Why Study Church History?
It’s here that Church history becomes a great help to us. Understanding Church history shows us that the most incredible, most sophisticated discoveries in the Christian faith were made long ago. It shows us that our great need today is not to let postmodernism inform the doctrine of the Trinity, but rather to proclaim its doctrine, already discovered, to a world that needs old truth explained, not new truth uncovered. Church history shows us that most of the new perspectives we think we’ve opened today are really little more than rehashing of old heresy. Open theism is nothing more than the posterity of Pelagianism, and its adherents, if more sophisticated, are only the degraded descendents of a man whom St. Augustine defeated 1,600 years ago. Feminism is nothing but ancient goddess worship revived, and abortion nothing but ancient child-slaughter dressed up in American language. And so Church history shows us in detail what we already should have known from Scripture, that there is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9), no temptation but such as is common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that those who ignore the lessons of God’s Church reveal a desire for self-imposed darkness.
But lest I end this brief defense on a negative note, consider also how Church history is a constant testimony to the faithfulness of God among His people. For 1,900 years after the apostles’ passing, the Chief Shepherd has safeguarded His sheep, allowing sinful men still to serve as defenders of the truth, and His Church still to show itself as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). And so those who ignore this history deprive themselves of the blessings of 2,000 years of God’s working in ways that even the Apostles likely never imagined. Upon closing the last book of Scripture, did the Apostle John see how wondrously God would provide for the Church he had served so faithfully? Could he see how it would endure, protected from Arianism, from Pelagianism, from Islam? Could he also see how God would protect it from itself, even? How the innocent purity of the Apostolic message would be corrupted in the coming centuries by sacramentalism, indulgences, and Mariolatry? And how God would use His servants in recovering the truth of the Gospel but without disregarding the truth that had endured?
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