The Minister and Historical Materials

All who would fully utilize the present and all who hope to make their future profitable, dare not neglect giving attention to the past.

By G. T. ANDERSON, Professor of History, Atlantic Union College, Massachusetts

History has long since won its place in the curriculum as an indispensable study in a liberal education. It has won its place, also, in the ministerial course, and in other specialized courses of study. As a field for study, its utilitarian, as well as its cultural value, is beyond serious challenge. All who would fully utilize the present and all who hope to make their future profitable, dare not neglect giving attention to the past. Although history, because of its complexity, may never repeat itself exactly, the great lessons which it con­tains for men and nations are recorded for all posterity to read, and having read, to become at least a little wiser.

The study of history yields to the learner not only factual data, but also what is commonly called a historical or objective attitude. This is of incalculable worth to the student of contem­porary history. The study of human affairs cannot, strictly speaking, be considered a sci­ence, in the same sense as can the physical sci­ences; yet within limits the approach can and should be similar. In either case the objectives are basically the same; namely, the tracing of truth to its ultimate source.

The gospel minister has frequent occasion to use historical materials in his public work. He develops unbelievers' confidence in Bible prophe­cies by a review of those prophecies which have been fulfilled, for fulfilled prophecy is the sub­stance of history. How important it then be­comes that the evangelist or the minister very carefully sift fact from fiction as he delves into the record of the past. This procedure re­quires time and effort. It is not the quickest or the easiest way, but it is the sound way, and the only way suited to the high calling of the gospel worker.

This careful method of sermon preparation holds promise of dividends in the form of sub­stantial believers who will prove a real asset to the cause of present truth. The worker for God will be "rightly dividing the word of truth" when the corroboration of prophecy comes from a careful reading and a sound interpretation of the record of history. The zeal of the minister for truth must be projected beyond his Bible research and into his study of secular history.

The selection and evaluation of historical materials is a matter of prime importance. From the standpoint of historical research, ob­viously, the ideal is that, as far as possible, source materials be studied and used. The farther removed from the original the greater the possibility of error. Some secondary works are entirely dependable and respectable; others must be used with caution; still others are of no value and would reflect on the scholarship of the one citing them as authoritative.

Newspaper citations may be appropriate on occasion, but they should be used with extreme caution. Much will depend upon the general policy of the newspaper in question. The min­ister's sense of values will lead him to select for regular reading a newspaper that follows a con­servative, not a sensational, policy, and one which has established itself as moderately inter­ested, to say the least, in reporting the truth. It hardly need be suggested that the Sunday fea­ture supplement of most newspapers is rarely, if ever, an entirely reliable source for sermon helps.

Stern Test of Historical Accuracy

The great temptation ever remains of casting about indiscriminately for striking statements which will materially assist in establishing a particular point of interpretation. This may be proper, but let such findings be used only after they have met the stern tests of historical accur­acy. Our confidence in the correctness of Bible prophecy leads us to believe that dependable history will meet our purposes to the fullest extent.

There are other ways in which the minister draws upon materials from the field of history. Many illustrative narratives have occurred, or purport to have occurred, sometime in the past. These will not receive endorsement from the careful student as having actually taken place unless there is reasonable certainty that this is the case. The effort to embellish a drab, pro­saic incident may be justified, provided the imagination is held within certain reasonable limits. More is lost than is gained, however, if glaring and inexcusable misstatements of historical fact are included. It is fairly obvious, even to the least historical-minded, that there were no Lutherans, as such, before Luther ; no proletariat, in the modern sense, before the in­dustrial revolution, and no steam-driven machines in the age of Louis XIV.

Unfortunately for the public speaker, many illustrative anecdotes touching history are either pure fiction or else are seriously diluted with imaginary details. Later chroniclers have often attributed ingenious and stirring epigrams to individuals, epigrams which were never really uttered. The words attributed to them, as having spontaneously come forth on the in­spiration of the moment, should have been said, perhaps ; but alas, nothing in the record offers confirmation. Great leaders of men have, on soul-stirring occasions, made classic statements which still survive. However, there is no con­firmation of many stories which are repeated as though they were as unimpeachable as the gospel itself. The legends which have grown up with the years, legends touching great figures and events, are legion; nevertheless, numbers do not always make for truth any more than they always make for political wisdom in a demo­cratic society.

