Church history answers tough, foundational questions
As a young Christian I had tough nagging questions for which I could never find satisfactory answers… until studying church history.
For example, the canonization of scripture: Why is the Bible made of these particular 66 books? Who chose them? Where did they come from? What criteria did they use? What books didn’t make the cut and why? Why do catholics have a different set of books? When was the canon established and what of the church before that time?
Church History helped answer these questions and bring peace that I can trust my Bible. Likewise with many other foundational questions.
Church history teaches the continuity of our faith and beliefs
Especially as a child raised in the Protestant Church, continuity was a question looming large in my mind. I wanted certainty I had not been duped by some crazy left turn in the 1500s. Through all the trouble and turmoil of the ancient and early Church, a study of her history reveals God’s work on a faithful remnant, the Church universal. A core orthodoxy stretches from the apostles down to us today. Yes, I can tie my faith back to the beginning. Church history helps me understand where I’ve come from and who I am!
History provides a context to better understand doctrine
The Church began as a child and grew into maturity. She faced challenges and questions over time, but overcame them one by one. Rather than swallowing two millenia of theological discourse, through Church history we have the opportunity to build and layer our personal knowledge in manageable bites. Furthermore, doctrinal statements come alive when understanding the historical context. Doctrine is not a collection of irrelevant or superfluous ideas. Rather, doctrinal statements arose in the face of real world issues. Issues that matter to our lives today.
The past provides a warning for the future and builds discernment
One might be surprised to find the popular trends and thoughts of the church today clearly playing out in the past. Ideas cast as fresh and new are often nothing more than a resurgent historical concept – whether known or unknown to those swept up in the idea. We can understand where trends and ideas are likely to lead by understanding our past. We can build discernment to see beyond the surface. No one wakes up and decides to be a heretic. Knowledge of the past builds a reservour to signal red flags when appropriate, to know the questions to ask, and keep us moving in the straight and narrow by avoiding the mistakes of the past.
Inspiring heroes to personally identify with
Far from a dry collection of facts, history provides thousands of real heroes. Some with backgrounds or personalities like ours which can bring encouragement to see God using such individuals. Others we find so unlike us in accomplishment that we are challenged or inspired. Still others faced situations so incomprehensibly dire compared to our own that we are humbled. Nothing teaches and sticks with us quite like the examples of others.
Christian History builds faith by revealing how God still moves in his Church
History is messy. Our heroes imperfect. Yet God is always at work.
The light of the gospel – “its flame often sank low, and appeared about to expire, yet never did it wholly go out. God remembered His covenant with the light, and set bounds to the darkness” (J.A. Wylie). Christian history tells, “How that seed was deposited in the soil; how the tree grew up and flourished despite the furious tempests that warred around it; how, century after century, it lifted its top higher in heaven, and spread its boughs wider around” (Wylie).
In the interest of space and time I will follow up with recommended resources, save for one quoted above:
J.A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism – available online