Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: the True Ancient Faith

What is Orthodox?  Is it the belief that there are three Divine persons from eternity?  Or that there is One Divine Person, who Himself became incarnate?  Which one of these beliefs is Monotheistic, and which one is Tritheistic?  Should we let a church council of men tell us what is true, or should we not depend on Divine revelation?  Should not God reveal to us Who He is?  At what point in time did God reveal that He is more than one person?  Defining what is Orthodox requires a standard. But where should that standard come from? It should come from revealed scripture. Our view of scripture, however, is defined by doctrine, and without revealed doctrines scripture can be turned to support various heresies. We all come with a bias and what we have been taught as children. Religion is persuasive, and rarely do people self-examine their own religion.

I bring this up as someone pointed to my attention that an Orthodox minister in Pennsylvania did a podcast on "Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy" (podcast here) Among heterodox views he discusses the Swedenborgian or New Church view (go past the first 15 minutes).  While he got a general biography of Swedenborg right, there are a couple of main points on the theology of the New Church that he completely gets wrong. And unfortunately, he has apparently followed up the podcast with a book where he probably repeats the same misrepresentation of the New Church, or what was revealed to Swedenborg.  It is unfortunate, because there are certain points in the New Church theology that are very similar to the Orthodox view.  In the end of the podcast he does admit he may have "glossed" over certain issues and may have got some stuff wrong.

Lets first summarize where the podcast is correct on representing the New Church. It is correct that there is a Trinity which exists completely in one person Jesus Christ, just as there is a trine of soul, body and operation in each and every person. He briefly mentions that this is the same as Unitarianism but this is incorrect. It is more in line with Oneness Pentecostals, as Jesus is acknowledged as Jehovah in human form, and not as just some angelic messenger or prophet. He describes correctly the doctrine of "correspondence" - where everything in the material world is symbolic of something higher that exists in the spiritual world.  And although the New Church affirms the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, for all others there will only be a resurrection in one's spiritual body.  The belief in a physical resurrection for everybody is based on a false literal interpretation of the Bible, not to mention it completely goes against known science.  According to the New Church view, the final judgment occurs in the afterlife, not in this world.  Recent experiences from many witnesses who have had a Near Death Experience confirms this view.

As our understanding of science increases, the debate over whether or not one shall rise in one's physical body or just a spiritual one will probably become a moot point.  Swedenborg stated that our soul is composed of a spiritual substance that does not interact with light.  So if there is an entire spiritual world out there (or inside of us) that does not interact with light, how would we ever see it?  We can't.  Science is currently grappling with a similar situation where it is dealing with something called "Dark Matter" - apparently the majority of the matter in the universe comes from matter that does not interact with light. Scientists know it is there through gravitational lensing.  I am not a scientist, but I am wondering if space-time can become permanently "warped" without the introduction of Dark Matter. I don't think this has been proposed because thus far everyone follows Einstein's theory that space-time only becomes warped in the presence of matter. But if we look at evidence for Dark Matter, its shape is odd: it appears in long strings or filaments in the paths where the centers of galaxies have passed, if I have read correctly. As a black hole passes through space, does it permanently warp it? I bring this up because Dark Matter is known to exist from its gravitational effects. I remember someone telling me that at time of death, there is mysterious slight drop in one's body weight. Unfortunately I cannot find the study that mentions this finding. Is there Dark Matter inside of us? Interesting thought. Believing would no longer be seeing: there is a limit to our physical senses.

So returning to that podcast. Here is the first point that the Orthodox minister completely gets wrong on the New Church, and I will just quote him verbatim:

[The New Church view is that] "Christ is the greatest manifestation of humanity, but did not atone for mankind's sin on the cross. His mission was not to redeem from sin, but rather to show the nature and reality of spiritual life, and to provide an example of it."

FIRST: Jesus is the greatest manifestation of Divinity, not humanity.  Man is made in God's image, and that is the reason why God could become incarnate in a human.  He took His Human and made it Divine. The podcast later corrects this statement as he states that the New Church view is that Jesus is God made manifest in human flesh. By "greatest manifestation of humanity" is thus meant He was the most perfect human being.

SECOND: Let us clarify what is meant by that he did not atone for mankind's sin on the cross. In the New Church view, the cross was the last temptation that Jesus had to suffer. There is no such thing as "vicarious atonement" where sins are transferred from one person to another. Rather, by making His Human Divine, Jesus was able to save all of humanity. God can now interact directly on each and every human being without the intervention of angels. He is our sole Mediator. Every time we repent and acknowledge our specific sins, and fight against them, the Lord acts inside of us to fight against evil. That is how humanity is saved. It is not through lip-service, but by actual repentance. (Protestant theology, by the way, has a tendency to stress belief only or lip-service, and states that we are a passive subject where there is no will-power to act. I digress again.)

