The Rise and Fall of Civilizations: What Can History Teach Us?

Starting with establishing the centrality of Christ, Melvin Lehman then reflects on historical lessons for our generation. What can we learn from Biblical and contemporary examples of revival? How do the four eras of peace illustrate the sovereignty of God? With stories and illustrations, the timeline from Christ to the Reformation to the present time is examined for relevance to our modern experience. How are God’s people in the Western world being affected by global socialization or nationalism? Message concludes with a call for Kingdom communities that bring God’s kingdom to the earth.

The presentation ends with an interactive question-and-answer session from the audience.

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Discussion questions:

  1. What are we learning about global socialization and what should be our response?
  2. At what level have we bought into nationalism and how has nationalism affected our identity as a people, set apart unto God?
  3. What are the unintended consequences of the Reformation and how are we interacting/responding to these unintended consequences?
  4. What is a “close community” with a mission?

Transcription:

Opening prayer by Curt Wagoner:

Gracious God, heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name we ask your abundant blessing upon Brother Melvin this evening.

Would you be very, very near to Him, Father? Fill him with your Spirit. Remove anything that would tarnish his ability, that would prevent him from being all that You desire him to be. Remove every taint, every stain, Father, and just wash him and bless him and make him a vessel for Your abundant glory tonight.

Father, would you bring clarity to his mind? He’s got a vast topic and I pray that You would give him focus so that he might know where he needs to direct his attention and other things that might need to be just lightly touched.

With your Spirit, just guide him and bless him in every way and bless all of those who are listening and being instructed. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Introduction by Curt Wagoner:

So, just quickly again, there will be a Q&A after the message, and we invite you to submit your questions. Please try to have those in as early as you can, perhaps even by 7:45 or eight o’clock as early as you can get those to us would be appreciated. Brother Melvin, you have an opportunity here to instruct me, to instruct all of us. God bless you, brother.

Good evening to all in Jesus. Now, it’s a real blessing to be a part of this. I’m truly honored and humbled to be asked by the committee to share in this way. You know, this meeting was held in Roxbury for quite a few years, as has already been said, and that was right in my backyard from where I grew up. But this is my first time – I’m embarrassed, and of course, this is my loss. So, glad to be here.

And I would like to begin with a prayer that has become a rich with me. That prayer comes from Psalm chapter 71 and I’m going to begin to share my screen so that those of you who have video access will be able to see some of what we’re working on here.

So, on screen now, you can see the opening lines of Psalm chapter 71:17. I’d like to pray this with you, and for myself personally, and I explain in just a moment.

Let’s pray:

O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.

Psalm 71:17-18

Most of you know that I’ve been a teacher for a number of years, and this prayer is so rich because I am not that old yet, I don’t think. But I am grey-headed and this is one more opportunity that the Lord has given me to declare the wondrous works of God to this generation and I pray to all that are to come.

Give me a moment to start the slideshow here and we’ll move into the discussion.

So there are four questions that I have been saying have been very, very important questions that we need to be asking ourselves and in some ways this evenings’ speech, thought, teaching will surround these questions. They are:

  • Who is Jesus?
  • What is the church? (How do you define the church?)
  • Who are its members?

and I think that the question of the questions is:

  • WHO SAYS SO? (The question of authority.)

To my back, I have a timeline, and I’m not going to – for the sake of time – I’m not going to give much to description there. But just so you know that I’ve going to do a little bit from the Old Testament beginning about 850 BC and then we’re going to kind of move up through and look at several different pieces of history. I should say here at the out-start: This is a really broad discussion: “The Rise and Fall of Civilizations.”

So like all historians, I pick and choose among the different little pieces that have mattered a lot to me over the years and have impacted me.

I realized that many of you who are excellent historians would probably go to a different place than what I do this evening, but it seems to me as though it would be very important to begin at the right place.

It was the most important event in all of history certainly was the incarnation of Jesus Christ. And so here, just the title, the centrality of the work of Christ. I feel like I’m speaking to the choir and so unnecessary to unpack a whole lot of this, but just to clinch that point. We begin there in any discussion of what can history teach us.

Just a couple of things that you see there: Any correct position on Jesus begins: He was Creator. He was incarnate. He lived among us and John argues forcefully “we saw Him, we touched Him, His flesh and blood. He died, resurrection, ascension, exultation, sovereign. All of these things, I’m sure you agree with me.

Hebrews 1:1-4: present in the creation, in history.

Colossians 1: capable of reconciling all things to Himself.

Philippians 2: that great confession, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This is by all means far too short of an emphasis on that central piece, the Lord Jesus Christ, but I want to be sure to make that point here at the outset.

Then I’d like to move to an Old Testament lesson on revivalism. Now some of you perhaps have the outline, you’re going to see me reverse a few things as we teachers do at the last minute, we switch this or that or the other thing.

So I’m going to begin with a little bit of a story, a contemporary story, summer/fall of 1966. I’m but a lad of 11 years old. And a couple of interesting things are happening in the Chambersburg area where I grew up on a farm. I grew up on a dairy farm. Clyde Lehman’s dairy farm, enjoyed that. Eleven years old Brunk tent revivals located about where Christian Academy is located today and my father took us to these tent revivals, and mind you, I walked the sawdust trail as an eleven-year-old there at the Brunk Revivals and I have never, I’ve never turned back from there, never regretted that decision. As I grew older and reflected on those tent revivals, something emerged that I just would like to share with you.

If you had been there in those days, in the summer of 1966, you would have seen hundreds, perhaps some evenings 1,500 people gather in that tent and brother George Brunk would preach powerfully, and we were moved, and I remember of watching young folks who are older than me, but, stream down the aisles to the front of that tent, and older folks alike as they came to the altar, so to speak, and there poured out their hearts before the Lord. This happened night after night for a couple of weeks. You would have thought that indeed Franklin County was right on the verge of a massive revival, and I certainly do not want to discount the good work that was done in the hearts that were stirred there by what I’m going to say here next.

But what was disheartening is it was just a few years, and mind you, that group of people which I grew up among, actually there came to be a great – I don’t know – “disintegration” perhaps is the word to use there. This is about 1968.

As I grew older, I reflected on that and wandered, huh? What was it that went wrong? Or maybe nothing went wrong, but it seems to me as though that group of people that birthed me, and just for the record of sake, I am deep, deep respect for my roots in the conference that is mentioned here. The deep teaching that I received, the instruction I received. It was with sadness as I grew older and realized that this disintegration something was wrong.

That set me to thinking and I began to wonder about the concept, the contemporary concept, of revivalism. It led me to think about Elijah on Mount Carmel one day as I was meditating in the Scriptures. First Kings chapter 18, you know the story well; I don’t have to repeat it. But maybe just a few of the highlights. It’s an old incident. They should have Israel as it. Is that a low spiritual ebb. Elijah boldly confronts Ahab, Jezebel, there’s a saga here that we’re not telling the entire story. But the day comes when he confronts Ahab directly and says, “Let’s have a contest. Let’s decide where this nation is going.” And he laid out the conditions. They beat on Mount Carmel and you know the story of what happened. I just have one simple point to make.

In terms of revivalism I challenge you to talk. What Elijah did there on Mount Carmel, complete with a miracle, fire from heaven, the people as a group, the the whole mob (if we want to call them a mob), they come away shouting, “The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God.” It certainly looked as though revival was about to break forth in Israel. And again, I do not want to discount this great story. What a story of faith in action on the part of Elijah. What troubles me is this: there really was not much change in Israel when you study their history. This event happened around the middle of the 9th century, BC 850 plus or minus a few years. Likely, you already know this. It’s hardly a hundred years, a little over a hundred years, and Samaria collapses to the Assyrians. And not long after that, really, is the fall of Jerusalem.

Here’s what troubles me: what do we learn from history?

Well, what I see here is, we ought not to count on some big event complete with all of the – everything that would help outdo anything that any TV preacher has ever done. Have all of that in place. We better not count that winning the day over the long run.

We better count on people who are dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ and confessed Him as Lord, have studied their Bibles, and they have committed themselves to follow Jesus at all costs over the long haul, over the long haul. Please don’t hear me discounting the place of special meetings where we call people to Christ, but history teaches us something here, and that is: don’t trust or don’t count on those periodic revivals as actually carrying the day. Israel lost, and I’m afraid we will too if we don’t do the hard work of discipleship. This is a bit of a transition here, and I really, really, really need to keep moving. So forgive me if I go too fast.

I’d like to talk just briefly about four eras of peace on earth, and you historians are quite familiar with these pieces. It’s just a little bit of a framework here for us to think from. So the four:

  1. The Pax Romana
  2. The Pax Mongolia
  3. The Pax Britannica, and
  4. The Pax Americana.

You’ll read about these even in a secular text. And so I reference them here for a couple of reasons. I want to look at A and B in particular. Well, and particularly B because that’s the one that I think that we are likely the most unfamiliar with. Pax Romana approximately 200 years, 27 BC beginning with Caesar Augustus ending with Marcus Aurelius, and incidentally Marcus Aurelius was probably the most systematic persecutor of Christians. There were others, of course, but his was systematic widespread.

The 180 AD marks the end, so to speak, of the Pax Romana, and a change of fortune for the Romans. First, there is the Hun invasion. The Hun invasions – the Huns were a Central Asiatic group of people, not Mongols, they were Huns. And their pressure from the east toward the west dramatically changed things there in the Roman empire. Particularly for those of us of German background, it’s a fascinating thing because that pressure from the Huns moving from the east toward the west, pushing on the German tribes caused them to begin to seek some safety from the Roman people. And so what I grew up in school knowing as the barbarian invasions actually were quite different than that a bunch of Barbarians with clubs and horns on their heads, and things like that, marching over the Danube and beating up the Romans – not really. The word Foederati – those of you who have screen in front of you that you see – kind of really captures it. Actually the Romans invited the Germans across the Danube River, and some of the Germans begged to come across the Danube River and later the Rhine for fear of the Huns. And hence that long 200 years of German movement into Roman territory and the events that followed – far too much there to spend much time there but fascinating piece of our own history there.

I failed to say, of course the Bible calls the Pax Romana “the fullness of times” – great statement, and I’ve pondered it often.

So how was it the fullness of times? Well, certainly because of the advent of Christ. But here we are some 2,000 years downstream and things have happened since then. Secondarily, the Pax Mongolica, notice that we fast forward here to 1200 to 1350. In the next slide I’m going to say more about that. See there the Pax Britannica approximately a hundred years according to the scholars. I don’t know – I kind of think it’s a little longer than that, really, but this is a British Peace from the Napoleonic era through World War One.

