Christianity as it has existed for most of the last two thousand years is in its death throes. For many centuries, Christianity ruled Western minds, and thus Western society. The Christian Church was the final authority on the truth or falsity, the right or wrong, of any question or course of action. Those who dared to challenge the authority of the Church generally did not fare well.
Today, not only has the Christian Church fallen from its former position of the final spiritual, social, and scientific authority in the Western world, but the institution of the church is itself in rapid decline. Traditional churches are bleeding members, and closing their doors in droves. Many magnificent old church buildings are being converted to secular use, or have become museums and tourist attractions.
The death of traditional Christianity in Europe is especially stark. Recent studies show that only 25% of 18-24 year olds in Britain believe in God. Church attendance throughout much of Europe is at an all-time low. In the United States, Christianity is still much more mainstream than in Europe. But even in the U.S., traditional churches are closing their doors; both the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant churches are declining in membership.
While there is a resurgence on the Evangelical side, that, too, is showing signs of losing steam. Even when traditional Christian theology is set to rock music, people eventually realize that it’s the same old wine in those hip new wineskins. Though new converts do flock to the tech-savvy, modern Evangelical churches, the turnover is high. These churches depend on constant high-intensity proselytizing to produce a continual stream of new converts in order to replace the people who are continually flowing out of their revolving doors. Modern marketing techniques can carry you only so far when you’re selling an outdated theology.
You see, there’s more going on here than the repackaging of Christianity that is commonly covered in the media.
For the last two or three centuries, Christianity itself has been dying. At least, the church that has been called “Christian” all these centuries has been dying.
But that church was never really Christian in the first place.
Christianity makes a decisive break from ancient Judaism
When Jesus Christ was living on earth, he honored many of the beliefs and practices of the Jewish religion from which he came. However, he also made a decisive break from Judaism both in teaching and in practice. Due to that decisive break, the resulting religious movement was not another branch of Judaism, but an entirely new religion: Christianity.
Let’s look at just one or two of the many ways in which Jesus Christ made a decisive break with the Judaism of his birth.
The ancient Judaism in which Jesus grew up was very different from the Judaism of today. It was a religion focused heavily on ritual observances—especially the ritual observance of animal sacrifice as commanded in the book of Leviticus.
These sacrifices were originally performed at the portable tabernacle that the Israelites carried with them on their journeys following their exodus from Egypt. After they settled in Palestine, during the reign of King Solomon, a permanent Temple replaced the tabernacle. It was at this Temple in Jerusalem, and there alone, that the people’s sacrifices were to be offered.
Further, these sacrifices were made, not by ordinary people, but by an anointed priesthood that descended from Aaron and his fellow members of the tribe of Levi.
This meant that in ancient Judaism, not only was animal sacrifice one of the primary acts of worship, but the people had their relationship with God not directly, but through a human intermediary: the priest.
Though Jesus did not dishonor these practices when engaged in by sincere hearts (see, for example, Luke 5:13–14), for his own followers he replaced all of the ritual observances of the Jewish law with just two observances: baptism and the holy supper.
And for his own followers, Jesus replaced the priesthood with disciples (Latin for “learners”) and apostles (Greek for “those sent out”) who were commissioned, not based on anointing nor on hereditary lineage, but based on their willingness to hear the Gospel (an old English word meaning “good news”) and teach it to others.
Christianity was not to be a religion of external ritual observances. It was to be a religion of learning spiritual truth, and teaching it to others.
And in Christianity, though there would still be teachers, there would be no separate, anointed priesthood. There would be no human intermediaries between the people and God. All Christians would have a direct relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ, who was and still is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
Christianity quickly reverts back to the previous Jewish model
As long as the disciples and apostles were still alive who had known Jesus personally and had learned directly from him, this new religion continued as Jesus initially instituted it:
- The disciples who had become apostles taught the people new spiritual truth just as they had received it from Jesus.
- Christians observed the simple, spiritually significant rituals of:
- Baptism as an introduction to Christ and the Christian community
- The Holy Supper as the community’s shared remembrance and celebration of Jesus Christ
- All Christians had a direct relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, once the original group of apostles died off, along with everyone else who had known Jesus personally, Christianity began to change. There was no one with any real inspiration or authority to guide the church. Even with the newly written books of the New Testament to guide them, leaders in the church began to argue with one another about exactly what the teachings of the church were.
Within a few short centuries, human creeds and human doctrinal interpretations such as the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed began to replace the teachings of Jesus Christ himself as a litmus test of who was and was not a Christian.
