For pastors there is always something else to do, somebody to visit, somewhere to go. A pastor must learn to prioritize the tasks of each week. Each week presents new challenges. Pastors are faced with committees, budgets, crises, buildings, family, and the ever-present deadline of the Sunday sermon. So in the midst of all that, why should we add the study of church history to our list of things to do?
- Church history helps us understand the present.
Paul Harvey once quipped that “In times like these, remember there has always been times like these.” The present has a way of making us think that we are the only ones to face these new challenges. But the 2000 year history of the church reveals that God’s people have learned to thrive under every imaginable circumstance. Many of the fights that Christians have today and challenges they face are not that different from those in the past. The church in history past has endured war, famine, drought, prosperity, being the minority, being the majority, pandemics, politics, and more. A study of church history can help give us perspective on the challenges we face today.
- Church history helps us avoid heretical beliefs
Through the ages the church has fought almost every imaginable heresy and has united together to stand on God’s word as inerrant and infallible. Church history should guide us as we face the heresies peculiar to our own age and can give us the tools to refute those beliefs. Whether it is the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, the authority of God’s word, and many other theological questions, it has probably been debated in church history. We can stand on the shoulders of great thinkers and pastors who have come before us as they stood on God’s word. Here we can have firm footing as we face the cultural winds of our age.
- Church history gives us the best and worst teachers.
There have been some brilliant thinkers across church history and some who got it very wrong. A study of church history allows us to learn from Augustine, Luther, and Spurgeon. To be warned by Marcion, Arius, and Pelagius. By God’s grace we can learn from the “great cloud of witnesses” around us as well as how to avoid those who strayed from the gospel and even the faith of Jesus entirely.
- Church history gives us a long view of God’s plan in redemptive history.
It is easy to become myopic and focus on our problems and difficulties today and lose sight of God’s grand plan. The glorious unfolding of church history teaches us that God works across continents and centuries to bring about the end of time where every knee will bow and confess Jesus is Lord. Church history teaches us to look up from our own time and see how God has worked across history.
- Church history teaches us that God is in control.
In the middle of difficult times, history teaches us the sovereignty of God and the unavoidable fulfillment of his plan in the future. When we become so focused in the problems of our age, it can be easy to forget God’s promises for the future. History teaches us that even the gates of hell can stand against the church of Jesus as it marches through time. Church history gives us hope for the future because of how God has worked in the past.
In the end, church history is nothing more than the story of local churches like yours and mine, and the people who worked to labor for the gospel. Through their example we can be inspired, encouraged, forewarned, built up, and sent out. When we see how God has worked in the past, it should give us encouragement that He will work that way again.
Where to start studying church history?
- Read an overview of church history.There are simple and accessible books like Mark Noll’s Turning Points and Timothy Paul Jones’ Christian History Made Easy that address some of the most important events in church history.
- Read the biographies of great Christians. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in another time-period is reading the story of a faithful Christian who came before us. Biographies of notables like Spurgeon, Edwards, Lottie Moon, or Martin Luther King are easy to find and a great way to widen your knowledge of history.
- Explore Christian History magazine online. They have bite sized resources that are easily accessible and searchable by time-period. This is a great way to start off with shorter stories of God’s work through history.
- Subscribe to the Oklahoma Baptist History Chronicle to get stories of people in Oklahoma history who have served God faithfully.
Luke Holmes is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Tishomingo. You can reach out to Luke by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.