July 09, 2020

Why Is Church History Important?

Nathan W. Bingham & Stephen Nichols
Why Is Church History Important?

Church history is so much more than a collection of names, dates, and events. Today, Stephen Nichols cautions Christians that we’re missing out if we aren’t learning from our family story.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I'm here on the Ligonier campus with our chief academic officer and one of our teaching fellows, Dr. Stephen Nichols. Dr. Nichols, why should Christians care about church history?

DR. STEPHEN NICHOLS: To answer this question, let's quote Spurgeon. Spurgeon made a comment once; he was talking about using commentaries, pastors who sort of relied on just the Holy Spirit to enlighten them about the biblical texts without using commentaries. And he made this statement: "I find it interesting that someone thinks so highly of what the Holy Spirit teaches them, thinks so little of what the Holy Spirit teaches others also." When I first saw that quote, I thought, let's apply that to church history. Here's a sort of a riff on Spurgeon's quote: "I find it interesting that Christians in the twenty-first century think so little of what the Holy Spirit has taught the church for the last twenty centuries." What we're saying when we say, "We don't need church history," is we're basically saying, "We don't really have anything to learn from the last two thousand years of the church." And I don't think anybody wants to make that statement. None of us are that arrogant, right? And we recognize how much we need each other to live the Christian life.

Well, let's just expand that "each other" and add the past. And what we find is these are people, they're not just dictionary definitions. These were husbands, these were sons, and these were daughters and wives. And these were people who are trying to be faithful disciples of Christ in their context. And they left behind the legacy of their lives. They left behind the legacy of their books, their letters, their confessions and catechisms and creeds. All of these are helpful resources. They never take the place of Scripture; they never supplant Scripture. Scripture alone is our authority, but they certainly can help us understand what it means to be a Christian in our context.

And you know, here's the other thing: we learn from our mistakes, don't we? And so sometimes we learn more from our mistakes. And the same is true of church history. We can also learn from church history's mistakes.

You don't need church history to get into heaven. All you need is Christ for that. But I think we are unnecessarily cutting ourselves off from help in living the Christian life by ignoring church history. Why is it important? I think it'll help you in your Christian walk and it will help you be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.