So I have a mental picture of me with a sign hanging around my neck saying, “Do not disturb. Busy reading.”
I am writing to encourage you to step into church history by reading at least one book on the subject. I am asking you to consider my challenge for three reasons.
First, the gospel matters. We are a church that believes, preaches, and lives out the gospel. It is natural to expect each member to do the same. Have you stopped to consider that the gospel is rooted in and based on historical events? Christ is a historical person. He actually lived and died in history. The death and resurrection of Christ are historical events. Paul reminded us of these truths in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Luke 1:1-5 is another good statement of the historical nature of the gospel.
Second, the Word of God matters. In the Bible God answers the big questions of life: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? The past, present, and future of humanity are dealt with in its pages. It’s about real life, real people, real problems, and real answers. It is not about myths and tales we tell ourselves so we feel better. One of the reasons God records all the events in the Old Testament is given to us in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12, “These things happened to them (our forefathers as stated in verse 1) as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the end of the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” In the Psalms we are told that we are to remember and recount the mighty acts of God in history (46:7-11, 64:9-10, 66:1-12, 107:1-43, 145:1-7).
Third, the work of God matters. God’s works spans all of history. We can summarize it with these keywords: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. The history of humanity begins in Genesis 1 and moves to the grand climax in Revelation 21 and 22. One day we will participate in the victory song recorded in Revelation 19:6-7, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
So, if church history matters so much what’s the problem? Why does it seem so uninteresting and boring? Probably one of the main problems is the uninteresting way it’s so often written. We get overwhelmed with the vast number of dates, names, and events.
I offer you this suggestion: read a biography of someone from church history. Here you are focusing on one person. The biography will focus on the time and place the individual lived. This individual’s story will also deal with the other people and the events of that time that affected that person. You will gain a richer and fuller understanding of the times and the individual.
I would recommend the writings of John Piper as a good place to begin. His biographies are based on studies he did to present to church leaders. They are brief but capture in a powerful way the key point of the individual’s life. He references further resources if you are interested in studying this person further. He makes pointed application to our lives by showing how what this individual did can help us today.
I close with these words from the historian Timothy Paul Jones, “The story of Christianity deeply affects every believer in Jesus Christ. The history of the Christian faith affects how we read the Bible. It affects how we view our government. It affects how we worship. Simply put, the church’s history is our family history.”
Elder Jim Gordon