Read God's Story: A Student Guide to Church History Online
Authors: Brian Cosby
Tags: #Religion: Christianity
© Copyright 2014 Brian Cosby
ISBN: 978-1-78191-320-8 – Book
ISBN: 978-1-78191-420-5 – ePub
ISBN: 978-1-78191-421-2 – Mobi
Published in 2014
Christian Focus Publications,
Geanies House, Fearn, Tain,
Ross-shire, IV20 1TW, U.K.
Cover design by Paul Lewis
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible,
English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by
Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Introduction: Why Study Church History?
The Church and its Old Testament Roots
The New Testament Church and Apostolic Fathers
The English Reformation and the Puritans
Fundamentalism, Evangelism, and Global Christianity
J. Ligon Duncan III
for his inspiration to study the past
grumbled to my mother, “What does Henry VIII have to do with me?” I was seventeen years old and in the middle of a European History class at school. As my
favorite subject, history seemed utterly pointless and irrelevant.
Fast-forward three years. Once again, I found myself sitting in a history class, though this time as a freshman at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Samford requires all of its students to take a certain number of basic courses, history included. For whatever reason—I’ll credit the professor—the stories of the past came alive and I became more and more enamored with the people, the movements, and the watershed events that transformed culture and civilization. In a few short days, I switched from a course of business to a course of history, eventually graduating with it as my major.
You might be in the same boat asking, “Why study history?” The book you’re holding is a brief overview of the history of the Christian church, which leads us to ask, “Why study church history?” It’s a fair question. Let me give you four reasons why I believe knowing church history is beneficial.
knowing church history helps explain our identity.
Who are the people of God? Where did we come from? Assuming you are a Christian, you have been
into a multi-ethnic worldwide family. Church history points us to the God who chose a people for himself from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The church—which is the bride (Rev. 21:9) and body (Eph. 4:12) of Christ—is made up of all those who are called out
of the world as God’s treasured possession (Deut. 7:6). If you are a Christian, these chosen people (1 Pet. 2:9) are your spiritual family—a long line of sinners and saints.
knowing church history helps explain the present.
What is the history and heritage of your local church? Is it part of a denomination? Why? Does your church recite the Apostles’ Creed or hold to a confession of faith like the
Westminster Confession of Faith
? Knowing the past helps explain the present—what we do, why we baptize infants (or not), and why you have a local church at all! Whether you realize it or not, you are affected by your family’s history, your nation’s history, and your church’s history. Knowing our past helps explain our present.
knowing church history guards us from repeating its mistakes.
You’ve probably heard it said, “History repeats itself.” This is true! As you will no doubt see throughout the course of this book, church history is replete with controversy, heresy, envy, strife, sin, arrogance, and foolishness. We see how pride has led to ruin, anger to murder, and lust to adultery. We see how errors in understanding the Bible led to unintended consequences and how abandoning the Bible altogether led to a slippery slope of disastrous proportions. There have been countless times that I have been able to recognize a current trend in the church
—with its unintended consequences—simply by being familiar with church history. Knowing the past helps guard us from repeating the same errors in the present and future.
knowing church history testifies to God’s powerful working as HIS STORY
. Despite the sin and folly of the church, God overrules our sin for his good purposes. Indeed, history is
It testifies to the God who will work all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), whatever his hand and plan have predestined to take place (Acts 4:28). He has declared the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10) and calls us to take part in his tapestry of salvation. The scarlet thread running throughout the pages of history is the God who is, at once, sovereign, good, holy, self-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, loving, and faithful to his church.
In the pages to follow, I have tried to only address what I see as the poignant people, councils, events, revivals, and movements throughout the history of the church. Thus, in striving for brevity, I have left out many others. It is my hope that this brief primer will serve to whet your appetite for a deeper and more-extensive study of God’s story. Indeed, it is God who we are to see and worship—as he has saved, preserved, sustained, and refined a people for his own glory.
The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is
, which means to be “called out.”
used to play football (or “soccer” in the US) for my school as a teenager and I still love watching football on television. Few things are more thrilling than when you see a pre-determined plan unfolding before your eyes between members of a team as they move the ball down the field, ending in an exhilarating strike to the back of the net. The fans go wild—chest bumping and cheering—and the players dog-pile on top of each other like a multi-layered human sandwich.
It’s what they have practiced over and over again for years. Sometimes, a goal happens as a seemingly unintentional fluke. But those
executions—where everything happens according to what they’ve practiced—seem to captivate the crowd, building up their excitement until the ball blasts past the goalkeeper and the stadium erupts into all-out elation, or at least half of the stadium.
The history of the church is God’s
plan. It’s his “Plan A.” Despite the sin, corruption, and twisted events in the church’s past, God has preserved a remnant, his people. In fact, you are reading this page according to the eternal plan of God!
Even though this book focuses on the history of the church after the days of Jesus to the present times, its origin certainly did not begin there. Before the creation of the heavens and the earth, God chose a people from every tribe and language and people and nation to be his treasured possession (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 5:9). This is the true church of God and it will persevere
the church of God into glory.
At the outset, an important distinction needs to be made between the church
and the church
. No, I’m not talking about ghosts or people walking around who can’t be seen. The church
doesn’t mean that you can’t see it; rather, it’s made up of all those—in every age—who have been saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. It’s the true church, ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ.