Leadership Beyond Influence
Church History is not often on most Christians’ list of favorite topics. As I travel throughout the world, I remain surprised by leaders’ vocal disinterest and sometimes even avid aversion to explore the history of God’s involvement in and through His Church.
So why should Christian leaders study the history of the Church? Here is a short list of ten reasons of why the study of Church History remains important for the development and growth of authentic and biblical Christianity and Leadership.
- To be obedient: We study the history of God’s people as a simple act of obedience to the Word of God. The Scriptures repeatedly instructs the faithful to explore and search out the historical accounts of those that have gone before us. The Book of Job (Job 8:8-10, NIV) offers this advice for the ones seeking wisdom and understanding in their own day: “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”
- To understand God: The study of Church History is not only the study of the historical Church but also the exploration of God’s active involvement with His own people in our world. Knowing the acts and ways of God in working with His people throughout history provides us with a better understanding of God Himself. As the psalmist (Psalm 44:1, NIV) declares, “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.”
- To develop humility: Our current generation suffers from pride-filled perspectives and attitudes when we declare that we are the greatest generation of believers in the history of the world. For instance, reading about the courageous commitment to serve Jesus unto death in the letters of the Church Father, Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD), places our own efforts in perspectives. The words of Ignatius to the church in Rome, about his own willingness to die as a martyr, should humble us in the light of the “easy-living” approach of many of today’s Christians: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you; do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.”
- To keep us from error: Not knowing about the many errors in the history of the Church dooms us to repeat those failures again. Many of the heresies of the first, few centuries of the Church have surfaces once again in our times. Knowledge of those early heresies will help us to remain on the clear path of Biblical truth.
- To be renewed: The Scriptures declares that our God is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Understanding His ways of renewal and revival in the past, prepares us to receive His work of grace and liberty in our own midst, today.
- To be communal: Church History reminds us that we are part of a larger, eternal community of believers. The Scriptures describes these saints of old as cheering us on from heaven (Hebrews 12:1). These saints are not dead in Christ, they remain alive in Jesus.
- To be encouraged: The good example of the believers that have gone before us encourages us to imitate them as they have imitated Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). They remind us that it is possible to not only serve God well in this life, but to endure right until the end.
- To understand our own time: Church History helps us to understand our own time better. The author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes once wrote that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). History, in very real and concrete ways, moves in circles and cycles. A fuller understanding of our past helps us to understand how we have arrived at this point in history. It helps us to see today from God’s perspective.
- To boldly step into the future: We are only able to move with confidence into the future if we understand our past. One can use the example of a swing or pendulum to explain this principle of truth. In order to “swing” into the future, we must first “pull” back by studying our history – in doing so we will have enough momentum to move beyond the struggles and challenges of our own time and embrace God’s purposes and blessings for our future. The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:11, NIV) offers further clarification on the study of history prepares us for tomorrow: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
- To give glory to God: The ultimate and most important reason to study Church History is that it facilitates true and extravagant worship of our God. Our hearts are filled with awe and wonder when we explore the mighty acts of God in the past. The apostle John (Revelation 4:8, NIV) recorded that in heaven four living creatures, surrounding a throne, do not stop day or night declaring the glory and holiness of God, “who was, and is, and is to come.”
We are a people of history, a history of God’s passionate and loving involvement in our world. May we once again commit to study and learn from the great work of God in and through His people in ages past.
Dr. Corné Bekker is an associate professor in the Regent University School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship and an ordained minister. He previously served as the Assistant-Dean of Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg , South Africa.