Every Christian Ought to Be a Good Historian

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    Every Christian Ought to Be a Good Historian

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    Though it was written two hundred years ago, Jane Austen’s fiction is still popular since so much of it still rings true to human experience. In her novel Northanger Abbey (1817), for instance, the heroine Catherine Morland makes a statement that is amazingly prescient about the modern boredom with history. In Catherine’s words, history “tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome.” Many in the modern world, sadly even Christians, see the past as little more than this: a tiresome account of a few big names with little wisdom to impart for life today. At best, it may offer a couple of hours of entertainment and diversion via a movie or a novel.

    History, important to God

    How different is the Bible’s perspective on the past. Here, history is obviously important to God, since it is the realm where God ultimately brings about the salvation of his people by entering into the very fabric of time and taking on our humanity, sin excepted, in the person of Jesus Christ. This divine activity in the realm of history should not be restricted to the Bible. Though it is impossible to trace out his footsteps across the sands of time in detail, it is blasphemous to deny that God is at work. His work may often be hidden, but it is biblical to confess that he is providentially guiding history for the glory of his Name and the good of his people. As such, to quote the seventeenth-century Puritan Richard Baxter, “The writing of Church-history is the duty of all ages, because God’s works are to be known, as well as his Word.” Reading Church history should lead therefore to the praise of God and his adoration.

    The individual and history

    Men and women are historical beings, immersed in the flow of time. Without the past our lives have little or no meaning. When a community forgets its past, it is like a person suffering from dementia: they really cannot function in the world. So we must study history, and as Christians, this means Church history.

    This reading of the history of God’s people can also provide us with models for imitation. For instance, in Hebrews 11–12:2, the writer uses the history of God’s faithful people in the old covenant to encourage his readers to run the “foot-race” of faith. He wants them to draw encouragement from the lives of past believers to press on in faith and obedience towards the final goal.

    And we soon discover that this story of the past is not simply that of an elite few, but encompasses every believer’s life and that we can learn as much from the so-called minor figures of Church History as from the “big names.” As the American apologist Francis Schaeffer reminds us: with God there are no little people!

    History—a path to humility & freedom

    Studying church history also builds a deep sense of indebtedness to others who have gone before us, and thus helps to cultivate the great virtue of humility. The study of our past informs us about our predecessors in the faith, those who have helped shape our Christian communities and thus make us what we are. Such study builds humility and modesty into our lives, and so can exercise a sanctifying influence upon us. As Jesus said in John 4: “Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour” (ESV).

    The study of Church history also liberates us from the tyranny of present-day ideas, what C.S. Lewis calls “the idols of our marketplace.” Consider Francis of Assisi’s attitude towards poverty. For him the word “poverty” (paupertas) was a bride to be embraced since he believed that it gave him true freedom. For modern Westerners, Christian and pagan alike, poverty is generally viewed as an unmitigated economic disaster that places severe limitations on one’s freedom. This example reveals the way that Church History can call into question what we take for granted as an absolute and reveal it to be merely relative and culture-bound.

    Little wonder then that the eighteenth-century Evangelical Caleb Evans once said that “every Christian ought to be a good historian.”

    Source: Every Christian Ought to Be a Good Historian - The Gospel Coalition | Canada

    Well something to note in this context is that God is a meticulous Historian. However the history He focused on has everything to do with Israel and Messiah coming out of Israel. The bulk of the Old Testament is the history of the Hebrews, while the Acts of the Apostles is the history of the early Church. The Old Testament also provides a very reliable chronology which has allowed Christian chronologists to determine dates properly and biblically. Martin Anstey wrote a book titled The Chronology of the Old Testament which is worth studying.

      I think it a shame that some people stop at the New Testament. There's 2000 years of church history until the present day, and she's a treasury of information regarding historical debates. Most of the theology I see has been already addressed at some point in history, but often people are unawares and come into the forum repeating the same arguments which have been addressed previously by various councils.

      "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana

      God bless,

        What about RCC history and their power of the dark ages

        "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana

        Very true saying. We aught to have a clear picture of how things came about so that we are not deceived over and over.

          Originally posted by William View Post
          "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana
          Hi William, this is off topic, but it seems clear to me that the only thing we ever learn from history, is that nobody ever seems to learn anything from history The world keeps making the same dumb mistakes over and over and over again, doesn't it

          Ecclesiastes 1
          9 That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.

          Yours and His,

          Matthew 5
          16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

          Matthew 7
          12 However you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

          1 Corinthians 13
          1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

          1 Peter 3
          15 Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

            Originally posted by mitchel View Post
            What about RCC history and their power of the dark ages
            Good point. For the RCC, the history of the church is something to be proud of. For the true protestant, the history of the RCC is the history of the rise of the man of sin (2 Thess 2) in the form of the papacy.

            A problem with church history, as opposed to the Old Testament, is that there is no definitive biblical judgement upon it. Thus how is one to rightly distinguish what is church and what is secular when the two were so interlinked for so long? Unless you are a mature Christian it is just so complicated. When I first read the history of the Christological controversies in the east, I was amazed. Not till much later did I form my own opinion on them. And which side was really in the right anyway? Nestorius seems like a great guy, and evangelized much, but why was he so hated?

            And then there is Revelation that many cannot understand. To be able to work out the false prophet from the true, the false witness from the true; and appraise the difference between true faith and philosophical imposition, and between the true church of God and the imposition of the church of antichrist - it all takes some doing. You have to have an intuitive feel or nose for those with real faith. In some church histories the reformers are praised as great men, in other they are regarded as mostly entrapped in their Catholic times. Luther is but one who when viewed in the cold light of day, perhaps did not truly emerge from the Catholic doctrine that he was brought up with, but exposed just a very few of its errors.

            But on the whole, I agree with the premise that it is good to know church history and to have some idea how God has preserved the "7000 in all Israel who have not bowed their knee to ba'al," down the ages; but bear in mind, "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I have loads of church history books, which I scarcely have time to read. The books of martyrology that I have mostly read tell an interesting, if gory, tale that one does not often hear from the pulpit. They are probably the most important.
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