Church history is perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of study in contemporary evangelical theology. One of the main reasons for the neglect of Church history is its association with tradition. Instead of wanting to know the old paths traveled over and over again by godly saints of previous eras, Christians today want something “deeper” and more meaningful. While the pursuit of knowledge is commendable, such a pursuit should not be divorced from the need to see that tradition in its biblical and historical place is helpful and necessary for the Christian. It is my intention in this article to help you understand the importance of Church history by coming to see that it is a necessary area of study, not only because it helps one understand the history of the Church, but also how the people of God have defended and contended for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Christians have a Word from God in the Bible. God’s Word from the front (Genesis) to the back (Revelation) testifies to the work of Jesus in and through His covenant relationship with His redeemed people. Christians should look back at the life and example of men in the Old Testament such as Abraham and David. In the New Testament Christians can study the life and teachings of Paul, John, and Peter. The history of the Church is rich with teaching of men and woman who have held to biblical orthodoxy and defended the faith against attacks from within and without.
Calvin and Luther did not engage in doctrinal novelty but appropriated the teaching of Augustine who received his doctrine and teaching from the early church fathers who were taught from the Apostles themselves. In the process, the Reformers brought biblical doctrine to the masses to bring reform to the Church for the purpose of her health and growth in the Gospel. In fact, the Church has always had an impulse to reformation around biblical doctrine. Church history records the teaching of men and women who held to the truth of the Word and sought to teach the Word faithfully to people.
Church history also helps God’s people understand the movements and mistakes that Christians have made throughout history. These truths may be stated in fresh ways; however believers must remain faithful to the old paths of biblical orthodoxy. Abandoning the old paths of biblical orthodoxy for doctrinal novelty leads to false teaching. When Christians abandon the old paths of biblical orthodoxy for so-called doctrinal novelty, what occurs is false teaching. The Church has should respond to false teaching by confronting errant doctrine with the Word of God, resulting in the opportunity to clarify and expound on biblical orthodoxy for the benefit and spiritual growth of the Body of Christ.
Church history helps aid the people of God to have a context for a biblical-theological approach to the Christian life and ministry. This enables Christians to see that biblical truth is rooted in the Word of God. God’s people have a message to proclaim. Christians need to learn from those who have gone before us as such an approach will keep them from falling for doctrinal errors which are not new, but rather old errors stated in fresh ways. The biblically orthodox Christian is motivated by a desire to state old truths in fresh ways with a view to being faithful to the truth of God’s Word. False teachers throughout the history of the Church think their teaching is the latest and greatest thing, but in reality are repeating old errors already confronted and dealt with by the Church. The biblical-orthodox Christian knows there is nothing new under the sun as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes. In short, false teaching promotes pride while biblical orthodoxy honors God and brings Him glory.
Church history is relevant because of the Word of God. Faithful men and women have sought to take what they have studied in the Word, apply it to their lives, and to the lives of those who hear their teaching and preaching all with the focus of bringing glory to God. The relevancy and importance of Church history cannot be stated enough and thus for Christians to grow in their understanding of Church history will be to grow in their understanding of how God has worked in and through ordinary people in extraordinary ways. I can think of no greater subject for Christians to study outside of their Bibles than studying the history of the Christian Church. In a culture that mostly rejects tradition and minimizes truth, Christians have truth in the Word of God along with a rich and rigorous intellectual and spiritual heritage that has sought to explain, elaborate, contend, and defend biblical orthodoxy for over two thousand years.
Dave Jenkins blogs and podcasts at ServantsOfGrace.org. Learn more about Dave and his ministry here: LINK.