Were it not for heretics, we might not have the New Testament canon. Or a clarified doctrine of the Trinity (insomuch as we can clarify that) as found in the Athanasian Creed. And we likely wouldn’t have the understanding of Jesus as being simultaneously both fully human and fully divine, or his being of the same substance as the Father, or… Knowing how these debates played out helps us to understand the challenges we face today.
What comes to mind when you read the word “history?”
I grew up going to Canada School, so I remember struggling through every class. It was the class I loathed almost as much as Gym.1 Now, I love history. It’s fascinating. And Canada’s is actually really, really interesting (read this book and tell me I’m wrong). But it’s hard to care about subjects where it’s pretty obvious your teachers don’t.
As a Christian, especially as I think about our current time, I am drawn to history. Specifically, to church history. The story of the church in the world throughout the centuries—the history of Christianity lived out—is fascinating. It’s not always pretty, but it’s always interesting. The many shining examples of those who persevered against societal pressures to deny Christ. The times when the church has been at her best. When we see Christians demonstrating the love of Christ in practical action while declaring the gospel’s good news. But also the times when the church has capitulated. When power has corrupted us, and the church has forsaken her love for Jesus in exchange for a love for herself. Times of being persecuted—and also persecuting.
Church history really is amazing. And we can learn so much from studying it. In fact, here are three reasons
1. Studying church history is an act of obedience
Over and over again, the Bible commands God’s people to “remember.” Specifically, we’re to look back on what God has done, and remember his wondrous works (Exodus. 13:3; Deuteronomy 5:15; 7:18; 8:1; 8:18; 1 Chronicles 16:12; Psalm 105:5). So in a very real sense, studying church history is an act of obedience to the Lord. If we remember what God did, we can look forward in confidence that he is faithful to keep his promises and fulfill his purposes in this world.
But studying history isn’t just an act of obedience. It helps us to live right now.