The previous article, “The Christian Church is Not Christian,” spoke of the doctrinal destruction of the Christian church. Over the centuries, the Christian church has adopted human-invented beliefs that ignore, reject, and deny the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. That church is therefore Christian in name only. Christians follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
And that church is coming to an end.
It is coming to an end not only because its key teachings are unbiblical and false, but because over the centuries its actions have been diametrically opposed to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. History itself tells us that century after century, the false doctrines of the corrupted Christian church have justified and supported the most horrendous and unchristian behavior imaginable on the part of that institution and its people.
These unfortunate realities, and the question of what comes next in the spiritual journey of humankind, were the subject of a recent email exchange with a reader named Radko. This post is built around two emails in that exchange.
It is not only the traditional Christian church’s words that are wrong and must be rejected, but also its actions over so many centuries. The reform it has engaged in more recently, under pressure from the outside world, is too little, too late. The Christian church as it has existed up to now is coming to an end. And it must come to an end so that true Christianity, as originally taught by Jesus Christ, can take root in our world.
“The New Jerusalem descending on earth”
That is the subject line of one of Radko’s recent emails to me.
Here is the background:
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) spoke of a new church, or new spiritual era, that was just beginning in his day. He saw this new spiritual era as the fulfillment of the prophecy in the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation, which describe “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2).
In 1787, fifteen years after Swedenborg’s death, some of his followers in London, England, founded a separate church organization that in structure and form resembled the Methodist and Anglican churches from which its founders came. This was the beginning of the organized New Church, and from there it spread thinly around the globe. Its heyday was in the early to mid 1900s. Since then it has gone into decline, mirroring the decline of the traditional Christian church from which it originally separated.
Swedenborg himself, however, not only made no move to found a church organization, but seems not to have had any organization in mind when he spoke of a “new church.” Rather, he said that “the church,” in a broad sense, includes all people throughout the world who love God and love their fellow human beings, regardless of their religion or nationality. See, for example, what Swedenborg wrote in Arcana Coelestia (“Secrets of Heaven”) #7396—which Radko refers to in his email. (The translation is a bit old-fashioned. Italics are added for emphasis):
Empires and kingdoms are represented in heaven as a person, and the communities within them are represented as the parts of that person’s body, the monarch being so to speak its head. The reason why they are represented in that way traces back to this: The whole of heaven represents one human being, and the communities there represent the parts of his body, in accordance with the functions they perform.
From this one may see how beautiful and delightful the representation in heaven of an empire, kingdom, or community would be if its citizens were linked to one another by charity and faith to form a body like that. Whenever possible the Lord also links communities together into that kind of body. For Divine Truth itself, which emanates from the Lord, introduces that state of order wherever that order is accepted. This is the origin of the state of order that exists in heaven.
It exists on earth too, but the communities constituting it are scattered all over the earth and are made up of those who are governed by love to Him and charity towards the neighbor. But those scattered communities have been drawn together by the Lord in order that they too, like communities in heaven, may represent one human being. These communities exist not only within the [Christian] Church but also outside it; and when taken all together they are called the Lord’s Church, drawn together from the good scattered throughout all the earth. That Church is also called a communion. This communion or Church is the Lord’s kingdom on earth linked to the Lord’s kingdom in heaven, and so to the Lord Himself.
In short, Swedenborg saw “the church” as the common body of all good people of every religion and every nation throughout the world. This emphatically includes non-Christian religions and nations.
The new church that Swedenborg speaks of, then, is a broad, worldwide phenomenon, not a particular human organization or collection of organizations. At best, the organized New Church is simply a small part of this vast body of good and faithful people.
The Lord’s church as Swedenborg envisions it does include members of all the Christian churches as well, no matter how unbiblical and false their doctrines may be. Specifically, it includes traditional Christians who actively love and serve God and their fellow human beings, as Jesus Christ taught us to do. These are the people whom Jesus himself included among his followers:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, italics added)
When I say that the Christian church is not Christian, and that it is coming to an end, I am not referring to these good people, but to the ecclesiastical organizations that form the institution of the traditional Christian church.
With that as background, here is Radko’s email to me, reprinted with his permission, and slightly edited for clarity:
Thank you again for your article [a piece I had written about the decline of the organized New Church] and the other article which you linked there [Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!]. I read them both with much interest, but I didn’t hurry with my answer since the future of the New Church is a tough question.
