Preparing for Spiritual Life
(New Church Education, Part 2)
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Now it is permitted to enter into the mysteries of faith with understanding [TCR 508].
Once, while Swedenborg was in the spiritual world, he was shown a tableaux or representation of the what the New Church was as to its spirit and life. The New Church was shown to him as a magnificent temple, its entrance a single pearl and the Word open and illuminated upon its pulpit. Over the doorway to this temple, the Latin words, nunc licet were engraved. These words mean, “now it is permitted” and they represent that in the New Church it is permitted for each person to explore, think about, and understand all the doctrines of the church, even those that had been held as mysteries in previous churches. They mean that not only is it permitted, but it is intended that all men should read and understand the Word in its letter and spirit for themselves, without the need for priests to tell them what they should believe.
The Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture tells us that, the Lord teaches every one by means of the Word, and He teaches from those truths which the man already has.… (SS 26:2) The more genuine truth from the Word that a man knows, the more prepared he is to receive influx from the Lord, and so an education based on Divine Truth derived from the letter of the Word makes the path to heaven easier. We read again from the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture, The Word in the sense of the letter is in its fullness, in its holiness, and in its power; and because the Lord is the Word (for He is the all of the Word), it follows that He is most of all present in the sense of the letter, and that from it He teaches and enlightens man (SS 50).
This is key to our understanding of the true nature of the New Church now being established by the Lord, for it tells us that He requires us to learn truths from the threefold Word in order to prepare ourselves for the life of heaven. The Lord does not want us to just accept what others tell us, but to learn His truth for ourselves. The process of learning the Lord’s truth as taught in the Word is a lifelong process, for the Word is a well of living water that can never be emptied. This lifelong process of learning how to serve the Lord by serving the neighbor is New Church Education.
The Lord came on earth to teach men, women, and children. His formal ministry lasted for about three years, and many of His lectures have been recorded and are available for our study in the New Testament. For example, in our brief lesson from Luke, He taught first by performing a miracle (by healing the man with dropsy), then by analogy (to our own practice of inviting guests into our home), and finally by a parable (where He told of guests being seated at a feast according to their importance). The Lord frequently used parables to describe His new spiritual truths in terms of what was common and known to His audience. He argued with and enraged the scribes and Pharisees. He taught by example, by opposition, and asking questions. Every teacher, and parent should search the Old and New Testaments for guidance in how to teach the eternal truths to the children in their charge, rather than putting their faith in the popular gimmick of the moment.
New Church Education is intended to be an extension of the home, but we may ask, “What are the characteristics of a ‘New Church Home’?” We might say that the ideal New Church Home is one in which the children are protected in innocence until they can be gently led out of their states of innocence into wisdom; a home without strife; a home without fear; a home were the Lord in always in the heart, and the Word always on the lips. As beautiful as that may seem to us, it is simply not possible in the circumstances we are faced with today. We have to cope with an information explosion that has introduced preschool children to international tension. We also have to face the fact that while it may be ideal for the mother to teach little children and young women, and the father to teach the young men (See CL 176), most parents are not qualified to teach all the subjects that our children need to know to be able to make a living in today’s world. So, while we recognize the ideal of children being raised and taught in a New Church Home, and that the primary responsibility for their education rests with the parents (not the school), we also recognize that parents need professional help in providing New Church Education for their children.
This concept was developed in the early days of the New Church. The New Church school was to be an extension of the ideal New Church home, whether or not that ideal New Church home actually existed. What it really means is that there must be mutual cooperation and support between the home and the school. The school operates on the principle that the parents have placed the child in the New Church school because they want something special for that child, and are willing to make the extra effort to provide that kind of education.
There is a danger that parents may feel that because their children are in a religious school that they are therefore freed from the responsibility to teach them morality or discipline. The Word clearly teaches that parents are responsible for teaching their children the Ten Commandments, and about the reality of the spiritual world. However, a New Church school sets out to assist the parents in doing this, and desires to cooperate fully in this important job, but the school is not to take away parental responsibility. This obligates the school to inform the parents of its program, and obligates the parents to pay attention to what is happening in the school.
There is also the obligation of public support for the school and the teachers. It is destructive of the use of education for students to hear their parents and others enthusiastically criticizing their teachers. It teaches them the false idea that proper adult conversation centers around finding fault with other people, and fosters this kind of discussion among the students themselves. It is very difficult to teach children who have been taught to disregard their teacher and their school. In the same vein, teachers must support the parents by speaking about them with respect. If all the adults, both teachers and parents, involved in a school can maintain a public stance of support for each other in the important use of educating children, and make the necessary suggestions and criticisms in private to the appropriate individuals, then a New Church school can become closer to being an extension of the ideal New Church home, and it will benefit from the spirit of charity and cooperation that will be engendered.
