Why Study Church History?
How shall we labor with any effect to build up the church, if we have no thorough knowldege 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 righest foundation of wisdom, and the surest guide to all successful practical activity.
The pleasures of reading history are manifold; it exercises the imagination and furnishes it, discloses the nuances of the familiar with the unfamiliar, brings out the heroic in mankind side by side with the vile, tempers absolute partisanship by showing how few monsters of error there have been, and in all these ways induces a relative serenity.
Of all the means of estimating American character … the pursuit of religious history is the most complete.
There is an aphorism: He who forgets his own history is condemned to repeat it. If we don’t know our own history, we will simply have to endure all the same mistakes, sacrifices, and absurdities all over again.
There is certainly nothing wrong with the church looking ahead, but it is terribly important that it should be done in connection with the look inside, into the church’s own nature and mission, and a look behind at here own history. If the church does this, she is less likely to take her cues from the business community, the corporation, or the marketplace.
The map of God’s activity, then, is not a blank ocean between the apostolic shores and our modern day. So we need to remember—and search for our roots in—the luminaries, risk takers, and movements of the church through the centuries. To neglect them is not only to risk repeating past errors, it is to fall victim to a narrowing amnesia that leaves us floundering.
—Timothy K. Jones
The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history.… Before long the nation will forget what it is, and what it was.
Ironically, the best way to develop an attitude of responsibility toward the future is to cultivate a sense of responsibility toward the past.… We are born into a world that we didn’t make, and it is only fair that we should be grateful to those who did make it. Such gratitude carries with it the imperative that we preserve and at least slightly improve the world that has been given us before passing it on to subsequent generations. We stand in the midst of many generations. If we are indifferent to those who went before us and actually existed, how can we expect to be concerned for the well-being of those who come after us and only potentially exist?
—David R. Carlin, Jr.
The example of noble deaths such as the Spartans and others hardly move us, for we do not see what good it is to us. But the example of the deaths of Christian martyrs move us, for they are our members, having a common bond with them, so that their devotion inspires us not only by their example, but because we should have the same…
The history of the church should more acccurately be called the history of truth.
Copyright © 1990 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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