I like your open-mindedness towards the future. Man really needs some future—to be able to live, to plan, to find motivation for his life, etc. One cannot live merely from books or from the learned Truth. We are open to the future. Every day desires to be filled with something good and useful.
Like you, I also see the successive decline of traditional, institutional Christianity. But I don’t rejoice over it. It rather fills me with uncertainty and worry about possible loss of all values and resulting disorder. It is because I can’t see, so far at least, how the New Church might suffuse the world’s society. This is your thesis! It is very interesting and I’d wish you were right! But how can we imagine that? Does it mean that children at school will learn the principles of Swedenborg’s creed and then talk about them with their parents? Or will the majority of the TV channels switch from their naturalistic paradigm and start broadcasting in the New Church’s spirit?
Look at how moderate Swedenborg himself is when talking about the Christian Church generally in Arcana Coelestia #7396 [the relevant part is quoted just above], and even a bit sceptical when talking about the spread of the New Church in Last Judgment 73–74 [click the links to read these two sections]. Not a word about suffusing the world’s society. Where would you take arguments that might support this thesis? To my mind, if something suffuses modern society, it is the naturalistic view of everything, including spirituality, supported by the progression of science and technology.
So in my opinion the spread and maintenance of the New Church’s creed will always be more accidental, depending much on the work of people who are heartily engaged in it. It will spread rather secretly, from mouth to mouth. It is simply a creed so deep that the world can hardly hold it! On the other hand, the world can hold the progression of science and technology easily, and that’s why the same has a great advantage when it comes to suffusing the collective human mind.
In the mysterious process of maintaining the New Church’s creed, even the existing traditional Christian churches may play a good role, maybe as springboards for the higher creed, and there is no reason to abolish them or to rejoice about their doom. They are undergoing a transition as well, which I can observe in the Catholic Church which as to number dominates in my country. There is also the wide ecumenical movement that could be made use of. Most churches today see that they have lost the power over the souls that they used to have before. Now they must be happy for everyone who comes to them voluntarily. That’s why they must rethink a lot. And in some cases they’ve become humbler.
As for me, I tend to feel like a member of the vast stream of Christianity that exists on earth, with the exception only that I have been given the mercy to learn a deepened Christianity via Swedenborg.
All the best,
The old Christian church is coming to its end
Here is my response, edited and expanded for this post:
These are all big issues and big questions, which I am still thinking about.
I do see that the mainstream Christian churches have moderated their stances. But this has mostly not been from any internal realization that they have been wrong. Rather, as you say, it has been imposed upon them due to the vast changes in society that have taken away the power of the Church over people’s souls. This is implicit in Swedenborg’s statements in The Last Judgment #73–74 about the freeing of the human mind as a result of the Last Judgment that took place in the spiritual world during his lifetime. I fear that if the existing Christian church were to regain any position of power, it would go right back to abusing that power, as it did for so many centuries before its reign of darkness came to an end two or three centuries ago.
Meanwhile, traditional Christianity continues to teach its false, unbiblical, and non-Christian doctrines. Only it has to moderate them publicly for the same reason: it knows that today’s society and people won’t accept those doctrines in their naked form. But its leaders continue to believe the same things privately among themselves. Some very liberal churches have abandoned the old, harsh doctrines in practice. But even they can’t quite break away from them intellectually. Mostly they just push them to the side, and preach love. But they haven’t come up with any doctrine to replace, for example, the Trinity of Persons, which still lurks as a specter behind the loving front.
I don’t think it is likely that even the more liberal churches will repudiate the old doctrines—especially not the ones that form the centerpiece of their theology, such as the Trinity of Persons, the satisfaction theory of atonement, penal substitution, and justification by faith alone. Repudiation of these doctrines would involve an existential crisis in which they could no longer justify their existence as distinct organizations. I am skeptical that they would do this before becoming so weakened that their survival is in doubt. Even then, I suspect that they will still not undergo any radical reformation to the point of repudiating their foundational tenets.
The example of Judaism
Judaism went through a major restructuring early in the Christian era. But it never did accept Jesus as the Messiah, and become Christian. Rather, it was forced to abandon its old sacrificial system of worship because it had backed itself into a corner from which it could not extricate itself.
