The Value of Studying Church History
Quoting from a number of different Sources Dr. Kevin Smith, new associate professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave his students the following motivation for studying our heritage:
1. It teaches us about the Dangers of Heresy-It is easy to see, from reading church history, how a little change in the Biblical doctrines can lead to a slew of errors which result in much devestation and conflict.
2. It teaches about the Joys of Revival- The recovery of true faith in either theology or practice (or both) was celebrated and treasured throughout history. At the Reformation and the Great Awakenings a big and glorious vision of God and of Jesus Christ, was granted fresh upon the church and it had such an astounding impact as to change history forever.
3. It teaches Humility- Preachers who read the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon lean quickly how incompitent they are. Likewise prayers who read the life of George Muller learn to pray better, and missionaries who read of Adoniram Judson learn to surrender more. We are humbled by their exmaples, and more so we are humbled by the knowledge that God does not need us. We are not the best thing to ever happen to the Christian faith, and the faith neither begins or ends with us.
4. It teaches us the way to Identify & Define Issues- Solomon said that there was nothing new under the sun and such is certainly the case in theology. For the most part the challenges and issues that face the church today have been wrestled with in the past. By reading church history we can learn that Mormonism is really just Arianism re-born, and that Neo-Orthodoxy is a lot like existentialism. In being able to identify and define issues we are better equipped to evaluate and respond to them.
5. It Reveals teh Repeated Confimation, and Concrete Demonstration of the Irreducible Durability of the Christian Faith- After 2,000 years of assults, trials, persecutions, and internal and external challenges the Christian faith still thrives and even expands among its number of adherents. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell would triumph over the church, and history is living proof of this.
6. It Provides a Perspective on the Interpretation of Scripture- As Evangelicals we do not hold that the church, or the Pope, is the only true interpreter of Scripture, yet neither do we beleive that it is sufficient for you to simply study your Bible and ignore the church. God has given us the Church to help us, and in the church He has given to us teachers and preahcers to spend their days studying the word of God and help us understand it. The Church local, however, is met with the church universal and in the larger church, that church that spans geography and time, we find good teachers as well.
7. It is a Labratory for the Interaction of Christianity and the World- The mistakes and victories of the church in years past are seen in church history and we can learn from them. We can learn from Aquinas and Anselm how to defend the existence of God, from Abraham Kuyper how to interact with the culture, from Constantine how the relationship between church and state is not to be done. Before we try it, we can see it played out in many cases.
8. It Shouts Out Loud that God Sustains the Church Despite its continual Betrayal and Rebellion- No matter what has happened( whether it was the papacy or the Crusades, slavery or the drowning of Anabaptists), God will not let our failures ruin His plan. He does not lon allow His bride to mocked and stained before He raises up a John Huss, John Wyclif, a Martin Luther. Learn to praise God by reading church history and seeing how, despite of our sin, He builds His church.