the old adage goes, “those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it”. while the sentiment is often used to poke fun at those who make poor grades in a history class, the truth is, we really can learn a lot from studying history- and not just facts alone, but how to avoid repeating attitudes, actions, and beliefs that have been disastrous.

this is true in many areas, but i am speaking specifically to church history. of the many controversies brewing today (does god know the future? did christ’s death actually and forensically obtain salvation? is there any precedent for organizational bureaucracy outside of the local church? etc.) a lot of the issues have been handled (and mishandled) in the history of the church, and we would do well to make ourselves and our churches aware, lest we repeat the same mistakes or fall prey to the same errors previous generations did. there are few things more frustrating than falling into controversy only to find out after the fact that the issue had been spoken to decisively in a previous generation.

for starters, set aside some time to read a history of christianity. there are plenty of them out there, and many are quite unhelpful or so biased you have to dig to find any objectivity. one i have found to be very helpful and fair is justo gonzalez’s “the story of christianity”. you can get it in one hardback edition. it is divided up quite nicely and will really serve you well in opening your eyes that the church you go to, whatever denomination, did not just happen.

i would next move on to a study of your own denomination. for me, a baptist, tom nettles 3 volume work is excellent.

i would then move on to study the belief system of your particular church. what is your church’s statement of faith? is there more than one? study the history of the document and how it came to be. why were some things addressed and others not? all of these questions are helpful in understanding what your own church emphasizes or de-emphasizes.

and i highly recommend reading biography. read about the towering figures in church history and your own denomination. for instance, every christian out to read up on martin luther william carey, adonirim judson, and augustine. every baptist should grow in their knowledge of andrew fuller, charles spurgeon, james boyce, and john bunyan.

by no means should replace our time spent reading scripture, but we should find time to seek wisdom and knowledge by learning what god has done in the history of his church and through the lives of so many- so that we can take advantage of their victories and avoid their failures. may we not be like the people of israel, never learning from past mistakes, only to cry out in distress when the testimony of history could have led them closer to obedience.