And almost as soon as Christians organized themselves into an institution, they re-instituted the priesthood that Jesus had replaced. By the time Christianity became established as the reigning religion of the Western world, starting in the early years of the fourth century after Christ’s birth, it had already reverted back to the ancient Jewish practice of anointed priests serving as intermediaries between the people and God.
And so, what passed as the Christian Church for so many centuries was “Christian in name only, and not in reality or in essence,” as Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in True Christianity #668. The Church as an institution had abandoned the teachings of Jesus in favor of human creeds, and had substituted a human priesthood for the direct relationship with Jesus Christ that is the essence of true Christianity.
Only within the last few hundred years has anything resembling what Jesus actually taught and instituted begun to gradually re-emerge in the world.
A false “Christianity” is dying
The irony is that the “Christianity” that people are now abandoning in droves is not the Christianity that Jesus Christ began.
Most people today—especially young people—are not interested in an institutional, ritualistic, priest- and minister-centered church. They are not interested in the big, fancy old-fashioned church buildings whose architecture—the chancels, the altars, the pews—is designed for a form of worship that bears more resemblance to pre-Christian Judaism than it does to anything we read about in the Gospels. Young people today are not interested in archaic rituals in which a human being stands between them and God.
In short, people today are abandoning the false Christianity that a group of combative and unenlightened human beings created in the centuries after Christ lived and died. This false Christianity was not based on Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6; John 14:27). Instead, it was based on human doctrines formulated by human beings and ratified at human councils called by the political powers of the day, and ultimately forced upon Europe through the use of political power and violence.
The Nicene Creed, whose composition the Roman Emperor Constantine oversaw, and which he then started imposing upon the people under his rule, began to establish in the Christian Church a fundamental doctrinal error that destroyed the teachings of Christ. This was the human-invented teaching that there are three Persons in God—a teaching found nowhere in the Bible.
Based on the Nicene Creed and other human-created creeds that followed, nearly all of Christianity to this day believes in “God in Three Persons.” And from that original error, the entire belief system of Christianity was corrupted into something entirely different from what Jesus Christ taught and exemplified in his life.
This old, institutional “Christianity,” whose doctrines were created by human beings, is the Christianity that is dying as millions of former members vote with their feet.
True Christianity is just beginning!
And you know what? The death of that old Christianity is a good thing.
Because it is clearing the way for the rebirth of Christianity as it was originally intended by Jesus Christ himself.
As long as the old Christian institutions persist, and continue to claim that the old creeds written by human beings are the true measure of Christian belief, the people will be confused.
That old, harsh, and institutionalized “Christianity” must die before a new and genuine Christianity can begin. That is why the death of Christianity as it has existed for most of the last two thousand years is an event to be celebrated!
What will this new Christianity look like?
We humans are still figuring that out. But whatever it is, it will skip over all human creeds, and go directly to the Bible itself as its source of spiritual understanding and inspiration.
That’s precisely what the scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) did over two hundred years ago. He offered to the world a renewed form of Christianity, based solidly on the Bible understood as a spiritual book that is the divinely inspired Word of God.
Of course, it is not necessary to accept Swedenborg’s teachings in order to be a true Christian. Swedenborg himself said that all people who read the Bible with a sincere love for God and a sincere desire to love and serve their fellow human beings can find all the truth and inspiration they need in its pages.
And yet, the world is moving more and more toward precisely the vision of spiritual life in general, and of Christianity and the Bible in particular, that Swedenborg outlined in volume after volume of his theological writings.
What do you think Christianity will look like in the coming decades and centuries?
Where do you get your spiritual insight and inspiration?
For further reading:
- The Christian Church is Not Christian
- Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth
- Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
- The Evangelicals are Right: The World IS Coming to an End!
- “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
- Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus
Culture in the USA is self indulgent. We want to be comfortable and quick in getting what we want. Defining what we want is set by envy of looking at other people. Church services should be brief. Sermons in church should be entertaining and confirming that we are all destined for heaven no matter what. The internal compass of our soul cannot be chained by commercial consumerism. The church built for entertainment and flattery will fall. God built the universe and our unique role in this vast creation is humbling. Pope Francis was selected because there is a more dynamic revival in South America than anywhere else in the world. Too many in the USA are building their vision of salvation to fit their schedule and convenience. We are blinding ourselves to make our life a false reality of Hollywood fantasies, and shopping for convenient churches to suit our lifestyle instead of nourishing our soul.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I agree that while consumerism is comfortable and entertaining, it also tends to be superficial, and is often built on envy of what our neighbors have. There’s nothing wrong with living a comfortable and happy life. But when our own comfort and pleasure becomes an end in itself, it makes life flat and meaningless in the end.
