Church history is an invaluable resource that often remains untapped in the life of a Christian. Perhaps this is because we think of it as dusty, outdated and boring, or maybe because we fail to see how it has any relevance to our lives in the here and now. But most who dive into this treasure trove of ancient wisdom find that it is overflowing with jewels that will stoke the heart and mind. So, here are five reasons to study church history (adapted from a lecture by Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
1) Our lives are bound up in history. Everything that’s happening now is connected to the past and if we are to understand where we are we now and where we are going, we need to learn where we have come from.
2) As Christians, we are learners. Looking into the past is a great place to grow in knowledge and wisdom. It’s been said that a wise person learns from his or her mistakes, a wiser person learns from the mistakes of others, and a fool learns from neither. Rather than living near-sighted, we can look to the past to gain perspective and wisdom for the present and for the future. Summarily, “studying the past liberates from the tyranny of the present.”
3) History builds a sense of humility. We owe much to many whom we’ve never met. So many of the blessings we experience, like pure doctrine in our churches (thank you Athanasius!), can be attributed to men and women who lived long before us.
4) We find models to imitate. Imitation in the Christian life is biblical, and while the redemptive story traced through the Bible is one that finds its center in Christ dying for ungodly sinners, there is still so much to admire and emulate in the faith of Christians from many centuries ago. We can look to Clement of Alexandria and learn how to engage the New Age mysticism in our current culture or gain perspective from Handel on how to compose God honoring music for our churches today. Who knows, God may just reveal a calling for your life as you read about the lives of old saints.
5) It will lead to praising God. The history of the church is the history of God’s activity in the world is and it draws us to praise him. We can peak into the lives of martyred saints, learn about the development of important doctrines, and ultimately marvel at God’s faithfulness to his people all over the world throughout the centuries.
For a few good introductions to get you started on church history, check out:
–131 Christians Everyone Should Know, Mark Galli
–Getting to Know the Church Fathers, Bryan Liftin
–Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll
–The Unquenchable Flame, Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, Michael Reeves
–Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church, Michael Haykin
—The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, Robert Louis Wilken