After over 2,000 years, many changes have taken place within the Christian Church, where a large portion of its original message has been distorted in the current theology of present-day Christian churches. As a religion develops, doctrines and teachings are often added to the original revelation, and people begin following things based on tradition or what religious leaders tell them. Religious leaders and theologians are more often than not bound by the doctrines and traditions of men that have been added since the original revelation.
The mind becomes bound inside of a "box," where there is no freedom of thought to examine the assumptions behind their theology. These assumptions are used as a "measuring stick" to judge what is true or false. These assumptions then persuasively rule over their mind, and one argues more from persuasion from traditional beliefs rather than investigation of the scriptures.
But what if one's foundation or "measuring stick" is false? Of course, they would arrive at false conclusions. Such was the reaction of the Jewish Pharisees when confronted with Jesus. What was true then, is true today.
In the 18th century, revelations of God, salvation, Christian doctrines, the spiritual meaning of scripture, and the afterlife were received over a 27 year period in waking visions to a Swedish scientist and noble, Emanuel Swedenborg. He published many works anonymously, and after his death, various groups got together and established small groups based on the doctrines that were received. These are generally called the New Church, but others have named it the "Swedenborgian" church after Swedenborg.
In these revelations, some fundamental problems were revealed in the theology of the Christian churches. At the same time, answers were given to what were previously called "mysteries of faith," as our knowledge had matured and some would be ready to receive it. Point to any problem skeptics give for Christianity; it has been answered in these revelations. No stone has been unturned. However, basic tenets of the Protestant faith of the 16th century were shown to be quite in error. So the attacks generally come from the Protestant quarter.
IS THE NEW CHURCH A CHRISTIAN CHURCH?
The first tendency of Protestants was initially to label the New Church as a "heresy" or a "cult" - which I addressed earlier in Was Swedenborg a Cult Leader, and is the New Church a cult? It is an obvious false accusation, considering the New Church tends not to evangelize, and respects people's free will in thinking on their own. Nor does it condemn other religions to hell. It is obviously not a cult.
However, I recently became aware of a more honest critique of the theology of the New Church, this time by the Lutheran church. Which is interesting, as Emanuel Swedenborg's father was a well known pastor of the Lutheran church. As it turns out, in September 2013 the Lutheran Missouri Synod concluded this:
The Swedenborgian church cannot be characterized as Christian
The very short assessment can be found here: Swedenborgianism (New Church) - An Evaluation from the Theological Perspective of The Lutheran Church. It can be readily seen that the assessment was limited, and the author used so-called "measuring sticks" - the Formula of Concord, the foundation of Lutheran doctrine, as well as doctrines they inherited from their mother, the Catholic Church (Swedenborg, in turn, earlier showed in his analysis in Summary Exposition that the Protestant and Catholic faiths are essentially one and the same, quoting from the Formula of Concord).
So this I thought was interesting. The Lutheran church is saying that the New Church cannot be considered to be a Christian Church. Why? Here is the first part of their conclusion:
The Swedenborgian church cannot be characterized as Christian because of its denial of the Holy Trinity and its rejection of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. As Lutherans, we confess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the truth that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons in one God. The Augsburg Confession states, “The churches among us teach…there is one divine essence which is called God and is God…Yet, there are three persons, coeternal and of the same essence and power: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” In the Smalcald Articles, Martin Luther notes that “neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son, became a human being.”I omitted the latter half which is not only irrelevant, but makes no sense whatsoever and shows a misunderstanding of the New Church doctrine. So again, we are back to the Trinity. But note above: nowhere do they directly reference scripture. All references are their own doctrinal interpretations of scripture. In every single case, all doctrines of the New Church are carefully supported by scripture. This is not true of the Protestant and Catholic churches. But lets examine the assessment, point by point.
DOES THE NEW CHURCH BELIEVE IN THE HOLY TRINITY?
