Eight Reasons to Read Church History

Mark Rogers —  October 11, 2011 — 13 Comments

Guest post by Mark Rogers

I often tell people that I majored in history in college because I like stories. I still like stories, but I have pursued an ongoing study of church history because I think it makes me a better Christian and a better pastor. Here are some reasons I think you should read church history, too.

1. Theological

Millard Erickson is right: “History is theology’s laboratory, in which it can assess the ideas that it espouses or considers espousing” (Christian Theology, 28). Church history shows us our theological blind spots, reminds us of crucial topics our era ignores, provides confessional guardrails, and gives us the writings of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards—among others.

2. Inspirational

If you are like me, ministry is often hard work and the fruit sometimes seems slow-growing. Reading stories of God’s work in revivals and awakenings stretches my faith and rouses me to pray bigger prayers. Also, reading about the fruits of long-term, faithful preaching and prayer helps keep me steadfast.

3. Ecclesiological

Pragmatic approaches to “doing church” are so common today that one might think that this is the way it has always been. Reading the Reformers, the Puritans, and others reveals that they asked more than just, “What works?”  They thought the Bible teaches what the church is and what it should do.  Historical discussions of the nature and marks of a true church challenge the way we think about the church in a way the latest church-growth manual simply cannot.

4. Missiological

We tend to be locally minded and even ethnocentric. Most of us envision a ministry in a place like the one we grew up in among a people that look like us. Learning what God has done to spread the gospel over the past 2,000 years helps broaden our vision.

5. Hermeneutical

Christians have not been using the same hermeneutics book for the past 2,000 years. We are now able to see some of the interpretive errors of earlier eras (for example, over-allegorizing), and we can try to avoid some of their pitfalls. However, we sometimes forget that our present cultural and intellectual context likely shapes our own biblical interpretation in unhelpful ways. Commentaries and sermons from other eras help reveal some of the errors in our own methods of interpreting God’s word.

6. Reformational

Jesus tells the church in Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev 2:5). The problem is that we often don’t “remember.” We don’t realize we have fallen because we never look back to a time when the church was more faithful in certain ways. Church history can help us realize our need for reform and call us back to faithfulness.

7. Correctional

Studying church history shows us how small deviations from biblical truth play out over time. It is helpful to know if you or someone in your church is holding a deviant or unbalanced doctrine before it infects your entire theology. Church history is one tool that will help you do so.

8. Doxological

The sheer fact of believers across centuries and continents worshiping God reminds us that our Lord is over all and everywhere. A poem scratched out by a persecuted Christian in prison or the testimony of a missionary’s communion with Christ as he faced imminent martyrdom or the story of whole peoples in Burma coming to Christ all point to the God who alone can satisfy every human heart.

13 responses to Eight Reasons to Read Church History

  1. I’ve been reading Church History for a while, and find it extremely helpful for all the reasons listed.

    Do you have any good church history books that you recommend? I’m just curious to see if I’ve read them or not…

    I just recently finished Diarmaid MacCulloch “Christianity: The First 3000 Years.” It wasn’t the best…

  2. Couldn’t agree more…spent a great year in 2009 blogging my way through Calvin’s Institutes and plan to do Augustine’s City of God one day too. I love the way church history deepens your faith and challenges your cultural norms.
    Thanks,
    Martyn

  3. Your post totally reminded me of something one of my pastors preached from Sunday in speaking about 2 Peter 1:12-15 – “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

    The average person forgets nearly 90% of what they hear. We need to read history to remind ourselves of all those things you mentioned so the Word of God can be operating more completely in each of our lives every day. I think know church history contributes an element of understanding and reminder to our sanctification.

    Great advice!

  4. Great article! I’ve just recently begun my reading of church history and to date have read through Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, which phenomenally overviews church history. It also helps that Shelley has such a profound passion for and commitment to the church as God’s chosen means to advance his kingdom.

    I also read through Kenneth Scott Latourette’s two-volume set A History of Christianity and Samuel Moffett’s A History of Christianity in Asia, which also is a two-volume set.

  5. Today I just concluded Church History II from the Reformation to the Present Day from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and learning more about the men and women who have been instruments of the Lord in shaping the church over the last 400 years. You are exactly right, they certainly can teach us a lot.

  6. Numer 3 is considerably telling of church as it is today.
    May God (and a keen reading of his movement through history) save us from the slavery of pragmatism.

  7. babatunde lukman olalekan March 17, 2014 at 8:19 am

    thanks for your contribution about church history. but my ? is that ‘is church study the same as studying church history?

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