Learning from the Past

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

FBCThis year marks the 145 anniversary of our church and although we have seen many faces come and go and have underwent various changes, one thing has remained constant: God’s faithfulness. Through the ups and downs, during the good times and the bad, the Lord has not only sustained us, but taught and grown us through it all. Which is why it is so important for us to know something of our church’s history as well as the history of the Christian faith as a whole.

Church historian Philip Schaff once asked, “How shall we labour with any effect to build up the Church, if we have no thorough knowledge of her history, or fail to apprehend it from the proper point of observation?  History is, and must ever continue to be, next to God’s Word, the richest foundation of wisdom, and sweet guide to all successful practical activity.”

This is why I am so excited to be going through A Survey of Church History by Dr. Robert Godfrey during our adult Sunday school class. As such, let me share with you Dr. David Roach’s ten reasons why you should join us…

1. Church history confirms the promises of Scripture.

For example, George Muller of England demonstrated time and again the truth of James 5:16 (“. . . The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”), as God answered his prayers and provided miraculously for the needs of the 2,000 orphans in his care. And the Church’s growth from a marginalized, persecuted Jewish sect in AD 40 to the Roman Empire’s official religion in 325 to the world’s largest religion in 2014 powerfully confirms the truth of Matthew 16:18—the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church.

2. Church history comforts believers in their struggles.

Jonathan Edwards was fired from a job. Martin Luther was plagued by fear. Elisabeth Elliot endured the death of two husbands—one at the hands of violent natives on the mission field. Yet none of their lives were ruined by these hardships. They all went on to fruitfulness. Knowing this encourages perseverance amid our own afflictions.

3. Church history broadens our choice of devotional literature.

There’s nothing wrong with reading devotional guides by popular radio preachers. But knowing a bit of history helps believers realize that there are also enriching choices from ages past, including Charles Spurgeon, the Puritans, early Church fathers, and C. S. Lewis.

4. Church history helps Christians counter heresies and cults.

Most theological errors are recapitulations from previous generations and have already been refuted by faithful Bible students. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, who deny the deity of Christ, and the so-called “Jesus only” movement, which denies the coequality of the Godhead’s three persons, can all be answered with arguments from the Trinitarian controversy of the third and fourth centuries.

5. Church history helps believers interpret the Bible.

Knowing how Christians in ages past viewed various passages can shed tremendous light on Scripture. The commentaries of John Calvin, Matthew Henry, John Gill, and others are all helpful resources in addition to today’s Bible aides.

6. Church history bolsters faith. 

Think about the vast number of people who have followed Christ over the ages and their staggering contributions to human flourishing. Christians helped spawn hospitals, orphanages, democracy, human rights, art, widespread literacy, and much more.

7. Church history provides terms to use in describing difficult doctrines.

The Trinity is “one essence and three persons.” Jesus has “two natures in one person.” The Bible is “inerrant and infallible.” Believers who don’t know a bit of church history probably won’t have these phrases in their theological tool belts.

8. Church history frees us from the illusion that modern, secular psychology is the only solution for emotional and behavioral problems.

Though psychology brings helpful insights, the Puritans, Spurgeon, and others developed keen pastoral insights long before anyone heard of Ritalin or behavioral therapy. The student of church history enjoys a wealth of counseling resources.

9. Church history contains cautionary tales to remind us that Christians can dishonor their Lord. 

The crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and the Reformers’ squelching of religious freedom all engender humility and caution for believers. Zeal is not enough to justify our words or deeds. We must take care that actions we label “Christian” truly reflect Jesus.

10. Church history provides believers with a spiritual genealogy. 

We know who our physical ancestors are. Why not learn about our spiritual forebears too?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

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