A Sermon by Rev. Grant R. Schnarr
Today’s talk is entitled the New Church: the difference. Many people who have come to us recently have asked, “What is the essential difference between the New Church and traditional Christianity?”
In many ways we can look at the externals, the life of the church, and not see that much that is different. Some things are different though. A lot of people have said that to come here there is a real freedom of thought that exists, that you can use your mind when it comes to this religion and learn and keep the mind open, keep your understanding open and continually progress. Other people have particularly liked this cafe, how we worship here because it’s a very casual atmosphere here. You come in and sit down at a table. No one’s looking at you to see what you are wearing or anything like that. There’s a real good atmosphere. Other people have said that there’s a friendliness here and a warmth that they haven’t found elsewhere in other churches, much larger, or much smaller. There’s a real warmth that exists here and a comradeship.
A lot of these things we can find other places. What is the difference at the heart of the New Church and at the heart of Christianity, talking about the doctrines? These doctrines are like the spring that brings forth these other things. The doctrines are the heart, the essential. When it comes to the doctrines of the New Church and the former Christian church (and I use that “former” on purpose) then we see what a vast difference there really is in these two teachings and how new the New Church really is.
The Writings of the New Church say, for example, that the two doctrines cannot come together in a person’s mind. If they come together, if one isn’t rejected and the other one accepted, such a collision would take place that a person wouldn’t know what to believe any more because they are so diverse.
What would these doctrines be?
Who is God in the Christian church? Some people may say that God is a God of love, and that’s true, but when you look at a person’s thoughts about God, they sometimes differ very much from what the doctrine of the church is teaching. This idea that God is a God of love is relatively new, is a new idea. It doesn’t come from the doctrines of the church. What it comes from is people using their minds, moving away from those doctrines. The doctrine for the most part teaches that God the Father, the Creator is a condemning God. God looks upon the human race sometimes with disgust, with condemnation, with wrath. That is one of the reasons why, one of the reasons why in traditional Christian doctrine that Jehovah sent His Son into the world, and that His Son when we are clothed in His blood and righteousness, then God can no longer condemn us.
Where does this idea come from, this idea that God is a condemning God? It is taught in the Old Testament. To be fair, it is taught there in many places where it talks about God being condemning. One of those is taken from Jeremiah. It says here, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be favorable toward these people. Cast them out of my sight….Thus says the Lord, “Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword .. I will hand them over to trouble….You have gone backwards, therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting!…I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people since they do not return from their ways.” Clearly in the Old Testament it teaches God is a God of anger and of wrath.
That’s interesting if you look at that. God can change His mind. He can forgive and then He can turn around and condemn, a very human concept of God in traditional Christianity. God Himself, apart from Jesus, is a God of condemnation.
How does Jesus fit into the picture in traditional Christianity? There are many ways of stating it. Most commonly it says there, in the Trinity there are three persons in God, three separate persons that make one essence. In fact, in Leo Rosten’s book “Religions of America,” a Lutheran put it this way for the Lutheran view, (and that’s kind of middle of the road in Christianity) God the Father is our creator, God the Son is our redeemer, God the Holy Ghost is the sanctifier and nourisher of souls. Yet there is one God in three personalities. Other people say three persons in one essence, just like three diamonds and they are made of the same essence, don’t they make one diamond? No, they don’t, do they? We’ll get into that later on. Three persons, each having a different type of function that they perform. God is the sustainer; Jesus is the savior, redeemer; the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier, the purifier; very separate and unique. In fact, in some of the creeds that have come along, Jesus was born from eternity. co God, all from eternity, He was always there.
Where are some of the places that this can be found in the Word? This is really interesting, is it taken from the Word? Is this idea of three separate persons in God actually taken from the Word, or was the idea thought up somewhere else and confirmed in certain passages in the Word because you’ll find that there are passages of the oneness, and then there are passages which seem to appear to have a separation. What are some of these passages?
Right in the beginning of Genesis it says, “Let us make man in our own image.” The Christian church says right there, “See, ‘Let us make man.’ It’s in the plural right there.” And then later on there is a very famous passage, John 3:16. (If you were ever watching a football game on TV, you’ll see a person holding up a sign “John 3:16.” You’ll notice that– somebody’s paying somebody to hold these signs up all over the country–and this is what it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The idea that God gave His Son to the world, to sacrifice His Son so we could be saved.
Also, many times we find that Jesus is praying to the Father in the New Testament as if there is some sort of separation. Now today people pray in the name of Jesus to the Father. Some people pray in the name of Mary to Jesus and the Father. People pray to other people to Mary to Jesus to the Father, and so forth, to get in with God, this condemning God.
What is salvation in the Christian church? For the most part in the Protestant world salvation comes through, as it said here, “He who believes in Him should be saved,” that salvation comes through faith only. It was Luther who said, “It is my faith that saves me. I cannot do one whit of good. It is purely through my belief in God, that Jesus Christ died for my sins. And then grace comes over me through that faith, through having that faith.
Where is this taken from in the New Testament? Of course it says, whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but we might question later on, what does it mean by belief?
Also in the Code of Romans, Paul’s works, it says, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus .. Where is the boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith,” Paul says. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
It’s interesting that idea of “we conclude.” Paul sometimes said, “Sometimes I speak from inspiration; sometimes I speak from myself,” he said. Can you imagine the Lord saying to His disciples, “Therefore my brothers, we conclude that you should love your neighbor.” I think here we can see that this is Paul speaking. We’ll talk about that later too.
Today we are saved by believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins. We believe that. We accept Him into our lives through our faith. If we do any works, those works don’t count. It’s not through what we do; it’s through what we believe that we are saved. And if we accept Him into our lives, let go of our responsibilities and let Him take over, then we are saved from our sins.
There’s life after death and things that are believed there in the Christian church, and it’s interesting today, basically in the doctrine of the Christian church, we are supposed to rot in our graves until the last times. In the last times we will be raised up and that’s when the dead will be judged according to their works. Works? Isn’t that interesting? The Bible does say “according to their works.” But wait a minute, we’re saved by faith, aren’t we? Never mind that. The idea that we have to wait in our graves until the last time, and then we’ll be resurrected before God. The good people will be sent to heaven and the bad people will be cast into the fiery pit of hell forever and ever.
And yet it’s interesting, again, when people move away from their doctrine they begin to understand the truth. James Dobson, minister, a Christian psychologist, when he gave his father’s eulogy–his father had died–James Dobson was saying, “I know that right now he is in the other world with God and with his relatives, and he’s having a grand old time.” James Dobson may be right, but he’s not a very good scholar when it comes to his own church’s doctrine because his own church’s doctrine teaches that we are in our graves until the last days.
Where do these things lead? That’s the important thing. The Lord said, “By their fruits you will know them.” By their fruits you will know them. Think about God, think about the teaching we should love our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, with all our strength. Let me ask you, is it possible to love someone who condemns you? Is it possible to love someone who looks upon you with disgust? Do you even feel a need to come to close to a God who is pushing you away, or has to have someone sacrificed in their name so that then He can approach you in life? Imagine that on a human level, with somebody who you are supposed to draw close to and they’re always condemning you, putting you down, not seeing any good in you? It’s hard to do. It’s really hard to do.
Is God a God of love? Or is He a God of hate? He’s either one or the other: He’s not both. We’ve got to use minds and see that. And how can we approach and be conjoined with and love a God of condemnation? We can’t.
Is there a trinity of three separate persons in God? Think about that. If you have three separate persons, the Writings say, then you have three gods. The Writings are the first to admit, everybody will say with the lips, one god, but if you are thinking three persons, then you’re thinking three gods. Who are you praying to? Are you praying to the Father? Are you praying to the Son? Are you praying to the Holy Spirit? There’s a separation there. There really is. Are we praying in the name of Jesus? If Jesus is God co-equal with Jehovah, when we pray in the name of Jesus, aren’t we sort of praying a little lower to get into the real guy, the guy that really counts? And the Holy Spirit the affect that it has on us, is that Holy Spirit really a separate person? Three persons, one essence. And the Writings say, look, you can have three diamonds. You can have three beautiful diamonds. They’re all the same essence, and yet they don’t make one diamond, do they? No, they don’t. In the same way, if you have three persons in God, especially if they all have different jobs, you can say they all have one essence, but do they make one? Not if they’re three different personalities.
So we have people coming here who have said to me after they’ve found the Writings, “Before I didn’t know who to pray to, to pray to the Father? God scared me. Spirit, to pray to the Son? I saw Him as a human being. It was a very confusing time. A lot of people turned away from the Bible, many people turned away from the Bible because they were taught that God is a God of condemnation and they couldn’t read the Bible any more because all they read about was how much God hated them, how much God condemned them, because that was their view of the Bible. It wasn’t helping them any to read that book any more. It just filled them with guilt and remorse.
Are people really saved by having faith only? If you have only faith, if you have only belief but never live according to that faith is the faith real? No. The Writings say, if you believe something but never do it, then you never really believed, did you? I know I’ve used this example before but it really makes the point. If you are stuck in a cave somewhere in the dark and somebody comes down and says, “I know the way out. You’ve got to believe me,” and then takes off to find out the way out, if you really believe him you are going to follow him out of that cave. You’re not going to say, “I believe him so I’m going to sit in my corner there and keep on believing and I’ll be saved.” It just doesn’t work that way.
