Posts Tagged ‘Salvation’

What is “saving faith” in the New Church?

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Much of Christian theology concerns itself with the question of salvation.

How does the New Church hold salvation? How do we hold “saving faith”?

Saving faith is found in people whose lives are devoted to doing what is good, people who in other words are devoted to caring … [so] wherever good actions are being done from a caring heart is where the church will be found. (NJHD, 121)

Put simply, our role then … to humbly seek God’s help in pushing aside our ego, our self centeredness, our cravings, our narcissism, our materialism – no easy task.  And then to serve.

This “pushing side” and “reaching out” become then a united endeavor, each “movement” informing and shaping the other, an endeavor where deep love, in the end, wins.


A four letter word with three letters … S I N

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Oh goodness do I hate that word.  It immediately conjures up images … images of finger wagging, scolding, shame.

And maybe that is on me.  And not on that word.

Sin can be see in one of two ways.

  1. One way begins with judgment of other.  Then loops up to condemnation.  And eventually rests in damnation.
  2. The other begins with judgment of self.  That loops up into restoration.  And eventually rests in salvation.

I strongly suggest if the three letter word of “sin” is a four letter word to you, take a look at the possibility and promise of living the second perspective.  There is an honesty there, an accountability, a humility we all need.  And there is hope.

Sin in the end is a word for those things that break relationships … “The evil that is sinful is simply evil against our neighbor” (Emanuel Swedenborg).   Sin hurts.  It hurts us.  It hurts others.  God does not.   When we come to terms with sin, no matter how many letters we use to spell it, relationships are restored.

What are the steps I need to take to find heaven?

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

We love plans.  We love steps.  Take a look at the the Oprah magazine …. 5 steps to joy, happiness, better sex, your best life now.   Start a title with “5 Steps To …” and you have a winner!

Steps are important.  Process is more so.

Emanuel Swedenborg commented on how much people desire to know what they need to do and what they need to believe in order to get into heaven.  Such a line of very understandable questioning he posits actually grows more from a fear of hell more then a pull towards the promise of heaven.  Such a line of thought is also, I might add, centered on a conditional view of God’s love.

The answer Swedenborg heard many times from good souls was that people,  “… should do and believe whatever they like; but they should realize that in hell people do not do anything good or believe anything that is true, only in heaven.”  So what is we it should ask?  “Ask what is good and what is true, think about it, and do it if you can.”  (Divine Providence 179)   That is far more a process question than a list of steps.

A Jumping Off Place

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

New Church theology holds many simply precious truths. One that struck me when I read it last week is the idea that salvation is “an ongoing act of creation.” Many see salvation as an act avoiding damnation. Salvation then is not about creating anything but far more about avoiding punishment.

But lets just think for a moment what that might mean to see salvation as a creative act – if that was our “jumping off place.”  Creation itself is about growth, reproduction, change, even adventure. Imagine those being the antonyms for “salvation”!

I feel in many ways my eyes opening wider and wider.  Now that is not about some grand pastoral insight – because we all know that is in short supply.  It is about eyes widening as I witness more and more people living into a church that is in itself a creative endeavor.  Just this week ….

Baseball: Angel gave Angela 3 Philly baseballs from the NLCS for me to give Brayden Walsh and his parents.  Brayden, as many of you are aware, is a young man battling some serious health issues.  Brayden’s comments to his mom, on receiving the gifts, was that he was never going to wash his hands again.  Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a a gift creation.

Roofs: Sam wanted to know the name of a pastor I referenced in a service, a pastor who moved from the Main Line to Kensington because that is where he felt could best use him.  Sam wants to get in touch with him so he can offer to repairs roofs for those in need for free.  Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a gift of creation.

Cleaning: Elizabeth would like to get a group together to help clean the office.  I am not sure how she knew it needed cleaning – alright actually I do know – because it is dirty.  Our office serves small groups, as well as a being our “home base” during the week.   So that helps all of us.  Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a gift of creation.