In there, some speak of the Pax Americana, the 20th century or something of that, is after 1945. Don’t have time to unpack much of that. Do want to talk about the Mongols just a bit. As I’ve already stated to you, I think this is an era of history in which we are not all that familiar with the events, but there’s great lessons in it. I’d like to just offer a few of them to you. Those of you who are watching the screen and the video, you are able to see an animated map showing the growth of the Mongol Empire 1,200s, 1,300s. A huge empire spreading itself out over the face of the earth.

And a piece of it that I want to just mention to you is: you’ll see as it repeats itself there how it spreads down into China. And so the Mongolians, we wouldn’t think of the Mongols as being this powerful today, but a nomadic people who rode horses and who conquered people, they spread themselves out over the world and they actually “conquered” China. But you can see that I have in the text there “conquered” in quotes. I have it for a reason, because I think there’s an insight here.

First, just a little reflection on my own childhood. So growing up in the 1960s, those of you who remember that, remember if you went to public schools, how we occasionally have those drills where bells went off and whistles rang and we dived under the desk, and we were thoroughly schooled in the fact that the Communists have their guns trained on us and that we have to be very, very careful and be ready to resist them. Remember that? Now with that backdrop come back here to this story of the Mongols in their “conquering” of China. Think of the Mongols people, they ride horses, they know how to shoot an arrow off of a horse like not even an American Indian would be able to do. They’re fighters, nomadic fighters, who travel fast and rapidly over the face of the earth, conquering and destroying the looting and so on.

When they “conquered” China though, militarily, rather than destroy them and tear the whole place apart and burn it down. They occupied it. For around a hundred years and in that occupation they, of course, set themselves up as the governmental rulers and they get some of the the Chinese dignitaries and trained government officials to help them.

Over time they change. The Mongols become Chinese. I can’t help but tell you this very, very interesting little piece. It’s probably made up to make the point but it’s a good way to see it. So the Mongols nomadic, they don’t take baths. They don’t clean themselves up. They know almost nothing about bathing. Well when they take over China, and they start walking down the streets, the Chinese walked by them and hold there noses. After a while the Mongols say, what’s the deal? Well, you ought to take a bath. A bath? What’s a bath? Let me show you. As you might expect is, those Mongol dignitaries settle down into the bathtub and experience that the warmth of water and call out clean. After a while they say, “You know what, this is not a bad idea after all.”

Long story short: The Mongols are defeated by the Chinese – the Chinese culture captivates the Mongols and they are drawn irresistibly toward the Chinese way of life. My point: It’s not guns that change the world, brothers and sisters. It’s not horses and bows and arrows and military strategy, or any such thing. It is ideas. It is the strength of ideas, it is the strength of culture, and of course you knew where I’m going with this: What what if the Western world has said to themselves, “We’re Christians. We know the Lord, and you know what, if those Russians want to come and conquer us, well, let them. We’re not changing. We serve the Lord.” What if, in fact, that had been the approach rather than gun for gun, missile for missile.

You know the story. I suspect the world would be very different. Let us not ever forget the kingdom of God is a kingdom born of the ideas and teaching brought forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and beyond that, and I believe, I thoroughly believe, it has the capacity to change the world, and I want to be on that side.

That’s the story from Pax Mongolia. Just mentioned in passing: It is also the rise of world trade, and the reason I mention this is because we probably always think of the Eastern world as being a little bit backwards, but you know what, they really were two leaders, at least up until the 16th century, 15th century. They led technologically, they led in a lot of ways, and the Mongolians weren’t that bad. They actually make it possible for world trade to happen because they patrolled the Silk Road and it is said a lady could carry a thousand coins in her in her purse and walk the Silk Road under the Mongols and she was safe. That’s better than our world is doing today. Enough said, let’s move on.

I have two stories except I’m only going to tell one of them for the sake of time, and this is on the sovereignty of God. One that perhaps is pertinent for the day in which we live. The Black Plague and anti-Semitism. And again, for those of you who are online and can see the screen you see an animated map of the spread of the black Plague.

We’ve seen a lot of maps these days in respect to Covid, well here’s one. And I want you to notice something that’s fascinating. You will see every time because this animation, that there is a space that was not affected by the Black Plague. You see Cracow, and if Warsaw was on this map you would see it as well. Focus pretty much on central and southern Poland. You see this area that was not affected by the by the Black Plague but there’s a story behind it; it’s a kind of a fascinating one, or a story that follows it. Likely, you know that antisemitism or anti-Jewishness, or pilgrims, attacks on Jewish people were long-standing long before the Nazis of the 20th century. Jews were not liked, and because of their culture and lifestyle, that is tending to be a separate group of people, mind you, their communities were not affected by the Black Plague as strongly as was the general population.

Aha, speaking of conspiracy theories. Oh my, they’re targeted and blamed. The finger is pointed at them. They’re blamed for poisoning wells, they’re blamed for all kinds of things that were associated with the spread of the Black Plague, and you can read about how they were they were persecuted, whole groups of them gathered up in cities and burned in the middle of the city, and so on. So they’re persecuted, mind you, that they hardly had a haven, but those in eastern Europe around Cracow and in Warsaw, Poland, eastern Europe. They said, well, if you need a place to live, then come and live with us. And so thousands, tens of thousands, of Jews made their way toward eastern Europe, which is the explanation as to why there was such a large Jewish population in eastern Europe, come the 20th century and the Nazi atrocities that we are familiar with. Fascinating.

What was God thinking in all of this? You know, His thoughts are above mine and yours. His ways are above mine and yours. And so it’s not that I would second guess it, but why does this Plague proceed like this, and then let this gap, and how is it that this concentrates the Jews? You can see my line of thinking here. God is Sovereign. He will accomplish His goals.

