Church History is a common course in almost every undergraduate and graduate level degree in Theology, Bible, ministry, etc. However, I have begun to think we have lost the purpose or thrust behind the need for studying the historical roots of the church. In a day when the newest, latest, and most innovative ideas take center stage, it may be that we need to take a step back and look into the past. So why study the history of the church? I wish I could take all the credit for these ideas, but I can’t. This is the culmination of many individuals before me, some of which taught me.
1. Christianity is a historical faith. It is not an esoteric, philosophical, or abstract school of thought. The whole faith is rooted and centered upon the person of Jesus Christ. The church was the innovative idea of a sovereign God. Christianity is the expression of the church. The Christian faith is the one true faith that has expressed the ideas of the church in the correct fashion. And since Christ is an authentic character in the Father’s narrative, the whole faith deserves examination.
2. We study Church History to evaluate, confirm, or correct current doctrinal issues. Church History is not just a series of dates, names, and places. It is the study of the only true walk of faith. That means that the only true doctrinal foundations come through this line. We should study in order to evaluate the validity of current movements. We should study in order to discover true practices and doctrine. With a proper study of the history of the church we might be able to answer some of the objective questions of today. It is absurd to discredit the historical writings and thoughts of those who have gone before us.
3. We can discover who had authoritative responsibilities within the church. When we study the history of the church, we can grasp how things were done. From there we can evaluate. I am not saying that every doctrine and practice throughout the history of the church is correct, but we can glean and learn.
4. We can learn how the person of Jesus has been interpreted throughout the centuries, and how they have articulated His salvific work. With strong foundations, we can know the historicity of our doctrinal ideals. Who did they think Jesus was? How did they determine and define the person of Christ? How did we come to have the canon of Scripture that we do? These are all questions that are answered when we take time to dive into the history.
5. When studying Church History, we can trace origins of denominations. In a day and time when denominations seem a dime-a-dozen, we can study the birth of these denominations. With this study, it might help us to better understand them and then make clear, concise, and informed decisions concerning their doctrine, practice, and validity. Why did certain groups form? What was going on when they formed? Maybe we can learn from the mistakes of the church as we unfold the historical facts.
6. We should study Church History for personal knowledge and growth. When we study Church History it can help us to better define our essential beliefs. We will discover what the key or fundamental orthodox doctrines have been. We will see that over time they changed and been redefined.
7. We will learn to appreciate those who have gone on before us. Our faith did not just drop out of the sky one day. We can read and learn the developments of the church, and how it has been shaped to be what it is today. There have been wars, struggles, tribulations, and trials galore that have fashioned and described the church. When we gain knowledge of these truths, we will grow in love with Christ all the more.
Maybe you can add to this list. I can personally attest that my study of Church History has shaped my doctrinal and theological convictions. I often took for granted the words of others, but finally had the privilege of reading them first hand. What a difference it makes when you gather the sources and discover the riches and depths of the key historical figures. While these are not “inspired” writings or events, I do think they are beneficial. When I look at who, when, and where, I cannot help but hoist the sovereignty of God more than before. I would encourage everyone to grab some historical writing and begin a lifelong endeavor to uncover the treasures of old!