When the Lord said you’ve got to believe Me (and He did many times) He meant us to do what He says. Obviously, “he who loves me keeps my commandments.” When we believe that we are saved by merely having faith, then we shut the blinds. What we say is, we have a false sense of security in our lives, because I’m saved I don’t have to look at myself any more. The Writings say that the reason that this faith alone doctrine developed because people began to be uncomfortable with the idea of looking into themselves and having that responsibility of changing their lives. They wanted an easier way, so through a process of time this doctrine developed.
It becomes much easier just to say, I believe and I’m saved and I can live how I choose. It’s a lot easier, I admit it. It is a lot easier to do it that way, but does it work? Does it really go anywhere? I wonder, “How many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you who work iniquity.'” Isn’t that talking about, when the Lord said that, as those who profess belief and yet it didn’t come into action? The doctrine of faith alone says, “It is your belief, not your life; works do nothing for your salvation.”
The Writings of the New Church have a different explanation to offer for all of these things, and the beautiful thing about it is that you can use your mind, that you can look around in nature and science and the wonder of creation and see how it all fits together in a beautiful picture.
God is not a God of hate. God is a God of love. And more and more people are coming to see that today, and that’s a beautiful thing. More and more Christians are leaving that doctrine of hate behind and going on to follow a doctrine of love. Think about it. God is life itself. He is love itself. He is the creating force itself, and if you can accept it, He can do no other than love us. He can’t help but love us. Is that limiting God to say that, that He can’t help but love us? Can God make a rock so big that He can’t even lift it up Himself? There are questions like that that you can get into. There’s all kinds of ways that we can limit God. Is it limiting God by saying, God is love? No, it’s limiting Him by saying that He can hate. God can’t hate.
The reason God created us is because He is love and He wants to be with us and He wants to be joined with us. Those teachings in the Old Testament of God being a God of condemnation is how the Israelites perceived God at that time. That’s how God had to appear to them because they were so simple, they were so childlike, they had to be told, “You do that, you’re going to get it,” because that’s the only way they could obey. The Lord couldn’t come to them and say, “Now listen, I really love you. I want you do follow Me because you’ll be happy.” They weren’t like that. They wouldn’t have responded to that. They had to be told to do this or die. That’s not what God is. It’s only an appearance, and so many times in the Bible the Lord accommodates to us. He comes to our state, even as He did in coming down and taking on a human form, accommodating Himself to us so that we could see Him.
How does the trinity fit in here? The trinity the Writings say, is not a trinity of three separate persons in God. There is no trinity like that. There is one God, one Lord. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” In Genesis when they talk about, “Let us make man in our own image.” That’s just to deify God, to magnify Him. Any Hebrew scholar would tell you that of course the Israelites, the Hebrews, didn’t believe in three separate persons in God. The fundamental doctrine of the Hebrew church is “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” That’s clear. No one ever thought about there being a trinity back then–a trinity of different persons in God. And this is also taught.
The Lord said in Isaiah–we read this in our lesson–listen to this. This is Jehovah, “‘You are My witnesses,’ says the Lord, ‘that you may believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God born, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior.'” Now think about that. Jesus is the Savior, isn’t He? We all know that. If Jesus was standing beside Him, was Jehovah lying to us at that time by saying, “I am the Savior. There is no God besides Me.” Get back there, Jesus. How did Jesus feel about that? The point is that there was no Jesus standing beside Jehovah.
Jehovah and Jesus are one and the same. Jehovah bowed the heavens and came down. Jesus Christ was the man at the station of God, the same person; not a separate person today, not a separate person ten thousand years ago. There was no something born from eternity. Find that in the Bible where Jesus was born from eternity. It’s not there. It doesn’t exist.
All the prophecies leading up to the Lord’s birth were not about the Son of God coming to earth. They were about Jehovah Himself, the Messiah was Jehovah Himself coming down, God coming to save man. “For unto us Child is born. Unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called ‘Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, everlasting Father [not Son, everlasting Father] Prince of peace.” “Behold your God will come with a vengeance, with a recompense of God. He will come and save you.” And the Psalmist said, “And Jehovah bowed the heavens and came down. His name shall be called Immanuel.” What does Immanuel mean? God with us.
And in the New Testament there are so many places too where the oneness is shown. The Lord said, “I and My Father are one. Before Abraham was,” He said to the scribes and Pharisees, “before Abraham was, I am.” You know what “I am” means? “I am” means Yehowah, Jehovah. Why do you think the scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone Him? He was saying before Abraham was, “I am Jehovah.” He didn’t say, “Before Abraham was, I was also with Jehovah.” He said “I am.” He identified completely with being Jehovah.