Tithing: From an online viewer in Canada, “We are committed to modeling a tithe and beyond….The Vision of sharing these beautiful truths through meaningful contacts with a world that so desperately needs them is just as compelling as the day we signed on to help build a better distribution network to share these precious truths with the world. With this in mind, we are committed to placing our modest gifts with those parts of our worldly organization dedicating themselves to expanding efforts to reach out to others.”   Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a gift creation.

So yes, salvation is an act of creation.  In our own way, lets be an act of creation as we join that wider project singing into our hearts.   What a great place to jump off from!



Moving Beyond a Church of Personal Salvation and Traveling to Reading Pennsylvania

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

“The Church of Personal Salvation” represents the Siren song of religious endeavor.  The focus centers on the individual – on my view, my perspective, my need to “feel” spiritual.   Very easy to do and a trap I believe most if not all people interested in the spiritual journey can quickly fall into.  I certainly have on more than one occasion.

The religious experience can intoxicate.  It readily lifts us to heights of beauty and grandeur.  And there lies the temptation.  The mountaintop experience, in isolation, may well be important as a centering, a grounding, a moment of inspiration but it is NOT the Christian life.   If we fall prey to seeing the mountaintop experience as the Christian life we readily turn to a “Church of Personal Salvation.”  We will then search for churches that fill that self absorbed need to feel good versus churches that call all of us to do good.  From a Biblical perspective, this may well explain that just as the crowds form and grow, and adulation swells we find Jesus in the New Testament often simply moving along, going on His way.

Are you aware the poorest city in the entire country, as measured by the percentage of citizens living beneath the poverty line exists approximately an hour from where NewChurch LIVE is headquartered?   Read the article.  Reading Pennsylvania just surpassed Flint Michigan.

So the question, is who will hear a call?  How can we serve?  Are you the person who wants to organize a coat drive, food drive, dinner at a homeless shelter?   Maybe you are.  God needs us and He needs us to get it is not about us.   Show us the way!

… do hereby affirm our belief in … eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in Hell

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The Southern Baptist Convention, in June of 2011, passed a resolution stating that they “do hereby affirm our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in Hell…”  The resolution specifically targeted Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.”

Such resolutions are deeply saddening.

It is important to honor, first, that many (most?) Christians – from Baptists to Catholics to those in the New Church – are sincerely motivated to share their faith as a way of helping others find salvation, find resurrection, find new life.  God clearly blesses that motivation.  If we are not sharing our faith – holding it tight out of the mistaken belief that others neither (a) need it or (b) want it – we are far afield from true Christianity.  Christianity does not flourish when we believe we somehow possess it.

And, we in the Christian New Church need to clearly say that the idea of a God who inflicts “eternal and conscious punishment on the unregenerate” is misguided at the best, and calamitous at the worst.

Imagine that kind of God – a God who created a world where – for ALL TIME – individuals who struggle with belief are tortured – actively and consciously – due to their non-belief.  That makes no sense.  That speaks to a pagan, tribal God motivated by conditional love and hatred towards those who fail to offer the proper sacrifice.

It is hard to imagine an image of God more starkly at odds with the image of God presented in Jesus.

The resolution calls the belief in eternal, conscious torment as Biblical.  But is it?  There certainly is room for counterarguments.  Many of those Jesus “healed” and “saved” in no way fit the description many contemporary Christian faiths formally hold of what salvation entails.  The Roman soldier asked Jesus to heal his daughter.  This pagan occupier of the holy land neither underwent baptism, nor declared Jesus his “personal Lord and Savior.”  He simply had faith that Jesus could heal.  And that faith “made him whole.”  Go to a fundamentalist Christian church, ask for their list of what salvation entails and then go to the Bible and see how many times Jesus did that to those he healed.   The answer will surprise.

Statements of course can be pulled from the Bible to create the image of an angry, vengeful God.  Our lives our similar – one could take “sound bites” out of our lives to create any image – from loving to hate filled – that one wished.  And that is why I believe Jesus consistently expounded the Gospel and then returned to the touch stone of love, period.

