The True Value of History

By Tony Washer

When I was in school, I hated studying history. It was boring to me because it meant agonizing for hours trying to memorize names, dates, and places. While these things are a part of history, its true value is not born of them.

Now that I am older and have had more time to reflect upon its value in life, I realize that a good knowledge and understanding of history is important to understanding why and how men act in this world. It is also interesting to find that, from the pages of Holy Writ one can analyze the historical patterns of those times and see that modern history follows the same basic course.

A significant advantage to the individual is the fact that when one learns the patterns of history, he can see the course of events taking shape as they unfold. From knowing the past, he can look into the future and make adjustments to his life to compensate for the negative impact that current events may have upon them. Therefore, history is a friend, not an enemy.

There are many things which happen in this life which we do not understand, many miseries which humankind continues to suffer. Armed conflicts continue between nations, self-willed brethren continue to force their opinions upon the church causing conflicts among God’s own people, and arguments among family members continue to destroy our homes. In fact, there are so many evil things happening in this world that we often ask,’ Is there any end to this madness?”

We know that this is not the way the world should be, but this is the way it is, has been, and will continue to be until the end. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that many evils could be avoided if people would learn from the mistakes of their ancestors, but with each succeeding generation comes the idea that these evils are unique to them and something new, and being “caught off guard” by them, each new generation of the offspring of man, like babes, are born to repeat the patterns of evil which are all too familiar to us.

History Is Circular

There is an old saying that we all have heard: “History repeats itself.” Solomon wrote of this in Ecclesiastes 1:9-11; “The thing which hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things which are to come with those that shall come after.”

Some would have you believe that the world is constantly changing. In the light of this inspired Scripture, is this true? Is the world constantly changing?

Though many examples could be given to illustrate the point. I would call your attention to one, for it is exemplary of the others: the art of war. Do men still make war against one another? Yes. Has this fact changed in our so-called “constantly changing world”? No. What has changed about the art of war? The tools. Guns and bullets instead of bows and arrows, missiles instead of catapults, tanks instead of chariots.

What about the reasons, the motives men have for going to war: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, greed, selfishness, power, fear. These motives have not changed in man since the beginning.

Think about other areas in mankind where things have changed: communication, transportation, exploration, productivity in the work place, etc. The principle applies to them also.

So, you now see that the tools which men use may change, but their reasons for using them do not. Therefore, the principle that I want you to understand and to remember is this: “History repeats itself not because the world is changing, but because man is not.”

Church History is Circular

In his pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reasons.”

As it related to his time, many people living in pre-revolutionary America considered loyalty to the king of England to be right and the ability to change their circumstances beyond their rights, even though the things he enacted upon them were oppressive and opposed to the principle that all men are equal in the sight of God. Because they believed that they did not have the right to hold their king accountable for his actions, many did not question the rightfulness of it. The lack of conviction to uphold this principle convinced some that the struggle for freedom was wrong; right became wrong and wrong became right. Thank God that there were men in the colonies who were willing to become a sacrifice for the higher principles.

In Isaiah 5:20-21, the prophet states the problem in this manner: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitted Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” It is this attitude that encourages men to change the doctrine of God and change his Word to conform to their practices, rather than conforming their practices to his doctrine.

In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul tells how departures from the truth enter into the church, causing discord and division among the brethren and eventually becoming the practice of the church when he writes, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump?” Just as leaven takes time to spread throughout the lump, so do false teachings enter into the church over such an extended period of time that it is not noticeable until after its infusion is complete. The history of the church confirms this principle.

The first major departure from the patterns established by Christ and his disciples came with the appointing of one elder to preside over the others at their meetings. The second step of this process came when the elders of churches within local geographic areas began to meet to discuss problems within the church and what should be done to handle the influences that their society was placing upon it.

Of course, when this occurred, they would elect one of their own to preside over them. This individual was called the bishop of the city in which he dwelt, i.e., the bishop of Smyrna. This action essentially divided the church leader-ship into two distinct groups: the presbyters (those involved with the local congregation) and the bishops (those who oversaw the activities of the presbyters). The result of this was that the bishops gradually assumed total control over the church within their religion, the natural result which occurs when people elect someone to be over them.

Eventually, a power struggle developed between the metropolitans of Alexandria and of Rome (the chief bishops of the territories or countries in which they lived). This ended in the winner being proclaimed the pope and supreme human authority in the church.

This process took place over a period of time of about five centuries. How could anyone have seen this departure from truth developing? No one who was alive when it began would live to see its end.

Many other practices which are foreign to the Scriptures entered into the church in the same way. Infant baptism, sprinkling and pouring as forms of baptism, an order of priests who preside over the people, not partaking of the Lord’s supper every first day of the week, and not one of the Protestant reformers believed that mechanical instruments should be used in the music worship, and yet, mechanical instruments are commonplace in all of the denominations which sprang from them. These departures from truth took place over a period of centuries, and were introduced to accommodate people who wanted exceptions to be made.

Many of them were saying the same thing we hear today, `”The world is changing, and if we expect to keep up we must change too.” To which I say, “Hogwash!” The very fact that God preserved the patterns for us belies that statement, for if it mattered not if we changed with the world or not, he would not have left us with the record of his will. The fact that he left us with his will, means that he wanted us to adhere to it, and if we are to adhere to it, then we cannot change the standard, though the world change about us. Else, how can he say that he “is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8)? If we can change his word at will, then there is no stability in the church for tomorrow.

Through the practice of the denominations, history shows us what happens to those religious bodies that compromise the truth.

History is repeating itself in the Lord’s church today. In the early church, false teachings on a large scale entered in as the result of the councils, the conventions, and the synods. The discussions of the church leaders were trans-formed into practice as they brought their ideas back home. Today, we don’t call them councils, conventions, or synods; we call them seminars.

The church is faced with extreme societal pressures in areas such as divorce, homosexuality, and woman’s role in the church. Rather than bow down under the weight of accommodation for the unrepentant, should we not rather boldly stand for the truth?

As an example, look at the new teachings of some elders and preachers concerning unscriptural divorce and remarriage: that those unscripturally married can be forgiven and stay in that relationship. What are we going to say when a homosexual couple married in a state that accommodates such comes to us to be baptized and wants to continue in that relationship. When we tell them “No!” what are we going to say when their reply is, “But we know that you accommodate one form of unscriptural marriage, why not another? What’s the difference?”

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 17, p. 10-11
September 2, 1993