Church history is perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of study in contemporary evangelical theology. One of the main reasons for the neglect of Church history is its association with tradition. Instead of wanting to know the old paths traveled over and over again by godly saints of previous eras, Christians today want something “deeper” and more meaningful. While the pursuit of knowledge is commendable, such a pursuit should not be divorced from the need to see that tradition in its biblical and historical place is helpful and necessary for the Christian. It is my intention in this article to help you understand the importance of Church history by coming to see that it is a necessary area of study, not only because it helps one understand the history of the Church, but also how the people of God have defended and contended for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Christians have a Word from God in the Bible. God’s Word from the front (Genesis) to the back (Revelation) testifies to the work of Jesus in and through His covenant relationship with His redeemed people. Christians should look back at the life and example of men in the Old Testament such as Abraham and David. In the New Testament Christians can study the life and teachings of Paul, John, and Peter. The history of the Church is rich with teaching of men and woman who have held to biblical orthodoxy and defended the faith against attacks from within and without.
Calvin and Luther did not engage in doctrinal novelty but appropriated the teaching of Augustine who received his doctrine and teaching from the early church fathers who were taught from the Apostles themselves. In the process, the Reformers brought biblical doctrine to the masses to bring reform to the Church for the purpose of her health and growth in the Gospel. In fact, the Church has always had an impulse to reformation around biblical doctrine. Church history records the teaching of men and women who held to the truth of the Word and sought to teach the Word faithfully to people.
Church history also helps God’s people understand the movements and mistakes that Christians have made throughout history. These truths may be stated in fresh ways; however believers must remain faithful to the old paths of biblical orthodoxy. Abandoning the old paths of biblical orthodoxy for doctrinal novelty leads to false teaching. When Christians abandon the old paths of biblical orthodoxy for so-called doctrinal novelty, what occurs is false teaching. The Church has should respond to false teaching by confronting errant doctrine with the Word of God, resulting in the opportunity to clarify and expound on biblical orthodoxy for the benefit and spiritual growth of the Body of Christ.
Church history helps aid the people of God to have a context for a biblical-theological approach to the Christian life and ministry. This enables Christians to see that biblical truth is rooted in the Word of God. God’s people have a message to proclaim. Christians need to learn from those who have gone before us as such an approach will keep them from falling for doctrinal errors which are not new, but rather old errors stated in fresh ways. The biblically orthodox Christian is motivated by a desire to state old truths in fresh ways with a view to being faithful to the truth of God’s Word. False teachers throughout the history of the Church think their teaching is the latest and greatest thing, but in reality are repeating old errors already confronted and dealt with by the Church. The biblical-orthodox Christian knows there is nothing new under the sun as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes. In short, false teaching promotes pride while biblical orthodoxy honors God and brings Him glory.
Church history is relevant because of the Word of God. Faithful men and women have sought to take what they have studied in the Word, apply it to their lives, and to the lives of those who hear their teaching and preaching all with the focus of bringing glory to God. The relevancy and importance of Church history cannot be stated enough and thus for Christians to grow in their understanding of Church history will be to grow in their understanding of how God has worked in and through ordinary people in extraordinary ways. I can think of no greater subject for Christians to study outside of their Bibles than studying the history of the Christian Church. In a culture that mostly rejects tradition and minimizes truth, Christians have truth in the Word of God along with a rich and rigorous intellectual and spiritual heritage that has sought to explain, elaborate, contend, and defend biblical orthodoxy for over two thousand years.
I encourage you to start your studies in Church history by reading Dr. Justo Gonzalez’s Church history text, The Story of Christianity. I also recommend the volumes written by noted Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette. In addition to the above recommendations, I encourage you to check out Jonathan Hill, an excellent church historian who’s written extensively on the history of the Christian Church and Christian thought. Wherever you begin your studies of Church history, grow in your understanding of this topic in order to explain, elaborate, contend, and defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.
Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. Today Dave Jenkins writes on the 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches.
