Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why Women Should Study Church History

How shall we labor with any effect to build up the church, if we have no thorough knowledge of her history,  or fail to apprehend it from the proper point of observation?   History is, and must ever continue to be, next to God’s Word, the richest foundation of wisdom, and the surest guide to all successful practical activity.” 1—Philip Schaff

It’s unfortunate that the average Evangelical Christian has so little knowledge of church history.   This comes as no surprise since few churches engage their congregants in studies of our incredibly rich spiritual heritage.
Church history is not only relevant but it is  extremely fascinating!  It is a panoply of doctrinal and spiritual battles and victories showcasing God’s preservation of His beloved Bride.   Discovering how the Lord emboldened men and women to remain true to Christ and the Scriptures throughout the ages will surely encourage believers facing the challenges of our day.


First, notwithstanding the Biblical mandate for male pastoral leadership in the church, women do happen to make up half of church history and have  played a vital role in contending for the faith.     But most  church history courses  won’t cover  these contributions,  which is too bad.    Neglecting  to teach such an important aspect of church history that  provides  godly examples of  women who promoted sound doctrine,   may  inadvertently contribute to the rampant problem we have today  with women who distort the Scriptures and assume leadership roles God intended only for men.   Furthermore,  the fascination with Medieval Romish mysticism reflected  in many women's studies might lose luster if  women understood  the serious heresies attached to it.  

Beginning with the New Testament and moving forward, we can learn from godly mothers like Lois and Eunice, and Monica of Hippo  (331 AD) whose answered prayer for her son Augustine has blessed the church today.   Influential scholars like Queen Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII,   nearly lost her head promoting the Gospel during the Reformation.   Amy Carmichael (b.1867), the single missionary to orphans in India, risked losing everything she had worked for when she boldly stood against  an encroaching social gospel.   And of course that old saying  “Behind every great man stands a great woman” applies to many women throughout history such as  Katie Luther, Idelette de Bure Calvin, Susannah Spurgeon, and Vera Pink
I think we also  need to take care  not to allow current gender debates to color our understanding of the women who have made their mark on the history of the church. For example, one might view Anne Askew, the 16th century martyr, as promoting egalitarianism—a charge that her interrogators wrongfully accused her of.    Instead, this young mother died for refusing to comply with the Catholic teaching  of transubstantiation.    Her life has challenged me to  continue contending for doctrinal purity and separation from apostasy amidst our growing ecumenical climate. 
Becoming acquainted with the courageous women who left their footprints behind will do more than  just satisfy a curiosity about the pink side of  church history.  These women were true champions of the faith and sparkle as jewels woven into the beautiful tapestry of the Church.  Their examples demonstrate  ways that we as contemporary women  might continue fighting the good fight of faith in the midst of all sorts of adversity,  regardless of  our station in life.    Sisters, to borrow a phrase, we are standing on the shoulders of “Giantesses”!
And second, women and men alike would benefit from a standard course in church history, whether done autodidactically, online, or on campus because it gives us a broad overview of the most critical points in church history.   It will also help us to appreciate more fully those who have served the Church when we understand  the context of the times in which they lived. 
Nowadays the resources available to us are endless!  Nate Busenitz, professor of Historical Theology at the Master’s Seminary has written a great three part blog series for TMS’ Preachers and Preaching  giving 10 reasons why  we should study church history.  He begins by saying,
  One of the great blindspots in contemporary American evangelicalism is its lack of historical awareness.   With his characteristic wit, Carl Trueman explained the problem like this:
‘I was asked last week why some evangelicals convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.  Reasons vary, I am sure, but I commented that one theme I have noticed over the years is the fact that evangelicalism lacks historical roots.  That is not to say that it has no history; rather it is to say that a consciousness of history is not part of the package.  Rock band worship, Beautiful People everywhere (miserable middle aged plain people need not apply), and history nowhere in sight unless it is a reference in the sermon to an early Coldplay album.  On that level, I can understand why people looking for something serious, something with a sense of theological and historical gravitas, simply give up on evangelicalism and start looking elsewhere. Some adults want a faith that is similarly adult, after all.’ (Source)”
You can find the series here:  Why Study Church History - Part 1,  Part 2, Part 3.  The Master’s Seminary has generously posted  Professor Busenitz’ 24  video class lectures in Historical Theology HERE .  
And here’s a few more resources you might like.  PLEASE feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. 
Video teaching series for sale but some are free
Survey of Church History Series by  W. Robert Godfrey 
TGC:  Church History Made Easy by Dr. Paul Jones –12 DVD lessons 

Recommended Church History resources from-

History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff - 8 Vol.  (free online here)
Christianity Through the Centuries  1 Vol.–  by Earle E. Cairns  
Library of Christian Classics - 26 Vol.
Chronological and Background Charts of Church History by Robert Walton
Fox’s Book of Martyrs (free here)
The Unquenchable Flame-Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves

Steven Lawson:
Foundations of Grace Vol. 1
Faith Cook:


  1. Two very accessible volumes I would recommend are Justo Gonzales's books The Story of Christianity. Any biographies by Iain Murray are also worth reading. Anything written by Dr. Michael Haykin are excellent, especially his volume on the early Church fathers. There is an excellent book called Sketches in Church History that provide a really great survey. For the history of doctrine, Jaroslav Pelikan's series also comes highly recommended.

  2. Excellent! Thank you for your thoughts and a treasury of resources!

  3. Wonderful. We are not alone, the beacons of the past are faithful mentors, and even more, brothers and sisters in Christ.

  4. There's a book about women in church history called Feminine Threads that might be of interest to some.