Isaac tells of making friends on an airplane and traveling in China and East-Africa. He questions some General Church assumptions about who is actually the heart and lungs of the Lord's church on earth. In the same vein, he wonders whether we are confused in making assumptions about who is in or out of the New Church. These types of questions are addressed further in the context of relationships by Garrett Smith and Meryl Mochado.
Last week I walked our family dog up Guinea Road and visited some dear old friends nestled in their vineyard spread on a hill not too far from my family's new home. I've been away in China and Africa for some time and it was gift of sweet mercy to near their home and enter the door into their smiles and share the Lord's love together. I was again awed by the peaceful view of the mountains from their spacious windows, mountains I knew, mountains I was used to seeing from a different angle. There was the Pinnacle, which I hiked as a boy and a young man, and another mountain, the Sharp, on whose face sat the beloved cabin my family called home.
I wondered aloud at the beauty of the Pinnacle and how wonderfully sharp the Sharp looked, and as I wondered I reflected on a new wisdom of perspective granted to me in being with humanity in other countries. "Surely the Lord is love," I thought, "like a great mountain. And His sheep do follow Him because they know His voice! We are all his sheep and we will be one flock. We just see Him from different perspectives..." The man responded to my voiced wonder, as if to confirm my internal reflection, "Yes, people who visit us from your side of the valley often remark at what a special view this is. It is a unique place in the county, and the lay of the mountains takes on a whole new character from here."
The man and his wife are not part of the circle of humanity that gathers down in the valley at my church, the Kempton New Church, but they are part of my circle of humanity. They are part of my church. I consider myself as part of the New Church. Are my lovely friends part of the New Church? Hmmm... Let's reason together a moment. Consider these two questions: Am I part of the New Church because I have made the mental connection that Jesus is God and have been baptized into the New Church? And is someone who hasn't made the mental connection that Jesus is God and has been baptized in a Catholic or Protestant church a member of the Old Church? If the answer to these two questions is yes, then indeed I am a member of the New Church and my beloved friends are members of the Old. But that's so silly! The Word of the Holy Spirit tells me that the Old Church was completely dead by the time of the Last Judgment in 1757, not mostly dead, all dead, like not even worth sorting through the pockets to look for loose change!
If my friends are members of the Old Church, then their association with their church must be entirely dead; and yet, according to the best of my perception and observation, they are warm and loving people who seek understanding from God and make themselves useful to their community. I've heard the argument from brainy types that these people must get whatever good they get out of the Old and New Testaments, but that they can't be associated with the New Christian Heaven, nor can they be in Conjugial Love, nor do they understand any genuine truth or receive genuine good because the dragon of faith alone and their lack of understanding of God infect and blur most if not everything they think and do, so that they are likely just naturally good people but not spiritually or celestially so. I also have so determined and shared. However, my resolve about how different I am from humanity in degree of spiritual life is wearing down. I flee from the dragon constantly persecuting me. I keep learning new things about who the Lord is and how He is God and how He is Jesus Christ, and I am still looking forward to knowing Him. I believe that when I get married I will enter into the church on a new level and will begin to know the Lord in a whole new way. And yet what is it that really determines whether one is in or outside of the church, the New Church? And are we not all persecuted by faith alone? When was the last time you said you believe something and it didn't manifest in loving action in this physical world? Ahhh, then.
It is not only in my Christian friends that I see a possibility of spiritual or heavenly love for the Lord and the neighbor. I testify that when I walk with a Godly gentile, he is not averse to the possibility that Jesus is God. He is averse to the persuasion in me that he doesn't know God. Even if, in the moment, I am not persuaded but only suspicious that he doesn't know God, my attitude will divide us. If I tell a Buddhist that the God he worships is a false god, I betray the reality that I do not know God, for God is omnipresent and accessible. If he loves God, this Buddhist may even be the one to share the love of Jesus with me by kind words or thoughtful instruction, for Jesus Christ is love presented in wisdom. The Writings teach us that such a gentile will joyfully learn that the Lord Jesus is God of heaven when he passes on, for He is who is in his heart. Is this man less in the New Church than I? Will he enter a "gentile" heaven? Well aren't we told that all of heaven worships the Lord Jesus Christ? Isn't this the whole point of His second coming and His sending out his twelve apostles into all of heaven? Have we not read that heaven became seven times brighter and there were glorifications from the east to the west and in the south and north? Is there anyone in heaven still in the dim? No! Are there imaginary heavens being built up again? Not except the imaginary heavens we build here on earth in our own minds, dreaming of the fulfillment of our own lusts and confirming our righteousness on account of our knowledge, understanding, or faith. And these imaginations will be swiftly sorted out when we leave our physical bodies behind and wake up to our own loves - and before that if we are willing to examine ourselves and repent.
Having spoken of Christians and Gentiles, let me speak a word about agnostics and atheists. Flying home from England recently I sat next to a dear elderly Swedish couple. They inquired where my travels took me, and I told them that I was visiting my sister after doing missionary work in Africa. I was really enjoying the conversation and I don't even remember how the question of their faith came up, but I do remember surprise in the man's quiet response that he and his wife don't believe in God, though he understands that many Americans still do. Although he clearly didn't understand the religious fervor that might lead me to preach the Gospel in Africa, he appeared to genuinely support my humanitarian effort. The sphere that emanated from him and his wife was like the sweet Christian couples I know who have lost passion in their relationship - the peace of two contented companions when religious differences subside - a stilled pool, a well of water at rest: well, almost. Did I detect some desire in the wife to stir? In the husband to resist her stirring and hang on to the impermanent order of life? Evidently they are missing a key element to enter the peace and bliss of heaven. They are missing the divinity of Jesus in their hearts and marriage. I felt deep sadness sink into my internal organs. The sadness was not primarily for them. It was for me. It was for humanity. It was for that part of me that thinks I know the Lord and yet blocks out or casts aside as worthless the cheerful peace and the living order of faithful charity that these scientists appear to have. It was for the Lord. And it was for them. Thank you, my brother and sister for this gift of choosing a wise and simple nonreligious life. And, let me be clear, dear reader, I cannot know my friends' inmost being and do not believe in death-bed repentance. Either these people have God in their hearts or they don't, and that is not for me to judge, even when they tell me they don't believe in Him. As to how they might have God in their heart and work, and thus how I might love and serve them, that wisdom can only come by practice in looking for Him in all my neighbors and actually receiving the love that each human offers me, not being afraid to be with anyone from fear of spiritual contamination. Only in this way can the kingdom of heaven be formed in me. In the presence of these beautiful people the presence of the Lord was one of humble service and kinship; I shared with them as a friend and fellow citizen of the world. I have ancestral roots up their way. As we visited, the sadness made room for warmth, and compassion deepened.
If you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is God and are concerned that others don't, and don't know what to say when they confirm your fear by declaration, consider the possibility that the Lord Jesus Christ is present with each of us within and without in His Holy Spirit, and that otherwise we would die; and trust that He is making Himself known gradually and perfectly to every human being who has any aversion to evil and attention to good. If someone is actively turning aside to destruction, He teaches him about the hell that his new heavenly will proprium does not want to be a part of, and He continually extends His hand to him, and speaks to him in his own spiritual language, inviting them back to His protection. When anyone is ready to turn and obey the commands He gives, heaven enters in and makes new. Consider this Word of the Lord:
"But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard.
He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
Whether of them twain did the will of his father?
They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." (Matthew 21:28-31)
Just because someone says they don't believe in God doesn't mean they don't. Just because you don't catch your neighbors in church doesn't mean they don't cry to Him and give Him praise. Look at the heart in their actions. Blindness in regard to seeing God is of no consequence, provided one is willing to be touched. The Lord heals blindness in a moment when the spirit is ready; and in heaven, all thoughts are communicated to each member immediately. Those, however, who love to buy and sell in the temple will be driven out, and those who are sorely displeased by the children crying in the temple will be instructed on praise. Those who bear no good fruit on this earth will wither (see Matthew 21).
Perhaps you are getting the sense that I believe the Lord is preparing all people to be a part of the new heaven. Even those who have not yet been baptized and so have not entered the church, I believe are members in potential. Even those who are stuck along their path of rebirth, penned in by infesting falsities, I believe are still being made new inside by Him who sits on the throne. I really believe that we are all part of the new earth headed for the new heaven because the false ones have passed away and the Lord made the ancient ones new and continues to renew all things every moment of a moment.
