The Academy Position

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, Oct. 17, 2004


This weekend, many of us are celebrating Charter Day, the anniversary of the date that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave the Academy of the New Church a charter to operate a library and a theological school, and to publish books.

For the past hundred years, individual and societies throughout the world have put a great deal of time, effort, and money into creating and improving the various schools that make up the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA, and the various other “academies” such as the British Academy Summer School and the Midwest Academy. And yet, ironically, the Academy was not at first a school, but rather it was a doctrinal position within the General Convention, the original Swedenborgian church in the United States. The seeds that would later become the Academy of the New Church were planted with discontent over quality of Theological Instruction within the General Convention, questions about the nature of Swedenborg’s inspiration and the related questions about the authority of the Writings.

The ministers and laymen with the General Convention who believed in the Divinity of Swedenborg’s inspiration, the authority of the Writings, and the related doctrinal and governmental issues began to gather around Rev. William H. Benade for support and leadership. They began to refer to their point of view as the “Academy Position.” The history of how this informal gathering of people of like minds became the General Church of the New Jerusalem is quite interesting, but is both too lengthy and too much involved with non-doctrinal issues to go into here. Let’s just say that after going through several earthly dispensations, the Academy movement found its home in the General Church of the New Jerusalem under the leadership of its first executive bishop, W. F. Pendleton, in 1897.

In 1899, at the 3rd General Assembly of the General Church, W.F. Pendleton gave an address where, for the first time, all the principles of the Academy movement were gathered into one document. In 1958 Bishop deCharms said that they still reflected the doctrinal position of the General Church. They are not a dogmatic statement of faith, they are not binding on the conscience of the church, but rather a statement of the doctrinal opinion generally held at the time, but open to modification as the church matures.

The Twelve Principles

  1. The Writings are the Second Coming of the Lord.
    1. The Divine Human appears in the Writings. The Writings are the Divine Human appearing to the New Church
      1. The reason a judgment on the former Christian Church was required was the falsity and ignorance both in the natural world and in the world of spirits. Swedenborg was not only one chosen to record and report these events, but was the instrument that caused the judgment by revealing the truths given to him by the Lord in both the natural world and the world of spirits.
    2. This view sets the Academy apart from all other churches, and justifies its independence, its existence as a separate dispensation rather than as a movement within the Christian Church.
  2. The former Christian Church is consummated and dead, with no hope of resurrection.
    1. There cannot be a genuine church except with those who separate from it and join the New Church.
    2. The New Church is to be distinct from the Old because they are distinct and separate in the world of spirits. The New Church in the heavens and in the world must act as one. The New Church in the world cannot be fully united to the New Church in the heavens until it casts out the falsities of the Old Church, the Old Church spirit, the Old Church life.
  3. The priesthood is the appointed means for establishing the church
    1. It is an appearance for the sake of freedom that priests are appointed and chosen by men. We may speak and act according to the appearance.
      1. Essential truth is that they are appointed by the Lord, and chosen, taught, and prepared by Him for the use of the office.
        1. Therefore, the priesthood is not to be placed under external bonds. In other words, lay councils and priestly councils, and any church official (such as an executive bishop) cannot force a priest to act apart from his conscience and enlightenment received while reading the Word except in the case of disorder or disturbance
  4. Baptism is the door of introduction to the New Church, and conjoins with heaven.
    1. By baptism a man becomes a member of the New Church in both worlds.
    2. Only those who are baptized should be eligible for membership in the church in general.
  5. Holy Supper is the most holy act of worship
    1. And it is a purely representative act (no miracle of conversion into flesh and blood)
    2. Holy Supper wine is to be pure, fermented juice of the grape.
      1. Apparently there was an issue about wine in the late 19th Century. The Academy position is that fermented wine was used in the events reported in Scripture, that history confirms this view, and that such a practice is confirmed by reason and common sense. Also, from time to time a paper is presented in the Council of the Clergy which gives many deep and detailed reasons as to the importance of fermentation because it symbolizes man’s regeneration.
  6. Conjugial love is between those of one mind, one faith, one religion.
    1. Conjugial life is the home life. If conjugial love is not in the home, it is not anywhere. The conjugial in the home is the pillar upon which the church rests and by which it is supported; take away this pillar and the edifice is in ruins
    2. The conjugial in the home consists in the husband and wife thinking together in the things of religion, and from this in other things. If they do not so think together they are not together in the spiritual world, and their spirits do not dwell together in the same society, and they are internally in collision and conflict.
  7. Interference with the law of offspring is an abomination.
    1. Marriage is the seminary of the human race
    2. The end of creation is a heaven from the human race, which is fulfilled in marriage.
    3. God provided marriage so that heaven would be provided with angels.
    4. Opposing creation is a sin against God, heaven, and earthly society
  8. The laws in the latter part of CL are given for the preservation of the conjugial.
    1. Specifically numbers 444 to 476 (Fornication and Concubinage)
      1. Again, we must realize that this was an active issue in the church at the time, with quite a few people claiming to be shocked at what they considered to be “obscenities” contained within CL.
      2. There were many who said that the book should be edited, that the forgiveness for moderate fornication and orderly concubinage were “mistakes” and should not be included in the Word.
      3. Since the work was under attack, and since the attack was really a judgment at the question of the Divine authorship of the Writings, the Academy people responded it to it far more strongly that we would expect from our perspective.
  9. The doctrine of the NC is revealed from God out of the inmost heaven.
    1. Again, a response to an attack from others within the New Church community, specifically those who were guilty of “false celestialism,” as when Benade claimed that the Academy was an internal church for those who were regenerated, and that his enlightenment was superior because of its “celestial” source.
    2. Therefore the NC is a celestial church, but accommodated to every state. There is no perception of truth outside of doctrine.
  10. Doubt gives reason for delay; there should be “essential unanimity.”
    1. In heaven, there is government by unanimous consent. This principle is impossible to achieve in this world, but it must be sought and protected where found.
    2. Doubt is an indication of Providence that the time is not yet right. There is need for further thought and reflection to make a rational judgment.
    3. Delay is not just to substitute unanimity for majority, but a protection of the internal
      1. Make a habit of thinking together from common affection
      2. A ruling principle of the choirs of heaven.
  11. Laws should reflect present needs and uses; laws other than this are hurtful.
    1. We cannot legislate concerning Divine revelation
    2. Nor can we reason about it.
    3. Nor can we legislate for things contingent or remote.
    4. Therefore, we should limit ourselves those things we can see: present needs and uses.
    5. The future belongs to the Lord alone.
    6. Man’s work lies in that which is immediately before him.
  12. The most fruitful field of Evangelization is with the children of NC parents.
    1. Writings teach that few from the Old Church will receive the New.
    2. 200 years of experience confirm these teachings.
      1. Not profitable to hold to the belief that there will be a mass conversion from the former Christian churches
    3. Where NC bodies have neglected their children, few have become adult members (i.e. Convention in the US.)
    4. It is reasonable to hope that children will become adult members if we cooperate.
      1. If the Lord is acknowledged in His Second Coming
      2. If the distinctiveness of the Church is seen and protected
      3. If the laws of order in marriage are preserved and followed
      4. If the sphere of the church is in the home
      5. If there are New Church day schools
    5. In order to conduct this work, there must be New Church Schools
      1. The Academy decided to occupy this new field of Evangelization hoping that it would provide the main source of new adult members.
      2. This is the most fruitful field in which to seek new members
      3. It is the field that is nearest: in our very homes
      4. The Academy will provide for growth in quality as well as numbers
    6. The resolve of the Academy was to provide for the future of the church in both the quality of understanding of the doctrines, and the numbers to support and perform the uses of the Lord’s Church on earth.

In essence, the Academy position is receiving the Writings as the Word

                  1. Sincere application of the teachings according to the light of the time. I think it can be seen that these twelve principles cover all aspects of the church.
                  1. The nature of the Lord and the Word
                  2. The connection between Regeneration and Conjugial Love in marriage
                  3. Principles to govern how larger groups interact and govern themselves
                  4. Real world applications and the creation of New Church Schools
                  1. These principles do not prescribe how one must believe to be a member of the General Church today, but rather describe what the generally held view was in our historic past.
                  1. Some of these principles we would willingly embrace today. Others we would find difficult to embrace wholeheartedly. But certainly, on the anniversary of the external embodiment of the Academy movement, it would be useful for all of us to reflect on our doctrinal heritage, and turn to the Word for ourselves to establish the principles on which we will base our life’s decisions. Amen.

First Lesson: LUK 17:20-37

20Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21nor will they say, See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

22Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them. 24For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. 25But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

31“In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. 32Remember Lot’s wife. 33Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. 35Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. 36Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”

37And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?”

So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”

Second Lesson: Sacred Scripture 75 – 78

75. From what has been said may be inferred the nature of the wisdom that lies hidden in the Word that is in this world. In fact all angelic wisdom, which is unutterable, lies hidden in it, for it is the container of the same, and after death a man who is being made an angel by the Lord by means of the Word comes into that wisdom.


76. That the church is from the Word does not admit of doubt, for the Word is Divine truth itself (n. 1-4); the doctrine of the church is from the Word (n. 50-61) and through the Word there is conjunction with the Lord (n. 62-69). But doubt may arise as to whether the understanding of the Word is what makes the church, for there are those who believe that they are of the church because they have the Word, read it or hear it from a preacher, and know something of its sense of the letter, yet how this or that in the Word is to be understood they do not know, and some of them little care. It shall therefore be proved that it is not the Word that makes the church, but the understanding of it, and that such as is the understanding of the Word among those who are in the church, such is the church itself. The proof of this is as follows.

77. The Word is the Word according to the understanding of it in a man, that is, as it is understood. If it is not understood, the Word is indeed called the Word, but it is not the Word with the man. The Word is the truth according to the understanding of it, for it may not be the truth, because it may be falsified. The Word is spirit and life according to the understanding of it, for its letter if not understood is dead. And as a man has truth and life according to his understanding of the Word, so has he faith and love according thereto, for truth is of faith, and love is of life. Now as the church exists by means of faith and love, and according to them, it follows that the church is the church through the understanding of the Word and according thereto; a noble church if in genuine truths, an ignoble church if not in genuine truths, and a destroyed church if in falsified truths.

78. Further, it is through the Word that the Lord is present with a man and is conjoined with him, for the Lord is the Word, and as it were speaks with the man in it. The Lord is also Divine truth itself, as likewise is the Word. From this it is evident that the Lord is present with a man and is at the same time conjoined with him, according to his understanding of the Word, for according to this the man has truth and the derivative faith, and also love and the derivative life. The Lord is indeed present with a man through the reading of the Word, but he is conjoined with him through the understanding of truth from the Word, and according thereto; and in proportion as the Lord has been conjoined with a man, in the same proportion the church is in him. The church is within man; the church that is outside of him is the church with a number of men who have the church within them. This is meant by the Lord’s words to the Pharisees who asked when the kingdom of God would come:

The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).

Here the “kingdom of God” means the Lord, and from him, the church.


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