New Thoughts

Tulip“Oh Bubba, I just had a new thought!”, my six year old granddaughter blurted out at the dinner table some time ago.  After a moment of pause she said with great enthusiasm, “that makes THREE  today! …... and I had TWO yesterday!”

How long has it been since you or I have had a “new thought”? Gone, it seems, are the wonder years of childhood, when every day brought new discoveries! Yet, it might be important to give pause for thought, every once in a while, to see if a new idea might still take root!

Unfortunately the organizations or sub-cultures that we have grown up in or are now members of often make this difficult. As a way to preserve membership in the group, investigation of new ideas is discouraged. Religious organizations are probably the worst offenders on this. Some will even threaten death as a way to force compliance.  Tragically, as many have found out, in many cases it was more than a threat!  At the very least, individuals may be shamed, shunned or in various ways penalized for expressing new ideas. Some pastors or educators may even loose their jobs as a result of the propositions that they might make that go beyond the teachings of the church. Others might be forced to sign statements of belief, and agree to never teach anything outside that system, in order to continue their careers.

Sadly, this kind of thing is even beginning to happen in the faith system that I grew up in, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was not always like this. In the early days of the movement, not that long ago, people were encouraged to study their Bible diligently for “new truth” and a deeper understanding. It was a given that absolute truth would never be reached, that we would be studying the mysteries of salvation, gaining fresh new insights forever, even in heaven. The term “present truth” was coined with the idea, that while this is what we believe today, our beliefs are still developing, our faith and understanding are still growing.

One of the founding figures of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, Ellen White, was a real believer in “New Truth” or as she sometimes put it, “unfolding truth”. She said,

“In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation. The old truths are all essential: new truth is not independent of the old, but an unfolding of it. It is only as the old truths are understood that we can comprehend the new. … it is the light which shines in the fresh unfolding of truth that glorifies the old. He who rejects or neglects the new, does not really possess the old. For him it loses its vital power and becomes but a lifeless form.” 1

“If it were possible for us to attain to a full understanding of God and His word, there would be for us no further discovery of truth, no greater knowledge, no further development. God would cease to be supreme, and man would cease to advance. Thank God, it is not so. Since God is infinite, and in Him are all the treasures of wisdom, we may to all eternity be ever searching, ever learning, yet never exhaust the riches of His wisdom, His goodness, or His power” 2

“Those who cling to old customs and hoary errors have lost sight of the fact that light is ever increasing upon the path of all who follow Christ; truth is constantly unfolding to the people of God. We must be continually advancing if we are following our Leader. It is when we walk in the light that shines upon us, obeying the truth that is open to our understanding, that we receive greater light. We cannot be excusable in accepting only the light which our fathers had one hundred years ago.” 3

Unfortunately, this early enthusiasm and recommendation for unfolding truth did not really take root in the culture of Adventism. Sometime after Ellen White and the early founding fathers of the Seventh-day Adventist church died, the "flowers of truth" stopped unfolding. “New Truth” became bad words, “Present Truth” became simply “the Truth”. Like practically every other church organization before it, a point was reached where the development of doctrine was halted, and is no longer growing today.

Perhaps it is easier to rest safe in the established dogma of the pioneers of a faith system, than it is to take the effort to examine every new idea that comes along. Perhaps it is just a natural way for groups to maintain homogeneity throughout a large and growing membership. Perhaps it is just more acceptable to be “conservative” or “faithful to the long established traditions. However, I can't help but feel sad that the "flowers of truth" have stopped unfolding in my church. I sometimes wish that long time members in any faith-system that has reached a stage of “fossilized” dogma, could be more like my granddaughter, and be able to get excited about a new idea, a new approach, an unfolding of “truth”!

1. Christ's Object Lessons 127 - Ellen G. White
2. Education 172 - Ellen G. White
3. Historical Sketches 197 - Ellen G. White