Column: Learn an important lesson of history: Never say bunk

The writer is pastor of United Church of God congregations in Ann Arbor and Lansing, Mich., and a regular columnist for The Journal.

By Melvin Rhodes

DEWITT, Mich.--Henry Ford reputedly said that "history is bunk." Perhaps that's why he was sympathetic to Adolf Hitler. Never having learned certain lessons of history, he inevitably repeated some of its mistakes.

I often hear people say they don't like history. As one who finds history fascinating, this saddens me. It must be hard for people who don't like history to understand the parts of the Scriptures that are history as well as those that deal with prophecy.

Prophecy is simply the history, so to speak, of the future--completing the picture. Since history and prophecy take up so much space in the Bible, they must be important to God.

As the apostle Paul wrote in reference to the great events surrounding the Exodus: "Now these things were our examples . . . Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition . . ." (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

They are lessons recorded for our benefit so we can learn from them.

This is true of much of recorded history, whether in the Scriptures or in secular history books. As King Solomon was inspired to write: "There is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9) It's all happened before, and history shows us the consequences.

His story in the making

The word history itself is instructive. It derives from "His story," the story of Jesus Christ. During the Middle Ages, when the Roman church dominated Europe and ordinary people received no education, the only history anybody learned was the story of Jesus. His story was told from the pulpit. Entertainment revolved around His story as Bible stories were acted out by traveling entertainers at village fairs. At that time in history, the church dominated everybody's lives.

Somewhere in the mist of time, His story became history in the sense we use the word today. History is the study of events of the past.

Time was, not so long ago, when you were not thought to be educated unless you were well read in the classics, appreciated good music and were versed in history and geography. These qualities enabled people from various backgrounds and with differing interests to converse with each other.

In our advanced democracies they also enable people to exercise their vote responsibly. Without a knowledge of history, citizens cannot vote with any degree of responsibility. History helps us see where we came from and why we are the way we are now, thereby helping us to plan our course.

When you think about it, His story and history are truly connected. The history of the last 2,000 years is much the history of Christianity: not the Christianity that Jesus Christ gave us, but the perverse and false Christianity that replaced it. Even the story of how true Christianity was replaced by a synergism of Christ's teachings and paganism is history in itself-and important for Christians to understand.

The Christianity that has dominated the West for 2,000 years is much a continuation of the Roman Empire, which, in turn, was a continuation of the other great empires of the ancient world that influenced it and contributed to its makeup. The dominant religious system of the Western world continues the series of "beasts" prophesied in Daniel 7 and elsewhere.

It wasn't until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century that people began to enjoy some religious freedom. Understandably, Sabbatarianism benefited from this. In fact, we find little evidence of a substantial Sabbatarian movement in the 12 centuries between the Roman church becoming the state church of the empire and the Protestant Reformation.

Others like Moses?

Many readers will have seen the movie Prince of Egypt during the last few weeks and been inspired by the story of Moses and how he was used by God to bring the Israelites out of bondage. But did God suddenly stop working with His people at the end of the New Testament? Or is it possible that there have been others like Moses whom God has used to liberate His people?

In this context, one name comes immediately to mind, and that is the woman who was recently voted "woman of the millennium." She, too, was the subject of a recent movie that most readers will not have seen. Without her it is quite possible that you would not be reading this article, that you would not have the freedom to study the Bible, that you would not be able to meet on the Sabbath, even that you would not be speaking English.

If not for her, it is almost certain that the United States would not exist as a country. She led her people to freedom against the most powerful nation on earth, a despotic force that would have deprived her people of the right to worship God as they understood Him.

Many Christians are aware of Moses. Surely almost all are. But few will be aware of this woman.

Yet her accomplishments would suggest that the Eternal God used her just as powerfully as He used Moses. The only difference between the two is that the Bible was written long before the second one lived. She missed out-for now.

I would like to think she will be included in the third section of the Scriptures that will record the final 2,000 years of mankind's history, God's church and His physical people Israel.

The lady was Elizabeth I, queen of England from 1558 to 1603, after whom the colony of Virginia was named (she was often called the virgin queen because she never married, claiming that her "only master is England").

Elizabeth brought England out of religious bondage and gave the people the first taste of religious freedom. To guarantee that freedom, she sent explorers to the New World to plant colonies that eventually became the United States of America.

When threatened by the greatest nation in the world, Spain-which was encouraged by the papacy to restore England to the "true faith"-she ordered her much smaller navy into battle.

Miraculously, the Spanish Armada was defeated, and England and its colonies were free: religiously as well as politically. The people saw the hand of God in their defeat of Imperial Spain. The defeat of the Armada seemed no less a miracle than the parting of the Red Sea.

Without Elizabeth there would likely have been no revival of the true apostolic faith, though she herself did not understand about the Sabbath and the holy days or some of the other truths we know about.

The Bible having only fairly recently been translated (and the King James Version still one monarch later), Bible study was in its infancy. But Elizabeth and her subjects were devoted to their new faith and excited by the opportunity of being free to read the Scriptures.

Feast days of history

Dr. Rick Sherrod of Stephenville, Texas, former lecturer in history at Ambassador University, presents an exciting slide show and lecture on how so many of the most important turning points in British and American history took place on feast days reminiscent of how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt on and during the Days of Unleavened Bread thousands of years ago.

In more recent times, could it be that God raised up Winston Churchill to save the English-speaking world from Hitler, thereby preserving the freedoms that have enabled us to preach the gospel around the world? Churchill could easily have been killed, as were so many of his countrymen during the Boer War or World War I, but he survived.

He was out of office and discredited for much of the 1930s. But, when he came to power in May 1940, when Great Britain and the rest of the world were threatened by Hitler's Third Reich, he said he thought that all his life had prepared him for that moment. He was the right man at the right time, as was Moses.

History should point us to God if for no other reason than this: Mankind's recorded failures should make us pray more fervently for the Kingdom of God.

But we also see the constant struggle throughout the last 2,000 years for freedom of religion so that God's people could be free to practice their faith. This freedom has been much a part of the struggle of the English-speaking nations to preserve their own freedom in a world that consistently throughout history has been dominated by despots bent on enslaving their own and other nations.

Maybe we should go back to referring to history as His story. It would certainly be appropriate to do so.

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