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.
If you’re a Christian, whether you realize it or not, you are called, by God, to be on mission in the world.
This is the essence of the Gospel call, that you were not simply saved from death but also saved for a purpose (Eph. 2:10). That purpose is to make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20).
And the way God has called you to make disciples is through the local Church, His expression of His body in your community.
So how do you help your disciple-making, evangelistic, Bible-preaching church with its mission?
You might think I’m going to say something really cool like, “Go to another conference with a well-known speaker,” or “Read and then pass along to your pastor that best-selling book” or “Get your pastor to do this or that new, innovative church ministry model.”
Those are all good efforts. And if you are in a position of influence, please use that to move your Church forward.
But there is one very uncool thing you can do to help your church be all that God desires it to be in the community.
If you were to give your pastor a shot of truth serum, he’d probably say his biggest frustration is to find dependable people. Of course he won’t say this publicly, because he’s very grateful for the few in his church who are dependable.
There is a verse, 1 Cor. 4:2, that I memorized while in Christian grade school. It’s simple: “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”
In other words, what God is most looking for from His people are not necessarily spectacular gifts, stunning talent or amazing personality. Those are wonderful traits that can be leveraged for God’s kingdom, to be sure. But what God is mostly looking for is faithfulness.
Faithfulness is really not a sexy term. You don’t see too many big conferences on faithfulness. Faithfulness is a subject that is not going to wow your Twitter and Facebook followers. But, wow, is it valuable in a church. One faithful person or a faithful family can really move a Church forward.
And by faithfulness I mean:
Attending the services and functions whenever possible.
Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you’d rather be watching football. Not simply because you may get something out of it, but because your presence says something about what you value. Doesn’t mean you don’t go on vacation. Doesn’t mean you don’t ever get sick. Doesn’t mean you don’t travel for business. But all in all, are you someone who is in church whenever you can be?
Signing up for jobs nobody wants.
Like the nursery. Believe it or not, if you want your Church to be a family-friendly Church, somebody has to volunteer to supervise the children.
Even if it’s not “your thing.”
I’m pretty sure nursery is not anyone’s thing, really. Neither is setting up for an event, mowing the grass or other such mundane stuff. But these faithful tasks are what makes a Church function. And they are acts of worship and sacrifice that please the Lord.
Being on time.
And being someone your pastor and the Church leadership can count on.
There are two kinds of Church members, in my view. Those who we all know will be there and those whom we wonder if they will show up.
Don’t make your attendance and/or participating in a ministry commitment a game-time decision. Don’t make it depend on your faulty alarm-clock or whether or not you spent Saturday night playing Halo. Be there. Be faithful. Be committed. Be consistent.
Committing to a regular pattern of giving.
Yes, I know you are tired of hearing this from pastors. Yes, we often ask for money in ham-handed ways. But there is hardly a better measure of your heart than your wallet. (I didn’t say that, Jesus did.)
Why is faithfulness so important?
Because it tells yourself, the world and your Lord what and whom you value. God loves His Church, His Bride. And he calls us to love Her too. I dare say your faithful participating in a local, Gospel-preaching church for a long-lifetime will do more for the Kingdom than that winsome blog post, witty tweet or Facebook rant.
So, to those who faithfully attend, do nursery, hand out bulletins, volunteer, cook meals, tithe and other church things, I salute you as Christian heros.
To those who are not as faithful, here’s your chance: Commit this week to being faithful to the local Church where you are called.
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.
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. Today, Mike Leake writes about 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church.
Some chap somewhere has said that in five years you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people that you meet. Though, I think a tad simplistic I do believe that in five years you will be shaped by what you have read (or did not read).
Call me a nerd all you want, but I am a firm believer that it is very beneficial for a pastor to cultivate a reading culture within the community that he influences. Consider these words from Mark Dever:
Without knowing it I have actually put many of these things into practice in the church where I currently serve as an associate pastor. With much help from Mark Dever here are the Top 7 ways to create a reading culture in your church.
1. Read yourself. How are you going to know what to recommend if you don’t read a bunch yourself?
2. Giveaway books any chance you can. Every Sunday evening I give away free books. We give away free books at marriage conferences. I usually give away or suggest books in counseling sessions. We give away free books at many other seminars.*
3. Take advantage of small groups. If you do small groups at your church take advantage of them by suggesting high quality books to go together as a group.
4. Write book reviews for your church. I hope to begin utilizing my book reviews for the benefit of our church even more. If I can figure out how to cut cost I want to put them in bulletins, perhaps as a book of the month.
5. Quote from great books. When you are preaching, teaching, counseling, or just talking feel free to do some name dropping and quoting. This will help people when they are at a book store to know quality authors.
6. Read with people. Just like Dever’s Theology Breakfast, find a way to go through various books (even if you just read them) to a group of people.
7. Never neglect the supremacy of THE Word. Part of what you are doing is creating a culture that will take the Word of God more seriously and be better equipped to really dig into and reflect upon the Word. If you make books central then you’ve missed something. This also helps to filter what books you giveaway. If they aren’t biblical but simply free then you might be creating a reading culture but not necessarily a good one.
