Why Women Should Study Church History

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 held 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.

 

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.

WHAT’S GENDER GOT TO DO WITH IT?

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 held 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 CalvinSusannah 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.

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