So the first question is, does the New Church believe in the Holy Trinity? The answer to that is yes, there is a Holy Trinity, its just that the Holy Trinity is not "three distinct persons." This is an interpretation overlaid upon the gospels, moreover, the Trinity appears nowhere in the Old Testament. The definition of the Holy Trinity as "three distinct persons" first began to appear over 300 YEARS AFTER JESUS. So if we are to believe this argument, the Lutheran church is asking us to believe that in the first 300 years of the Christian Church, there was no Christian Church.
To be Christian, one has to believe that Jesus Christ is the Divine incarnation, the Word made flesh, who is the image of the unseen God. Period. There was no such thing as a trinity of three persons in the early church. This teaching on the Holy Trinity comes from a church council of men, not from revelation.
In the Old Testament, God reveals that He is Jehovah. The name Jehovah means "being" or "self existent one." Are there three beings? No, that is tritheism. The New Church doctrine is that Jesus Christ is Jehovah in human form. Jehovah was called "Lord" in the Old Testament, just as Jesus is called "Lord" in the New Testament. For example, we have this in the Old Testament:
Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no saviour. (Isa. 43:10-11)
All titles of Jehovah in the Old Testament, including saviour, were adopted by Jesus in the New Testament. This is spelled out in Doctrine of the Lord, which the Lutheran church failed to quote. The teaching of the New Church is simple: Jesus Christ is Jehovah in human form. The human form is the Son, his visible manifestation to us.
The part where many theologians have been confused is that obviously in the gospels, it is quite apparent that not only Jesus made himself equal to God, but he also prays to the Father as another person. This to them, plus the use of Greek personal pronouns, "proves" that there are multiple persons involved here. But this is clarified in Doctrine of the Lord: Jesus, born as human, had two states of being: one of humiliation, of being separate to the Divine, in which he could be tempted. In these states he prayed to his Father for help. The other state of being was a state of glorification, or being at one with the Divine. This again is spelled out in Doctrine of the Lord.
So what, exactly, is the Holy Trinity as revealed in the New Church? It is not three beings, but rather, a trine in the emanation of One Being:
"An idea of three in one Person is had when it is thought that the Father is in the Lord, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Lord. The trine then in the Lord is the Divine Itself which is called the Father, the Divine Human which is called the Son, and the Divine proceeding which is the Holy Spirit." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10822).Moreover, Jesus himself said that the Father is not a separate person, but resides within him:
"...the Divine Itself, which is called the Father, is in the Divine Human, which is called the Son of God, mutually and reciprocally, according to the words of the Lord Himself in John: Jesus saith . . . Philip, he who hath seen Me, hath seen the Father. . . . Believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me (xiv. 9-11; x. 38)." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3960)The Holy Trinity, as different aspects of one Being, is described as monotheistic in the New Church (see True Christian Religion for a complete assessment). The Holy Trinity, as described by the Lutheran Church, is tritheistic. With the mouth they say one but in the mind, there are three personal beings.
In the Lutheran assessment, there are three persons, the second makes a descent and becomes human. In the New Church assessment, there is one Being, one Person, who makes a descent and assumes a human form.
In each human person, there is a trine of soul, body in spirit. In Jesus Christ, this became the Holy Trinity. Thus the saying of Paul is true: For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9). Notice Paul did not say "one-third" as Martin Luther did.
DOES THE NEW CHURCH REJECT SALVATION THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST?
The Lutheran assessment of the New Church makes the claim that it rejects salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. My reaction to this was, huh? It is a complete falsehood, and I would be guessing as to how the author reached that conclusion. So, I will simply quote from the beginning of True Christian Religion:
"The particulars of faith on man's part are these: —Moreover, there is whole book of doctrine on this subject for the New Church, entitled Doctrine concerning Faith.
1. That God is One, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord God the Saviour Jesus Christ.
2. That saving faith is to believe in Him.
3. That evils are not to be done, because they are of the devil and from the devil.
4. That goods are to be done, because they are of God and from God.
5. And that these are to be done by man as from himself; but it must be believed that they are from the Lord, with man and through him." (True Christian Religion, n. 3)
IS THERE A HIDDEN SPIRITUAL MEANING TO SCRIPTURE?