Over the course of its early development as narrated in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism had come to designate the Temple in Jerusalem as the sole allowable place to offer sacrifices to God. However, not long after the beginnings of Christianity, through a series of revolts against the Roman Empire, the Jews goaded the Romans into destroying Jerusalem and the Temple. The Romans realized that as long as the Jews had their Temple and their religious center in Jerusalem, they would never be controllable.
The destruction of the Temple took place in the year 70 AD, and it smashed Judaism as it had existed up to that time. It brought about the massive paradigm shift to rabbinic Judaism that has lasted to this day. But Judaism still remained Jewish. It did not become Christian.
In the same way, I don’t see the existing Christian church abandoning its centuries of doctrinal “development” (really, devolution) and embracing the doctrines of true Christianity.
Judaism also took many centuries to get to the form of faith and worship that existed at the time the Temple was destroyed. Even then, it continued to cling to whatever was left of its old religion now that sacrificial worship was impossible due to its own rule about where sacrifices must be performed.
I believe that in the face of massive cultural change, traditional Christianity will similarly cling to everything that can possibly be maintained of its old doctrines and rituals, as long as it possibly can. Meanwhile, the wider culture will continue to move forward, leaving the church behind.
This is already happening. Churches are already dying. What evidence is there that it will be any different in the future? All evidence points to the continued decline of the old Christian church—which was never really Christian in the first place.
The Christian Church has blood on its hands
I don’t exult over this decline. But the Church brought it upon itself by abandoning the Bible and true Christianity, and substituting human doctrines. It then put those false doctrines into practice in horrific fashion, engaging in war, murder, rape, pillage, and bloodshed against fellow Christians and non-Christians alike for many centuries. It did exactly the opposite of what Christ taught:
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27–36)
For the most part, the Christian church has never officially repented from all those centuries of horribly evil actions. Traditional Christianity has blood on its hands. And it continues to cling to the human doctrines that justified it all. Such a church must be brought to an end. And it is coming to an end, as people vote with their feet and abandon it.
The Christian Church has been an immoral institution
As for morality in the world, it is a sad reality that secular institutions have long since surpassed the church in the area of morality.
For example, it is not the church that is fighting sexual abuse of minors and violence against women, even though the Bible strictly charges the faithful to defend widows, orphans, and the oppressed. Rather, it is the secular authorities that are increasingly combating these old evils, often in the very church organizations that should be standing strong against them.
In short, the church has long since abdicated its role as society’s pillar of morality through its own great immorality.
Even with the church in existence, there have been many centuries of rampant immorality throughout the Christian world. Why would the decline of the Church that perpetrated much of that immorality have a negative effect upon the morality of the populace? If anything, the decline and death of the traditional Christian church will bring about an increase in morality.
Chaos comes before a new order
This is not to say that there won’t be a period of upheaval and dislocation in the transition. As Swedenborg said in Arcana Coelestia #842.3:
Before being reduced to order, it is very common for everything to fall into confusion or seeming chaos. This allows things that cling together poorly to separate, and when they have separated, the Lord arranges them in their place.
We are in that period of transitional chaos. And while we are in it, things can be scary.
But God is still in control. This chaos is necessary before a new order can emerge. We can only pray that the new order will come sooner rather than later. However, I think we are in for some very rough times in the coming decades. The world has become so polarized that I don’t see how we can emerge from this era without major conflict and the downfall of many long-standing governments and institutions. One of those institutions, I believe, will be traditional Christianity itself.
True Christianity will emerge from that chaos
To my mind, Arcana Coelestia #7396, quoted earlier, offers a hopeful picture in the midst of this general confusion.
It is not necessary for there to be any one monolithic structure or organization that serves as the Lord’s church on earth. Rather, the Lord gathers together people of faith from scattered communities all over the world to form the church, which is a fellowship of all people of good will. This, Swedenborg says, and not some human institution, is God’s church.
What this means to me is that if you and I, and many other people as well, each in our own parts of the world, engage in outreach, organize gatherings, and spread the teachings and the spirit of true Christianity, we are the fingers and toes, at least, of the Lord’s church on earth. We do not have to form an organization. We do not have to “convert” people and issue membership cards. We simply have to do our part in our corner of the world. The Lord will take care of the rest.
When we are engaging in this work we are already part of the new church. This is not a church in the traditional, institutional sense of the word. Rather, it is a new spiritual era that is now descending from God out of heaven. All people are invited to be a part of it:
The spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
For further reading: