You can’t say you love the Holy Spirit but don’t love Church History

Church History

I should qualify the title of this post.  You obviously can use your vocal apparatus to audibly utter that particular string of words.  However, there are lots of things I can say in a rigidly literalistic sense.  I can say that Seattle is in Kansas, or I can say that Yankees fans have souls… but my physical ability to form those words doesn’t mean that such ridiculous notions are accurate or defensible.

So my contention is that you can’t say you love the Holy Spirit but don’t love Church History.  An overstatement you might wonder?  Here’s my reasoning:

1. You can’t say you love the Holy Spirit but don’t love Church History because Church History is the record of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.

The first mention of the Church in the New Testament occurred when Jesus Christ said to a Jewish fisherman named Simon Bar-Jonah you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus was promising that He would be with His people as they fulfilled this global building project, the blueprints of which He would lay out in Matthew 28:18-20.  He said that it would actually be Him who was doing the building, although we later read that His means would be through the sent Helper of John 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7.  Jesus has built and is building His Church through the ministry on the Holy Spirit in the lives of His people.

So while there is a firm cessation of Biblical revelation and its accompanying miracles at the close of the Apostolic age, there is a definite continuation of God’s providential care, the Son’s spiritual presence, and the Holy Spirit’s active ministry to the church throughout the ages.  The study of Church History is not primarily an analysis of a curious socio-religious phenomenon; it is the recognition of the Spirit wrought fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to build His church.

2. You can’t say you love the Holy Spirit but don’t love Church History because the Holy Spirit has used Church History to help you believe what you believe.

Even the most ardent anti-confessionalist is deeply indebted to the progressive development of theology recorded in the pages of Church History.  His reading of the Scriptures is always informed by those who have studied it before him.  If he professes faith in even a rudimentary form of orthodoxy he most likely uses the inherited (and vital!) ecclesiastic vocabulary.  In fact, his very exaltation of the Scriptures is a doctrinal stance, which was recognized, defended, and carefully expressed in the confessional tradition of Church History.

While it would be wrong to so enshrine the men and confessions of Church History so as to make them practically impeccable, we aught always to thank God for those who have gone before us.  We should count ourselves blessed to live in an age which has such a rich deposit of the Spirit-aided study of the Holy Scriptures.  Practically speaking, our reliance on them is unavoidable.

3. You can’t say you love the Holy Spirit but don’t love Church History because the Holy Spirit loves the Church in all ages and so should you.

A low view of Church History is a low view of the Holy Spirit.  While this may not be the intention, it is the result.  We like to always exalt our own interpretation of the Scripture over the testimony of those who have come before us… but do we really believe that they didn’t have the same Holy Spirit giving them illumination in the same manner He gives it to us?

When viewed thought the centuries a clearly progressive character is evident in Church History.  That means that until Jesus returns we will never exhaust the wells of Biblical study, and our doctrines will continue to be refined and restated to address new challenges and concerns.  But this truth must never allow us to despise men who labored and bled for the doctrines we now gladly confess.  Neither their chronological distance from us, the occasionally crude or imbalanced presentation of their doctrine, nor their cultural peculiarities is justification for our casual dismissal.  Yes, further progression is lawful; but let us never take a low view of all that God has done to build His church long before we ever drew breath or cracked open a Bible.  The Helper has been at work for millennia, He is not ours uniquely.  He loves the Church as she existed yesterday, exists today, and will exist tomorrow.  May we as well.

So should everyone be a Church History geek like me?  I’d never argue for that.  But should we all love and appreciate the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit not just in our own day but also throughout the ages?  Only if we love Him…

(By: Nicolas Alford)

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