The Threefold Word is the center of New Church Education. For this reason, each school day begins with reading from the Word, for the beginning of a day qualifies and affects all the events that follow. It is also an important symbol that we order our lives around this simple ritual, to actually spend the time to reflect on the Word each day. It is our hope that this will establish a lifelong habit of daily going to the Word for comfort and instruction.
Those students in 5th Grade and above also receive regular religious instruction from a pastor. These regular meetings provide opportunities for several important things to happen: There can be formal instruction in the doctrines of the Church. There can be questions and discussion. There is the chance for the pastor to get to know the children as individuals, for the children to know their pastor, and for a pastoral relationship to begin and grow that will last for many years. However, the most important thing that happens in a Religion class is that the students learn to read the Word with understanding. They learn the culture and geography that give the words and events meaning. And as they learn from the Word itself, as the people in it begin to come to life in their imaginations, they begin to see things about them and their problems that are similar to the problems they face in their own lives. They begin to have confidence that if the Lord can help the children of Israel, then He can certainly help them. They are also free to talk about such things as God and morality without fear of embarrassment. They learn spiritual laws, and find that they can begin to answer their own questions by applying those laws to their own individual situations. Through Religion classes, they become people who know how to read the Word to find the answers to their problems, they learn spiritual laws that they can apply to their own lives, and they become spiritually free because they have the power to change the course of their lives through knowledge and understanding of spiritual truths.
The foundations for New Church Education are laid at home as the parents teach their child to say the Lord’s prayer, to pray before meals, to come to church regularly, and to obey the Ten Commandments. The walls and the roof are built upon the foundation in the Primary grades, where, in the sphere of the home and the teacher as a mother, they learn little songs and recite passages from scripture that they have learned by heart. In this sphere of love and safety during their first few years of school, the children are affected with many lovely and gentle truths about the Lord, and worship. These things remain with them throughout their life, and they are some of the “remains” that the Lord uses to regenerate them.
We all know that “remains” are important, that they are implanted by the Lord, that everyone has them, that they counterbalance our hereditary evils and that they help us get ready for heaven. But how do they do these things? “Remains” are the glue that sticks truths into our minds. This applies to everyone of every age. You cannot receive truth unless you can be affected by it, or, to put it another way, unless you have an affection for it. Once you have the affection for truth which is a gift from the Lord, you then have to acquire truth for yourself.
We all know that there is an infinite variety of truths. They do not come to us by accident or by magic. We must seek them out for ourselves, and the selection of which truths we seek out is a reflection of our own character and freedom of choice.
If you wish to prepare yourself for life in the world, you must seek out natural truths that relate to your chosen field. If you wish to prepare yourself for life in the spiritual world, you must seek out spiritual truths. The natural truths you need come from a great variety of sources, but the spiritual truths you need to prepare for a life in heaven come from but one source, and that is, of course, the Word – in its letter, and in its internal sense.
It becomes obvious then, that learning how to read the Word with understanding becomes one of the most important tasks of human life, and because it is an exercise which requires both skill in reading and a degree of reason, it cannot be taught only in the Primary grades. The affection for reading the Word can (and must) be established in the first years of school, but the skill itself cannot.
This is one of the most important reasons for continuing formal New Church education beyond the Primary grades through High School, and forms the support for the dream of someday having a true New Church University. And it’s all expensive and time-consuming.
Why are they going to all that trouble and expense? Why are we? Because the doctrines of the New Church clearly teach that the only purpose of life in this world is to prepare ourselves and our children for life in the spiritual world. The Word has been Divinely provided to us for that reason, and it is our obligation to do everything in our power to learn its secrets, and New Church schools give powerful support to those who seek to enter into spiritual truths.
Nunc licet. Now it is permitted to enter into the mysteries of faith with understanding. The purpose of the New Church school is to cooperate with the New Church home in preparing the student’s understanding so that he may freely enter into the mysteries of faith in the light of understanding from the threefold Word, and therefore it is right and proper that we make this effort to lead ourselves and our children according to the ways provided by the Lord in His Word. Speaking as the Divine Truth Itself, Jesus taught us, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6).
Lessons: Isaiah 11:6-9; Luke 14:1-14; AC 1495:2