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What do We have in Common with Other Christians?

By focussing his attention on what the New Church shares with other Christian denominations Solomon augments a sense of oneness, a sense that we are all part of Lord's church on earth. - Editor

Sometimes it seems like we spend a lot of time distinguishing ourselves from other Christian churches, and in the process we end up distinguishing ourselves from other Christian people, almost as if we were somehow better people. I think this is a bit like eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; believing that we know better than other people.

Swedenborg has some great things to say about this. In Swedenborg’s book Secrets of Heaven it says:

In the Christian world it is their doctrines that cause Churches to be distinct and separate, and because of these they call themselves Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists or the Reformed, and Evangelicals, among other names. It is solely by reason of their doctrines that they are called by these names. This situation would never exist if they were to make love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor the chief thing of faith. In this case their doctrinal differences would be no more than shades of opinion concerning the mysteries of faith which truly Christian people would leave to individual conscience, and in their hearts would say that a person is truly a Christian when he lives as a Christian, that is, as the Lord teaches. If this were so all the different Churches would become one, and all the disagreements which stem from doctrine alone would disappear. Indeed the hatred one man holds against another would be dispelled in an instant, and the Lord's kingdom on earth would come. (1799:4)

Later on in Secrets of Heaven it says that if people would focus on loving other people rather than pointing out differences between people’s faith, then “they would not on the basis of particular ideas about the truths of faith distinguish between and make many Churches out of different groups. Instead they would speak of one Church that included all leading a good life, and not only those within that part of the world where the Church exists but also those outside” (6269:2).

If we only think about our doctrinal differences, and we don’t look for the goodness in other people, then the Writings say that we become like a person who “is quick to find fault, makes no allowances, is against all, regards everyone as being in error, is instantly prepared to rebuke, to chasten, and to punish, shows no pity” (Secrets of Heaven 1949:2). This is the “faith alone” that we all have to be wary of in ourselves.

Jesus commanded that we should think in the following way of other people: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

So with all that in mind, I’d like to spend some time looking at what we have in common with other Christian churches, rather that what our differences are. This helps me to begin to look for the goodness in other people. This helps me to love other people as the Lord loves us.

Because I grew up in the doctrinal isolation of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, I found that I didn’t know very many details about other Christian churches. I didn’t really know what they believed, how they worshiped, or how they lived their lives. The only knowledge I had was from the descriptions of other Christian churches in Swedenborg’s Writings. And while these descriptions were true of the doctrine of those churches in Swedenborg’s time, those churches have changed their doctrines and practices quite a bit in the last 200 or so years.

So with my self-proclaimed lack of knowledge, I thought it would be useful and fun to buy and read The Idiot’s Guide to Christianity. I spent a good part of last summer reading that book, and noting the similarities and differences between the General Church and other Christian denominations. I readily admit that after reading that book, I am perhaps only “less of an idiot” when it comes to what there is to know about other Christian denominations. I still have a lot to learn. So I would appreciate discussion, feedback, and corrections to the details that I present in this article. And now, to some of the similarities:

Catholics believe that the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Supper are real and not just symbolic. They recognize charity and good works as an essential part of salvation. They believe in the importance of religious education for children. They use unleavened bread in the Holy Supper. And they sprinkle water in the Baptism.

Orthodox Christians believe that God is present in the natural world. They worship and believe in a visible God. And some Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus’ Human was made Divine.

Episcopalians (or Anglicans or Puritans) believe that priests can be married. They believe that something real (rather than simply symbolic) happens when people take the Holy Supper. They believe there are only the two sacraments: Holy Supper and Baptism. And, the reading of the Word and the sermon are at the center of their worship ritual.

Lutherans have a ceremonial (rather than a supernatural) ordination of priests. They have collective (rather than individual) confession of sins in church. The congregation often sings in harmony. And they have infant baptism.

The Reformed (including Congregational, United Church of Christ, and Unitarians) believe in hereditary evils. They believe in the constant presence and power of Divine Providence. They believe in Covenant Theology (meaning that salvation is about a mutual relationship or agreement with God). And Unitarians deny the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons!

Presbyterians and 7th Day Adventists have high ideals about marriage.

Pietists focus on morality and charity. They believe in “gathered churches” (voluntary membership, rather than cultural or familial membership). And they focus on devotion to the Lord.

Anabaptists (or Brethren) encourage a spiritual discipline which discourages selfishness. They believe in the importance of service to others. And they believe that true worship is about internal rather than only external things.

Baptists believe in spiritual rebirth (being born again). And they don’t use man-made creeds or confessions.

Methodists believe that salvation is possible for everyone. They believe that humans are essentially “choice” or free will. They believe that when we ask God for help, He will work to remove evils in us. They believe there are steps of regeneration. They have high standards of morality. And they originated the idea of religious camp meetings (like Laurel, Maple, Sunrise, and Jacob’s Creek.)

Quakers (or Friends), believe that we can be enlightened directly from the Lord. They believe that everyone is predestined for heaven rather than hell. They believe that God can be born into our hearts. They too have different terminology for the process of salvation; referring to being “convinced” rather than being “saved” or being “born again.” They believe that regeneration is a process, and that it doesn’t happen in a moment. They believe in the importance of serving others. And they believe that Jesus didn’t erase our sins.

Pentecostals believe in a life of piety and the importance of shunning sins. “Oneness Pentecostals” believe that Jesus Christ is the One God of heaven and earth!

Mormons believe in other sacred texts in addition to the Bible. Their church was also founded on a belief in new revelation. They believe that they represent the New Jerusalem. They don’t use the cross as a religious symbol. And they believe in the eternity of marriage in heaven. They also believe that angels don’t have wings.

Millenarians are interested in eschatology (the study of the end things: Heaven, Hell, the Last Judgment, the 2nd Coming, etc.).

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the importance of regularly reading the Word.

Christian Scientists (Church of Christ, Scientist) believe in other sacred texts in addition to the Bible. They believe that the spiritual world is more real than the natural world. They believe that death is a transition into true reality. And they don’t view the death of Jesus as an atonement for our sins.

Charismatics have high moral standards.

Fundamentalists believe in the Divine Truth of the Word, and the power of the literal sense of the Word. They believe in the importance of obeying the 10 Commandments. They are dispensationalist (which means that they believe there has been a progression of Churches and Revelations on this earth). And they have high moral standards.

Evangelicals believe in spreading the Good News of the Lord’s Coming. They believe there are many ways to worship and many ways to get to heaven. They believe in the concept of regeneration. And they believe in living IN the world, but not being OF the world.

This little study, of course, only scratches the surface of what these churches, denominations and religious movements actually believe in and live by. There are probably many more similarities that I don’t even know about yet. But I find it very useful to begin to focus on what we have in common with them. It not only helps me to look for the goodness in other people, but it also reminds me that the Lord’s 2nd Coming, and the New Church are so much bigger than just a few Swedenborgian denominations. It helps me to stay humble and remember that the Lord is actively establishing the New Church in so many places, so many churches, and so many hearts.

Solomon Keal

Solomon is in his second year at the Academy of the New Church theological school. He runs a blog, called Theologikeal to share his work and reflections about school. He is married and has four children.Solomon is also a musician and has released 5 albums.

Reader Comments (7)

I really appreciated this. I think it is so easy to forget to look for the good in others, especially other Christians since we, the New Church, have the "right" teachings. I think one of the downfalls of the church is in being so focused on this truth (wonderful truth that it is) we have, and using it to prove how others are wrong, rather than mixing a bit more love in with our views of other people. I think we could go a long way if we tried to look more for the ways we are all working towards the Lord, the ways in which we are trying to bring some more goodness into the world. We might then actually succeed.

Thanks for sharing this.

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTania

Thanks Solomon,
This reminds me of some of my favourite quotes:

Divine Providence 101.3 In the spiritual world, into which every man comes after death, the question that is asked is not, What was your faith, or what was your doctrine? but, What was the nature of your life? Was it of this or that quality? Thus the inquiry is concerning the nature and quality of the life; for it is known that such as one's life is, such is his faith and also his doctrine, because the life fashions doctrine and faith for itself.

DP 326.9...These are the general principles of all religions by which everyone can be saved. To acknowledge God and to refrain from doing evil because it is against God are the two things which make religion to be religion. If one of them is wanting it cannot be called religion, since to acknowledge God and to do evil is a contradiction; so also is to do good and yet not acknowledge God, for one is not possible without the other. It has been provided by the Lord that almost everywhere there should be some form of religion, and that in every religion there should be these two principles; and it has also been provided by the Lord that everyone who acknowledges God and refrains from doing evil because it is against God should have a place in heaven...

