Do you know why your church believes the way it does? Is there any connection between your local church and the church of the previous 2,000 years? Is it important to know what the church believed and practiced during the 1st and 2nd centuries or even during the Medieval Period? What about the many denominations that exist today, like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others? How did they come to believe as they do, and why did all these denominations begin in the first place?
Should the answers to these questions even matter to us today? I would argue that they do. In fact, they matter a great deal! Dr. Jon Payne, in an article for Ligonier Ministries, writes: “Irish philosopher Edmund Burke wisely remarked that ‘those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’ Indeed, without a basic knowledge of church history, individual Christians and churches are prone to repeat the same doctrinal errors and foolish mistakes of former days.” In all of life, it’s wise to look at the successes and failures of history to teach us how to live in the present. Studying the history of the church can help us avoid heresies of the past and show us how the church developed certain doctrines (the doctrine of the Trinity, for example). In fact, many people died throughout history fighting for the truths we take for granted in our churches today.
And, sadly, some of the beliefs and practices within churches today are merely the “norm”, and most of us don’t even question where they came from. I’m certainly guilty of believing that some practice within the church was good and right simply because a preacher told me it was good and right (see my post, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.) For this reason, it’s wise for us to do our research: How long has the belief or practice been around? How and why did it come about? Surprisingly, we’ll find that some seemingly common beliefs and practices have only been around for 50 to 100 years. Yikes! It certainly could be unwise for us to think we know better than the believers who have lived throughout the last 2,000 years.
This week I will begin taking a ten-week church history class in our church’s Bible Institute. While this course will only scratch the surface of church history, I am excited to learn more about why things have been done as they have in the past and about how the church has developed into what it is today. So, while we must look to Scripture as the sole authority in our lives, we must look to church history to teach us how Scripture molded and shaped those who have gone before us. Thankfully God is gracious with us as we learn and grow in His Word, while seeking wisdom and guidance from generations past.