Exploring the bounds of truth

May God give us strength…

“There is no class of people upon earth who can less afford to let the development of truth run ahead of them than you. You cannot wrap yourselves in professional mystery…you cannot go back and become apostles of the dead past, driveling after ceremonies, and letting the world do the thinking and studying. There must be a new spirit infused into the ministry….We must be more industrious in investigation, more honest in dedication, and more willing to take the truth in its new fullness.” Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Yale, 1871. (Niebuhr, Williams, Ahlstrom 1980, 257-8)

Interesting how the arguments of our own day often mirror those of earlier ages – in this case the period between 1860 and 1900. This debate is nothing new. One could argue that a similar struggle existed between the Sadducees and Pharisees who believed that the cannon of truth was tightly proscribed (in the case of the Sadducees) and more open to continuing revelation (in the case of the Pharisees). Of course, even the Pharisees wanted to place a limit on that revelation that found Jesus’ own teachings distinctly on the outside.

The challenge becomes, as it has always been, how to hold to and honor truths of the past while also remaining open to new and continually unfolding insights and receptions of revelation from beyond human intellect and creativity. And for clergy and congregational leaders, how to stand in the midst of that tension, with it also existing internally in the heart and mind of the individual leader, and facilitate a process of dialogue, mutual appreciation and growth in maturity toward wholeness. May God give us strength.

 

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