The Essential Uses of New Church Education
(New Church Education, Part 3)
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
“All instruction is simply an opening of the way; and as the way is opened … there … flow in … rational things … [and into these spiritual and celestial things]” (AC 1495)
The Lord alone teaches and leads mankind. The Lord created the human mind. He opens it to spiritual and celestial things from within. He depends on knowledges acquired in the world to be the foundation for this work, and the best foundation is made from truths from the Word. The Lord can work with any kind of knowledge at all, but the human mind is designed by the Lord Himself to be built upon a foundation of truth from the Word. New Church Education is a formal system of learning that tries to cooperate with the Lord’s plan as it is revealed in the Word through our whole life in this world.
In the first sermon of this series, we spoke of how New Church education begins in the home as the newly married couple begin to establish their home routine, their habits, and their attitudes towards each other, towards life, and towards the Lord. It is extremely important that they establish a home that is physically, mentally, and spiritually clean and orderly. A New Church home should provide an environment which preserves the innocent states of the children, that fulfills the promises made at the time of baptism, and that teaches reverence to the Lord through family worship and regular attendance at church.
In the second sermon of this series, we focused our attention on formal New Church Education. We spoke of how we look to the Lord’s own example in the Word for teaching methods, and how the New Church school system was intended to be an extension of the ideal New Church home so that the school and the home could form a cooperative effort to educate children in a peaceful, orderly sphere where there could be the freedom to talk about the Lord and morality without fear of embarrassment. Finally, it was shown how the main focus of religious education in New Church schools is to teach the children how to read the Lord’s Word for themselves with understanding; for it is the threefold Word that is the center and heart of New Church education, and only those who know what the Word teaches can be truly, spiritually, free.
It is useful for us to remember that New Church education is not just something we do from tradition, or because we wish to be exclusive, but that our whole purpose is to raise our children in the sphere of the church, and it is our purpose because these principles of education and child care are taught in the doctrines of the church.
In fact, the principle of New Church education was the rallying cry around which the General Church was formed. Although Richard deCharms was the first leader to teach the importance of the doctrine of New Church education, he was unable to bring those formative ideas into concrete forms. His pioneering work was then taken up by Bishop Benade, who was both a great student of the Writings and a charismatic leader of men. Bishop Benade was the kind of man who was able to take a simple, basic concept and develop it into a structure and a plan that would work, in part because he had the force of character to get things done.
A group of ministers of the Convention Church in the United States were led by Bishop Benade to see that the Writings of the New Church clearly taught the need for New Church education, and that the Writings themselves were the Word. As these views were not held by the majority of the members of Convention, Benade and his followers left Convention and formed their own church organization.
Unfortunately, while Benade’s character was of the kind that is well suited to bringing revolutionary new ideas into light, at the same time it was poorly suited to working with people and managing the structures once they were in place. His forcefulness and self-assurance were essential to the founding of the Academy movement, yet they also made it impossible for him to govern that church when it was established and at peace. In order to survive, the Academy had to move away from its founding father, and reorganized as the General Church under the leadership of Bishop W.F. Pendleton a little more than 100 years ago.
New Church education was the principle, the concept, the goal that these men spent their entire adult lives fighting for, because, they argued, New Church education was essential to the establishment and continuation of the Lord’s New Church on earth.
The argument for New Church education that they presented followed these lines of reasoning: The Lord commanded every member of His church to help spread the “good news” or the “evangel.” However, as the farmer does not scatter his seed randomly, but rather first prepares a field to receive it, so those who wish to help the Lord grow the New Church should direct their attention towards those people who, like the freshly plowed and prepared field, are most likely to receive that seed in their heart. It was felt that the most fruitful field of evangelization is with the children of New Church parents.
There are several reasons for this belief. First of all, the Writings teach that few from the Old Church will receive the New Church, and 200 years of observation and experience confirm these teachings. Where New Church bodies have rejected the principle of New Church education, few of the children have become members when they became adults with the inevitable result that the church membership declines.
On the other hand, we believe that it is reasonable to hope that children will become adult members if we cooperate with the Lord in His endeavor to build His church. We do this by acknowledging the Lord in His Second Coming, both for ourselves and for our children. We cooperate by seeing and protecting the distinctiveness of the New Church, by preserving and following the laws of order in marriage, by keeping the sphere of the church in the home, and by providing New Church schools. In this way children are kept in the sphere of the church, in the home, in the school, and in their social life, until they reach adult age.
The leaders of the early church were working from a heartfelt resolve to provide for the future of the church through doctrinal study which would lead to a clearer understanding of the doctrines, and the number of people needed to support and perform the uses of the Lord’s Church on earth.
