The revelations of the New Church expose quite a few foundational errors that are taught in modern Christianity. Most people are not willing to question what they have been taught and accept it blindly, thus when an alternative understanding is given they are most likely to label it as a cult. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: many Christian Churches have become so corrupt they do not know what is true or false any more. Many are tritheistic and believe that Jesus died to appease an angry God, and Protestants keep repeating the false teaching that belief alone saves, and it does not matter what you do. The utter blindness of church theologians and pundits is shown by how far they can box in their mind by their teachings. For example, the website gotquestions.org has this to say to the question, What is Swedenborgianism? It says "is well outside of orthodox Christianity in its beliefs and can definitely be labeled as a cult." I already addressed the "cult" issue in Was Swedenborg a Cult Leader, and is the New Church a cult? So what issues does gotquestions have? Here they are, with some typical blather:
These writings include teachings such as: God has many names, depending on the beliefs/religion of the individual; the Holy Spirit is not God; the Trinity does not exist; Jesus Christ's death did not atone for our sin; salvation comes by practicing what you believe, whatever religion it might be; the afterlife is spiritual, but dependent on how well you lived in your physical body.I am going to just skip the statement that heaven and hell will be experienced in a physical body - which Revelation 22 does NOT teach. So besides that, lets remove some typical blatant falsehoods in the above paragraph:
None of these teachings are compatible with biblical Christianity. The God of the Bible is the only true God (Exodus 3:13-14;Isaiah 43:10). All other gods are idols; creations of man (Exodus 20:4-5). The Holy Spirit is definitely declared to be God in the Bible (Acts 5:3-4), as is Jesus Christ (John 1:1,14) and God the Father (Philippians 1:2); the Trinity is a valid, biblical reality. The Bible is also very clear on Jesus' vicarious atonement of our sin (1 Peter 2:24;1 John 2:2), and that it is only through belief in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that salvation is possible (John 14:6;1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The after-life will be experienced in one of two places—heaven or hell—and that in a physical body (Revelation 22).
Swedenborgianism, and its churches by whatever name they might be called, are as far outside historical, biblical Christianity as a group can get. Although they might claim to base their teachings on the Bible, every teaching is tainted by heresy, confusion, and sometimes lunacy.
God has many names, depending on the beliefs/religion of the individual
This is probably got to be the most irrelevant accusation I have heard of and shows quite a bit of intolerance for other religions - as well as just plain ignorance. Of course God has many names - even in the Bible it states by the time of Moses, they FORGOT God's name! Instead of calling him Jehovah they called him Shaddai. That does not mean they were worshiping an idol.
the Holy Spirit is not God; the Trinity does not exist
The problem with many former churches is they have no conception of God except for a tritheistic one. They have to have three beings or three persons. The Holy Spirit is simply God's spirit which flows from the body of Jesus, pure and simple. A spirit of a person is not another person. There does exist a Trinity, but it is a Trinity of soul, body and spirit in ONE PERSON, Jesus Christ. What has happened to modern Christianity actually happened long ago in ancient times, when each aspect of God was taken to be a different person - thus the origin of idolatry.
the Trinity is a valid, biblical reality
No, a trinity of three persons is only a reality that was defined in the Nicene Creed by a church council in the 4th century A.D.; later more explicitly by the Athanasian Creed of the 5th century A.D. This tritheism is completely foreign to the Bible, and has no support especially from the Old Testament. There is no statement in the New Testament that declares God is three beings or persons.
salvation comes by practicing what you believe, whatever religion it might be
Protestants churches especially have a problem with any plan of salvation outside of belief alone. The truth of the matter is God is good itself, and everyone will be judged according to the good that they did according to the truth that they knew. And in heaven, everyone will have the opportunity to learn more. Those who did good can learn better than those who were in just belief alone - in fact, those who were in belief alone were cast to hell in Matthew 25. For it is the will that survives after death more so than one's beliefs that one did not act upon. If you know the truth and do not follow it, you are much worse off than those who are in good and in no knowledge through no fault of their own. And what did Jesus say about other religions? He said this:
Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side." (Mark 9:38-40)With that out of the way, I want to concentrate on one particular point mentioned in the above paragraph: and that concerns vicarious atonement...
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS VICARIOUS ATONEMENT?
The term "vicarious atonement" is the prevailing theory of salvation in Protestant and Catholic churches, and means that somehow sins are transferred away from us and put on Jesus on the cross. While it is a foundational belief for Protestant and Catholic churches, it is not for the older Orthodox Church - see The Older Forgotten Branch of Christianity. The New Church follows a similar doctrine to the ancient Orthodox Church - that Jesus came to overcome the power of hell and sin over humanity, thereby saving all mankind. But as theologians have written endless books on this doctrine - which became widespread only in the 11th century A.D. - they are opposed to this doctrine of the New Church and will tend to label it as a cult. But the Orthodox Church does not follow it either. Does that mean the ancient Christian church was a cult? No, of course not. This label comes from the person's own mindset of what they have been taught as the truth - anything outside of the "box of truth" is declared to be a heresy. They find it inconceivable that the church they were born in might in itself be corrupt. Most people think the religion they were born in is the "absolute truth", and never question what they have been taught.
