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"Not only will we learn more about theology, but we will learn why it mattered enough for believers in the past to die for. We will learn why a proper understanding of God’s Word matters today."
To many Christians the history of the Church is foggy at best--especially before the Reformation. Throughout the centuries God has been weaving an intricate, amazing story together, using ordinary people in extraordinary ways to spread the Gospel across the earth. We have much to gain from studying those who came before us in the Church. Here are three reasons why we should study church history.
If you’ve read a biography of a prolific figure you know how inspiring and helpful it can be. This is even more true in the case of saints from the Church. As their lives unfold before your eyes and you see the trials they faced, your faith is bolstered and your eyes are drawn to the God for whom they gave their lives (often literally). In Hebrews 11 the Apostle Paul gives us a host of examples from the Old Testament of people who were used by God in incredible ways because of their faith. After finishing his description of this “Hall of Faith”, Paul goes on to inform us why he is sharing their stories:
“Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:1-2
Just as Paul saw in his time that looking back to the lives of faithful men and women before him was a fruitful and encouraging exercise, we can look to the historical saints of the Church to increase our love for God.
Throughout history the Church has made the same mistakes over and over again. Studying church history can help us identify the patterns that lead the Church astray—and avoid them. Throughout the centuries God's people have fought to keep the teaching of God’s Word free from error, and false teachers have been propagating the same distorted doctrine over and over again, just as they are today. As Solomon said, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9). Examining the teaching of Church history will allow us to guard our hearts and the hearts of those around us from harmful and God-dishonoring teaching, and will allow the faithful teaching of God's Word to flourish.
One final reason for us to spend time reading the annals of our spiritual forefathers is for personal theological growth. When we learn of the theological truth that the people of God fought in the past to preserve, we begin to understand more and more the importance of certain parts of Scripture. For example, as we look at the topics of debate at the famous Church Councils, we will begin to have a deeper understanding of how what we believe about God affects our relationship with Him. Not only will we learn more about theology, but we will learn why it mattered enough for believers in the past to die for. We will learn why a proper understanding of God’s Word matters today.
Dustin is a non-vocational elder at Cornerstone and serves the church through the counseling ministry.
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