More than a hundred years of observation and experience tells us that more than half of the students who attend New Church Schools will eventually join the New Church as adults, which is a rate of success several orders of magnitude greater than any other form of evangelization.
Throughout all the points that have been made so far, there is the underlying theme that after all, first and foremost, the General Church is a church, and as a church it has certain goals and priorities.
There are many ways that we could describe the various uses of a church, and there could be considerable difference of opinion as to how to rank them because while the church on earth comes from the Lord through the Word, it is organized and governed by people, and the form that the church on earth takes is dependent upon their wisdom. However, we believe that there would be general agreement on the following goals of the church on earth because they are based on what the Writings call the “two essentials” of the church: acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of charity towards the neighbor.
The first and most important goal of the church is to help people get to heaven. After all, the Lord created the universe solely for the purpose of providing a means for getting a heaven from the human race. We are also taught that the Lord’s own ruling love is for the salvation of the human race, and that the ruling love of the priests of the Lord’s church should be the love of saving souls. From these points it should be obvious that the most important use of the Church is to assist people in making the necessary changes in their lives in order to prepare them for a life in heaven.
The second use or goal of the church is to help people live useful lives on earth, that is, to help them order their lives in such a way (by helping them to remove the sins that would prevent them from being able to function in society) so as to be able to at first support themselves, then a family, and finally be able to contribute in some way to the welfare of society as a whole.
Now, having laid out certain goals or priorities of the Church, and having established that the early leaders of the Academy movement within the New Church felt that New Church education was an essential, we must then ask ourselves to what extent does New Church education support and uphold the goals and priorities of the New Church?
If we want to understand the essential nature of anything, whether it be an artifact from some ancient people, a complex modern machine, or an organization of people, we must think of it in terms of the use it is intended to serve, for in no other way can we form a true concept of what, in essence, the thing is. Therefore, if we want to understand the true nature of New Church education, we must think about it not from external appearances (such as number of pupils, sports offered, convenient location), but we must judge it according to how well it serves the uses it was intended to serve. For us to be able to make that judgment, we must first understand what the essential uses of New Church Education are.
We can generalize, and say that the uses of New Church education are essentially the same as the uses of the General Church, but adapted to meet the special needs of the young.
The first use of the church is to help people get to heaven; the first love of parents is for their children to get to heaven; the first objective of New Church education is to introduce each child into a true idea of God as He presents Himself in the truths of the Word, because by so teaching the child, he is being given the tools that he needs to find his way to heaven.
The second use of the church is to help people to live useful lives on earth; the fondest wish of parents is that their children will grow up to marry well and live productive useful lives; the second objective of New Church Education is the formation of a conscience in the understanding. This is important because only through the formation of the conscience can there be a foundation from which to make life’s decisions in the correct way.
No one has the truth from birth. The mind is a blank slate, so to speak, when born, and the process of life in this world is for the purpose of filling that mind with various truths which can then be loved and lived. New Church education seeks to assist the parents and the church in filling the child’s mind with truths from the Word in a form appropriate to his age and state, so that a conscience of what is true and good can begin to be formed. It is obvious that a person with a conscience formed from truths from the Word will live a more complete, more useful, and happier life than the person whose mind is filled supermarket philosophies, and flexible ethics.
The point of this is to show that the church, the home, and the school all want exactly the same things for the child, and are trying to achieve these ends by similar means, each according to their own skills and abilities.
These are our goals in New Church Education. They may seem high and difficult, but they are not impossible.
Thought about the effect on spiritual life is behind every decision that is made, every change or modification of the curriculum. Every step is planned, from the first day of First Grade through graduation to teach children about the Lord from the Word in a sphere designed to affect him, and make him feel good about being useful and kind to others, and where he can feel safe to speak to other children about his faith in the Lord.
But the school can only be as effective as the support from the home allows. When the home and the school are working from the same guiding principles, and trying to accomplish the same spiritual ends, then it is extremely likely that the ideal of New Church Education can be reached. On the other hand, if the values in the home are completely different from those of the school; if external things such as material possessions and wealth, or hobbies, or recreational activities are the leading things in the home (or the school), then the ideals of New Church education cannot be achieved. It is really a question of what one values, what one really wants in the long run, for one’s children.
It is the responsibility of every member of the General Church, not just the parents of the children in the school, to make some contribution to New Church education, for by supporting the school, you are upholding the essential uses of the church; and when you help the Church, you are helping the Lord establish His kingdom in this world and in the next.
Lessons: 1 Kings 21:1-16, Matthew 6:19-33, AC 1495