A loving Jesus and an angry God cannot exist together just as “Hatred and Charity cannot exist together.”  (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine).  It is wrong, and dangerous, and deadly.

Is hell eternal?  From a New Church perspective, Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that hell was our choice, not Gods.  The torment that accompanies that choice is self inflicted, not God inflicted.  And those who choose hell are loved, are held closely by God, as He seeks to pull them as close to Himself as they will allow.  God’s work then of salvation goes on to all eternity.  That is the God of love – Jesus Christ – not the God of punishment.

Emergent Christianity

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Emergent Christianity is a fascinating movement occurring in Christendom.  The name grows out of the belief that a re-focusing on the core of the Christian message “emerging.”  This emergence is not marked by sectarian or doctrinal divides but a by a deep agreement on what matters most.  Swedenborgian thought clearly saw this as key to Christianity as well as well as other denominations: “The Lord’s Church is not in this particular location or in that, but, it resides wherever people lead lives in keeping with the commandments.”

Listed below are several key components.  This movement is well attuned to New Church theology.

Less Appeal of Biblical Literalism:  This trend should be regarded as extremely favorable to the New Church.   Individuals moving from a literal-factual orientation to the Bible to an orientation that is far more comfortable seeing the Bible as historical-metaphorical. [1]

a.     In 1963, 65% of Americans reported believing in the literal letter of the Bible

b.     By 2001, only 21% reported the same.

Focus on here-and-now of service vs. then-and-there of salvation: More Christians appear to be focused on the here-and-now of transformative Christianity that calls them to a more hands-on relationship with God and others vs. an individual approach focused solely on Sunday church attendance and personal salvation.

a.     Don’t want body of belief but a way of salvation/ healing.   Not about set of propositions about ultimate reality but showing a way, a life that fixes the problems that they see.  Therefore about “living out” Christianity.

Christ as Model vs. Christ as Salvation:

a.     Christ as teacher, example, master and we are to be disciples.  Therefore imitate the example of Christ.

Increased interest in Spiritual Disciplines and Sacraments: In NCL this trend while anecdotal is very interesting.

a.     Large Interest in the broader culture around spiritual disciplines Yoga, Meditation, the study of Buddhism, books like “The Secret” etc…

b.     Clear interest in the sacraments of Marriage and Baptism

c.      Clear interest in the spiritual disciplines of Meditation and the 12 Steps as measured by our two most successful small group programs

As these concepts gain mainstream acceptance, it should be a fun decade ahead!

[1] Borg, Marcus J. “The Heart of Christianity”, Harpers, 2003

Is Life About Salvation or the Finding the Will of God?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

This question is key to the Christian life and the answer greatly informs the Christian New Church Perspective.

For many, the core of Christianity is individual salvation.  There are clear biblical teachings focused on that every message.  But those concepts need seasoned by a broader perspective.  Imagine that the salvation of the individual comprises the whole of the spiritual experience?  If the spiritual life, as it were, narrows in that direction, how does that shape our interactions with ourselves, with others, and with God?  The shape arguably would fall then along the lines of a “credit” and “debit” game.  In the myopic, self seeking introspection endemic to this approach we come to worship ourselves.  How can you become a tool for my salvation?  How can I earn enough “points” for God to love me?    God then functions merely as the accountant.  He joins others in becoming a bit player in our larger, self authored drama.

One of the scariest – and I say this knowing it will unsettle some – is how in this model we can practice a form of idolatry in which we hold “doctrine”, in and of itself, as “God.”  We then worship words and not God. The New Church is clarion clear – doctrine is a means to the end, not the end in itself.  And yet, we often slide this direction.  I certainly have at times in my life made the doctrine, the ideas as it were, the entire point.  Doctrine is not the point.  It is what doctrine points to that is the point.

