It will be well, therefore, if we commence by explaining what we mean when we speak of the Church. The easier way to approach the subject is first to explain what we do not mean by it
We do not mean an ecclesiastical building. Neither do we mean primarily an ecclesiastical organisation or institution. These things may reasonably be included in our idea of a church, provided we have first a clear idea of the essence of the church.
The Church is the Church of God. Iris not something created by man It is something originating from God and given by God to man. To repeat, the Church is from God and it is His.
The idea that God is essential to the existence of any church is found everywhere, at all times and in all places. According to New- Church teaching the reason of this being so is that "there is an inflnx into the souls of men that there is a God and that He is One". This influx which predisposes men to believe in the existence of God explains a fact of common experience, namely, that we never reason ourselves into this belief, although many people have tried to reason themselves out of it
But, although the idea of God is universal as a result of the influx mentioned above. it conveys no information as to who or what God is. Knowledge of that kind can be given to man only by God revealing it. The reason for this is in the idea which is inherent in the very notion of a God - namely, that God is Infinite.
On the other hand, man is finite. and no finite mind can discover for itself the nature of the Infinite.
Then clearly the Infinite can and mast reveal Itself if man is to know the nature and identiity of God. God has done this. He "has never left Himself without a witness". The revelation of God of His Being and Nature, of His relationship to man and of man's relationship to Him, constitutes a body of information which we speak of as Divine Truth. This body of Divine Truth. whether communicated to men directly, or indirectly in written form, is The Church in the primary meaning of the term. 'Therefore the Church is the Church of God.
But for the Church to exist two parties and processes are requisite. They are God and His Self-revelation, man and his intelligent reception of what is revealed, together with the conforming of his whole mind to the truths made known to him
The mind of man is created in a form that enables him to receive the truths revealed, and to confirm their truth by the right use of his reason. When he does receve and intelIgently accept the truths revealed to him, then the Church begins to be built up in him.
In this way, we can see that the Church is also something in man.. As the Lord Jesus Christ said, "the kingdom of God is within you". (Luke 17:21.)
Thus it is, that the essential Church is something that exists both outside men and within them, It exists outside them as a body of revealed truths from Cod. It exists within them as the intelligent reception of these truths in the mind, and the willing submission of thought and desire to what they teach.
Keeping in mind the foregoing, we can now examine the idea of the church as an institution. and learn to what extent an ecclesiastical ,nstitution may be included in the conception of the Church;
The idea of God is always associated with the worship of God. Wherever God is believed in by man, man is always found to be a worshipper. Now, the old English form of the word worship is worthship. Worthship is the honouring of what we deem to he worthy of honour and therefore, worship depends for its quality upon wbat men believe God to be.
From this point of view, it is easy to understand that true worship is primarily a matter of life - our honouring of the qualities which are of the nature and attributes of God. According to the Divine revelation which we speak of as "he Word of God", the nature of God is Infinite Love and Wisdom. His attributes are goodness and truth, and these attributes are those of His Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence.
To love, in our finite measure, as God loves - unselfishly, to be good and to do good as God is good. to think truth and to do truth, this is to ''worship God in spirit and in truth".
This real essence of worship is what external and formal worship is meant to foster, and the church considered institutionally is provided as a means to this end, and has no other reason for its existence.
Now, an institution is a corporate thing and there needs must be order in it Order requires and implies government. and the government of the church as an institution requires a teaching Ministry or a Priesthood whose duty it is, by virtue of training and ordination, to teach and explain the revealed truths about God and man which, as we have seen, are the essence of the Church. Moreover, In the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ are the two Sacraments which He instituted and ordained to he observed, namely, Baptism and the Holy Supper. The meaning of these Sacraments will be explained in Lesson No.9
These Sacraments, likewise, require a Ministry or Priesthood for their orderly administration.
Yet, it is essential to keep always in mind that, although we may rightly speak of an ecclesiastical organisation as a church, the essential Church is the Church in individual people, for the sake of which the organisation exists. and which is truly a church only so far as a living faith and life exists in the members of the organisation - priesthood and laity alike. There is no such thing as the church apart from revelation and the people who receive it and try to live according to it.
Emanuel Swedenberg summed up the foregoing in a single sentence, "The Church exists that what is Divine may be amongst the people". It is wherever they are, not alone in a dedicated building with its forrnal rites, but in homes, offices, professions. recreations - wherever there are men and women trying to live that life of true religion which is the doing of good
It is in respect of the new interpretation of the revealed truths of
the Word of God that this Church is called "The New Church". What this
new interpretation is will show itself as you proceed wid, this course
of lessons, but some of its "newness" may have disclosed itself in the
conception of the Church which you have read in this first lesson.
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