Yet everything has its purpose under God’s providence. God does allow us to strive for and obtain the material things we desire. That way, when we have achieved what we thought would give us happiness, we can realize through our own experience that the material world will never give us true happiness or lasting joy. For that, we must turn toward God, spirit, and a life of active love and service to our neighbor–just as Jesus taught in the Gospels.
Thanks again for stopping by!
It may be very curious to say this, but I have always thought that Nietzsche’s declaration of the death of God was meant in the same vain as you did with regard to christianity. It was the ‘God of philosophy’, the metaphysical God which he declared to be dead, and killed by ‘us’ (modern people). That’s why I liked his his work ‘The Antichrist’. He writes among other things: ‘I narrate of the true history of christianity. -The word ‘christianity’ itself is already a mistake-, in fact there has only been one christian, and he died at the cross. […] It is wrong to the absurd when one sees faith, e.g. in salvation through Christ, as the mark of a christian: only christian practice, a life like he led who died at the cross, is christian…’. Well, to avoid misunderstanding, I am not a Nietzschian (a follower), but I am convinced he belongs together with Swedenborg among those who tried to point to more real meanings of Jesus’ life and words, away from highly stylized theologies which were built on top of his inheritance.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comments.
I admit to knowing almost nothing substantial about Nietzche, except that he has made a lot of Christians very angry at him! 😉 What you say here is fascinating! It’s almost enough to get me to carve out a block of time to actually go and read The Antichrist. Oh, well, maybe when I’m retired . . . . Or maybe even before then.
But to your general point, I believe that much of what is seen as attacks on Christianity, including much popular atheist fare, is actually an attack on ideas and teachings that are not Christian at all, and that must be rooted out of people’s minds before anything like true Christianity can take hold. So although it would probably annoy them to hear me say so, I believe that atheists, too, are doing God’s work.
Nietzsche has made many people angry, and he will keep on doing so, as long as one can not appreciate the exaggerated style of his critique which he used to try and wake people up from their philosophical and ideological slumber. He has also raged against women, Germans, Darwinists, etc.
That indicates also the great difference between Nietzsche and Swedenborg, while the former is mainly a critic of modern culture and the christian churches (with an implicit spiritual or religious message only), the latter has aimed to give explicit descriptions of what spiritual life should be like.
I will give you a final citation however, as it is interesting to read his work anyhow (and I hope it will not make you angry ;-)): ‘the church, which with her ideal of paleness and ‘holiness’ has absorbed all blood, all love, all hope for life; [is a conspiration] against health, beauty, success, bravery, spirit, quality of the soul, against life itself.’ (it is a pity however, but has to be noted, that Nietzsche has been misused by the nazi’s to defend their race theory and its atrocities)
And something else: at the conference on time where I was last weekend, I really got some interest talking about Swedenborg on time, as most people who had heard of him only knew him through Kant, and therefore thought that he was at most to be laughed at. I managed to offer some minor correction of the image he has among academics…
Glad you were able to provide some improved food for thought about Swedenborg in those academic circles. Kant’s satire of Swedenborg did do a lot of damage to Swedenborg’s reputation in academic circles. (I am still looking for that high school paper I wrote on the subject.)
Your citation from Nietzsche reminds me of a theory George Dole mentioned in a talk titled “‘Organized’ Religion?” published in a collection of his writings titled “Sorting Things Out.” Dole briefly recounts how William Blake enjoyed his initial encounters with Swedenborg’s book Divine Love and Wisdom, believing that he had found a kindred soul in Swedenborg.
But then Blake attended one of the first ever meetings of Swedenborg readers, and was apparently appalled by the narrow, institutional nature of their thinking. Dole believes that this (and not a more generalized critique of the Anglican Church as is found in some commentaries) was the genesis of Blake’s poem “The Garden of Love”:
I went to the Garden of Love.
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.
It seems extraordinary to me to find some kindred spirits. It brings me joy to read the William Blake poem in your reference to Dole’s observation on Swedenborg.
Good to have you here! It’s common for the followers of visionaries to flatten down the vision passed on to them, and try to fit it into the old mold. That’s what happened with the message of Jesus Christ. And on a much smaller scale, that’s what happened with Swedenborg’s vision of a renewed and revitalized Christianity when it was institutionalized by some of his early followers into an old-style “Christian” church institution.
I may need some clarification. Do you believe we should get back to the original teachings of scripture or do you believe a new “evolved” form of Christianity should/will emerge?