THIRD: I have no idea how he came up with this statement: "His mission was not to redeem from sin, but rather to show the nature and reality of spiritual life, and to provide an example of it." This is completely false, and I have no idea where he got this viewpoint. It looks like he has not read Swedenborg's writings, and might be depending on second-hand information. The sole mission of Jesus was to redeem all of humanity against the threat of eternal damnation and hell. Swedenborg goes further: he was told that if God did not intervene, humanity would have sunk into such depravity and evil that the entire race would have been destroyed. God intervened to save humanity and redeem all from sin. We participate in that salvation by actual repentance.

A more conciliatory view would have been how Swedenborg's writings reveal many of the inner Christian mysteries that have not been properly understood. But lets remove any doubt that this last statement is false.  I will quote from "True Christian Religion", paragraph #3:

Jehovah "descended and assumed the Human, to the end that He might reduce to order all things which were in heaven, and all things which were in hell, and all things which were in the church; because at that time the power of hell prevailed over the power of heaven, and upon earth the power of evil over the power of good, and thence a total damnation stood before the door and threatened. This impending damnation Jehovah God removed by means of His Human, which was Divine truth, and thus He redeemed angels and men; and afterward He united in His Human Divine truth with Divine good or Divine wisdom with Divine love, and thus together with and in the glorified Human returned into His Divine, in which He was from eternity."

Later in the podcast he states that the final judgment after death is "self-realization" based on one's choices, and God will not judge or condemn anyone. Let us clarify that: we are all born with a conscience, and that conscience will judge each and every one of our actions. We have conscience due to the inflowing of the Divine Truth into our soul. Many who have come back from a Near Death Experience state that went through a life-review in an instant, where they saw the impact of all of their choices in life. All of our actions will be judged according to the Divine Truth. Our internal state of being determines where we go.

Next, he states that all who are married in this life will continue with the same spouse in heaven. This is not completely true. You will have a soul-mate as long as your mind and heart loves the other. Some marriages are not by choice, and I have seen many marriages that were arranged where the partners hate each other's guts. In many situations, it is wiser to stay together for the sake of the children - there are thus many "apparent" marriages on earth that become dissolved in heaven. I am not condoning divorce, but the situations where that is allowed is again beyond the scope of this article. As for marriages in heaven, he states that this goes against Jesus' teachings on the matter, but in that case the words of Jesus have an internal spiritual meaning. This is fully discussed in the work "Angelic Wisdom concerning Marriage Love."

Lastly, he states that Swedenborg and the New Church have a tendency to spiritualize everything, divorced from the material.  This again is not true.  A true spiritual life must live in conjunction with its outward material life.  You cannot just believe and continue to live in sin, and Swedenborg stresses this over, and over, and over again.  Belief only is NOT faith, you have to live by what God has commanded.  Moreover, there is conjunction between the spiritual and physical world through symbolic rituals.  This is one major point where the New Church and the Orthodox Church agree upon and he gets it wrong.

On a positive note, he recognizes that those that belong to the New Church are encouraged to pay attention to dreams, prayer and meditation: he thus sees that this strong mystical tradition is compatible with the Orthodox faith. He also recognizes that both the New Church and the Orthodox Church recognize that scripture has an internal spiritual meaning. So, I have some hope that in the future there will be better understanding, and a better dialogue.  Of the three main branches of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, if I had to pick one I would prefer Orthodox.  Unfortunately, as long as the Orthodox Church holds onto the Nicene Creed I could never join that faith. I would have hope if the Orthodox church would relegate that creed to a footnote in an obscure theological thesis. If theology was comparable to the Java language, that creed should be "deprecated." Still there but never used any more, because the designer of the API did not think things through correctly. There is a previous entry in this blog on the Nicene Creed, how it is a corruption of the original Apostles' Creed.  So if one wants to return back to the True Ancient Faith of Christianity, let us go back not to the fourth century of the Nicene Creed, let us go back to the first century, where it was recognized that the Son was not born from eternity, but in time, to the virgin Mary. Let us go back to worshiping one God, Jehovah, who has become manifest in human form.  The New Church seeks to restore the original message of Christianity: my prayer is more people will know about it.

He numbers those that belong to the New Church worldwide at about 65,000 - or even less, maybe 30,000. He then wonders if any were present to listen to his speech. But no one should care about numbers. As Anatole France once said, "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."


