The Protection of Innocence

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, Sept. 7, 2003

Each year as summer gives way to autumn our collective attention turns to the resumption of formal schooling. Of course, part of the excitement comes from the delight we feel from the process of getting new pencils and notebooks and lunch boxes for the kids, and part of it comes from the delicious anxiety about the new friendships that will be formed, and new routines to be learned. But we know that these are not the reasons for the education of our children – these are just the icing on the cake.

All education, not just New Church education, is a response to an essential human need, the need to prepare helpless infants to become useful members of adult society – and eventually angels in heaven – in just 20 years. But in New Church education, we take on the additional burden of preparing children for a useful life in the natural and spiritual worlds while at the same time protecting and preserving their innocence.

We need to be clear what we mean by innocence. Generally we think of it as a “willingness to be led by the Lord.” On the natural level, we see it in a child’s willingness to be led by the teacher or the parent. One might expect that if a single adult took a large group of small children outdoors on a beautiful day the children would immediately scatter to pursue whatever caught their attention – some looking at the butterflies, some seeking a companion to talk to, and some wrestling in the grass or chasing each other. But for some reason, they don’t. They seem eager for direction. They stand in (almost) straight lines, and mostly try to do what they’re told, to be like the others, to be a part of the group. It’s possible to teach Physical Education to little children outside on a sunny day because the Lord has gifted them with natural innocence, a desire to be a part of the group, to gain approval.

While that natural innocence is something that is essential for education to take place, it is not in itself the kind of innocence we are trying to develop and protect. The innocence of little children is not true innocence, because true innocence dwells in wisdom, something that little children don’t have. Hear the following teaching from the Arcana Coelestia:

As regards the innocence possessed by young children, because as yet it is devoid of intelligence and wisdom, it is merely a kind of plane for receiving genuine innocence, which they do receive gradually as they become wise. The nature of young children’s innocence has been represented to me by something wooden and practically devoid of life, but which is made living as they are perfected by means of cognitions of truth and affections for good. The nature of genuine innocence was afterwards represented by a very beautiful young child, full of life, and naked. For the truly innocent, who dwell in the inmost heaven and so nearest to the Lord, appear before the eyes of other angels as none other than small children, and indeed as naked; for innocence is represented by ‘the nakedness of which they are not ashamed’, as one reads of the first man and his wife in paradise. In short, the wiser angels are the more innocent they are; and the more innocent they are the more they appear to themselves as young children. This is why in the Word innocence is meant by early childhood…. (AC 2306).

True innocence is not ignorance, nor is it a life shielded from the experiences of life in the world. True innocence is not the cause of wisdom, but rather it is a result of it. When a person has tried things their own way, and then tried to do things the Lord’s way, when they have acquired enough experience in different kinds of situations to begin to draw meaningful conclusions, then for the first time they start to become truly wise. Age and experience count for something. And they are even more valuable when the person is using the Lord’s Word as his primary guide. One of the great challenges we face as we grow older is learning to trust people younger than ourselves to make important decisions that affect us because during our formative years we learned to trust those who were older because they were wiser. It’s quite a mental adjustment to realize that people younger than ourselves could have acquired enough wisdom of life for us to go to them as a source. That explains why it’s often said that congregations want a pastor who’s 20 years old but had 40 years experience. Youth suggests energy, but experience teaches important lessons.

The mind is a spiritual thing, but the information it requires as a foundation can only be acquired in the world through the senses. So we must be born into the world before we can be born into heaven. The purpose is not to hide from the world, because that’s where we find the experiences and tests that hone the mind and sharpen the wit. But the Word reminds us that while we are to be in the world, we must be careful to preserve our innocence and not become a part of the world. Even while we live and work in society, we must constantly seek the Lord’s constant presence by testing our thoughts and actions against the standards we learned in the Word. If we let Him lead us, we can become wise, while still remaining innocent because we are willingly following Him.

To affirm the power and use of New Church Education is not to say that other education is valueless. It is, however, useful to remind ourselves of our goals, and what we are able to do particularly well. There are indeed many schools that can effectively teach reading and writing and arithmetic, but we are living in a world where the public barriers to immorality are everywhere under attack and can no longer be depended on to protect our children. For as long as most of us can remember, we have been able to depend on civil law to provide the foundation of a basic code of behavior. Anyone with “common sense” would know that certain things were just “wrong” whether or not they heard about it in church on Sunday, or whether or not there was a rule about it in school.

