Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

06 August 2009

Five Reasons Why I Like to Read Church History

I love history. And it won't be any surprise that church history is of particular interest to me. Here are five reasons why.

1. The first time I read through an overview of the history of the church (2000 years thus far) my overwhelming thought was, "It is a miracle that the church has survived." As much as the church has been carried along, under God, by faithful men and women, so also have other men and women done their best to see its undoing. Were the church a human construct, it simply wouldn't have survived. The church is truly God's church. To read church history is to see evidence that God is sovereign. And that is a great blessing. Praise be to God.

2. Reading about periods of time when Christians were persecuted is a painful exercise. But the fact remains, there were large chunks of time when Christians endured horrendous persecution for their faith. I am reminded that by God's grace I live in a time and place where persecution is not an issue and I'm inspired to make good use of the peace I enjoy to grow in my relationship with God, to see others come to know Him, to help bring those who know Him to maturity and to pray for those who do not enjoy the freedoms I enjoy – who are enduring persecution even now as I sit here and type.

3. As I take part in a church service it is helpful to discover that many elements of the service were hard fought for in order to get them as right (that is, not heretical) as humanly possible. The words and actions that I am tempted to take for granted each have a history of their own and when I know where these elements have come from and why I am saying and doing the things I do in church, my understanding and appreciation of what happens in church each week is greatly heightened.

4. Church history is, in part, about twenty centuries of theologians working hard to keep the bar high, straight and true. I am thankful to God for their work. And I am thankful to God for our 21st century theologians who are working hard to do the same thing and who will be in the history books in fifty and a hundred years time. Good leaders and good theologians need our constant prayer.

5. Church history is also about the ordinary people. It is fascinating to read how ordinary people reacted to the big events of each century. And exciting to realise that we too are the ordinary people reacting to the big events of our times. Justo Gonzales says in the introduction of "The Story of Christianity Volume One",

When we study the life and work of past generations, and when we interpret it, we are doing history. But we must remember that future generations will read about our times as past history. In that sense, like it or not, both by our action and by our inaction, we are making history. This is both an exhilarating opportunity and an awesome responsibility, and it demands that we do history in order to be able to make it more faithfully.
If you love Jesus, reading through the history of the church at least once in your lifetime will be time well spent. If you haven't done any study in church history, be encouraged to have a tilt. It won't be time wasted.

1 comment:

mattnbec said...

Good list and great idea. I think people don't always see the benefit of studying/reading church history, but I think it's really worthwhile. I found it really helpful to see that so many of the things that are controversial or heretical/heterodox now have all come up before. Nothing new under the sun...