If you’re looking on the paper you will note that the second story is about the Waterloo. But I’m going to pass over that story. Essentially, though, maybe I would want to say to you, to us all, that we ought to be careful about the heroes that we embrace in the stories that we read. History makes out that there were these great men, great politicians, or Army generals, or this or that, who were the movers and shakers of the world. Give credit where credit’s due, but then remember this: if you read almost any of these stories with some care, almost every one of them has embedded in them somewhere and event that clearly was from the hand of God, His sovereign will at work. The story of the Battle of Waterloo has a tremendous amount of rain on the eve of the battle, delayed the action of Napoleon and likely was the decisive point that meant his defeat there. Not the wisdom of the Duke of Wellington. Credit where credit is due – but still the main event was that rain. That’s the kind of stories I love to tell my students and then point to say: who is sovereign in history? Who writes history? it is God.

And perhaps, I was saying to us Americans: let us remember in this very difficult time politically, and a great deal of confusion in all, that our call is the call to us to pray for our leaders and to remember that Jesus Christ is Lord, He is sovereign of the universe. In fact, He will bring to pass that which is in His heart and mind to do in the days ahead. Let us never waver from our confidence in that great truth.

I’d like the transition now to a few defining eras in church history particularly and just think about those. You’ll see two of them in yellow and I put those there particularly because I’d like to emphasize them rather than the others. However, just a quick run through here. So the Constantinian heresy – and again, likely most of you are familiar with this. Fourth century and it clearly the wedding of church and state and a confusion about what it means to follow Christ begins to emerge, a massive confusion. I personally think that one of the greatest heresies that hit the face of the earth, that hit Christianity, began here when the position was rejected where Jesus taught unconditional love for one’s foes, friends, so forth and so on. This was the beginning.

A second pivotal point was the rise of Islam the 6th and 7th centuries. One could likely make an argument, I think that Islam may have died of its own, if it had not been that Christians decided to meet Islam at their own terms, violence with violence. One wonders again, what would have happened if in fact Christianity in the 6th and 7th centuries, when this movement of Islam was beginning, if the message had gone out all over the world that we Christians will have nothing to do with – I guess at that time – spears and lances, and weapons of that sort – will have nothing to do with it.

Our master has taught us otherwise. Our Lord has directed us otherwise. One wonders what would have happened instead of the event that I wish would have happened and that is that the hearts of the world would have been won by people who love unconditionally. Rather than that, you see the Crusades 1100 to 1300. Every time I teach this to my world history students, every time I read this story, I weep, I really do. How it is that over 200 years, the best of Christianity, the cream of the crop, even Bernard of Clairvaux, joins in this effort to bring war against the Islamic people there in the Middle East.

Oh my, it just troubles me deeply, troubles me deeply. One wonders again how the world would be different today if Christians would have lived out what Jesus actually taught. You know, and I know, that the Islamic people have never forgotten this event 1100 to 1300 AD.

The Reformation – I’m gonna talk about that here in just a moment, and the great migration to the Americas, and World War One, so we’ll take those three and think about this a bit.

Reformation, some fascinating things to be learned there. I recently read in this text a history of Christianity by Paul Johnson. I’m not exactly a Paul Johnson fan, but I find it fascinating to read from different perspectives, and what really fascinated me as I’ve looked at the index, at the chapter titles, and so on, when he got to the Reformation he speaks there about the Third Way and I was so excited because I thought, “Oh, Paul Johnson gets it that there really was this third path that the reformers took that’s sometimes called Anabaptism.”

Well, mind you, when I got to the section and began to read there, he really identifies as the third way as the way of Desiderius Erasmus. Now, I have long been fascinated by Erasmus’ doctrine and position, and many ways have deep respect for the position. I was hoping that Paul Johnson would actually follow through and make the connection to show that if there was anybody who carried forward Erasmus’ as ideas, except for, say, in the Catholic Church, it certainly was the Anabaptist. Hardly a word. I was disappointed. Need to let that alone. The four tenets of the Reformation you can see listed here. I am not going to talk about these at length. I think that you are familiar with them.

The fourth one I do want to point out to you. The Bible is final authority in questions of doctrine and practice. I’ll pick up on that here when we look at the unintended consequences lessons from history. Listen carefully.

Decisions are made. People do things. Sometimes they think they’re very right, and preach so, and seem to have no concept of the unintended consequences what may happen. Have we thought through the issues? Now I want to be clear: we can’t possibly know everything ahead of time. We have directions in Scripture and I have the confidence that if we follow the directions that Jesus has given, and if we walk in His footsteps, those consequences that follow are in His hand and He will care of them, He will see after them. I sometimes wonder, though, if we just don’t think deeply enough. Look at these. If you have a paper in front of them you already see them.

  1. Mass education became an ideal and goal.

Number one. I’m reading these for those who may be listening and have no access to print or anything

  1. The exaltation of the individual; personal conscience trump group consensus.
  2. The promotion of democratic ideas.
  3. The exaltation of the family built on romantic love.

That’s a fascinating one; not going to build on it at all this evening.

  1. The separation of church and state in matters of government.
  2. The dignity of the laboring man; VOCATION is holy.
  3. Laity participation in worship; the rise of hymnody.

Whatever issues we may have with Martin Luther, we need to give him credit here. He worked hard on this point.

