Thursday, August 22, 2013

Delving Ever Deeper into Scripture -- God is Still Speaking


I am working on my memorial service meditation for a member of my congregation.  Like a number of the older members of the congregation, she grew up at what we often call "Old Central Woodward," that is, the church building down on Woodward Avenue in Detroit (now Little Rock Baptist Church).  The family chose as one of the scriptures to be read -- 1 Corinthians 13.  It so happens that one of Edgar DeWitt Jones's sermons (the founding pastor) focuses on that text.  The sermon title gives the title to the book of sermons -- The Coming of the Perfect.

As I was reading through his sermon, I came across a lengthy quotation from an early liberal Disciple pastor named Alexander Proctor.  As Jones notes, Proctor didn't write any books, and the one collection of sermons that he did produce was published posthumously from remembrances of those who heard the sermons.  One of those sermons focused on 1 Corinthians 13 and the coming of the perfect.

In this sermon Proctor notes that we keep on learning new things.  Like astronomers peering into the sky theologians continue to look deeper into the scriptures, so that theology is never a fait accompli.  There is a paragraph from Proctor's sermon that I think is worth sharing.

The idea that one man has seen all that God has to show to the human mind!  The idea that one church in this world has seen and known all that God has to give to the world in all the eternal ages -- that is childish.  The idea that there is to be no more progress, no more growth, no more telescope!  But you say, what are you going to do with the Bible?  Well I am going to do with the Bible what Copernicus and Herschel and Kepler did with the sky; I am going to look into its sky an and see its Milky Way, and all the constellations of the zodiac; I shall investigate its splendor all the time, and seek to go further and further into it.  The Bible has been there all the time; it will be there when you and I are dead.  There will be other eyes, when we have gone, thank God, that can see more in it than we now see.  As for knowledge, "it shall pass away."  [Alexander Proctor, The Witness of Jesus, quoted in The Coming of the Perfect, (St. Louis:  Bethany Press, 1946), p. 23].  
Although I have nothing against creeds per se, I'm in agreement with my Disciples ancestors that they are but human attempts to understand the Christian message in a particular time and place.  They can never be definitive statements, because we are always growing in understanding.  We may discern a new word revealed in the biblical story that speaks anew to us.  I'm not a member of the United Church of Christ, but I do believe that God continues to speak.  We must, therefore, be ready to discern what is being said in our time and place!   

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