Long ago a Reynolds thought that Jesus would probably come in 1843*. He was wrong, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that this Biblical reasoning was sounder than the “blood moon” thinking we just experienced. Since I doubt anybody aspires to be the least wrong in the class of all the Wrong Headed People Who Have Ever Lived, what did the Reynolds’ clan learn from the Great Disappointment?
Own being wrong.
To his great credit William Miller, the chap who devised the 1843 chart, finally admitted he was wrong. He looked for mistakes, recalculated, and then admitted he had made a mistake. In this way, Miller was a better man than many of his critics. Lies about the followers of Miller circulate to this day: they wore weird “ascension robes,” they ended up in lunatic asylums, or they sold all their property (in great numbers). What did I learn from reading about the Great Disappointment as a boy?
Being a good person or right on other doctrines doesn’t protect you from gross error.
The best men can be wrong. William Miller was sincere, thoughtful, and wanted to help the church. He brought many people to Jesus and he lived a good life. Yet he made a mistake that was very basic: he set a date for the Second Coming. His critics were annoying and often snobs. He was a decent and humble man.
He was also wrong. I find it so irritiating when a pro-choice libertine in the House is right, but sometimes (on other issues) they are. Sometimes my team is wrong. That is a fact of the world, but it never stops irritating me! Still, better to be on team Truth than my team.
Don’t puff up God’s message.
Don’t twist what God is saying to something more exciting. The American church in the mid-nineteenth century had grown cold to the idea of Jesus’ Second Coming. They believed the doctrine, but they did not preach the truth. Most of all, they had convinced themselves that Jesus was coming someday, but almost surely not today. God spoke to William Miller and told him to preach the Second Coming. He did and great results followed, but he was not satisfied with the message. He thought harder and decided that the Second Coming was not just soon, but in 1843.
He took a good message and made it exciting . . . but also foolish and wrong.
Sometimes you cannot help it. Instead of talking to people with new ideas, the establishment just puts a padlock on your church as they did to another ancestor of mine on a different issue. Padlocks end the dialog.
Stay if you can. I know it is hard. The Reynolds family is always getting kicked out of something. The key is to make sure that we are kicked out for virtue and orthodoxy and not for vice and heresy! Yet . . . this is important to recall: often those who are heretical, and that is not good, have a core message that the church needs. The heretic has taken it too far, but the dead orthodox need to hear what is being said. Together the staid and the crazy might find the truth. Apart one group is so straight it leans and the other is so crooked it can crawl through a barrel of fish hooks without getting scratched.
Of course, bad enough doctrine (denying the Trinity) or bad enough practice (gay marriage) may justify the padlocks. On such settled issues, the church has a right to say: been there, done that, heard the arguments, go form your own church. Even then, there is something to be learned and heard: why are otherwise decent people deceived. We can stop, think about it, and hear what even the wicked have seen.
Learn from the past.
The followers of Miller could have known that date setting turns out badly. Skeptics say (of course) that this is because Jesus is never returning. Christians know it is because Jesus told us that we could not know the date of the end. We also know that Bible “prophecy” while sometimes about the future, often is not. The Word of God to a prophet is what God is saying to His people and it will have multiple fulfillments.
Jesus will return, but He will come as a thief in the night. As a child, this verse comforted me. I figured whenever someone said the End was coming, that was the day it surely was not! There was sense in my child thought . . . Jesus will not be controlled. He will come when He will come and we will not control Him.
When He comes, the Doom will be great . . . so nobody can feel quite confident about it . . . and yet the outcome will be awesome . . . paradise. . . joy. . . party without end.
Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
* In good family news, it turns out that my ancestors were not date setters. They joined the movement emphasizing the second coming after the Great Disappointment. The point of the article still stands. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong… Thanks Dad!