  1. The birth of denominationalism.
  2. The seeds of nationalism.
  3. The seeds of socialism.

A little time to develop all these – just looking at two of them: two and eight.

Number two, “The exaltation of the individual; personal conscience trumps group consensus.” Little time to develop this, but very, very fascinating. I’ll just go to the bookend. So early on this felt like great liberation and likely was; now the individual needs to learn how to respond to God and to His work. Amen. On board. If we carry this forward into the 20th century, this ended up being a redefinition of salvation in some ways, I think that are problematic and troubling. Not time to develop that, but think on this. You know and I know that we struggle with today and it goes back to some of these things.

Number eight there, “The birth of denominationalism.” Remember that the fourth tenets of the Reformation was that the Bible is final authority in matters of practice and doctrine. Wow, that answers all the questions, and I can just feel the euphoria of those who set the idea forth because there’s a great sense in which it’s true. But by now, we know that simple statement is not a cure-all. The question is, remember, who’s interpreting? Who does say so at the end of the day?

And today, we have multiple interpretations and understandings of the Scriptures, and it has resulted in denominationalism. Now again, it would be interesting to explore this at length. But if I go back to Erasmus for a moment, and here’s where I have a heart for Erasmus, he was one of the only leading reformers who got it. Why did he never leave the Catholic church? And mind you, I’m not defending him for not leaving. That church had issues.

He was not sure how you could actually move away from the Catholic church or from the established church into this new system of thought without somehow having anarchy in the church. He never could resolve that in his mind. And so he said to his fellow reformers in so many words “Brothers, I understand, but I fear that if you keep following this path, you’re going to end up with endless…” – and he didn’t know the word. I’ll fill it in – “…denominations.” Aha, now this is something that we should think about.

Eight o’clock and a brother Bryant said I could go to 8:10. So I’ll just need to keep moving.

Here’s something fascinating for you. So migrations: I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of this or not, but the movement of white Caucasian Europeans from the Old World or Europe to America is almost unmatched in history. Unless it would be the movement from east to west into Siberia by the Russian peasants, but a fascinating, fascinating thing, this migration, and a chief among it and this is just kind of an extra for you today. You’ll see here a marker. Mind you, I’m about two hours from it, it’s down here at East Liverpool, Ohio – right on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio where the Ohio River passes through. It’s the marker where the American surveyors begin to survey the West. Now that’s a marker in the middle of the river, they say, these days. But nobody goes to see this marker – would be worth seeing. If you look at the picture there on the right hand side, you will see there that patchwork there in Ohio and Indiana, places like that, all those squares that emerge there. Here’s what I would like to say to you about it. This was the greatest land sell that the world had ever seen. I think I have in my notes, something like this: The end of nobility and feudalism, and a fascination and opportunity for personal property for the penniless.” This was the first time ever in the history of the world in a massive way that a government put up land for sale and made it possible for the average person, for a penniless person. If he had a will to work, he could buy some land, mind you, live on it, improve it, and it was his.

This was the genius of the movement west, and here it’s really hard for me not to get onto one of my hobby horses, which is – you see all these little pieces of land. Aha, a new nobility is rising: the great landowners of the West. Oh my, you know where I’m headed there, those of you who know me. The demise of the small farmer in America is a mistake. The demise of the small farmer in America is a mistake. I’ll let it at that for you to consider. Fascinating to me. Enough for the great migration. But considerate it.

World War One is a real transitional point. Francis Schaeffer was probably the person who kind of clued me into this to begin with. And as the years have gone by and I thought it over and talked my way through World War One, but you can’t miss it. You can just simply look at the change in dress, women or men, from prior to World War One to post World War One, a dramatic change of events during this period of time.

What were some of the things that happened? I, again – not enough time to say much about these – but humanism comes to maturity. Why do I say this? Well, Charles Darwin had published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. It became popularized among intellectuals, but not the general population.

The big arguments, in among the masses, begin after World War One and humanism really has a heyday and becomes widespread. Nationalism bears fruit. Most historians will trace the rise of modern nationalism back to the Napoleonic era going forward, but there is no question that German nationalism, as it came into World War One and after World War One – wow! And let us not be fooled. We are subject to this phenomena way more than what we think. I have been dismayed, at times, at the level of which we are willing to align ourselves with the American military. Oh, really?

Ought we not to rethink this a bit, brothers and sisters? Never forget: we are first citizens of the Kingdom of God.

And, of course, we do our duty as American citizens – I have no doubt about that. But let us not be drawn into this scandal. Let us not be drawn into this spirit that is upon our nation and the world that we are witnessing in our day. Enough said.

Socialism becomes the socio-economic norm. Those are too big of words. I shouldn’t have used those. But in general, we’re seeing this today. And let me just say this for whatever it’s worth: aside from all the issues associated with COVID-19, my greater concern is the great opportunity that has been opened for the advance of socialism in America. This happens to be close to my heart and I want to say just a few words about it.

First, we ought not to forget that Nazi Germany – you know that Nazi actually stands for the “National Socialistic German Workers Party” and you would do well to look at that agenda sometime. But why do I say this? And how does it affect us, and why should we care?

Well, a few notes here, but I don’t have time to look at these except to say just one word on it. Henry the 8th confiscated church property in England. That included the monasteries and the convents. Before the rise of governmental socialism, the social relief was offered by the church primarily through monasteries and convents. So if you were traveling somewhere and got sick, you stopped at a monastery. If you were an orphan, you had a good chance of getting care at a convent, and so on. The changes that happened during the Reformation – there were more than meets the eye. One of these was the confiscation of church property in the end of that. Well, what did that mean? Well, it meant a receding influence of the church in the rise of a new savior: government, care, and protection.

