Historical Inevitability

James R. Wilburn
Appleton, Wisconsin

Each one of us needs to be constantly engaged in sinking "test-wells" into his attitude to learn the nature and quality of its "ores." It would almost appear that many of the church's most gifted and influential thinkers are approaching the dangers of apostasy (an ageless threat) as if apostasy were a historical inevitability. While this approach may not always be apparent nor conscious, the attitude may be manifested in various forms.

It is quite true that history sometimes repeats itself But it seldom performs today with the exact set of details which accompanied it yesterday. To say that history always repeats itself, is both errant, and, in a sense, nothing short of fatalism. If this were true, no prophecy could boast inspiration.

There once was a farmer whose barn was destroyed by flood. He built the new one on higher ground. The second barn was destroyed by a forest fire, so he took great pains to build a new barn in a large clearing, safe from forest fires. Whereupon the third barn was destroyed by lightning, so he put the best lightning rods money could buy on his next barn. The fourth barn, safely immunized against fire, flood, and lightning, was just as violently and hopelessly destroyed by a tornado! His only vision was hindsight, projected into the future. Original and creative foresight was lacking.

While it is scentifically incorrect to say that lightning never strikes the same place twice, the statement does express a condition deserving closer scrutiny. We must, in a century of developments and discoveries different and new, remember that it is possible that the farmer did not know that such a threat as a tornado existed!

Values Of Studying History

The values of studying history cannot be over-emphasized. If history tells us anything, it demonstrates most eloquently that apostasies have usually followed periods of accelerated growth chiefly because the church did not accelerate its edifying in proper ratio to its evangelizing. Once a generation which has not been properly grounded reaches physical maturity, it is too late to effect a curbing of apostasy. One has already been reared in flesh and blood. For this reason, EVERY CHRISTIAN should become intimately acquainted with the ebb and flow of history's church movements. Some brethren believe that this might be put on the "required" list of every Christian college, with great benefit to future generations. Certainly, elders ought to provide for the local flock, instruction in the attitudes and consequences of every period of church history.

Just as beneficial is the study of individuals who have made that history. They being dead, may continue to speak (Hebrews 11:4). By living with them for a period, we may be able to avoid many pitfalls in our own personal thought processes, and thus avoid the blind alleys in the resulting courses of action. Our offspring of the year 2056 will be able to evaluate our virtues, vices, and relative importance, to a far more accurate degree than we ourselves are now able to do. Our race has, through bitter experience, learned the symptoms of some types of apostasy quite well.

The value of history then, at least to a schooled and unbiased people, is its possible production of certain immunities to past scourges.

Dangers Of Historical Interpretations

But (as with most benefits) there are commensurate dangers. Perhaps the greatest is in erroneously evaluating present trends and conditions in the historical setting of a by-gone period. The farmer, just before the tornado demolished his barn, had a sense of security based upon history. His mistake was in interpreting his current safety upon a stage which he had adorned with props and lighting belonging to another situation and scene altogether.

Because of the increasingly accelerated rate at which our world is changing, we need constantly to apply Bible principles and teaching to our present needs. While the needs of a sin-sick soul are agelessly the same, many of its problems are peculiar to its position in history.

Satan's Feint

The approach of historical inevitability has afforded Satan a definite advantage in the use of the age-old feint. Some feel that Russia feinted toward Europe with the Berlin blockade, etc. to draw U.S. forces and attention there, while she, behind our back, was actually courting the underdeveloped countries of the East. Since these countries represent one-third of the earth's population, (something the Lord's kingdom needs to bear in mind) it would not be such bad strategy. Whether or not Russia consciously threw such a feint, we would not debate. But it does serve at least to illustrate the strategy of the shrewdest tactician of the kingdoms of the earth -- Satan.

While Satan holds the threat of apostasy in one realm before us, be assured he is busy on other fronts from which our attention has been taken, Satan threatened the early church with a divided doctrine. But while the church, with almost frantic frenzy hurried to resist the schism, Satan's fatal blow was landed in the development of a hierarchy and a council-defined doctrine. They curbed division, but witness the blood-soaked price. It took the church centuries to realize what hit it!

Satan Working In Me?

Could it possibly be that while Satan threatens us with liberalism (liberalism is now, as division was then, a rea1 threat), he is all the while forcing us into the mold of a self-created monster in the form of an unwritten creed, just as human though intangible, as the decrees of Nicea? Is it so inconceivable that Satan would plant abuses of congregational co-operation about me to woo me into using the ensuing logomachy to gratify personal grudges, or, even more subtle, to feed the never-satisfied demands of a personality complex? Would it not be characteristic of Satan to feint with human machines in the Lord's workshop, while he renders useless our ability to grasp and utilize the fabulous challenge which is ours in this mid-century period?

These questions are not presented as a capsule statement of our ailments. Nor are they put forward as a suggested panacea for our manifold weaknesses. They do not even pretend to be the gleanings of an experienced sage. But neither are they to be lightly tasted and forgotten! These questions, submitted only after prayers of love and periods of re-evaluating and re-writing, are meant to cast a light of at least some degree of strengh into each heart which reads them and seriously tries to give unprejudiced answers. They are to be read, re-read, and humbly digested. They seek in each heart to reveal the way in which Satan might utilize my attitude of "historical inevitability" to defeat the growth and progress of the kingdom of almighty God.

A generation living off God's gift of nuclear energy, sees demonstrated daily the new challenge which God dares us to use. By God's power, we can evangelize the world in a generation. Or, with Satan's deceptive help, and encouragement, we can devour one another with thoughtless and prayerless tongues. God has given us the power for one or the other. These swiftly changing times cry out for tall and creative thinking and acting, within the scriptural bounds of Bible authority. But in constantly sinking "test-wells" into the complex strata of our attitudes toward present controversies, let us avoid the noxious attitude of historical inevitability. And bear in mind that the enemy seldom wastes the brunt of his attack against the flank where we have ordered our largest regiments and concentrated our most gifted thoughts and strategy.

Truth Magazine I:3, pp. 16-17, 20
December, 1956