10 Beautiful Things You Will Be After Reading Church History
One of the most precious things God has given us is time. As wise stewards of our time and energy, we must prioritize our spare time and make every minute count. We know it's very important to put aside time to read God’s Word, but with so many interests competing for our time, we may not think of reading about the history of the church as a priority. Here are ten beautiful things you will "be" after reading church history:
1. You will be amazed.
In the Bible, we read about God’s amazing acts down through time, from Adam to Jesus. Yet, God’s story doesn’t end after the book of Revelation. After his resurrection, Christ rose to heaven to rule over his people, and the Bible foretold the future expansion of the church, beginning with the evangelistic efforts of his disciples. Church history teaches us how God providentially expands his church from a small seed that spreads more and more to fill the whole earth!
When we read church history, we are left awe-filled as we learn the story of God’s faithfulness in preserving his church and accomplishing his eternal plan. We also learn about Satan’s frightening and relentless attempts to corrupt the Christian faith through the introduction of endless false teachings! Although sometimes it seems like Satan is winning, when we read church history we learn about God’s work raising up ordinary people to defend the truth. This gives us a sense of trust in God’s own continuous protection over his church. Read church history and be amazed by our all-powerful God fulfilling his plan through what may often look like the worst of times!
2. You will be motivated.
Not only do we have the great cloud of witnesses in the Old Testament (Heb. 11) and the examples of the apostles, but we also have about two thousand years of examples of Christians persevering in the faith. When we read church history, we learn about people who persevered through hardships and persecutions many times greater than what we face today. Many of us might enroll in a college class and pay to be taught by the best teachers today, but when reading the many free resources available on church history, we discover important figures to whom we can turn as free mentors! Church history motivates us to run the race in the face of hardship, following in the footsteps of Christ, the apostles, and men like William Tyndale and John Calvin. These figures remind us to live and serve God well in this life and to endure to the end.
3. You will be protected.
Reading church history is one of the most effective ways to protect ourselves against being swept away by false teachings. We are never as clever and discerning as we think we are—history gives seemingly endless accounts of intelligent individuals who were swept away into false teachings unaware. Satan’s lies are so successful in fooling people that he uses the same old lies again and again, fooling generations of people who are unaware of how earlier generations were fooled. As the famous saying (most likely from philosopher George Santayana) goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Reading church history introduces us to the Christian creeds and confessions, which are used to help protect us from false teachings. They are like having a shield against tricks or having the answers ahead of time! Those who do not have a broad overview of church history will be unaware of previous defenses of the faith and will be more vulnerable to deception and cleverly-argued false teachings.
4. You will be humbled.
Reading church history is a great way to increase in humility, as we see some of the most brilliant and well-studied Christian men holding to some unusual and erroneous ideas. Church history quickly reveals that no one has flawless theology—everyone has some doubts and even errors. We all can benefit from the help of others in pointing out our theological errors so we can purge them. One of the first questions we should ask ourselves is, “Is this belief or interpretation historically passed down from the apostles, or is this a new invention completely divorced from the apostles and early church?” Reading church history helps ground us and keep us humble, reminding us that we are not necessarily the wisest people—or generation.
5. You will be balanced.
Reading church history will reveal that, in attempting to avoid various grave errors, many well-intending people have often countered one error by embracing an extreme error in the opposite direction, like a swinging pendulum. Some theologians who are deeply concerned with legalism (earning favor with God through erroneous law-keeping) may fall into promoting the radical extreme of antinomianism (lawlessness). A basic understanding of the common theological swings in church history will protect us from unbiblical extremes.
6. You will be courageous.
Church history is full of courageous accounts of men, women, and children who stood strong for the faith—even upon torture and threat of death. We learn of those who at first recanted the faith in fear of the most horrific torture methods; but then, when challenged a second time and having been strengthened by God, they boldly and bravely declared their faith. Stories of brave men and women who stood for the faith in the face of false teaching encourage us to be bold. Reading church history helps us grow strong backbones to stand up for the truth in the face of adversity.
7. You will be inspired.
We all love good stories about heroes overcoming difficult circumstances, especially children. Reading church history stories to your family is another way to draw them to the faith, sharing with them how God works in the lives of other Christians and giving them a glimpse into the believer’s often hope-filled but hardship-laden journey. Sharing stories about men and women who lived with real purpose or dedicated their lives to missionary work can also encourage your children and you to make wise choices in life.
8. You will be connected.
While our blood family may not be there for us at times, by God’s design we know we can depend upon our Christian brothers and sisters. The church surrounds us with love and prayers; helps us with spiritual and emotional encouragement and counsel; and may even help us pack and move when we get a new home. Yet, we often forget that we have not only brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we gather every Sunday but also spiritual relatives from the past who are part of our greater eternal family. Many people like to know and learn about their ancestors: who they were, where they came from, and what their relatives’ lives were like. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are a part of something greater—an eternal family tree that stretches back into the past. Church history reveals the background and life stories of some of our great spiritual ancestors and shows us we are not alone.
9. You will be informed.
Since history moves in repeating cycles, knowing church history gives us an idea of what is to come in the future and helps us to be better prepared. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9). No matter how bad things look, God is in control and moving things toward his purposes. We can be prepared for the future, because we already know how this story ends.
10. You will be optimistic.
For nearly two thousand years, it seems that nearly every generation has believed they were living in the final days on earth—“the end times.” How many times, when listening to the latest news and current events, have you heard someone promote fear with claims that we are living in the last days and that some great tribulation is nearly upon us? Reading the Bible and church history teaches us what happened in the past and about life in other eras, giving us a broad historical perspective. The Bible does affirm that we have been living in “the last days” since the days of Jesus, which means “the last days” spoken of in the Bible have been continuing for nearly two thousand years (e.g. Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). Given a proper historical perspective, we can see that since the time of Christ, the last two hundred years are not the worst of times! Very few would trade the days of greater religious freedom and modern plumbing and medicine for almost any prior historical period with its more intense persecution alone. Reading church history will encourage you not to be depressed but hopeful in our God who has promised to preserve his church!
When reading history, we sometimes focus on a timeline of events and people. As you read, instead of looking at a dry list of figures, events, and dates, look at the broader story through a Christian perspective as guided by God’s providence. Reading church history can add great beauty and joy to your life by helping you to better love and trust God and understand the world around you.
To get you started on reading church history, check out these recommended resources!
- Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, and Michael Haykin, Church History 101: The Highlights of Twenty Centuries (112 pages)
- Christopher Catherwood, Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious (188 pages)
- A.M. Renwick and A.M. Harman, Story of the Church (224 pages)
- Sidney Houghton, Sketches from Church History: An Illustrated Account of 20 Centuries of Christ’s Power (256 pages)
- Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (368 pages)
- B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History (420 pages)
- Earle Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (560 pages)