The belief that professing Christians should gather together as members of a local Church is waning in many sectors of Christianity today. Some feel that faith should not be “institutionalized” and should be a private matter between individuals, not something to be experienced in community.
Here are five reasons why I feel Christians should be members of a local Church. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these reasons give Christians a biblical framework to think through why they should be members of a local church.
First, The Bible clearly teaches that God made a distinction between His people and the world (Lev 13:46; Number 5:3; Deut. 7:3). Christ says that entering the Kingdom of God means being bound to the Church “on earth” (Matthew 16:16-19; 18:17-19). The New Testament refers to some people being inside the Church and some people being outside the Church (1 Cor. 5:12-13). The church in Corinth consisted of a definite number of believers, such that Paul could speak of a punishment inflicted by the majority (2 Cor. 2:6). Not only does the New Testament speak of the reality of church membership, but its dozens of “one another” passages are written to local churches. The “one another” passages in the New Testament fill out our understanding of what church members should look like practically. Biblical church membership is important, because the Church presents God’s witness to Himself in the world, and displays His glory. In fact, non-Christians should see in the lives of God’s changed people that God is holy and gracious and that His gospel is powerful for saving and transforming sinners.
Second, the Epistles were all written to local churches. A brief sampling of Paul’s epistles make this abundantly clear:
1 Corinthians 1:1-2,
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:”
2 Corinthians 1:1-2,
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.”
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”
“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:”
1 Thessalonians 1:1-2,
“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”
Third, Christ saves Christians to live in community with other believers. Christ calls believers to local church membership not just for our spiritual growth, but also so that they may use their spiritual gifts in the context of the local Church.
Fourth, it was the model of the early Church. Some people think that meeting together with other Christians is not important because the early Church only gathered in small groups in Acts 2:42-48. However, this view ignores history. As the Church continued to grow, they gathered together in large gatherings. There were small group meetings, but there were also large gatherings. Regardless if the local church meets in a building or in a home it doesn’t matter. The Church is comprised of people who have been regenerated by the work of the Spirit. The people of God are to gather to worship together in Spirit and Truth, to hear the preached Word, participate in communion, baptism, and then scatter to spread the Great Commission in their families, neighborhoods, cities, and to the nations.
While many people have a problem with the “local Church” the Bible clearly teaches that professing Christians are to be members of local Churches. While local churches may have many issues, the Church itself is purchased by Christ to be counted blameless. The members inside the Church are justified sinners, meaning they are made right with God through the blood of Jesus but still growing in Christ-like character.
Finally, there is no lone-ranger version of Christianity; we are called to Christian community. Those who object the loudest to this often think that they can be Christians and not be in the Church. From even a cursory examination of the Scriptures, the lone-ranger view of being a Christian is not biblical. Christ saves Christians to live in community with other believers. Christ calls believers to membership in the local Church not only for their own spiritual growth but to use our spiritual gifts in the context of the local church.
Why does Christ call Christians to live in community with other Christians?
Because it provides accountability and spiritual growth!
Because it is used to grow us in likeness to Jesus Christ!
Because it empowers believers to minister in and through their local churches in order to reach one’s community, city, nation and the world with the Gospel!
Christ doesn’t save sinners so they will live in isolation or be lone-rangers—He saves them so that they will be in community with one another, speaking the truth in love to one another, “one anothering” each other, and displaying forth His character and glory to a watching world.
This is our weekly roundup of posts for 2/24/2014-3/1/2014. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it. Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.
Love Series: Husbands, Love your wives like Christ by Craig Hurst http://servantsofgrace.org/love-series-husbands-love-your-wives-like-christ/
Brotherly Love by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/love-series-brotherly-love/
What Pastors Owe Their People by Dan Darling http://servantsofgrace.org/pastors-owe-people/
The Triumphal Entry: King or Imposter? by C. Walter http://servantsofgrace.org/triumphal-entry-king-imposter/
Sermon: Praise, Obedience and Prayer from Hebrews 13:15-19 by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/51-praise-obedience-prayersermon/