But don't forget that falsity can lead to an evil life and the Truth can set us free from that bondage... (Arcana 1679, 2243)


February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Cole

Good stuff! It's so good to see that there is an awareness of a New Church tendency to critically compare and technically analyze the doctrine ad nauseum and forget that there are more brothers in faith out there! I'm afraid if I share my own thoughts on this topic too often, I'll just sound like a whiner or an overly-harsh critic. So thanks for taking the time to wonder about the other Christian communities enough to read through a user manual and then share some of your findings with us!

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

Solomon, Thank you for the summary!
Beginning for real with my immersion in a Christian community farm in Tzaneen (near the Limpopo river), South Africa, i have had many opportunities now to associate with and love other flavors of Christian people.
I am in a relationship with one of these people, someone who did not grow up with any notion that genuine revelation from the Lord had been delivered since the Bible.
As i read your article and type this response i am aware of a point of contention between myself and my fiancee: There is a questioning faculty of reason that i allow myself in relation to matters of faith. She does not seem to allow herself or wish me to exercise this out loud. In a previous article i wrote for i detected a condescending tone i used toward her and i felt ashamed of that condescension. I decided to allow the article to be published, as it showed where i was pretty acurately, even if i was not proud of it.
I am grateful to you for pointing out in the list above a possible origin of my nose-in-the-air stance which is not personal to me and hence not "my fault" (an attitude toward self that i find inhibits reformation by activating the survival mode of my God-given proprium). Specifically, i noticed that there are Christian doctrine-sets built on different versions of The Word. What we call the Word is integral to how we form our minds. If i as an agnostic fringe Swedenborgianite were working toward marriage with a fringe member of the Latter Day Saints, would i experience myself as condescending in matters of faith? No. It is a given, a challenge to work with based on the fact that my girl is from a particular church culture. So when i'm acting condescending i can just check in with myself like this, "Hey, is this because i am smart and i have to know the right answer? or is this because i was given the freedom to question and strengthen my faith?" If the answer is the latter then i have access to sharing this precious freedom. If the answer is the former, "Bring it on, Self!"

February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeath Synnestvedt

Thanks, Solomon! Nicely put.

February 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarin Childs

Thanks for this great post! I always describe myself as a Catholic-Swedenborgian-Sufi-Buddhist, and generally find it depressing when everyone focuses on what differentiates their faith from everyone else's. It doesn't mean I'm not open to a good argument -- indeed, i rather enjoy a good rigorous theological debate. But I always point out to folks that in Matthew 25, Jesus stresses we are judged by how we serve him in others, not so much in what we believe (in fact, the righteous are astonished they were serving God in others, so that's a hint that it's not just self-described Christians who inherit the kingdom). And that's it! It's a message that seems to get lost a lot.
On a related note, I remember having an online debate with a Swedenborgian minister who could see no place for Marian devotion in the New Church, a question I asked as someone who was raised Catholic and found it hard not to say my Hail Marys when cut off in traffic! However, he did acknowledge that Mary was the first person to accept The Word, so to speak. I told him that instantly elicited a powerful image of Mary pregnant with Jesus in me, and he seemed to soften his previously hard stance toward my question regarding Marian devotion. An ecumenical moment, indeed!
God Bless and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Rob Cullivan

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrob cullivan

Thanks, Rob. It is so much better to be looking for the similarities in faith approaches rather than the differences. The follow number suggests that doing so would be the thing it takes to bring heaven to earth! ‎"In the Christian world, it is doctrine that differentiates churches. Doctrine is the basis on which people call themselves Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist...theses names grow out of doctrine alone, which would never happen if we considered love to the Lord and charity for our neighbor the chief concern of faith. If we did, those distinctions would simply be differences of opinion on the mysteries of faith. True Christians would leave such issues up to the individual and the individual's conscience. In their hearts they would say "A person who lives as a Christian--who lives as the Lord teaches--is a real Christian." One church would come out of all the different churches, and all disagreement due to doctrine alone would vanish. Even the hatred of one denomination for another would melt away in a moment, and the Lord's kingdom would come on earth." -Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKarin Childs
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