Now what I’m going to say next, I can say fairly: I pay social security. I can receive Social Security. I am 64 years old. I turn 65 in November. But I want you to hear me on this. I have come to believe that we have been drawn into this system way too far. I really have. Consider our fascination with retiring. I don’t want to kick shins. I don’t want to step on toes. But you know what? I’m not planning to retire and buy a cottage in Florida and moved there. Deep respect for those who see otherwise, but I think it’s a mistaken view. I really do. In fact, I guess I’m going to have to agree with the Amish. They’re basically right. Consider what the church has done with the elderly.

I won’t mention any of these old people’s homes by name, but there are several that I have been acquainted with and I am astounded at what has become of Mennonite elderly care homes. The lavishness in many things that are associated with. There. For me, I don’t plan to retire. For me, I hope and pray that my children will care for me as I grow old.

For me, I have two words for the socialization that is going on. They are: “Get out.” We need to get out. Strong words, but I’m saying it and I hope a conversation can grow up around some of these things.

Fourth, the 20th century in my estimation has been an unmitigated disaster toward paganism. Sometimes we get tossed about it with this about our conservative lifestyle. I for one am so delighted to be a part of the group of people who have not caved in to paganism, but I need to let that so I can finish.

I have four points to make to you and so: here are four things I would like to suggest that we maybe can learn from history

  1. First, any genuine expression of Christ following must embrace radical unconditional love that is being perfected in Jesus. Why “that is being perfected in Jesus?” Look, I confess to you. I’m still learning what radical unconditional love looks like but let us never forget the position that we have taken. Call it non-resistance or give it whatever name that you want to. It is the right position. It is what Jesus taught, and the Christianity that does not embrace, it is at least suspect. I want to say that kindly but I want to say it clearly.
  2. Second, any genuine expression of Christ following was come to terms with the socio-economic dualism that we have bought into. I just mentioned a piece or so of that, and again, too big of words here, but basically what I mean is the playing games with Kingdom economics and this world’s economics and culture and lifestyle in everything that is associated with that. We must stop that. I call it dualism and we must become single-minded on this position.
  3. Third, the future of Christianity lies in its capacity to create Kingdom communities that are relatively close communities, who with open hearts are prepared to love their neighbor as themselves all over the world. I would love to unpack this one. Just a brief comment on closed communities: by that, we need to recover, I think, maybe not the Hutterite lifestyle, but living in compact communities that actually do represent: “Here is a group of people visibly living together on the face of the earth in love and brotherhood.” And the rest of that is suggesting that, that doesn’t mean we close ourselves off. In fact, the goal is to open up arms to the disenfranchised of the world. Close, protective, we’re followers of Christ, arms wide open to the disenfranchised of the world.
  4. And fourth, “And I say also unto thee,” Jesus speaking, “that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Simple statement here is: let us recover a love for the body of Christ. Let us bind our hearts together for the cause of Christ in this our day and let it be visibly done in our churches where we gather together and sing and pray, and once again, open our doors to the needy of the world. And with this I close. God bless.

Question and Answer period begins…

Philip Hess: Thank you for that presentation, Brother Melvin.

Melvin Lehman: You’re welcome. Good to see you again.

Philip Hess: Good to see you, too. That was stimulating and engaging. It occurred to me that you seem to think that the Kingdom of God has the answers for the world’s problems, as I listened to your message. Who would that be correct?

Melvin Lehman: Yes.

Philip Hess: Well, we had an engaged audience, also, and we’ve had a number of questions coming in, and my thoughts go back to what you stated at the beginning from that prayer in Psalm 71 about “when I’m old and gray headed I want to show your strength to this generation.” So, I know some of our listeners are on the telephone and can’t see you, but for their sake I’ll just affirm that you are grey-headed. You said you weren’t old, and it’s a privilege to be able to ask questions of someone who’s seen a lot of things and has a wider perspective on history than those of us who’ve only lived a few years. So, we have some good questions here and I’ll just start with this one.

“Do the periodic revivals that the church has experienced play a role in sustaining the church over the long haul?”

Melvin Lehman: Yes, I want to be very clear that they certainly have. What comes to mind immediately is the Wesley revivals. But I would again point out that the Wesley revivals were long-term over a great period of time, and not so much a highly publicized event. However, the Moody revivals here in America and so on, certainly have played their place and have their place, even as Elijah’s revival, so to speak, there on Mount Carmel. I hope that I had said enough to make it clear that I did not intend to throw cold water on events that God has used in his own special way to accomplish his purposes. What I did intend to say is that the long-term health of the church is not dependent. We should not expect those periodic revivals to sustain her over the long haul. I think it is more the one-on-one discipleship that happens in local congregations on an ongoing basis. Yeah.

Philip Hess: Yeah, thank you for that. Jesus came to make disciples, didn’t he?

Melvin Lehman: Amen.

Curt Wagoner: And didn’t he tell us to go out and make disciples, too?

Philip Hess: Amen.

Melvin Lehman: Amen. This is hard work. This is just hard work.

Philip Hess: Yeah, that’s for sure. Well, the animation you showed of the Black Plague sweeping over Europe generated a couple questions, and I’m just going to summarize those.

“Why was that area of Poland not affected by the Black Plague?”

and

“Where the Jews protected by the application of Biblical hygiene and quarantine?”