I’ve only recently begun learning about the Councils and it seems they were trying to get back to the original teachings. Over time heresies emerged within the Church about basic doctrine, usually due to people accepting the teachings of one single individual, so they would get large numbers of bishops (or pastors or whatever titles get used) together to hash it out and come to an understanding of what Scriptures originally taught and been passed down. Since man is fallible, it was by getting everyone’s individual contributions and research about what was universally accepted since the beginning that would get closer to the original understanding of the early apostolic church than the writings of any single individual living in later times.
This post by the Conciliar Anglican was informative for me.
Thanks for your comment, and for the link, which I found interesting. I’m not sure what you mean by an “evolved” form of Christianity, so I can’t comment on that. I believe that all the basic doctrines of the church must be drawn from Scripture, since that is the Word of God.
Human documents such as creeds have no more than human authority. They are binding only upon the human institutions–church organizations, mostly–that adopt them as binding. And no human church organization can rightfully claim to be the only, exclusive, or true church of Christ–though many have attempted to do so, from the Roman Catholic church onward.
The article you linked to admitted that councils can err. I believe that those early councils did err.
The writer of the article mentioned in one of his follow-up comments that there were other councils that were larger, with more bishops in attendance, than the first Nicene council, and that those other councils endorsed the Arian heresy that the Nicene council was called to combat. So the idea that the Nicene council was authoritative because it had more bishops and was more representative cannot be sustained.
There were many heresies floating around in the early church about the nature of God and how to understand the statements in the Bible about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What happened was not that the truth won, and was enshrined in those early creeds, but rather that a particular heresy won (probably because it had Constantine’s army behind it), was enshrined in those early creeds, and then became settled doctrine throughout most of organized, institutional Christianity.
That heresy was the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God–a doctrine that is taught nowhere in the Bible, but is based on human interpretations of the Bible. To take that or any other human-created doctrine and grant it the status of a fundamental doctrine of the church is to give human councils a higher status than the Word of God.
Protestants have done a similar thing with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, which is also taught nowhere in the Bible. It was promulgated by Luther–probably to make a decisive doctrinal break from the Roman Catholic Church.
To this day, traditional and evangelical Protestants use the doctrine of salvation by faith alone as a litmus test to determine whether or not a person is a Christian. I have actually been told that I am not a Christian because I do not believe in salvation by faith alone. How does a doctrine that the Bible specifically denies (see James 2:24) become the fundamental doctrine of an entire branch of institutional Christianity, and the primary determinant of whether or not a person is Christian in the minds of that branch’s members?
Back to the Trinity of Persons, keep in mind that many of those early bishops were converted pagans, who had come from various polytheistic religions. The idea of three Persons in God was no problem for them. In fact, to many of them it probably seemed like a very conservative doctrine. Only three gods? They used to believe in a lot more gods than that!
Finally, the very fact that there were bishops in the church is a testament to the fact that the Christian Church had already departed from the religion that Jesus Christ founded.
In ancient Judaism, there was a high priest, ordinary priests, and lower orders of temple attendants, all drawn from the tribe of Levi. This hierarchical, priestly system was directly commanded by Old Testament Scripture.
Jesus Christ, however, did away with that entire hierarchical, priestly system. He instituted a simple system of disciples and apostles. Disciples were “learners.” This included all of his followers. Some disciples became apostles, who were those “sent out” as teachers and missionaries. There is no warrant in the Gospels for the hierarchical system of priests, bishops, archbishops, and popes set up later by the institutional Christian Church. As I said in my post, this was a reversion back to pre-Christian Judaism. (Even Judaism itself no longer practices that old system.)
Any creed that resulted from a council presided over by bishops is not authoritative not only because it is a merely human document, but also because it was deliberated on and written by a human-created, priestly, hierarchical institution that was never commanded or authorized by Jesus Christ.
So yes, I believe we should skip over all of the creeds, and go back to Scripture itself in determining the genuine teachings of Christianity.
Thanks for the response. I’m finding my readings on early church history (and church history in general) pretty interesting. I’m just getting started and there is a ton there to keep me busy for a long time.
As far as the Trinity, the word “trinity” is never used but I believe the doctrine to be clearly there. For example,
–At the beginning of creation God referred to Himself in the plural (“Let Us make man in Our image”).
–John 1 says Jesus was the Word that was “with God” and “was God”.
–Jesus claimed equality with the Father and that He and the Father were one.
–At Jesus’ baptism the Spirit descended like a dove and a voice came from Heaven saying “This is my son” (all three “essences” clearly in one place at one time).
In fact, even if left with logic I believe we can still accept the Trinity because God is love. Love requires relationship. Who did God love before there were any created beings? The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one God and that He is love. Couple this with scriptures such as the ones above and there is a very strong case for a Trinity.
If you believe the Trinity was not part of early church doctrine, may I ask what you believe was the doctrine they taught? Was it Arianism or something else entirely? (I’m assuming there’s a historical record and no need to invoke Swedenborg, since he lived 1700 years later.)
Part of the reason there’s a problem is that in Gospel times and immediately afterwards, the focus was not on doctrine, but on life. Jesus does give some definite teachings in the Gospels. But most of them are not what we would now call “doctrine.” Rather, they are about loving God and loving the neighbor. His early followers were focused on that as well. Only two or three centuries later did correct belief start taking the primary position in the church–and that shift of emphasis from love toward faith was precisely when the church began to fall away from being the “body of Christ” that Jesus Christ himself began to form when he was on earth.
I do happen to believe that there are correct beliefs about the Trinity that can pass muster based on the Bible and also make sense to thinking, rational human beings. And I do love to discuss those beliefs. However, I do not think it is correct belief that places us in or out of the church of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is willingness to love God, love our neighbor, and live according to the Lord’s teachings. If we were to keep these things primary in the church, we would not be riven by so many controversies and conflicts. We would view one another as brothers and sisters in the church even if we disagreed about doctrine.
This is, in fact, how I view Catholics, Protestants, and all other Christians of good will and good lives. Though I vehemently disagree with some of the fundamental doctrinal points held in the traditional Christian churches, I consider all people who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ and living the life of love and service to others that he taught to be real Christians, even if I may believe that their doctrine is mistaken.
Please keep this in mind as I do my best to respond to some of the points you have raised.
But first, for a more organized and cohesive piece on the Trinity, I recommend my earlier article titled “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?” My next planned piece, titled “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” will take up the same general topic.
My issue is not so much with “Trinity” as it is with “Persons.” As you’ll see if you read the post I linked to in my previous comment, I do believe that there is a Trinity in God, represented by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I simply do not believe that it consists of three Persons, but that it is in the one Person of God.
Further, I do not think anyone can think about a Trinity of Persons without thinking of three gods. A “person” is a distinct individual. And if there are three of them in God, that means there are three distinct gods who somehow act in unison. And if you pay attention to the way the three function in traditional Christian theology, they do indeed act as if they are three separate individuals, each of whom is said to be God.
I do not believe there is any way of understanding the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons that does not partake of polytheism. The lips say “one,” but the mind thinks “three.” It is not a “mystery”; it is a contradiction.
However, as soon as we think of the Trinity as existing in the single Person of God, then all of those contradictions and irrationalities are resolved, and all of the statements in the Bible about God, and in the New Testament about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, begin to make sense.
However, this is not something that can be resolved in a few brief comments. There are some complex issues related to the Incarnation (God becoming flesh and dwelling among us), particularly with regard to Jesus being born with both an infinite Divine nature (from the Father) and a finite human nature (from Mary) that do take some time to explain and to grasp. I’ve done a brief job of it in the article linked above, which should give you some idea of how it works.
Okay, I’ll attempt to briefly address some of your specific points and questions.
On “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26):
There are several ways to view this without believing in multiple Persons of God. First, it helps to know that the Hebrew word used for “God” there is elohim, which is a plural form, but almost always functions as a singular–taking singular verbs and so on. I think of it sort of as a “plural of majesty,” similar to the Queen saying, “We are not amused.”
But beyond that, elohim is sometimes used to refer to angels as “powers,” rather than to God. In that sense, if we think of the Creation story as God making us “new creations in Christ,” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), then the “we” can mean God working through the angels to bring about our spiritual rebirth. For more on this view of the Creation story as really being about our spiritual re-creation, see the article, “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.”
On John 1:1-18:
This is one of the clearest and most powerful statements in the entire Bible about the nature of the Trinity in God. And saying that the Word was with God and also was God is about as close as a writer of those times could come to saying that the Word was a distinct aspect of God, but was in fact an integral part of God. If we think of “God” here as being the Divine Love, and “the Word” as being the Divine Wisdom, then it all makes perfect sense. Divine Wisdom is distinct from Divine Love, and comes from Divine Love, but the two cannot be separated in reality, because they are two different aspects of one being, who is God.
On Jesus saying that he and the Father are one (John 10:30):
This is precisely what I am saying, too! There are not two Persons, but one. Jesus tells us that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father, and he talks about acting from the Father. Everything he says indicates that he and the Father are one Person, not two Persons. (There are, however, times when he is more engaged with his temporary human heredity from Mary, when he speaks as if the Father were a separate, higher being. But by the time of his resurrection and ascension back to the Father, there was no longer anything of the finite human heredity left. He was fully divine, and he was fully one with the Father.)
On the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all being present at Jesus’ baptism (see Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-33):
Yes, they are all represented there in the highly symbolic language of the Bible. Part of the problem people have with this is thinking of the Bible’s statements too literally and physically. Is the Holy Spirit really a dove? I don’t think so. The dove was a visual representation of a divine reality, which was the presence of God’s power and activity, which is called the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
The problem with the Arian position was that it denied the full divinity of Christ. Unfortunately, those who fought against it jumped out of that frying pan and right into another one. They upheld the divinity of Christ, but separated God into three Persons in the process. I believe that the true doctrine of the Trinity must see the Trinity as existing in a single Person of God. That is why Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
One more response for now:
You ask, “Who did God love before there were any created beings?”
Now, this gets to be a bit brain-bending.
It is very true, as you say, that God is love, and that love requires relationship. And that, of course, is the reason God created the universe in the first place: so that God would have someone to love. Divine love cannot be love of self.
The problem with the Trinity of Persons “solution” to this problem is that if the three Persons are still supposed to be one God, then God the Father loving God the Son, and vice versa, is still divine love of self. And I do not think divine love is self-love.
The solution, of course, was for God to create a universe containing human beings who could both accept God’s love and freely reciprocate it. And that is why we are here, and why we have freedom of choice either to love and believe in God or to reject and disbelieve in God.
So what did God do before Creation? Whom did God love?
That’s actually a trick question . . . and this is where the “brain-bending” part comes in. Because there is no “before” creation–at least, not in a temporal sense.
You see, as we’ve now had verified by modern physics (though mystics have been saying the same thing for centuries, if not millennia), time and space are properties of matter. They did not exist until the material world was created. In the spiritual world, there is no such thing as space and time–as people who have experienced it through near-death experiences will tell you. Yes, there is an analog of space and time, but it has to do with spiritual states and with nearness or distance in love and affection. And at the level of the Divine, all time, space, and spiritual states exist simultaneously in the infinity and eternity of God.
This means that time actually began at the point of creation. God created the universe from within and above, rather than from an expanse of time before Creation. Before Creation, there was no time. So there was never a time when God was alone, and had no one to love. God sees and experiences all time and space simultaneously from the center of the Divine Being, which is beyond space and time. So for God, what we think of as past, present, and future are all a present reality.
This will not make sense if you try to think of God in terms of time. But the more you are able to think of time and space as properties of matter, and of God as being above and beyond time and space, the more this will start to make sense.
And if that doesn’t bend your brain, I don’t know what will! 😉
That last is brain-bending for sure. But God is infinite so a lot of it would be, I guess. 🙂 I appreciate you taking the time for answering. If your life is anything like mine, time is a precious commodity.
[…] Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity! […]
here watch that I want to know if this video is any good and what are your views on it
Good to hear from you again.
About the video, I was right with him for the first minute or so, in which he says he’s an atheist but not the sort of atheist who religiously attacks and persecutes everything Christian, that he actually admires the Jesus of the Gospels and wishes he could be that sort of man, and that he sees a huge disconnect between what Jesus taught and what the vast bulk of Christians actually do.
However, he then launched into a standard Red Pill rant, complete with the Holy Vocabulary of the Red Pill.
More substantively, throughout the rest of the video he makes vast generalizations about all of Christianity that at best apply only to its most liberal wing. At one point he challenges the listener to name even one Christian group that opposes the stripping of authority from men and the giving of it to women, as if this were some unanswerable question. The fact of the matter is that there are thousands of conservative and evangelical Christian sects and churches today that loudly insist that men must rule and women must serve and obey men, and that this is absolutely the teaching of the Bible. It seems that the video maker doesn’t have much knowledge of the various and widely divergent branches and segments of Christianity.
He admits that the website he turns to as an example of the man-emasculating Christian church is an “obscure website.” But then he proceeds to use it as an example of what all of Christianity is like, without providing one scrap of evidence for such an expansive (and rather ridiculous) claim.
Overall, my impression is that here’s a guy who, though he has a few interesting thoughts, and perhaps some valid criticisms of the more liberal segment of modern Christianity, is so intent upon showing how all of society consists of blue pill cucks that he paints all of Christianity with the brush of his own personal nemesis: GynoConFundamentalism (or some other fancy Red Pill Holy Word). He seems to be looking only for what confirms his own fears. As a result, he misses the bulk of Christianity that does not happen to conform to his feminist doomsday scenario. For crying out loud, the Catholic Church, which is the largest Christian denomination, still doesn’t ordain women, and is ruled by an all-male hierarchy. Hardly a haven for gynocentrists.
In short, I started out wanting to like what the guy says, but the bulk of the video is so sloppy, biased, uninformed, and over-the-top in its charged language that I just couldn’t take him seriously.
I don’t necessarily think that mainstream Christian institutions will need to be replaced, but it’s become pretty clear to me that they will have to change drastically if they want to maintain any sort of major influence through the end of this century.
Yes, they would have to change drastically.
But the reality is that large institutions rarely negotiate such drastic change successfully. Much more often, when their particular contribution to society is no longer needed, they die and are replaced by newer institutions.
The business world is full of examples of this. Businesses and corporations are built around their products and their business models and culture. When those products, or that method of doing business, are superseded in society, it is almost always new businesses that rise up to replace them rather than old businesses adapting to the new realities.
For just one example: Sears was once that vigorous new business pushing older businesses out of the way with its innovative new mail-order model. Now it, in turn, is being pushed out of existence by businesses that run on newer, Internet-based models.
Churches are built around their doctrines and their rituals. Those doctrines and rituals have a much longer history than most of the products and business models of the business world. This makes it all the harder for churches to adapt and change so that they can continue to serve a changing culture.
I believe that traditional Christianity will largely die out because it will be unable to let go of its core doctrines, while more and more of the world’s population rejects those doctrines and the rituals of worship that the church offers pursuant to those doctrines.
For example, I can’t imagine the Catholic Church repudiating the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons. But whereas that doctrine seemed perfectly reasonable as Catholicism emerged out of pagan polytheism (see: “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?”), today it is simply too irrational and contradictory for most thinking people to accept. And the rituals of the Catholic Church built around its beliefs about God and salvation seem increasingly irrational, and not all that far from voodoo, to the average educated person today.
Because its institution is built around its core doctrines and rituals, I think the Catholic Church will die rather than adapting to the drastically changing intellectual and spiritual environment in the world. Yes, there will probably be some remnant hanging on. But it will no longer be a serious presence or force in the world. It will largely die out because it will not be able to change its core doctrines and identity, as the world increasingly leaves those “spiritual products” and that “spiritual business model” behind.
And I believe that the other main branches of Christianity will die along with it, because they, too, will not be able to repudiate and leave behind their false (as I see it) doctrines and the worship practices that flow from them.
I still don’t have a clear sense of the new religious paradigm that will rise from the ashes of the old. But I tend to think it will be quite different, to the point where even the church buildings that were built for the old paradigm will be wildly inappropriate to and unusable in the new paradigm.
Well, I’ve spoken to some Catholics who think of the Trinity as components of God, which I think is because of how convoluted the conventional doctrine of the three persons is. In order to survive, the Catholic Church ought to clarify the idea and shift towards something more like the concept of God Swedenborg describes. It should also follow the current Pope’s lead of focusing more on service and charity rather than on adhering to backwards social norms. Personally, I think the biggest issue with most Christian institutions is their exclusive views on salvation, but I’ve heard certain religious leaders, such as Robert Barron (who I often disagree with) who are more open to the possibility of salvation outside of Christianity. I don’t know if Catholicism, Protestantism, or Orthodox Christianity will adapt, but I think they can. After all, they’ve come a long way since the Reformation era, and I think it’s possible for them to change further. Ultimately, I don’t care too much about which churches are dominant in the future, as long as the ideas that they hold to make sense.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out. Or maybe our great grandchildren will have to wait and find out.
It would be nice to think that Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christianity will eventually adopt Swedenborg’s view of God. But I’m skeptical. The Trinity of Persons has formed the core of their doctrine since the fourth century, and all of the rest of their doctrines and practices are built around it. That’s an awful long history of identity-building to just drop by the wayside.
I do very much agree with you that focusing more on service is the key to the “regeneration” of the church. The earliest Christians were all about active love (“charity”), not about correct doctrine. That was the religion Jesus taught, whose most important commandments were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Doesn’t that kind of scare you?
What would happen when the anti-Christ comes and demand everyone has to worship his new “Christian” way rather then the old ancient dogmas of the Church?
I think the Antichrist has already come, and that it is the so-called “Christian Church,” which has taken the church that Jesus founded and turned it into something that neither Jesus Christ nor any of his disciples would have recognized as Christian.
The “ancient dogmas of the Church” were invented by human beings long after the Bible was written, and replaced the teachings of Jesus as the cornerstone of the so-called “Christian Church.”