Now, here's a question: Are those of us who have grown up reading and studying the Writings and hearing sermons on them ahead of the rest somehow? I don't even think that's a useful question! Rather than thinking in terms of superiority, why not think in terms of the different organs and their uses in the body? During my two years in China I discovered a nation much closer to the heart than what I know of America, Europe, or Britain. And yet their motion was not one of beating but one of breathing. I find people of the East to be the most open minded people, ready to receive and move together. They tend to smile at me when I share the idea of Jesus whether they believe or don't believe, and when I begin to share heavenly doctrine concerning Him, they light up with thoughtfulness. Perhaps the Lord has been saving their collective affirmative inquiry into His life until such a time as a rational understanding is readily available and the Western world is ready to generously share the fruits of its blessing like Jacob made himself ready when his older brother returned. This must be happening in heaven, for all are instructed there and led into their use for all people, and I believe the time is soon, when the Eastern peoples will come streaming into the New Jerusalem while still on earth, and not just because of them, but because of the shaking and lining up I see in the Western world, and most especially because of Africa.
Deep within Africa is the heart of humanity. If you have any doubt about it, read about them in the Writings, listen to their music, watch them dance, and if you still are not sure, go there and ask them about the Lord. After living in Kenya for a year and sharing with many flocks and shepherds of the Lord, the only response I have to the idea that the General Church of the New Jerusalem might be the heart of humanity is laughter. If I am feeling compassionate and sensitive, it's smiling amusement. When I think of the millions who adore the Lord Jesus Christ with all their hearts and beings, and constantly receive revelation from heaven from the indwelling Holy Spirit, I become excited for us all. And in order to benefit from the life and love of our neighbors, we must be willing to come into a right understanding of how we can serve humanity with the love and gifts the Lord has given us. Are we confounded in trying to serve as the heart and lungs simply because we are not the heart and lungs?
Why is it that such a small percentage of the world population actually regularly hears and reads the Third Testament? What makes us special or different? Might it be that we are deeply and subtly moved by the comprehensive rational understanding of the Lord and delight in thinking about it, discussing it, storing it up, and planning ways to share it with others in worship, in classes, in education of our children, by subtle yet thrilled connection to the outside world, and in seeking new members to become like us - albeit with a critical eye? It strikes me that we are the Lord's horse keepers. We love His horses, we know it has to be done right, and we're kind of finicky about it. All right, I'll speak for myself. He he he! No, but seriously guys, let's face it: Most of us who think we're in the "New Church" are in the brain or eyes of the body of humanity that lives on this planet. (True, we might all be in the skin as far as the universe goes, but lets get our planet in order before we degrade ourselves with false humility). What we are not is the heart and lungs. Praise the Lord!
Lord Jesus Christ, may we surrender our doubt and know that You Yourself are heaven also, and the church, and that you dwell in all people in fullness according to reception in love and charity. You are our Holy Spirit and we are being formed as one into a perfect bride and wife in Your image and likeness. May we cease to judge all our neighbors according to how well they know and see and understand the Word, but look for the gift that each kind of people have, the gift of beating, the gift of bringing peace and balance, the gift of storing the blood or producing an enzyme for the digestion, the gift of walking or working with the hands. You are the Word dwelling in each man's good. If it please You to give us the gift of sight and understanding, Lord, may we see clearly and understand wisely that we may make just judgments unto true love. Seeing from love and looking to charity has such powerful potential for the whole body! May we who have seen inspire this world with our love of sight!
"The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be enlightened; but if thine eye be wicked, thy whole body shall be dark; if therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22, 23)
"I will lift up my eyes to the hills
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)
It has been written in three languages, You, Lord, are Jesus, King of the Jews. We are all called to come into New Jerusalem and associate as members of one human being. "Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."
Isaac Synnestvedt is the son of Lou and Aileen Synnestvedt who have served in pastorates in the General Church of the New Jerusalem in the US and Canada. He has been educated in the Kempton New Church School and Bryn Athyn College. After college, he went to China to teach English for two years. He then spent a year in Kenya. He is looking forward to supporting the birth of Keugata (Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania) Theological College. He wants to run a marathon this summer.