Melvin Lehman: The second question is the easiest one to answer. The answer to that is “yes.” Clearly, their practices of hygiene, in particular, and to a certain extent quarantine because of their communities, played a role in their not being affected by the plague as much, at least, as others. The first part of the question is still unknown. Historians have made guesses as why Cracow and Warsaw, the surrounding areas were not affected, but there has never been anything conclusive that I know of, and I attribute to the sovereign hand of God. I have attributed it to the sovereignty of God and cannot give you the data as to why it did not affect them.

Philip Hess: Yes, thank you.

Curt Wagoner: It was interesting to me, Melvin, to notice that there was also a much smaller area in northern Italy, maybe around Vienna in the Pyrenees between Spain and France where there seemed to not be any of the Black Plague, at least a very strong incidence of it.

Melvin Lehman: You’re very observant. Good.

Philip Hess: Okay. Moving on to some questions about how the social forces have shaped the world in are affecting us.

Is Soviet Marxism an example of what happens when the “gospel” (in quotes) is communicated without the full Gospel of non-resistance and non-accumulation of wealth? How would the world be different if the full Gospel has been preached in Russia 1,000 years ago?

Look a thousand years back, Brother Melvin, and tell us what would have been different today.

Melvin Lehman: Yeah, that’s that’s a great question. A thousand years ago – the interesting thing is the Mongols that I spoke of were on the move and beginning to move west and were putting a lot of pressure on the Russians. And incidentally some of the facial features of pure Russians today have some of those Mongol – you see some of those affects on faces. I think I would attach that question to the Mongols because the opportunity to actually preach the gospel, the full Gospel, to the Russians could have come via the Mongols. But you know what? They turned to Islam rather than to Christianity. And yes, a great question. And again, I just want to lament. And I not only want to lament. I want to ask myself the question: “So, what are we neglecting today that if time should last and go another thousand years that people would look back and say, ‘If there would have only been somebody…’?” So, great question and I think the world would be quite different, yes.

Philip Hess: Yeah, I think that’s a great way to look at it. How does it apply to us today? Here’s another one – this is more current question:

Is the exaltation of the individual and personal independence increasing more recently in the past decade. It seems like it. How do we keep a good balance?

Melvin Lehman: Oh, my that’s a really, really good question. I think it is increasing, yes. You know, most of us have been all around this question and wonder what’s the right answer to it. There’s probably multiple answers to it. So, we are not as economically dependent upon one another as we used to be and that creates an individualism of its own. What’s the right balance? Well, you know, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Now, I know I’m sidestepping the direct answer to the question, but I have full confidence that when we come fully to Jesus we become as free as we can as human beings. And by that, we might think of balance. And that’s what takes me to economics, its what takes me to brotherhood, to church, and it’s a package of things that creates this “I belong to God and to my brothers, and I don’t have personal rights I can just swing around and do what I feel like doing with them.” And besides that, salvation is in the body of Christ. Not in the church, but it’s always associated with the church. And if – I don’t know – it’s too big of a question to really tackle here, but I think we need to wrestle with it a lot.

Philip Hess: Very well. That question came in before you unpack some of that stuff about the church caring for the elderly and so forth. So maybe you gave some of the answers through that. Maybe you have a thought on that Brother Curt?

Curt Wagoner: I do have. It’s been described what you talked about and this question addresses, it’s been described as the cult of the individual and I too think that I seen in the last decade or maybe even a little longer than that just an increasing focus on individualism. And we must recognize that there’s a lot of things that contribute to that, but would it be fair to say that that access to especially electronic media might be a very large contributing factor to that?

Melvin Lehman: Absolutely. Absolutely. We must find ways to live well in the digitized age. I’m a teacher in the access to information is unbelievable, as you all know. I don’t need to tell you that. Certainly has contributed to that sense: “I know. I can find out myself. I don’t need you. I can bank from home. I can…” I don’t know – the list goes on and on, and somehow or another it is contributed there and I’m not sure, I don’t know the answer, but somewhere we’re going to have to learn to say “no.”

Philip Hess: Amen, may the Lord help us on that. Well, here’s a tough question:

The Anabaptist are often credited with promoting the freedom of conscience as an antidote to the state Church system. So how can this movement have taken place without the individualistic consequences? How can we have freedom of conscience without individualism? Did they miss something or was this an unavoidable consequence?

Melvin Lehman: That’s an excellent question because one would have to describe what they meant by “freedom of conscience” because on one hand the Anabaptists clearly meant – now I’m talking about not the radical, radical Anabaptist like at Münster or someplace like that, but they when they spoke of “freedom of conscience” they certainly met that the governing powers have no right or responsibility to manage the consciences of men. Not their job. They would have quickly said that the conscience of the brother, of each brother, must be brought to the congregation – I’m going to use the words “for perfection” because I don’t think – where it was lived the best – I don’t think the Anabaptists would have said. “Okay, now you join the church. We want to take your personal conscience away.” But they would have asked, “Can you bring your thoughts to the congregation? Can we talk about them? And, are you willing to submit in the end to brothers?” And there you have, I think, you have to see that difference, I believe. Freedom of conscience in relationship to government, and how this freedom of conscience works inside of the church. That’s a different question and one I think we need to continue to wrestle with.

Curt Wagoner: So, of course, as we think about this, would not you agree that a very real possibility that group consensus could trump Christ just as well as as individualism? So there needs to be some sort of balancing some deeper perspective, of course involved in all of this, right?

