Why Read Church History?

A Church Leader’s Perspective by Phil Page of Cornerstone Church, St Albans

I’ve never been a great reader. I read slowly, don’t seem to remember much and would generally prefer to be spending time with people. In particular, I hadn’t spent much time reading books on Church History or Historical Theology.

In mid 2017, at the suggestion of Trevor Archer from FIEC, I got in contact with Garry Williams at the Pastors’ Academy, part of London Seminary. Garry’s job was to get me reading books, including Church History and Historical Theology, which I wouldn’t normally read myself. I wanted to be stretched and challenged as a church leader and in my personal spiritual life. We agreed to meet every few months and for me to read various books between our meetings.

Two and a half years later and I’ve really enjoyed it! I’ve read about a book each month, mostly from London Seminary’s library. Other than holiday reading, I mainly read for 30-45 minutes most nights before going to sleep. (Some of it is quite soporific!)

My core text has been 2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham, but I’ve branched off to read the writings and biographies of various key characters in Church History. Initially I read about Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria. More recently, I’ve been looking at the Reformation, focusing on Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Bucer, Bullinger and the English Reformation.

I’ve loved reading and thinking about the theological debates including those around the deity of Christ, how Christ is both God and man and the Lord’s Supper. I’ve also read books on baptism, the doctrines of grace, God’s eternality and modern Catholic Theology, as they relate to the Church History books I’ve been reading.

I’ve been surprised by the benefits of reading with Garry’s encouragement and guidance. I expected to have greater doctrinal clarity and more perspective on the modern church. It has met my expectations in these areas. However, there have been other benefits that have surprised me:

1. A greater appreciation of God – His majesty, the Trinity and his sovereignty throughout history. This has affected my prayer life and helped me to trust God more in day-to-day situations

2. A greater love for other Christians – I’ve better understood the historical background to many Christian groups, allowing me to appreciate the many positives as well as the areas where I would differ

3. Opportunities for evangelism – As I’ve read more widely, and particularly in the theology of the Catholic Church, I’ve been given weekly opportunities to study the Bible with Catholic friends. God has blessed this opportunity in wonderful ways

4. Better sleep – Garry should become a sleep therapist! Honestly though, by reading last thing at night I get time to unwind and to fill my mind with thoughts of God. I also get a sense of God’s big picture perspective on daily challenges

It has been a joy and great investment to work with Garry and the Pastors’ Academy. I can’t see any reason to stop, so plan to keep going. I would thoroughly recommend the option of directed wider reading and the use of resources offered by London Seminary for any evangelical church leader. 

Phil has been on a rolling study project guided by Garry Williams, Director of Somnotherapy at the Pastors’ Academy.