In support of vicarious atonement, the author of gotquestions.org had actually mentioned some scripture to support it, and this bears further discussion. The relevant scripture are those that mention the word translated as "propitiation." The word propitiation appears four times in the epistles of the apostles:
being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed (Rom. 3:24-25)So do the above quotes prove that vicarious atonement is correct? Well no, because they do not say how propitiation was effected. The word "propitiation" is a Latin word meaning to appease a god, often by sacrifice. But what is the original word translated as propitiation? It is a translation of the Greek word hilasterion (or hilasmos in 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10). But does this Greek word have the same meaning as the Latin word propitiation? Actually there is strong evidence that it does not in these contexts. The same Greek word is used to refer to the mercy-seat cover of the ark of the covenant in Hebrews 9:5, and this follows the Septuagint which uses the word hilasterion for the Hebrew word meaning covering, often translated as "atonement." Thus hilasterion does not necessarily mean "propitiate," but can also have the meaning of "expiation" - which is just another Latin theological word meaning to remove sin. And this definition is supported by the Septuagint, which was often quoted by the apostles. I found this interesting entry on "propitiation" in Wikipedia:
Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17)
And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
The case for translating hilasterion as "expiation" instead of "propitiation" was put forward by C. H. Dodd in 1935 and at first gained wide support. As a result, hilasterion has been translated as "expiation" in the RSV and other modern versions. Dodd argued that in pagan Greek the translation of hilasterion was indeed to propitiate, but that in the Septuagint (the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) that kapporeth (Hebrew for "atone") is often translated with words that mean "to cleanse or remove" (Dodd, "The Bible and the Greeks", p 93). This view was challenged by Leon Morris who argued that because of the focus in the book of Romans on God's wrath, that the concept of hilasterion needed to include the appeasement of God's wrath (Morris, Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, p 155). Dodd's study is also criticized by David Hill in his detailed semantic study of hilasterion, in the book Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms. Hill claims that Dodd leaves out several Septuagint references to propitiation, and also cites apocryphal sources.So which is correct? The Greek word actually has both meanings of propitiate (to appease an angry God) and expiate (to remove sin). In his own writings Swedenborg did not make the distinction between these two words, but with the word definitions we are using the correct definition is expiation (remove of sin), and the Bible translations which translate it that way are correct. Why is this? Not only from the Septuagint, but also from the following principles:
1. God is Love itself, and does not get angry. He only appears angry to those who are in sin.The truth of the matter? Vicarious atonement is a concept born out of the idea of three gods. Because when you have three persons, a false theology has to be invented to give each person a different role to play. The idea of propitiation is not only false, but it leads to a logical contradiction in theology: is God a God of love, or of anger? I will again quote from Wikipedia:
2. If God does not get angry, he does not need to be appeased.
3. Moreover, there is no such thing as a trinity of three persons here. There is only one person, Jehovah, and Jesus is Jehovah incarnate.
4. As there is only one being or one person here, who is a Supreme Being of love, the whole idea of appeasing an angry God falls apart. Who is being appeased? No one. Because God himself became incarnate to save humanity out of love, not to appease another angry god.
Thus the definition of Christian propitiation asserted by Calvin, Packer and Murray holds that within God there is a dichotomy of love and anger, but through propitiation love trumps anger, abolishing it. "'The doctrine of the propitiation is precisely this that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of this wrath... (John Murray, The Atonement, p.15)Does it make any sense? No it does not. It is illogical, and irrational. It only makes sense if one is tritheistic in one's concept of God. So who is promoting lunacy? Who is promoting moral apathy? Is it any wonder that people in church behave one way in church, and live a completely different life outside of it?
HOW ARE SINS REMOVED? BY REPENTANCE ONLY
Those theological pundits who would have you believe in vicarious atonement, would have you believe that by a mere lip confession of belief that all your sins are removed and transferred to Jesus on the cross. But this it not only false, it is illogical and irrational. It is not applicable to real life. Just from the fact no one can explain it should tell you it is a false concept. So how are sins removed? Through repentance:
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Luke 3:3)and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47)Removal of sin by repentance did not change. So what changed? With the coming of Jesus, his spirit can now dwell in us and remove the evil influences encouraging us to sin. But that happens only inasmuch as we repent. So that is how Jesus removes sin - by interacting with us when we repent, for he first had to do this before he can do it for us:
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:17-19)It is the Divine truth - symbolized by the blood of Jesus - which cleanses us from sin, for when we acknowledge falsehood and sin to turn away from it, we acknowledge it by the truth. This puts us in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. The way salvation was effected was not through some "mysterious transfer" of sin, but by Jehovah becoming incarnate in human form and fighting against hell directly, by resisting all sin and temptation in the body he inherited from Mary. As he fought in his human against sin, so he fights for us when we repent. By becoming incarnate, Jehovah in His human launched a direct attack against hell - thus the gospels relate how Jesus kept on casting out demons - the evil influences that encourage one to sin. And this is what the Orthodox Church teaches. So the New Church is not a cult, it is literally "Orthodox." So if that's the case, who is teaching falsehoods to the masses? Does God get angry? NO:
For God so loved the world... (John 3:16)
And for those who continue to teach vicarious atonement, and a trinity of three persons, it remind me of this: