“There is nothing new under the sun,” writes the wise man in Ecclesiastes (1:9).
That argues for knowing something about what has already taken place under this old sun. And that means learning, and learning means reading. Three cheers, for sure, for math, science, and technology, but, however proficient we are with them, if we’re willfully ignorant of history, we’re just technologically advanced (and very dangerous) fools.
You see, the same challenges keep cropping up in this old world. At their deepest level, the waters every generation must navigate have been traversed before. George Santayana long ago told the truth: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Along this line, I think I’d like to propose legislation that requires high level elected officials to spend at least an hour a day reading history. They can easily prune the time from what they’d normally spend fund-raising or generally blathering, and (this is scary) reading a book might be a new experience for many of them. Why would we ever trust anyone willfully ignorant of the past to try to plot a course for the future?
By the way, pastors who know nothing about church history are every bit as frightening as the politicians I’ve just taken a swing at. The mountains Christians of all eras have made from molehills are the very same ones ancient Christians shoveled up to trip over.
This morning I enjoyed another of James Kiefer’s brief biographical sketches, this one on the life of Church of England Archbishop William Laud (born 1573).
Kiefer writes that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, some Christians in England (Puritans) objected to clergy and choir members wearing a garment called a surplice. Cassocks (a garment normally black and floor-length) were okay, but these folks strenuously objected to the wearing of the surplice, “a white, knee-length, fairly loose garment with loose sleeves” because it was not specifically mentioned in Scripture and because it had been a custom of Roman Catholics. (It’s basically the same thinking, Kiefer notes, that caused Puritans and their many descendants to object to Christmas and a host of other practices.)
Archbishop Laud felt that the garment was nonetheless “seemly and dignified,” but the Puritans persisted to protest religiously, stinkily, loudly, and even violently. One group of Puritans broke into an Oxford chapel one night, stole surplices, and stuffed them “into the dung-pit of a privy.” This was just one issue, but Laud, increasingly unpopular, was eventually imprisoned and hanged as he prayed for peace and an end to bloodshed. (You can sing this story to the tune of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Archbishops.”)
Until I read that, I didn’t know a surplice from a surplus. It was new to me, but the “rock” upon which those folks wrecked is no new danger to navigation. The Puritans were neither the first nor the last to try to twist the New Testament into a book of codified law. The Apostle Paul warned ages ago (read 2 Corinthians 3) that if we seek salvation through stone-cold law rather than through God’s Spirit, we’ll end up fussing, fighting, and wrecking our souls on tables of stone. That course, trusting in a code rather than a Savior, has never led to life and joy and peace; it can’t, and it never will.
No, there really is nothing new under the sun. I doubt we could make any truly new mistakes even if we worked incredibly hard at it. But it would be nice, and a God-honoring move in the right direction, to try to avoid stumbling over so many old ones.
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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.