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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Times change.

And so do the meaning of words.

Take “liberal” and “conservative,” for instance. Back in the 19th-century, a “Liberal” favored free markets, while “Conservatives” backed government intervention.

Today, it’s the other way around. The meanings changed, in other words, even though the words themselves did not.

The same is true of this week’s lesson – a lesson that hearkens back to the time when “Conservatives” sought to rule by “crown, sword, and altar,” i.e. the aristocracy, the army, and the established church.

And yes, the “established church” was usually (but not always) Catholic.

Lined up against this cause was an uneasy coalition of Protestants and Liberals – Protestants who opposed Conservatives because they were Catholic, and Liberals who opposed anything that stood in the way of free markets and free thought.

The Fundamentalists and the ACLU had joined hands against the Old Guard, in other words – and if you want an example of the way this worked out in practice, then read The Great Controversy; notice how Ellen White critiques the Conservative establishment of her day. It’s a critique based, not just on religious values, but on Liberal values as well – Liberal values such as efficiency, reason, and democracy.

No, when Ellen White wrote The Great Controversy, it would have been controversial. Provocative. Even “edgy.”

But it was a book you could give to a Liberal President or Prime Minister – a man such as Theodore Roosevelt or William Gladstone – and you could do so knowing he’d understand.

Even if he didn’t agree.

Try that today, however, and they’d throw you out; they’d lump you in with those crazies who think the Federal Reserve is a front for the Trilateral Commission!

That’s because the times have changed. “The divine right of kings” is dead; the old alliance of crown, sword and altar has long since passed away. And whatever it meant to its original readers, anyone who reads The Great Controversy today must do in light of these facts:
  • the Conservatives -- the old Conservatives -- have lost.
  • the Liberals have long since moved on to other opponents (i.e. Fascism and Communism),
  • and yes, the Catholic Church has finally made its peace with democracy.

As you teach this week’s lesson, in other words, it won’t be enough to simply repeat the same things we’ve been saying for the last 150-years . . . for even if you did, they wouldn’t mean the same thing they did 150-years ago.

Talk about the "errors of the Catholic Church" back in 1875, after all, and you could still be a Partner in the Great Alliance Against Authoritarian Regimes. But try it today, and you're going to sound like a bigot.

And no, this isn't an argument for a Sabbath School class that is "polically correct."

I’m just stating facts – the fact that times change.

Words change.

And sometimes, the only way to keep on saying the same thing you’ve always said . . .

Is to say something new.


Anonymous Alexander said...

Well said. If we can pay attention to contexts in foreign mission work, we can do it here also.

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this posting. I like your point as well as your conclusion!

8:30 AM  

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