Melvin Lehman: Absolutely. Absolutely. Most of us who have been in any level of leadership know about the tensions that you’re talking about there, and none of us would want to go outside of the council of Christ in our attempts to pull congregations together in a unity of conscience (or what the right wording is here?), but certainly – oh, I don’t know. Maybe I would think about it a little bit the way I relate to my wife Sheila. She’s a wonderful lady but she has strong opinions, and we talk about things a lot. What I like is that the end of the day we don’t even always actually agree, but there’s a oneness. We agree that this is where we’re at. We need leadership in our day to lead congregations in a similar path, and I know it’s beyond all of us. We do need the help of the Lord.

Philip Hess: Then scriptures tell us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” and this question, I think, is a large part of that. You know, how does that all work together? Individuals conscience and submission to the church.

Melvin Lehman: Boy, an excellent question and a good verse that I wasn’t thinking of just now, but “working out one’s own salvation” – when you hear Paul walk his way through places like Romans 14 and yet other places where he’s working with that eating meats and not eating meats and so forth and so on the ofttimes ends up saying something that I’m like, “Paul, doesn’t that sound weak, you know? Well, let’s not blame this brother, or let’s kind of just in the end be okay with each other.” Well in a sense, he’s saying brother “A” is working out his own salvation. And brother “B” is working out his own salvation. And there are these little tricky questions. And in Romans 14 he ends up saying “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” I believe that’s where it’s at. Well, that’s kind of a fascinating way to end to what are you saying there. But back to the question, so there is a certain sense in which your issues are not my issues in terms of life, what I do, and what I don’t do. But it’s fascinating in some way our salvation is connected to the things that we allow or don’t allow, as Paul says, and it uses a strong statement, “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” So, I’m just kind of meandering around the question, but there is that sense in which we must personally work it out. And by the way, Paul is saying, though, that’s worked out in the congregation among brothers.

Curt Wagoner: Thank you. Thank you for that, Melvin. Brother Philip, do you have one final question you would like to have addressed, Brother Melvin?

Philip Hess: Yes. I have a question and then I’ll offer and encouragement after that that was sent in.

How are the ideals of socialism answered by the kingdom of God?

Melvin Lehman: I would say a very short to answer to that is voluntary giving toward a reasonable equality. Uh oh, I’m going to get shot down there, but it seems to me – can’t help it, you know, I want to tell a story but I’m not going to take the time to do it. I’ve talked with socialists before. I mean trained socialists that would think strongly that way. And their method of “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is government coercion. There’s actually a certain amount of truth to that statement – what should be true in the Christian community – and “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” but there the framework is entirely different. These are voluntary believers in a voluntary brotherhood who have committed themselves to each other to the death, if you please. And that’s what Christianity ought to mean for us, I think. And there there will be a voluntary movement in the direction of that’s always in mind. Where’s the need? How can I help? and so on.

Philip Hess: That’s good. Thank you, and we have an encouragement. Someone said this as you were speaking:

Your point about German and American nationalism is profound and quite frightening in our very day. A knowledge of history is critical, and there’s a severe lack of knowledge today. Preach on.

Melvin Lehman: Thank you, brother. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Curt Wagoner: Thank you. Brother Melvin. That was very very rewarding very worthwhile. I speak in behalf of I’m sure all of those who are listening and those who are watching.

Melvin Lehman: Praise the Lord.

Curt Wagoner: As we think about the kingdoms that have progressed through human history. And, of course we think about the immovable Kingdom that was referenced early on and this service this evening, I’m just thinking about an expression that came from the lips from the pain pen of one poet who wrote words like this:

For, not like kingdoms of the world
The holy Church of God!
Though earthquake-shocks are rocking her
And tempest is abroad;

Unshaken as eternal hills,
Unmovable she stands, –
A mountain that shall fill the earth,
A fane not built by hands.

Arthur C. Coxe

And those words resonate with me. That’s the ideal that I think that all of us would like to see in our in our local brotherhoods and in the church of God. So again, thank you Brother Melvin for your very good exhortation and instruction here this evening.

I would like to close this portion with prayer, and then we’ll have a few announcements and will conclude the evening service. Let’s pray:

Gracious God, heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, we thank you for the blessing that has been ours tonight as we’ve been instructed on how kingdoms come, and kingdoms go, the rise and fall of civilizations and father. Give us discerning heart so that history truly can teach us. Father those were real people those were real movements those were real emotions and experiences that were lived. And so I pray, heavenly Father, that we could be discerners that “those things were written aforetime were for our example,” and we want to draw from them as your Spirit works with us in our day so that we might live closer to the ideals of Jesus. So Father again, we thank you. We pray your blessing upon all of those who are participating tonight, those who are listening, those who are watching, just bless and keep each one and help us to become all that you desire is to be. In Jesus name. I pray. Amen.

Now brother Melvin has prepared some questions that we want you to think about and perhaps discuss, maybe in your local church setting or your small group setting. Those questions will be displayed for those who have video access. And I’m going to repeat them, read those questions. There are four of them so that everyone can have some awareness of them.

  1. What are we learning about global socialization? And what should be our response?
  2. At what level have we bought into nationalism and how has nationalism affected our identity as a people set apart unto God?
  3. What are the unintended consequences of the Reformation, and how are we interacting / responding to these unintended consequences?
  4. What is close community with a mission?

Those are stimulating questions and it can be very fruitful to fellowship around some of those questions.

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