By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
Specifically, I love to ponder the significance of the Reformation for several months each year leading up to October and then turn my focus to the Pilgrims each November—and I cherish the opportunity to preach and teach about these themes as I have opportunity.
Primarily, the New Testament commands us to learn from the history contained in the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). But by extension, we can also gain much from looking at the lives of God’s faithful servants in any era of time.
We may feel like we are moving out of our comfort zone when we enter the realm of church history. Yet having at least a basic knowledge of this discipline is a necessity for anyone who desires to understand the faith in any depth.
For instance, sometimes the only way to fully illustrate a theological truth is by sharing the historical context in which the doctrine was refined, and explaining the alternative views which have already been suggested and found insufficient. Without some familiarity with the position on the nature of Christ that was espoused by Arius, for example, could one truly appreciate the insights and courage of Athanasius? Perhaps such a person would even be subtly tempted toward heresy without understanding the full significance of his mistake.
History presents the options that have already been sifted through. It also provides examples of heroism and virtue that are unmatched by any work of fiction. We neglect it to our detriment and ignore it at our peril.
A scholar and fellow Bible-believing Baptist once told me that church history is probably the weakest area of understanding in our particular church tradition. There may be many reasons for this—including, first of all, a de-emphasis on history that flows from our insistence that we base our beliefs directly upon Scripture, regardless of whether or not we can trace them neatly through any human ancestry.
In the realm of dispensationalism, we tend to think similarly about the relative value of history. Also, cataloging the history of dispensationalism may be an even greater challenge than the one faced by Baptist historians, although much good work is being done on this topic, as well.
My purpose is not to advocate that we should rethink our approach of viewing Scripture as being infinitely superior to history and tradition. Rather, it is to remind all of us who are already clear on the doctrine of Bibliology that the heritage found within the volumes of church history is also ours to claim.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
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