The next critique of the New Church by the Lutheran Church is interesting. They want to point out, the Bible is simple, easy to understand, and there is nothing "hidden" within it:
"The Bible is not a book of hidden correspondences and secret meanings that canYes, this is true, the Bible has a simple message, easy enough for a child to understand. But it is incorrect to state that the literal outward meaning is the only meaning. Jesus himself said there were hidden spiritual meanings to be found in scripture:
only be revealed by an enlightened individual. Scripture is a “pure, clear fountain” that describes in ordinary human language the mighty acts of God in time and history. Martin Luther described the Scriptures as “the richest of mines” containing divine wisdom “which God here lays before you in such simple guise as to quench all pride.”"
All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 13:34-35)And Jesus revealed the inner spiritual meaning only to his disciples. Yes, Jesus had a simple message. But it is also true that there is hidden spiritual meanings in scripture, this is especially apparent in symbolic writings of the prophets and the book of Revelation.
Swedenborg's massive work Heavenly Arcana not only shows this hidden spiritual meaning in scripture, but it also happens to be the only proof that shows that scripture is Divinely inspired. Moreover, he always uses scripture to interpret scripture. This was not a product of his own intelligence - before his vision was opened, his view of the Bible was very similar to that of others. It was not Swedenborg who interpreted scripture, but rather Jesus Christ himself, using Swedenborg as an instrument. He would open scripture with his waking vision in the heavenly world, and began to write the spiritual interpretation of the words - and with this information, others who accept it can open up the spiritual meaning as well. No other writing has come close to Heavenly Arcana to revealing the internal meanings of scripture, which happens to be consistent with the simple gospel.
WHAT DOES THE NEW CHURCH SAY CONCERNING THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL?
In the next point, the Lutheran assessment finally comes to the heart of the matter that probably bothers them most about the New Church, and for this they entirely focus on the letters of the apostle Paul:
"In its attempts to interpret secret meanings in Scripture, the Swedenborgian church does not distinguish the teachings of the Law and the Gospel in God’s Word. The Swedenborgian church denies the true Christian faith with its belief that people may, if they wish, choose a life of peace with God. According to Scripture, no one is able to justify themselves through obedience to the Law and find peace with God, since “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). We cannot earn forgiveness and eternal life through our own works or effort. We were “dead in our trespasses,” until God “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). The Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus, is clearly taught in Scripture: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)."In other words, faith is equated to belief, and by simply believing in a statement that is true, paying lip service, one inherits eternal salvation. The logical conclusion of the theology of faith alone is that one should DO NOTHING (see Is Salvation a Free Gift?). It leads to a DO NOTHING religion, where religion no longer matters. I have already blogged about this issue at length: see The Fundamental Error of the Protestant Faith and The False Theological Definition of the word "Grace". But let me summarize the problem:
1. Paul, in some contexts, when speaking of "works of the law" is talking about the Mosaic Jewish rituals, not works of charity and love.The problem in the letters of Paul, the same word "works" or "deeds" is used interchangeably for the above 3 use cases. The Protestant conclusion is based on arguments #1 (false) and #2 (true). What they don't see is use case #3 - where the action differs from #2, based on one's intention. For it is through repentance and love that the spirit begins to fill our heart. Even in the days of Paul people were confused by his writings and he constantly had to defend himself by declaring he was not a liar.
2. Paul, in some contexts, speaks against self-meritorious works - things done for self gain or appearance in front of others. The theology of the New Church speaks out against this behaviour as well.
3. Paul, in some contexts, speaks of works done out of love.
But that true faith is faith in action and deed, is explicitly stated by Jesus:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matt. 7:24-27)
And we have this:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)And what about this one:
"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27)If works don't matter, how is it Jesus said he would judge each person according to their works?
So given that, what exactly is the difference between the law of the Old Testament, and the gospel of the New Testament? The revelation to the Jews was given to them where the truth was not revealed to them completely. Everything was in external rituals, and truths were contained in the symbolism of the laws. When the truth was revealed, the external rituals and laws and statutes were no longer necessary. Instead of the commandments being written on stone, the commandments were now to be written in our hearts.
