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.