The New Idea of God
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (JOH 1:1-5)
The gospel of John begins with this powerful statement of faith, that Jesus Christ was God the Creator in the flesh, and that those who are not able to see this are in spiritual darkness.
John continues and develops this theme, writing that:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (JOH 1:14)
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (JOH 3:19)
“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light…. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (JOH 12:36,46)
The Doctrine of the Lord quotes these passages and continues:
From these passages it is evident that the Lord is God from eternity, and that this God is the selfsame Lord who was born in the world; for it is said that the Word was with God, and God was the Word, and also that without Him was not anything made that was made; and it is added that the Word was made flesh, and they beheld Him. (Lord 1)
This sermon is an attempt to address the question, “What is new about the New Church?” in such a way as to assist us in explaining the New Church to others in a simple, positive, and straightforward way. As the doctrine of the Lord is the foremost doctrine of the church, we begin by addressing the new idea of God presented by the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church.
In a sense, we can say that the “new” idea of God in the New Church is not new at all, but rather it is the very same idea that Jesus Himself taught to His disciples, and that they believed and taught throughout the world after His resurrection: that Jehovah God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same God who led the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the promised land, had come to earth in a frail human body to reveal new truth and save fallen mankind.
Unfortunately, this extremely important basic truth of the Christian church was lost for a time. There was a small group within the church who began to teach that Jesus Christ was not actually Jehovah in the flesh, but instead He was only the greatest of the prophets. The leaders of the church met in council to discuss this heresy. The meetings went on for more than two years, and neither side would yield. Finally, to end the embarrassing deadlock, a compromise doctrine was presented to the meeting and was accepted. The new doctrine divided God into three distinct persons, who were all equally and indivisibly God. Thus the heretics were satisfied, because Jesus was no longer Jehovah, but only His Son, and the traditionalists were satisfied because Jesus was equally God with Jehovah.
The church leaders may have been satisfied with their work, but the doctrine they invented at those meetings in 325 AD has served to confuse and mislead sincere people ever since.
The New Church, then, is not really presenting a new idea of God, but rather returning to the doctrine as it existed before the councils of the men changed it. But since the doctrine of a trinity of persons has been the accepted doctrine of the Christian church for 1700 years, the doctrine of the Lord revealed in the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church appears to be a new idea.
We must be very careful to remember to distinguish between the official doctrines, as discussed in councils and written into catechisms and constitutions, and the actual living faith of the members of those churches. There is often very little resemblance between the two, and in most cases we will find more ideas in common with the members than points to argue.
Let us now look at some of the points where the doctrine of the New Church differs from traditional Christian doctrine, those areas where the teachings of the New Church will be seen to be “new” or at least different.
First of all, the New Church teaches that Christ is not the son of God in the traditional sense, that is, a separate, although Divine, person. Rather, we believe that Jesus Christ is the invisible God (the Father) made visible by means of a physical body; He is the manifestation of God to the sight of mankind.
However, He is the son of God in the sense that the body is the “son” of the soul. As in all cases where human beings struggle to understand the nature of their creator, we find ourselves inadequate to the task of comprehending the Divine in Itself. But He did give us the key to have some degree of understanding when He told us that He had created us in His image (cf. GEN 1:26), because that means that God’s own nature is present and illustrated in our own make-up. We can know something of Him by looking at ourselves.
By looking inward and examining our own make-up, we can perceive that there are several distinct elements that make each person. There is the life force, which is intimately tied to our conscious existence. This exists in, and is dependent upon, the physical body, but although they are totally entwined and interdependent, there are very few who would claim that there is no difference between conscious life and the body. Although a body and its soul are quite distinct, they are not two separate persons.
In common speech we sometimes say that we are of “two minds” when we are weighing the different effects of an important decision, and by that we mean that we can have more than one distinct train of thought on a single topic. This becomes more pronounced as the decision becomes more important. It’s like trying to decide whether to go for an expensive repair on your old car, or to trade it in on a new one. One minute you are all set to go one way–then suddenly you are equally convinced you should go the other way. But think for a moment: does being of “two minds” make you two people?
How about when we are angry or frustrated or in a state of temptation? Don’t we speak to ourselves to encourage ourselves, to exhort ourselves to avoid that mistake again? Isn’t the very process thinking itself nothing more than internalized conversations with different aspects of ourselves, interspersed with occasional insights from unidentified internal sources? Is each one of those aspects a separate, though equal, person? Of course not.
It should not then be difficult for us to understand how the Lord, in states of temptation, could have prayed to the Father for help: He was, like we do, reaching within Himself, calling up His own inner resources to prepare Himself for the battles which He knew He was about to face. That is not so difficult to understand, and certainly does not make God three separate persons.
The traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity has been called a “Divine Mystery” as a way of explaining away the fact that it cannot be understood how God can be three while at the same time one. As we have already seen, this doctrine cannot be understood because it was invented as a way to satisfy certain heretics in the church, and is a deliberate combination of heresy and truth.
The heresy is that there are three Gods, and that Jesus Christ is secondary or inferior to Jehovah. The truth is that there is a trinity of attributes in the Divine, just as there is a trinity in every human being–for, as was said before, we are created in His image and likeness.
The Father is the invisible Divine Soul, the Infinite Creator God. The Son, or Jesus Christ, is the embodiment of that same Divine soul, and it is to present that doctrine and faith that we proudly say that we are dedicated to the worship of “the Lord God Jesus Christ.” This is why the sermon is introduced by the words, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one God of heaven and earth” and closed with the words, “And now to the one only God, Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”
The third part of this trine is the Holy Spirit, which we regard as the “Spirit of Truth” or “enlightenment” that comes to all people when they live according to the Lord’s commandments and shun evils as sins from conscience, thus bringing themselves into a closer contact with and perception of the spiritual world. Our developing conscience and perception of what the right thing to do in a situation is the presence of God with us, the Holy Spirit which leads us further into the life of truth.
To help us remember this view of the trinity, we need only to think about our own make-up, that each one of us has an invisible soul. That soul, or life, flows into an organic receptacle, specially created to receive, hold, and sustain it. That single cell then forms the basis for all that follows, as the soul draws from the nourishment provided by the mother’s body and builds for itself a home perfectly suited to carry it forth into the world of nature, a visible body which clothes and expresses the thoughts and feelings of that invisible soul that lives within.
When that visible, physical body acts and interacts with others in the world, it exerts an influence. We often speak of an “influential” person, or someone who affects others by his very presence. Each of us has the opportunity to perform uses which benefit others, or we may choose to do evil things which offend and harm others–but in either case, we have our effect; and that is the parallel from our own lives to that of the Holy Spirit.
So we can see that the “new” idea of God in the New Church is not so new at all: we believe that there is One God, whose soul we call Jehovah, whose body we call Jesus Christ, and whose effect on the faithful in the world we call the Holy Spirit. We believe the Lord when said, I and My Father are one (JOH 10:30), and when we look back on the long history of the Christian Church, we are reminded of the Lord’s words to Philip: Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (JOH 14:9)
It is our belief that the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church have brought new light on the Doctrine of the Lord, so that once again, after centuries of darkness, we can look at Jesus Christ as He presents Himself in His Word, and truly see the Father, as He intended.
Lessons: EXO 3:1-10, JOH 6:22-40, TCR 8