Today, the word “family” has come to mean different things to different people, as does the word “marriage.” We can no longer assume that when we speak of such basic things that others will automatically know what we mean. The basic assumptions, the underlying structure of our culture and way of life are being removed at an ever increasing rate. With every change the job of raising children becomes that much more difficult, because more of the burden has moved from the surrounding culture to the parents and the community in which the family lives.

When there was a generally accepted moral code it was convenient for the churches too, for then the preachers did not have to deal with the details of certain unseemly behaviors from the pulpit because those things were against the law. Not any more. More than ever before, it will be the responsibility of the church, unassisted by the civil government, to teach and preserve God’s law. Today, when it has become illegal to display and respect the Ten Commandments, the Divine Law that is the basis of all civilized behavior, in a courthouse, we can know that another barrier has been breached, and the protection of the innocence of our children becomes more fully our own responsibility than ever before.

There is much that can be said in favor of those educators who work in the public schools. The do the best they can in the face of tremendous challenges, but how do you teach a child the difference between right and wrong if you aren’t allowed to talk about God or the Ten Commandments? How do you give a child a sense of his place in the order of the world when you are required to teach opposing theories in a subject and give each of them equal weight in order to show respect to some segment of the population. When you have to give Creationism and Evolution the same weight, it’s no wonder that we have a generation of kids who use the word “random” to describe so many aspects of their life. Of course everything seems to be random when no one is allowed to show you the order that underlies it all. And since none of the order and structure that the young minds crave are permitted because they might offend someone, somewhere, we are left with trying to give the children “self-esteem” instead of awareness of their place in the overall order of the universe.

New Church Education is ideally suited, then, to provide more than just facts and skills, but to provide the context to understand the world around them, and a safe place to explore ideas and fit them into a philosophy of life that looks to an eternity of usefulness. A place where a child can ask a teacher questions about God and Heaven and Right and Wrong, and be able to trust the answer.

But in our enthusiasm for New Church Education, let us not fall into the same false premise that is seen so often in the world, the idea that it is the responsibility of schools by themselves to educate children. The way to protect the innocence of children, the way to help them be prepared for a life in the world that leads to a life in heaven, is for there to be an effective partnership between the parents and the school. The most important aspect of the partnership is that the school and the parents share a common vision of what they are trying to accomplish. One of the strengths of a small private school is that it can have a specific and well-defined vision. And all those who share that vision can work together to bring it to life.

New Church Education is designed on every level to be a partnership with the parents, to be an “extension of the home” because there is inherent in our system our recognition of the principle that it is the responsibility of the parents to care for and educate their children in the light of the Lord’s Word. It is the part of the school only to assist them in this endeavor by providing expert assistance in certain academic areas, and by forming a covenant with the parents that the protection of the child’s true innocence is foremost in everything that is taught. Amen.

First Lesson: Gen. 2:15-25

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. {16} And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; {17} “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” {18} And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” {19} Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. {20} So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. {21} And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. {22} Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. {23} And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” {24} Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. {25} And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mat 18:1-14

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” {2} Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, {3} and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. {4} “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. {5} “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. {6} “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. {7} “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! {8} “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. {9} “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire. {10} “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. {11} “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. {12} “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? {13} “And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. {14} “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 2305.

There are certain people who identify innocence with early childhood, for the reason that the Lord, when speaking about young children, said that heaven consisted of such, and that those who do not become as young children cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. But those who think in this fashion do not know the internal sense of the Word, nor thus what is meant by early childhood. ‘Early childhood’ is used to mean the innocence that belongs to intelligence and wisdom, the nature of which is such that they acknowledge that they possess life solely from the Lord and that the Lord is their one and only Father; for a person is human because of intelligence and wisdom – essentially truth and good respectively – which people have solely from the Lord. Innocence itself, which in the Word is called early childhood, exists and resides nowhere else than within wisdom, so much so that the wiser anyone is the more innocent he is. Consequently the Lord is Innocence itself, because He is Wisdom itself. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009


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