Why study the history of Christianity? There are at least two important reasons as to the importance of knowing the history of the church and of the Christian faith. The study should produce humility in the heart of the student. When you consider the struggle for truth that has occurred through the ages and the extremely high price that was paid by so many men and women, you realize what a privileged time that we live in. We live in a new axial age. The old axial age involved the opening of the world to new ideas and preceded the coming of Christ. Philosophy rose as a discipline and there was a world wide quest for truth. Today some are calling the time we live in the “information age”. The ideas of the ages are at our fingertips and research is readily available and only a click away. Because of this reality, rapid change can occur almost anywhere in the world especially among the young. Cultures that long repressed free thinking by their young people are virtually helpless to keep them from the information that is out there on the web. A case in point is the African pastor who wrote me an email to tell me that he regularly gathers his English speaking congregation to listen to my sermons off of our website. He wrote to thank me for helping to teach his people and himself more about the Word of God. Only God knows the possibilities that exist in such a world. Humility is also provided by the expanding of the mind to struggle with the great questions that challenged the church through the ages. When you see the pressures imposed upon the church from without, you can better understand where their ideas and practices came from. Harsh judgment is tempered by a greater understanding of the unique challenges of the geopolitical realities they endured. You begin to distinguish the difference between heresies and misguided thinking that is not scriptural in nature.
The other benefit is that you can see how heretics and heresies have continued to follow the same destructive paths in many forms through the centuries. For example, there was a man named Montanus who arose as a spiritual leader in the second century A. D., who began to say that the age of Jesus had passed and it was time to begin the age of the Spirit. He believed that the Spirit could lead him and others to write and say things that were equal in authority to what the apostles and others had written in the first century. He did not see the Scripture as a complete and final word. That same spirit pervades the abuses of radical Pentecostalism, Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an endless list of other false prophets and prophecies. It can be easily identified as another of Satan’s ploys to distort the gospel of Christ. The gift of discernment is greatly enhanced with a thorough knowledge of Christian history.