*We have $0 to budget for a book allowance and for me giving away these books. Nor do I have the income to buy a free book every week. So, how do we do it? I have two channels. First, I receive a good number of free books from publishers to review. I also receive free books from conferences and such that I attend. Many times I give these away. Second, a little over a year ago I made a phone call to a publishing company. I won’t mention the name because I doubt they could do this for every church. (But it rhymes with Drossway). This unnamed publishing company graciously sent close to 100 free books for us to distribute on Sunday evenings. Amazing!
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 is by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church.
So, yes, your Church is imperfect. After a few weeks there you have realized this, I hope. Your pastor is either a bit boring or too over the top. You wish for a bit more depth in his messages or perhaps a bit more practical application. The music has too much drum or too much organ. The youth ministry needs more teaching or more pizza.
And maybe you’ve read one of the rash of books telling us how the Church has gotten it all wrong for all these years, why the youth are heading for the exists. So you’re convinced that your Church needs to either get more missional, more doctrinal, more seeker-oriented. More something.
Here’s the thing. You’re probably somewhat right. I’m guessing the Church you attend has inadequacies. But it’s likely that its served by staff who genuinely care about the Lord, about people, and about doing it right. They’re probably missing some big things and making mistakes.
But, as I look at Scripture I see that God uses Churches like this. Imperfect, clumsy, a bit off. Actually these are the only kinds of Churches God can use because the only kinds of people He has to work with are . . . . you guessed it, sinners. You’re one of them. Even though you’ve done the research, read the books, attended the seminary, you are still an imperfect human filled with sin. You’re saved only by the grace of God and not you’re merit.
I say all this to say one thing. You can gripe about your Church and find another. And perhaps that’s what you need to do. I’m not minimizing serious Church issues, abuse, etc. But, largely, Church problems are caused by imperfect sinners.
What I’m saying is that you can see your Church become more fully effective by becoming part of the solution. Be the change you want to see. Here are five ways you can help your Church from an admittedly imperfect, learning, needy pastor:
1) Be Committed.
The best way to make your church better is to be there consistently and faithfully. Seriously, you can’t gripe about a church you hardly frequent. And you have no idea how it encourages and motivates the heart of the pastor and staff to see you present at most functions regularly. And your regular attendance makes a statement to the world that God’s called-out assembly means something to you. It makes a statement to the devil that you are standing with Christ and His body. And it makes a statement to yourself that Church is more important than anything on Sunday. Also, part of being committed is to be at your place of service at the right time. If you’ve signed up for a ministry, be there when you say you will be. The Church is depending on you.
2) Be On Time
This seems small, but it’s big. Get up early on Sunday morning and be at Church on time. I must confess that before I was a pastor I was habitually late to Church. I always came, but I was usually late. Now that I’m a pastor I realize how this totally stresses the Church staff. We actually like to know who is going to be there and who we can count on. And I think punctuality at Church makes a statement about how much we care about the Lord. If we were as punctual at work as we were at Church, I wonder how long many of us would keep our jobs. That’s sounds a bit harsh, I know, but getting to Church early and on time helps your Church become the Church God intends it to be. If you’re supposed to serve in a particular area, make a special effort to not only be on time, but be early. Give the attention to that ministry that you would to something you value such as your job or your favorite hobby.
3) Be Positive
Come to Church with a smile. I’m not saying be plastic or inauthentic. If you’re suffering through a crisis,the Church should be the first place to cry. Don’t come with a mask. But also don’t come with a super-critical eye. Come intending to give back to the body with your gifts and talents. Come intending to be fed the Word, but also disciple and encourage others. Come ready to love and forgive and hug and forbear. Come to Church ready to forgive small and big slights. Also, be pro-Church. Greet guests warmly, advance the Church goals and ministries with a smile. Be positive, not cynical.
4) Be Prepared
You can prepare with prayer. Before you walk in the doors, you might pray for your pastor and the staff. Pray for the Spirit’s presence to be strong in the service and in the preaching. Bathe the entire Church body in prayer. Think of some of the neediest members in your church and commit their needs to prayer. Most of all, before you walk in the Church doors, pray that God will use you to impact someone’s life for the Kingdom that Sunday. Sunday not simply an ordinary day. Church is not something to simply cross off our list. Church is the expression of Christ in the world. You are the Church. Be the Church. Pray that God powerfully uses you to change lives. And pray that through the preaching and worship and prayer you’re heart will soften to the gospel and you’ll become more like your Savior.
You can also prepare by preparing your own heart with Scripture. Be a person of the Word and doctrine so that your heart is ready to soak in the teaching on Sunday. Nurture your spiritual life so that the soil of your soul is ready to be changed for God’s glory.
5) Be Solution-Oriented
In #3 I said to be positive. I want to offset that by saying being positive isn’t being a flatterer or Kool-Aid guy. What I mean by this is that you help your Church being gently discerning. If you see an area of improvement, make a note to try to be a difference maker. Ask the person in charge of that are if you can help solve the problem. In other words, rather than complaining about a dirty bathroom or a gap in the childcare, politely and kindly bring this to someone who can affect change and offer to help. The pastor and the staff don’t see everything. They sometimes need some help from committed members on the ground level who can give them some critical feedback on services in the Church.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, just a few ways you can make your church what God intends it to be.
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/