At the same time, these time-honored illustra­tions, although apocryphal, need not be entirely discarded. It might be conceded that they have value purely as illustrations, if at the same time their historical soundness is discounted. The objective method of approach leads one to adopt a cautious and not a dogmatic attitude in his public utterances touching upon materials of history. This attitude appears as a spirit of humility, which actually it is, and all will con­cede it to be an asset in public, as well as in private life.

Frequently the public speaker untrained in historical methods and materials yields to the temptation to oversimplify basic causes for major events and movements in history. This has been termed the fallacy of the exaggerated and isolated cause. The recognition of this fallacy will do no violence to our fundamental assumption of divine direction in human affairs.

No reasonable person will hold the minister accountable for all the latest findings in histo­rical research, but surely he should be informed of major changes in historical interpretation springing from studies of specialists in history. An acquaintanceship with the current publications, by means of book reviews, and a brief perusal of learned journals in the field, will deliver him from much historical misinforma­tion and misinterpretation.

Likewise, the development of a historical atti­tude will lead him to realize the folly and posi­tive danger in venturing upon baseless predic­tions as to the details of future events. The prophetic word provides an outline of that which lies ahead. When man attempts to fill in this outline with elaborate and unwarranted details, he ignores a great lesson which history teaches, and he ventures upon ground where "angels fear to tread."

The minister of the gospel must possess qualities that are many and varied. He must be highly versatile and perform a variety of duties. These range from personal work with a single soul in need, to the presentation of truth to a large audience. He must be "all things to all men." Little time remains, after he has performed only a portion of his duties, for careful study and research. He serves the cause of truth best, however, when his words bear the ring of unimpeachable fact. Earnest­ness and good intentions cannot take the place of careful study and preparation. "Piety can never take the place of knowledge."

The minister must study not only the word of God, but also the branches of knowledge which bear upon the interpretation and pres­entation of the word. The challenge to this careful preparation may not always be found in the average audience of hearers, but when truth is involved, this in itself should present sufficient challenge. "The truth shall make you free," said Christ. We might, without violence to the teachings of the Master, give this prac­tical application; The truth shall make you free from common errors of a historical nature.

The standard which God holds before His workers is a lofty one, leading them to aspire to perfection in character, in ministry, and in methods used in that ministry. As children of the light, we can consider no other standard acceptable. The careful use of historical ma­terial by the minister, and the cultivation of a historical attitude by him, can contribute ma­terially to his effectiveness as a worker for God.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By G. T. ANDERSON, Professor of History, Atlantic Union College, Massachusetts

January 1943

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Roman Pontifex Maximus

I. Pontifical History in Brief

Radio Technique and Procedure

A dozen commonly asked questions answered.

Relation of Radio to the Message

The radio has been rightly styled the "air arm of the message." It seeks to co-operate in the execution of a God-given commission which requires the message of Revelation 14 to be heard in every corner of this old world.

The Greater Bible Work—No. IX

Part nine of our series.

Unique Openings for Bible Work

Present-day conditions have brought a new em­phasis to the whole question of religious education for children in public schools. As revealed in this article Miss Zeelau has seized an opportunity which fitted into a Lutheran community.

Babel Voices on Evangelism

There seems to be a definite shift of emphasis in this critical hour.

Effective Contacts Among Non-Adventists

A Survey of Mission Problems, Methods, and Relationships

The Place of Public Evangelism No. 1

There are many today, not of our faith, who are sens­ing the fact that the home has been recreant to its trust.

Editorial Keynotes

Bible Workers Renamed "Bible Instructors"

Medical Work in Colombia and Venezuela

From our monthly medical missionary column.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)