And of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do... (1 Chronicles 12:32)
Many people today feel that we are at a crossroads in history. They sense that the increasing moral chaos around us must be reversed before it is too late. Surely, in these troubled times we need the wisdom that the sons of Issachar had, along with the knowledge of what we should do. Anyone with a heart for God’s will can see the need for a deep and lasting change.
But this is not the first time in history that men have felt so strongly about the need to return to God, to bring about His Kingdom on the earth. Pressures have been on others in the past, too. The responses of men caught up in these powerful pressures affect us even centuries later. How they affect us is a matter of great importance, and great debate.
Consider men such as Martin Luther and Menno Simons, the spiritual fathers of the Lutherans and the Mennonites. Today the followers of these men break bread together; four centuries ago this would have been an absolutely unthinkable act, since the Lutherans hunted Anabaptists down to destroy them like pests. It is hard to make sense out of past deeds and present day attempts to be in unity. To just say, “I forgive you,” might be a little too easy when it doesn’t happen personally to you.
Perhaps it is easy to file such concerns away under “Ancient History” in order to concentrate on more pressing and timely matters. But the issue of unity versus bloodshed is a lot closer to us than we realize or are willing to accept. Perhaps we just really don’t know what to think about it. Many of us have fathers who fought in World War II, where American Lutherans found themselves killing German Lutherans. Both sides hunkered down in their foxholes, praying that God would destroy their enemies and preserve their own lives. Both sides considered themselves to be the “Body of Christ,” and some on both sides were surely good individuals who hated war. Which prayers should God listen to? And does anyone have answers today that do more than just gloss over the ugly past?
We hear promises that our participation in certain movements is not political, but only spiritual. But what if it becomes a great and sweeping event, even beyond our hopeful anticipations? This may sound fantastic, but what if a Christian movement really does succeed in turning the great majority of people around? Will we not find ourselves groping with the very same issues which Luther, Calvin, and others dealt with? Shall we shed blood in the interest of truth, as they did?
Most people do not even know what those issues are, finding themselves either not interested or feeling like it is way beyond them. Yet, as we approach the 21st century, these issues are at the very heart of the matter. These men faced the same question that is before Christianity today, namely: If we gain significant control of this society, what do we do with those who refuse to go along with that control?
In the light of God’s Word, the answers given by the fathers of the Protestant Reformation were brutal and unacceptable. Yet, it wasn’t just them. By all sincere people who claim to love the Son of God, this is a chilling fact that must be squarely faced. The fact is that whenever Christianity of any brand began to control society, then those who did not agree with that control found themselves treated as hated enemies. It is one thing to “agree to disagree” with one another, but to agree to destroy those who disagree has been more the case.
And please, don’t say, “It can’t happen here.” Because unless we can explain why it ever happened in the first place, what hope do we have that it won’t happen again... here?