So yes, the New Church does have that distinction between the Mosaic law and the gospel. Moreover, because of the revelation of the symbolism hidden in scripture, the New Church can explain most every oddball law given to the Jews in the Old Testament, for each had a symbolic significance. The meaning of much of the old Jewish laws are for the most part hidden to the Lutheran church, as well as others, because they deny scripture has any hidden spiritual meaning. Spirituality is a matter of life, of acting and doing according to the truth, the way one lives - one can't just sit down and expect things to happen.
WHAT DOES THE NEW CHURCH SAY CONCERNING HEAVEN AND HELL?
This point I found to be a bit of an odd criticism to the New Church. The revelations contain one of the most detailed descriptions of the afterlife, too much to go into here. The Lutheran assessment had this to say:
"Heaven and hell are not “present inner experiences,” but real places. Those who fall asleep in Jesus are with Him “in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), as they await the bodily resurrection on the Last Day. Hell is a place of eternal fire “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41)."So, are heaven and hell real places? Real, yes. The best way to describe it is that there are higher dimensions that interact with this lower material dimension. Without these higher spiritual planes interacting with this lower material plane, there would be no life. One key difference: in these spiritual planes there is no time and there is no space. And remember, this was spelled out in the revelations long before Einstein came along or there was any Big Bang theory. Physicists now understand time and space are created things, in the 18th century this was completely unknown. The Lutheran response is indicating that they may think that heaven and hell are actual places in three dimensional space. The higher dimensions, or spiritual planes, are within us, our very soul. It is this latter point that the Lutheran assessment does not seem to understand well. But that heaven and hell are within, was declared by Jesus:
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God comes not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
WHAT DOES THE NEW CHURCH SAY CONCERNING THE SECOND COMING?
Here, for once, the Lutheran Church may or may not have a point. I, for one, do not accept the writings of Swedenborg as the "final revelation" on all matters. What I will say is the revelations are centuries ahead of their time, and as time progresses, more and more people will see the value of them. They will look back and say, how could those people be so blind?
So the next point the Lutheran Church discusses the New Church view of the Second Coming, but it looks like it was not described well to the author:
Jesus’ Second Coming is not, as the Swedenborg church teaches, a current process within believers. Jesus will return bodily on the Last Day, as He has promised (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 22:20), to “judge the living and the dead” (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:11-15).I agree, the Second Coming is not "a current process within believers." Its a poor description probably taken from a brief conversation at the Missouri synod. In the New Church the Second Coming is a coming of the Divine Truth not in physical form, but in the Word itself. See the works The Final Judgment and Apocalypse Revealed for a more detailed explanation. I will also say here that Swedenborg does not have the final say on this matter - even he said he could not foresee the future. The Second Coming is a bit of a big topic, so I may come back to that again later in this blog a "second time" around. Divine revelation is always progressive, according to world dispensations, and in each dispensation it is adapted to man's understanding.
THE NEW CHURCH IS THE MOST CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The New Church is not only a Christian Church, it is the Most Christian Church. How is it more Christian than others? Here are a few points to consider:
1. The entire focus is on one person Jesus Christ, who is God in human form. Priority is placed on Jesus Christ and his Divinity. Jesus is in first place, not in second place. Prayer is directed to Jesus alone, not another person. Moreover, the New Church is very clear: his entire human form was made Divine upon the resurrection, by which he saved the human race.
2. Emphasis is placed on love, and performing uses according to faith. Faith is not belief: faith is living by the truth. Action and thought must act as one. If all churches put love in the first place, there would be no divisions. Different people would be respected for their own opinions and understanding.
3. All doctrine is derived from scripture. Scripture and Divine revelation have priority over the doctrines and traditions invented by men and church councils.
4. Scripture is proven to be Divinely inspired. When one understands the spiritual symbolism, large portions of the Bible are now open to provide spiritual guidance for daily living.
5. With the new revelation, Christianity is shown to be a rational faith. Faith is not used to blind the human mind, but rather, to work in concert with rational thinking. It is encouraged for people to learn and understand. A deeper spiritual understanding is given for the resurrection, scripture, baptism, communion, and other matters that were once were "mysteries of faith."
6. God is shown to be a God of love. God is love itself. God never gets angry, never punishes. It is one's own evil which leads to the punishment of evil, and separation from God. God only appears angry to the evil who do not admit to their evil nature and turn away from it.
7. The new revelation gives the most detailed account of the afterlife, of heaven, of hell, and the spiritual world in between. All activities in the spiritual world are shown to have an effect on our mind. The human being is shown to be a spiritual being, whose destiny is to have an eternal life of happiness in heaven.
A VISION CONCERNING THE NEW CHURCH
Swedenborg had a vision concerning the New Church, in which he compares it with the Catholic and Protestant forms which preceded it:
"One day a magnificent temple, square in form, the roof crown-shaped, arched above, and raised round about appeared to me. Its walls were continuous windows of crystal, its gate of pearly substance. Within, on the south and near the west side, was a pulpit, on which at the right lay the open Word, enveloped with a sphere of light, the splendor of which surrounded and illuminated the whole pulpit. In the centre of the temple was a shrine, before which was a veil, but lifted now, where stood a cherub of gold with a sword turning hither and thither in hand. While I viewed these things, what they each signified flowed into my meditation: That temple signified the New Church; the gate, of pearly substance, entrance into it; the windows of crystal, the truths which enlightened it; the pulpit, the priesthood and preaching; the Word open upon the pulpit and illuminating its upper part, signified the internal sense of the Word which is spiritually revealed; the shrine in the centre of the temple, signified the conjunction of that church with the angelic heaven; the cherub of gold therein, the Word in the sense of the letter; the sword waving in his hand signified that this sense can be turned hither and thither, provided this is done in application to some truth; the veil lifted before the cherub signified the Word was laid open. Afterward, when I drew nearer, I saw above the gate this writing, Nunc licet, which signified that "it is now lawful" to enter with the understanding into the arcana of faith. Seeing this writing, it came into my thought that it is very harmful to enter with the understanding into dogmas of faith from one's own intelligence and thus from falsities, and still more to confirm them from the Word; the understanding is thereby closed above, and gradually below also, to such an extent that theological matters not only cause disgust, but are also obliterated as writing on paper by worms, and the wool of a cloth by moths; the understanding abiding only in political matters which regard a man's life in the dominion where he is, in the civil matters of his employment, and the domestic affairs belonging to his house. And in all these he constantly kisses nature, and from the allurements of her pleasures loves her as an idolater loves the golden image in his bosom. Now as the dogmas of the present Christian churches were not composed from the Word, but from men's own intelligence and thus from falsities, and as they were also confirmed by some things from the Word, the Word by the Lord's Divine Providence was taken from the laity among the Roman Catholics, and was opened but still was closed among the Protestants by their common declaration that the understanding must be kept under obedience to faith.
"But the contrary is the case in the New Church; in this church it is allowable to enter with the understanding and penetrate into all its secrets, and also to confirm them by the Word. This is because, its doctrines are continuous truths, laid open by the Lord through the Word; and confirmations of those truths by means of rationals cause the understanding to be opened above more and more, and thus to be raised into the light in which are the angels of heaven; and that light in its essence is truth, and in this light the acknowledgment of the Lord as the God of heaven and earth shines in its glory. This is meant by the writing over the door of the temple, Nunc licet; and also by the veil of the shrine before the cherub being lifted. For it is a canon of the New Church that falsities close the understanding, and that truths open it.
"After this, I saw overhead one like an infant, holding a paper in his hand. As he drew near me, he increased to the stature of an average man. He was an angel from the third heaven, where at a distance all look like infants. When he was with me, he handed me the paper; but as it was written with rounded letters, such as are in that heaven, I returned the paper, and begged that they would themselves explain the meaning of the words there, in terms adapted to the ideas of my thought. And he replied, "This is there written: Enter hereafter into the mysteries of the Word heretofore closed; for its several truths are so many mirrors of the Lord." (True Christian Religion, n. 508)
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