By: Elias Ayala
(M.A.T & Mdiv)
It is often touted on the internet that the books of the Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicea under the guidance, supervision, and command of Emperor Constantine. This process was closely controlled so as to choose books that catered to the political desires and ambitions of the newly Christianized Roman Empire. Or, we have often been told that the doctrine of the Deity of Christ was a later invention of the church who looked back at the life and teachings of Jesus and greatly embellished his accomplishments. Even the cherished doctrine of the trinity is attacked and touted as a later doctrine that was borrowed from pagan thought and Greek philosophy. The foundations of the Christian faith have always been attacked from every angle so as to bring doubt upon the Christian faith by its detractors, and various cults who desire to piggy back off of its teachings. It is for this reason that it is vitally important for believers to understand the value of knowing Church History. How did our belief in the Deity of Christ arise? How did the church come to adopt the view that God is a trinity? How were the books of the Bible chosen and understood to be “God’s Word”? All of these questions are explored and explained by looking into the topic of Church History.
Unfortunately, I will not go into detail as to the answers to the above questions, but rather, I seek to briefly highlight the importance of Church History as it relates to apologetics. It matters not if you are speaking with an atheist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or a Muslim. Having a firm grasp on the history of the Christian faith and the development of its foundational doctrines can help you maneuver with ease through such conversations. It is a common thing to have to correct misunderstandings and misapprehensions of history when talking to people of differing perspectives. I remember speaking with a gentlemen at Barnes and Nobles, who believed his teacher had reached divine consciousness. As he provided positive reasons why he believed this to be the case, he also presented arguments as to why he believed Christianity was false. A majority of his case involved an appeal to the popular YouTube movie, Zeitgeist in which the Christian faith is presented as a copy cat religion; a religion that hopelessly borrowed from the Pagan Mystery Religions of the ancient world. I was able to easily dismantle his argumentation by an appeal to my limited knowledge of Church History. Such knowledge has proved invaluable in such dialogues.
Wholly apart from the apologetic value of understanding Church History, the study of the history of the Christian faith has great spiritual benefits as well. One will become inspired by reading about some of the great heroes of the faith like Athanasius, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Being able to sit at the feet of the great thinkers of the past can be both enlightening and encouraging as we see how others have overcome the many obstacles the world has to offer by trusting in God through tumultuous times. So pick up a book and read about the history of our faith. Learn, grow, and become inspired by those who have been impacted by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
In regards to understanding where to start, here is a brief list of some good books on the topic of Church History:
- The Story of Christianity (Volumes 1 & 2) By Justo Gonzalez
- History of the Christian Church By Philip Schaff
- Church History in Plain Language By Bruce L. Shelley
The topic of Church is indeed very vast and expansive, but one need not master every aspect of it. Just being aware of some of the important developments within the history of the Christian faith can go a long way within an apologetical encounter. If you want to “always be ready to give an answer to those who ask for the reason for the hope that is within you”, it will do you well to have a firm grasp on the scriptures, Bible doctrine, and Church History. Do not be intimidated by the vastness of these topics. The enterprise of studying and growing is something we engage in throughout our lives. Live your life with a heart and desire to grow, and God will equip you with what you need when you need it.