  1. "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

    rightly said.
    I applaud you as well for telling people to come back to the true church and that you are where that true church is. Though a way smarter scholar than you says it's the Baptist church. Though a way smarter scholar than him says it's the pentacostal church. Though a way smarter than even him says it's the Jehova's Witnesses. Though an even way smarter scholar than him says it's the Methodist. Believe it or not, an even smarter scholar than him says it's the Anglicans.

    Needless to say that they're all extremely convincing and you're all in a Battal Royale in it with no clear way to determine who's right becasue everyone is using the scriptures alone. I recall having a blast once proving that the bible pointed to space aliens. Jesus was the emisary, the Father was the "mother ship" and on and on it goes and it makes perfect sense with the scriptures. (still looking for someone that can have the scriptures look like they're talking about the teenage mutant ninja turtles)

    I'll say that the Orthodox Church is the only Christian body that can be trusted in how it's maintained the earliest beliefs and kept them intact. If the apostles didn't teach it and pass it down, then it's not something that we'll believe. That's why an Orthodox Christian wouldn't give much thought on some guy saying he "figured it out". The apostles knew better.

    There is no reason to listen to 1 person out of thousands who claims he figured something out with the scriputures on their own without knowing what was understood and meant by those who wrote them in the community that taught them. people can play scholar all they want but there will always be a part that they'll never know or understand how to take without the Body that protected the meaning.

    I saw from some of your comments that you don't seem to be well versed in Orthodoxy and that's okay. I've made the mistake in the past of doing apologetics against another faith when i had no idea what it really was. In the end people saw my ignorance and i wasn't trusted anymore.

    It's my comment about this and i did enjoy reading your thoughts. Take care my friend

    "that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all” (St Vincent of LĂ©rins)

  2. Everyone tends to assume that the religion they were born in is the one true religion. I began with the question, what if what I was taught was wrong? I decided to follow the truth wherever it would lead me...and came to the conclusion that the basic assumptions most Christians make are inherently wrong. Some beliefs are left as mysteries, and are left alone to not be explained.

    When it comes to the main branches of Christianity, Protestants make the error of putting everything in faith alone, and making one passive as to the will. The Catholic Church makes several errors verging on idolatry, and made use of religion in order to have spiritual dominion in the priesthood. The Orthodox has the least amount of error, Eastern Orthodox is even better, but still the Nicene Creed is a main tenet which I disagree with. So I would prefer to go even earlier than the Orthodox Church: to the Monophysites, and to the time when the Trinity is left undefined and left open for future revelation.

    As for deriving doctrine from scripture alone, Swedenborg stated that one must know true doctrine before one can understand scripture, and then confirm any doctrine from the literal sense of scripture. But without revelation of true doctrine, the Bible will remain a closed book. If one is left to their own intelligence, they can turn scripture in whatever way they wish. So what is needed is Divine revelation.

    Sure, Swedenborg is one person, but I have never seen such a comprehensive explanation for obscure passages of scripture, explained over multiple volumes. He stated that much came by way of revelation, and demonstrated clairvoyance...yet I do not claim he was inerrant, he does make mistakes. I am working on his book Apocalypse Explained, and the letters to the seven churches represent messages sent by Jesus to the different branched of Christianity, explaining where they fall short, and urging each branch to enter communion with the New Jerusalem.

    When it comes to all the different branches of Christianity, most differences disappear if love and charity is made primary, and faith or belief made secondary. One can do no wrong in repentance, and turning away from self towards God.

    And yes, I am not so well versed in Orthodoxy...I did attend a few of their services, some parts confusing, but enjoyed how they put scripture in an inner sanctuary, sort of like the Holy of Holies. As Swedenborg said:

    "That the angels have all their wisdom through the Word, they themselves confess; for so far as they are in the understanding of the Word they are in light. The light of heaven is the Divine wisdom, which to their eyes is light. In the sacred repository in which a copy of the Word is kept, the light is flame-like and bright, surpassing every degree of the light which is outside of the repository, in the heaven. The cause is the same as stated above, that the Lord is in the Word." (Doctrine of Sacred Scripture, n. 73).

  3. I know that this is an old post, but I wanted to let you know that I've kept the URL on hand in my notes for a while now. I am currently in the process of revising my texts, and I've taken your critique into account, as well as adding in some quotes from Swedenborg. Thank you for the corrections!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Actually there is good agreement between the New Church and the Orthodox on the atonement, for that there is a more recent article here: A Rational Explanation for Atonement: Christus Victor, the Divine Human. Those who are familiar with Christus Victor in the west know that the theology of "vicarious atonement" or the legalistic explanation was introduced in the 11th century, soon after the Catholic church split from the Orthodox. But this is not well documented in common histories of Christianity.


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