by Rev. Chris Skinner
The Acts and Epistles have been neglected by New Church people because they are not part of “the Word” and do not have a continual spiritual sense.
In neglecting them, we miss some very important material on the early church.
During the first 100 years of the church, the theology was only gradually being interpreted and the people of the time followed much more closely the sense of Jesus being God If we look at the Apostles Creed it demonstrates the idea of One God
Whilst Swedenborg does not regard them as part of “the Word” he very clearly treats them as doctrinal writings and good for the church and it can be seen from his works that there are a significant number of passages that confirm New Church teachings.
In Acts we get a vivid picture of the struggles of the early church as they fought against both Jewish and Pagan opposition. Prayer Family Worship Baptism
We get a very good impression of the love and commitment of the people as they tried to follow their Lord. It was a simple following. They had no theology and grappled with issues in their life.
We see the difficulties that beset them as they tried to interpret the return of the Lord which for them was to be imminent. In some instances this meant they did not live their life because they thought the Lord had returned (Thessalonians)
They also had to contend with the development of other groups such as the Gnostics who blurred the essential simplicity of the truth as shown by Jesus in His life. Paul had to explain this and refute it in his letters
It is very evident in spite of the faith alone doctrine attributed to Paul that in the early days the people put love into action. 1 Corinthians 13 is a very good example of this.
Particularly in the Acts which is believed to be written by Luke, we see how Paul journeyed to various parts to nurture the early church. His background as a Jew who spoke Greek helped.
We learn about the early apostles, Peter, Stephen, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy and Paul and the way they witnessed to the Lord. There travels were long and some were martyrs.
The Acts and Epistles quite clearly demonstrate the Divinity of Jesus by linking Him to the Old Testament Sermons by Peter quote many passages from the Law (or Torah).
Many references appear in the Acts and Epistles of passages from the Old Testament which have an internal sense. Look at the cross references in a reference Bible.
From Jewish traditions, confirmation is given of Jesus as the Messiah. But as an earthly King
New Church people have avoided this part of the Bible because of the emphasis by Paul on faith alone. However it depends on the interpretation of the particular passage and if read carefully it can be acceptable
By looking at the Epistles as a whole, we get a much more balanced picture. Many of the passages from Epistles gave a much more balanced view. James for instance, is very much about the one Lord and was in danger of being left out of the canon of Scripture for this reason.
Paul was a tower of strength in nurturing the developing church. Whilst many passages in the Epistles are ambiguous, it is possible to confirm that he regarded Jesus as God although he did not quote the words of jesus once although referred to the Old testament many times as a Jew who had come to the Lord.
Paul did interpret from the Lord’s life doctrine but it did tend to establish theology which was a little confusing.
Some doctrine alien to the New Church arise from these works such as ‘the dead rise with the Lord at his coming again on the earth.’
Much to commend the reading of the Epistle provided, we do not dwell on the tri-personal approach.
Advantages from reading is that it shows us that people loved their Lord, regarded baptism resurrection and repentance as important. Spirit of God or Holy Spirit, are a reality for them. Many gentiles and proscelites turned to a visible God
It is impressive how Paul managed a church in many locations and dealt with issues confronting them. Reading the epistles or letters to the churches, provides insights into the problems and doctrinal issues that needs to be dealt with. His letters were giving doctrinal solutions to the problems of different types that were being experienced all around Asia. In one sense it was doctrine on the run.
Until the Nicene Creed there is very much that the New Church can support.
Without denying the difficulties associated with faith alone and apparent separation of God and Jesus in the written word, there is much to commend the Acts and Epistles.
Go to it, looking for the positives and there is much to gain and learn about the faith, life and the way the early church worshiped their Lord.