SHOULD APOSTOLICS STUDY CHURCH HISTORY?
When Apostolic’s discuss church history, the conversation usually tends towards the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement, or even sometimes the primordial church in the book of Acts. Events like the Azusa Street Revival, the Arroyo Seco camp meeting, and pioneers like William Seymour, Howard Goss, and Charles Parham are usually at the center of the conversation. Likewise, Apostolics tend to conceptualize church history through a restorationist framework. In other words, the modern Apostolic movement sees itself as the restoration of the primordial church in the book of Acts. Consequently, Apostolic church history must include the book of Acts, the Apostles, and their teachings.
On the other hand, Apostolics have a tendency to view post-apostolic (Early church fathers, creeds, etc.) church history as the history of the Catholic church. Indeed, Apostolics find it challenging to relate to, for lack of better terms, Nicene church history. Thus it is easy to see why many oneness Apostolics would be disinterested in the study of church history that they do not perceive as their own. What value is there in understanding the creeds, confessions, and events of a church history that you don’t identify with?
The study of church history is of immense value to Apostolics because it can produce some valuable insights. For instance, many Pentecostals assume that Jesus name baptism was initially restored in the early 1900s. Actually, there is ample evidence that some movements were baptizing in the name of Jesus as early as 1809. One example is that of Elias Smith who had rejected the traditional doctrine of the trinity and was baptizing in the monadic formula of Acts 2:38. There is further evidence that suggests many Freewill Baptist had rejected the trinitarian baptismal formula and were baptizing in the name of Jesus:
Obviously, the aforementioned insights on Jesus name baptism could only be discovered by a commitment to the study of church history.
“Should Apostolics study church history?” The answer is a resounding yes! Whether Apostolics realize it or not, we have much to learn from history that we don’t necessarily consider our own. The following are three reasons Apostolics should spend more time studying church history:
1. An Apostolic Apologetic
Studying church history will help you recognize the origin of many of the doctrinal errors that arose throughout church history. Familiarity with the various councils and creeds protects one from the heresies that these councils and creeds. produced. Being knowledgeable of church history likewise prepares Apostolics to converse with other traditions.
2. Pin Pointing the Origin of Denominational Traditions
Familiarity with the advent of traditional practices. many of which are unbiblical can be pinpointed through the study of church history. For example, consider the following practices:
Infant baptism introduced by Origen in 220 AD
The worship of Mary introduced in 451 AD
The use of holy water began in 850 AD
Pinpointing the historical dates of these traditions will help Apostolics emphasize how many of these practices were the not practices of the early church, but were later unbiblical practices that were instituted by a non-apostolic church.
3. Identifying Various Theological Streams
Studying church history will help you familiarize yourself with the distinctive theological beliefs of different denominations. Familiarity with the various theological streams enables us to distinguish the particular theological undertones in books, music, blogs, and other types of media. It is helpful when you can read a book, or listen to a song and recognize the theological influence that is embedded within the writing or lyrics. For example, Reckless Love is a popular song even amongst Apostolics. Most Apostolics do not realize that the underlying theology of the lyrics in the song is a mixture of Liberal and Calvinistic theology. Being unfamiliar does not free Apostolics of the responsibility to be aware of what they are ingesting.
Clearly, studying church history is remarkably beneficial. One last benefit that needs to be mentioned is the joy of locating the Apostolic church throughout church history. It is encouraging to locate and study different men and women who did not capitulate to the political church but “|contended| for the faith which once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Even though general church history may not be something Apostolics readily identify with they should not neglect the valuable insight that it can produce.