The Antichrist has already deceived the church, and the church has become the Antichrist. Now it’s time to throw out that Antichrist, and build a truly Christian church and society.
This truly Christian Church will worship the Lord God Jesus Christ, not some polytheistic “Trinity of Persons” that human beings invented and that no one can understand.
Doesn’t the Bible say Jesus will return and overthrow the beast and his false prophet? We still haven’t had the one world government that will give rise to the beast.
Yes, there are prophecies of Jesus’ return in the Bible. (Though there isn’t anything about a one-world government.) However, like many prophecies in the Bible, those prophecies were never meant to be taken literally. For more on this, please see:
Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?
There has always been a tension between authority and autonomy that Christ walked the line of, the institutions weren’t a departure from original Christianity. Right from the start each church created a governmental structure within their city church and most of them chose an episcopal structure with a sole leader or a few leaders. The Rennaissance enflamed a strain of individuality that has been becoming more and more prevalent within the west and is responsible for the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and post-modern subjectivism. Hierarchy is healthy as it promotes order, but it can by despotic so there must be respect for autonomy. We are starting to get into a pathologized individuality which is solipsistic. Truth is no longer respected as each person decides for themselves what is true and finds interpretations and interpreters that they like rather than seeking after the meaning that is most fit to the Biblical author’s intent in the literal meanings. The death of the institutional church is not the rebirth of a spiritually awake Christianity but the death of objective Truth.
You’re entitled to your opinions. I have a very different view of things than what you have expressed here. The Christian Church, in my view, went off the rails doctrinally very early on, starting even before Nicaea. And in terms of its life, all you have to do is read the sordid history of Europe, and the Church’s involvement in it, for century after century, to see that the church became more and more corrupt, and departed farther and farther from the teachings of Jesus Christ,
Now good and thoughtful people are increasingly rejecting the whole corrupt edifice of so-called “Christianity,” and the purveyors of that false “Christianity” lament that people are rejecting Truth. But what they’re really rejecting is the Falsity that the so-called Christian Church has been promulgating for nearly two millennia now.
Unfortunately, the world and its people have not yet found a clear guide to replace that old and corrupt “Christian” Church. So yes, they flail around and are often confused. But the solution to that is not to go back to the corrupt church, but to replace it with something that truly teaches and lives by what Jesus Christ taught and lived by.
Great article, Lee! I agree with pretty much all of your criticism of today’s “Christianity”, that is, false Christianity. But I was wondering: if a formal clergy wasn’t supposed to exist or was not what Jesus intended, why does the New Testament talk about bishops, presbyters, deacons, and so on? Isn’t that a type of clergy? And if it is, why didn’t the apostles object to it, but instead were apparently part of it?
First, in the New Testament, these are general terms for leaders of groups or areas within the nascent Christian Church. There was no ordination, and no formal hierarchy. That developed only later.
Second, none of this was set up by Jesus himself. He simply chose and trained disciples (“learners”) then sent them out as apostles (“those sent out”). Jesus did speak of “elders,” which is the meaning of the Greek word presbyteros, sometimes transliterated as “presbyters.” But these are simply . . . elders, who would naturally tend to be in leadership positions in families and cultures due to their age and experience. Jesus never spoke of “deacons” or “bishops,” which, once again, were simply leaders of smaller or larger groups or areas. In any human group or society, people who have leadership abilities will naturally move into leadership positions.
But as for a formal clergy, no such thing existed among the earliest Christians. That developed only in later generations.
Okay, thanks! It makes sense and I do believe that things were much less formal than some people present them to be. But I wonder if that would have some kind of implication in the establishing of the biblical canon. Like, if there was no formal religious authority, then how could we know which books were part of the canon and which were not? I know Swedenborg’s canon is shorter than the others, but without some central leadership, how was it decided in the early days that those exact books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc.) were canonical? I think it’s because the believers who were around in the time of Christ and the apostles could tell which events and teachings were genuine and which weren’t, but I don’t know if that is part of their criteria.
The forming of the various biblical canons has a long and complicated history. I am by no means an expert. My understanding is that in the Catholic Church the canon was never officially settled and closed until the Council of Trent in the mid 1500s. Further, each major branch of Christianity has its own canon, and in Eastern Christianity there are even more variations. On Swedenborg’s canon, please see:
Why Isn’t Paul in Swedenborg’s Canon?
There were many books circulating among the early Christians, only some of which eventually made it into the various canons. The authorship and reliability of the books certainly was a consideration. But getting into the nitty-gritty of that would go beyond my knowledge of early Christian history.