And then Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and My God.” And even Philip–we read about–he said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father. Have you been with Me so long a time and not recognized Me?” the Lord said when Philip asked to see the Father.
There is a trinity in God, but it is not a trinity of different persons in God. That’s separates it out. There’s a trinity of different aspects of God. The same way we have a trinity. The Father, the invisible, is like the soul of God, the unknowable, the invisible, love itself, life itself. We can’t really understand it or comprehend it. That’s like the soul. The Son is His body, how He showed Himself. He that has seen Me, the body, has seen the Father, the soul within. “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” It is through that human picture of Jesus Christ that we understand God, that we see Him in human form as He holds little children and blesses them, as He heals all people of their spiritual and their natural diseases. We can see God in Jesus Christ. He wasn’t saying to us, “If you don’t know about Me you’re going to go to hell.” That’s not what He was saying. He was saying, if you know about this human part you can see it and understand it then you can know God. “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.”
And the Holy Spirit of God is not a separate person sent out. It’s His spirit. It’s His effect on us. It’s how He moves us. There is no difference there. There are not three persons in God. There’s one person, one Lord, one God, one Savior, one Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isn’t it true that in the New Testament that there that is that appearance of separation? Yes. That is true. When the angel appeared to Mary, he said, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the highest shall overshadow you and that thing which will be born of you shall be called, shall be called the Son of God.” And that human part that was from Mary was indeed the Son of God, that purely human part, that receiving vessel that received the Divine. The difference with Jesus Christ was that He had the Divine within Him. It flowed into Him in a different way than it does with us. Through a process of time, through temptations and victory over hell, that Divine came down more and more into Him and became one with that Human, until finally we are told that that Human, that Divine became totally one. It became glorified even to those vessels themselves. And so now, when we worship the risen Lord we worship the same personality as Jehovah Himself. Now Jehovah, Jesus Christ are one and the same. We can see Him through His Human. We can understand Him, we can love Him.
The Writings say, if you want to picture it, picture it as a man with his arms open wide, stretching them out over the waters, beckoning all to come to Him. One God full of love. What is there in religion that we’re going after in this picture? Are we trying to do God’s will because we’re afraid of hell? Are we trying to do God’s will because if we do what the Son says or have faith in Him that we’ll be saved from God’s wrath? No. There’s one love, one Creator, one Redeemer, one Savior with His arms stretched out, beckoning all to come to Him, and we want to come to Him because He loves us with all His heart and He’s simply asking us to do His will. Why? Because that’s how we’ll be happy, by doing His will, by letting Him come into us in our mind, in our belief, but also in our life.
What is it that saves a person? It is not merely belief alone. It is not merely works alone that save a person. You can believe and still be a rotten person. You can do all the good in the world and still inside be rotten. It’s bringing your faith and your charity together. It’s putting your faith into life. It’s believing in the Lord and then going on to do what He says.
How can it be any more simple than that? “He who loves Me keeps My commandments.” And when we do that we open up our minds and our hearts and allow the Lord to come into us. “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with Me.” We open that door by following the Lord’s words. It’s as simple as that. Talking about putting that faith into life and how important it is. The Lord spoke of that all along. He says, “Come now you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” He didn’t say, “Come you blessed of My father, you believed in Me; you didn’t do any of these things but you believed and now you’re in.”
The whole emphasis was on love. Love not just in the mind, but in life because if we have love in our hearts, in our lives, we have God in our hearts and in our lives. One God. One love. One way. One path to follow.
What’s the difference between the New Church and traditional Christianity? It’s a difference between a loving God and a God of condemnation. It’s a difference between worshiping one God with His arms stretched out beckoning all to come to Him, or worshiping three separate persons, three different gods with all different kinds of aspects and motives and methods. It’s a difference between having a candy-coated religion that says I’m saved by merely having faith or a progressive religion which–yes–has a lot of responsibility to look inside yourself to see what’s wrong, to shun it as a sin against God, and to move on to find our Creator. It’s a religion that makes you move forward in life and keeps the blinds up. It’s a difference as one person in this room has said, of coming out of the darkness into the light.
So, in the New Church we believe that these things don’t come from manmade doctrines. This is all found in the Bible, in the Word of God. It depends on how you look at the Bible. Some people look at it so one-sided they only see certain things, but if you take the Bible in its whole and you use your mind in looking at it, you can see that the Lord is speaking to us there, that there is only one God, that He is a God of love, that that God simply wants us to obey His commandments, to find the order of life so that our hearts can be opened up to Him, so that the kingdom of God can indeed be within us. And so the spirit and the bride say, “Come. Let him who thirsts come, and whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”