Doctrine remains instructive, along with our own experience, in discovering the will of God.  Bonhoeffer’s words capture this well. “The will of God  is not a system of rules established from the outset.  And for this reason a person must forever re-examine what the will of God may be.  The will of God may lie deeply concealed beneath a great number of possibilities.”  That “digging” for God’s will is critical and makes legitimate self critique – i.e. repentance – come alive, moving it beyond merely accounting to discovery.

In that space, Jesus arrives.  He embodies the incarnate model of God’s will.  The Christian message then becomes able to move through the world, through, through our lives with the power that is its own – a power detached from the faith-alone salvation goal.    The message is not “come and be saved” but a message of this is the will of God, that “you love one another as I have loved you.”  This is where as well, the goal of Divine Providence rests – the goal of wholeness, “that what has been broken apart should become whole.”  Divine Providence, page 55.

Salvation as wholeness in settling our lives into the will of God

Lord God Savior Jesus Christ? So What.

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The core of Christian New Church theology is that the Lord God Savior Jesus Christ reigns.  This statement of faith is far more than just a dreary theological construct.  Within it lies a remarkable paradigm – that knowing God is knowing the Man, Jesus.  That walking the path of God is walking the path of Jesus.

Historical Christianity unfortunately warped this message into one of denominational exclusivity – a “club” as it were in which the world is readily cleaved between the saved and dammed.

That was NEVER Jesus’ message.  His message was one of looking out in love, a love powerful enough to hold all experience, including His own unjust execution, without lapsing into anger, hatred or revenge.  It was a love that enabled salvation ranging far beyond belief, far beyond any claims of exclusivity – and thus the consistent warnings about the demonic influence of salvation via faith alone.  Many of those whom Jesus “saved” were far from fitting into any belief paradigm we hold today and of which much of modern Christianity lays claim.

As goes Jesus, so goes God.

The New Church then is about reclaiming that core truth not from the pulpit alone but most importantly within life.  What else is a life of useful service, of loving kindness, of engagement if it is not a life of relationship growing from consequential faith? The relationship to God then is about the relationship with the other in circles that spiral outward ever-larger environs.

God of course is there all along – the omnipresent Father.  We are not separate from Him though we may spend a great part of lives asleep to that most core of connections.  We awaken to it at much the same pace that we awaken to one another, to the connection that is life.  Imagine the disciples awakening to the Divinity of Jesus – to a God who sought to arrive not as the Son of God – the same term used for the Roman Emperor – but as the Son of Humanity – our son.    If God’s highest desire was sacred worship, He would have chosen a far different vehicle than the person of Jesus, a Man who personified relationship, meaning, and connection and who eschewed the sanctimonious, ceremonial puffery of the Pharisees.

The “So What” is pretty big.

Relationships of Power, Relationships of Love

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Clear from the New Church, that the Chrisitian perpective is about moving to a loving place – big stuff given that it redefines traditional Christianity around an expanded view of “salvation.”   Emanuel Swedenborg wrote of this fact, “People in whom the life of love and charity dwells have the Lord‘s life within them. Nobody can be joined to Him by any other way.”  Love and useful service is simply how we connect to God.

That loving place however is arrived out via an often rather arduous road.

This is where “power” comes in.  We often involve ourselves in “power” relationships, figuring out ways in which we can either be powerful or associate ourselves closely with those who possess power.  That does appear to be part of human growth – for better or worse – a natural proclivity, a natural attraction to what judge as power.

And at some point, after gaining power, we must freely give it away.  Into that breach, love arrives.  As one good friend noted, this is not about an un-boundaried “Free to be you and me” type of love.  It is actually a love that knows and understands power AND gains its power from having given it away.  To quote Richard Rohr …

“Power apart from love leads to brutality and evil; but love that does not engage with power—and become a whole new kind of power—is mere sentimentality.  It often becomes a destructive kind of powerlessness.  True love is not naïve, but is a conscious and intelligent gift of the self.”

This again, pulls us right back to Easter and the power of the temptations faced by Jesus on the Cross, over what we now call Easter.  Many Christians view the Cross as the symbol of salvation.  Maybe there is even more space to view it as empowered love.