, assistant editor of South Pacific Adventist Record
A poster on the wall of my high school’s history classroom bore this warning: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them.”
Somehow I must have missed the point because I found myself learning modern European history all over again when I repeated 11th grade. Consequently the basic facts of World War I and the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, whose 100th anniversary is now being remembered, remain firmly implanted in my memory. Barbed wire, tanks, trench warfare, machine guns, mustard gas, shellshock. Man’s inhumanity to man.
Is it possible that Seventh-day Adventists could also fail to learn the lessons of history?
A thought-provoking film released as part of the General Conference’s 100 Days of Prayer campaign recalls Ellen G. White’s vision of Adventist leaders humbling themselves and confessing sins. Sadly it was not a vision that became reality but only a glimpse of “What Might Have Been,” as the film is titled. There’s even a suggestion that Jesus may have returned in White’s lifetime if the church had been better spiritually prepared.
Instead we’re repeating.
God rescued a mob of complaining slaves from Egypt and called them His chosen people. “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness,” recalls the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:5).
Repeat. Jesus handpicked and trained 12 disciples to be His witnesses to “the ends of the earth.” Within a few centuries the movement they’d started had been corrupted by wealth and power, infected with paganism and encrusted by tradition.
Repeat. God chose the Protestant reformers to bring the church back to holiness through Bible translation and rediscovery of forgotten doctrine. But despite their progress they reprised so many of their predecessors’ errors that the Protestant movement was seen to fulfill Revelation’s description of “the image of the beast.”
Repeat. A faithful band of disappointed Millerites is driven back to the Bible by the urgency of last days’ prophecy. Together they reestablish many neglected truths and found a vibrant church that reaches every corner of the globe. A century and a half later, however, this advent movement ruefully recognizes itself in the lukewarm Laodicean church of Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
How many times do God’s people need to repeat the lesson before we learn what He’s trying to teach us? I’m thankful that Jesus’ message to the Laodicean church is not one of rejection, but correction: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
It’s not too late to learn the lessons of history; to focus not on “what might have been” but on what will be.
Watch “What Might Have Been”: