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Church History Introduction

Lesson 1 - Why We Should Study History

By: Pastor David Reagan

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q    NOTE: Many people dislike history. After all, what’s the use? History is just about a lot of wars in strange places and a lot of dead people. What does it have to do with us?  

q    Well, if you are called into the ministry or plan to serve God, you are called to work with others. And one thing you find out after you get a few years on you is that life is too short to gain much wisdom and still have time left to do anything with it. This is where history comes in. History, more than anything else is a study of people and how they operate both individually and collectively. History lengthens our years and multiplies our experience. 

q    Without history, we are working from our limited experience alone. Certainly, God gives wisdom but sometimes He gives us wisdom through our experience or the experience of others. I am reminded of what my father in the ministry, Dr. Luther Adkins, told me that the great independent Baptist preacher, J. Frank Norris, said about the training of a man of God. Norris said that there were three things every preacher should know: the English language, the English Bible and history. (I understand that English can be replaced by your own native language.) What follows are some practical and Biblical reasons for the study of history as a preparation for the ministry. 


A.    To Obey the Commandment of the Lord (Dt.32:7; Job 8:8-10; Ps.78:2-3) 

q   “For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers: (For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:) Shall not they teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their heart?” Job 8:8-10 

q   In these passages, and in others, God tells us to listen to the wisdom of the past. We need to study history in order to be obedient to the Lord.

B.    To Understand and See God’s Plan for the Ages (Eph.1:9-10)

q   A study of history, especially as it has to do with the dispensations, helps to see that God indeed has a plan for the ages. Although man continues to fail, God continues to methodically work toward the completion of His work. 

C.    To More Fully Understand the Bible (Dan.8; Rev.2-3).

q    The Bible is an extremely historical book. The section of the Old Testament known as History (Joshua through Esther) includes 249 chapters. To this you would have to add over half of the chapters of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and various historical chapters in Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and other books. In addition, practically every passage has a historical context that needs to be considered. 

q    In the New Testament, The Gospels (89 chapters) and Acts (28 chapters) are primarily historical books. But the rest of the New Testament needs to be considered in its historical context as well. 

q    History is a continuous dimension of the entire Bible. You cannot truly understand the Bible without it. 

q    Prophecy, which makes up 25% of the Bible, is simply a continuation of history into the future. Since much prophecy is already fulfilled, it is now history and the connection between the two is completed. 

D.    To Understand People: Biography (Jas.5:11,17) 

q   History is made up of the acts of millions of individual people. History shows us what people are and what they do in thousands of varying circumstances. One lifetime is too short. The most active of men only begin to comprehend the complexity of a single person. History helps us to understand others. 

q   Biography may be the most valuable kind of history to study. Many have thought so. 

o    “There is properly no history, only biography.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series, History [1841].

o    “”The remains of great and good men, like Elijah’s mantle, ought to be gathered up and preserved by their survivors; that as their works follow them in the reward of them, they may stay behind in their benefit.” Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

o    “To be ignorant of the lives of the most celebrated men of antiquity is to continue in a state of childhood all our days.” Plutarch [NOTE: This could also be said of our Christian/Baptist heritage. We are ignorant of the importance of some things because we have forgotten the price that was paid to purchase it.]

o    “Of all studies, the most delightful and useful is biography.” Walter Landor (1775-1864)

o    “Biography is the most universally pleasant and profitable of all reading.” Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

o    My advice is to consult the lives of other men as we would a looking-glass, and from thence fetch examples for our own imitation.” Terence, Roman poet.

E.    To Understand Christian Experience (Heb.11:33-38) 

q   We identify with the spiritual experience of others and learn from it. This is one of the great values of the book of Psalms. We often identify with the psalmist and learn from what helped him in particular trials. 

q   Spiritual Biography or Autobiography, like Out of the Depths by John Newton or Grace Abounding by John Bunyan, helps us to understand the inner workings of the Spirit. 

q   Practical biographies that dwell on the life and ministry of Christians and Christian workers, like many biographies about Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody or Fanny Crosby, help us to understand the work of God in the life of His servants. 

F.    To Provide Illustrations and See Bible Principles Exemplified (Rom.15:4; 1Cor.10:6-11) 

q    “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” 1Corinthians 10:11 

q    The Bible is filled with stories of people and how their lives serve as either an example to follow or to avoid. History provides the same type of material from which we can learn and grow wiser.  

q    One of the most effective ways to teach others is to give historical examples as illustrations. People identify with personal stories and remember them better than unadorned points. A knowledge of history gives you access to thousands of valuable illustrations for teaching and preaching.

G.    To See Error and How It Develops (Gal.5:9) NOTE: Leaven is the biblical word for yeast.  

q   “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Galatians 5:9 

q   A later lesson will deal with how a movement is corrupted from its original stand and purpose. But all of church history gives examples of this process. Error begins as an internal corrupting process and continues until the whole organization is rotten. Church history gives you a feel for this process and helps you know when you can stay and when you need to depart. It also helps you stay alert to the leavening process in your own church or movement. 

H.    To See God’s Providence (Ps.75:6-7; Isa.46:9-11; Dan.2:21; Rom.8:28) 

q   “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” Isaiah 46:9-10 

q   We often remind ourselves that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom.8:28). But we can see this principle in action throughout history.

o    When Israel was established as a nation in 1948, the Arabs immediately declared war against them. They were outnumbered and outgunned and no other nation wanted to commit to helping them.

o    However, Russia wanted to spite the western nations. And, since Britain and other European nations were supporting the Arabs, Russia airlifted many supplies and arms to the fledgling nation for the first few months of the war. By the time Russia withdrew its support, America began to send support and Israel’s position was stabilized. This could only be the providence of God. Church history demonstrates the providence of God a million times over. 

I.     To Give the Believer Stability and Roots (Ps.11:3) 

q   “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3 

q   An ignorance of history makes each person and group feel isolated and unconnected to the work of God. History makes those connections for us. It provides a spiritual genealogy and connects us with saints of the past. It makes us a part of something bigger than ourselves and larger than our short lifetime. 

J.     To Explain Present Conditions (Dt.8:11-18; Isa.51:1) 

q   “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.” Isaiah 51:1 

q   Why are there so many denominations? Why do words like Calvinism and Arminianism stir people up so much? Where did my group come from? How did certain doctrines develop? Where did the Roman Catholics (or Episcopalians, or Methodists, or Baptists) get their traditions? All these questions and more are in the realm of church history.

K.    To Foresee Future Conditions and Events (Eccl.1:9) 

q   “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 

q   The Bible teaches us that, in a very real way, history does repeat itself. Yes, some of the details are always different. But, in the main, nothing new is happening. Therefore, in order to understand where things are going, you need to understand history. History is the foundation on which tomorrow is built.

L.    To Follow the Example of Christ and the Apostles (Mt.23:35; Lk.13:1-4; Ac.7) 

q   Jesus used history in His teaching and preaching (Mt.23:35; Lk.13:1-4) and so did the early apostles and prophets (Acts 7). If it was important to them, then it ought to be important to us.  

CONCLUSION: Church history is an important subject for Bible students, teachers and preachers. Are you willing to make a commitment to the study of church history? This needs to be a life-long commitment of reading and study. But, of course, you can also learn by taking special courses such as this one. What are you going to do?

Now go take the quiz again.



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