Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy in the Life of Henry Ward Beecher

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

I just finished a great, but sad biography on the life of Henry Ward Beecher, the famous Brooklyn, New York preacher of the 19th century. He was so famous, that he was considered to be the most famous man in America. Friend to presidents, crusader against slavery and pastor of one of the largest churches in America, Beecher’s celebrity was so wide spread that those who crossed the Hudson on Sunday mornings from Manhattan to Brooklyn did so on vessels called “Beecher Boats”.

A major part of Beecher’s appeal was his preaching, and by this I’m not just alluding to his oratory. His message was a much different one. Ironically born the son of what many considered to be the last Puritan preacher (Lyman Beecher), Henry decided to depart from the hell fire and brimstone that marked his father’s era. In exchange, Beecher preached against hell and for the love of God. While we may consider this old hat today, in Henry’s time this was quite the scandal. People found his message both refreshing and appealing, so much so that they broke their necks to hear him on Sunday mornings, or to read the many articles that he wrote during his lifetime.

To the orthodox, Bible believing Christ follower Henry Ward Beecher was not doctrinally correct. His distorted view of a benevolent God who did not act justly would ultimately become his down fall, as in his latter years it was discovered that he had lived a life of adultery. Several people said of Henry, that every Sunday when he stood to preach he did so with a dozen or so of his mistresses in the audience.

What Henry Ward Beecher’s life shows us is that there is a close connection between orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). What you believe about the Bible will have a profound influence on how you actually live. If we deny the justice of God, as Henry did, we should not be surprised to live in such sins as adultery and immorality.

His example of the closeness of orthodoxy and orthopraxy reverberates today. Show me any preacher who has lived a life of sin, and I will show you someone who in most cases has not preached right doctrine, or has refused to actually live what they claim to believe. The Jews had it that you actually do what you believe, and to say you believe something without doing it is not to believe it. Show me anyone who lives contrary to what they “believe” and I will show you someone who doesn’t actually believe what they claim. How we live ultimately reflects what we believe.

So what do you believe?

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