2. The Decline Of A Church

When Jesus was seated on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him, saying, Tell us, what is the sign of your coming and of the ending of the age?…After the affliction of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will the sign of the Son of Man appear, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory….As with the days of Noah, so too will the coming of the Son of Man…Therefore be ready, for at the time you do no expect, the Son of Man will come. (Matthew 24:3, 29, 30, 37, 39, 44, 46)

We left off last time having looked at the Lord’s first advent into the world and its connection with the idea about God that had come to dominate the thoughts of those who were in the Church. We saw that every advent of the Lord is made when false ideas about God darken the human mind and that the purpose in the Lord making His first advent into the world was to restore to people the idea of a God of love through becoming the living embodiment of love, mercy and compassion in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, Jehovah presented Himself in a human form which people could approach and know through their bodily senses. This was a very different picture of Jehovah to that being fostered within the Jewish religion where God was seen as a punitive harsh judge of people, who was unapproachable except through cold rites and rituals administered by an intermediary priestly class. Such a spirituality was one filled with guilt, fear and foreboding. With the advent of Jehovah in the person of Jesus Christ this idea of an unapproachable harsh God was shown up for what it was – a monstrous falsity that had held the human race in bondage for centuries.

While the memory of the Lord’s life remained fresh in the experience of the early apostolic church, it was enough to keep this false idea in check. The early church was more interested in living the life of love as their religion than becoming too bogged down in doctrinal disputes or differences of opinion. But as time moved on, doctrine and dogma began to take centre stage in the life of the church. Disputes arose, along with heresies that began to tear at the fragile ideas of innocence and love that the Lord’s very life had inspired into the infant church a few centuries before. Great intellects arose and they began to amass Scriptures in favour of their own reasonings and positions. Heavenly love gave way to earthly power and dominion and with that, spiritual insight was darkened within the church once more. The Word was restricted to the learned classes and they began to interpret it to suit the loves of self and the world. The common people were largely illiterate and so they were at the mercy of priests, who themselves were indoctrinated into the false ideas that had taken hold of the church.

The doctrines for Spiritual Christianity teach that the Word is always understood from doctrine and where the doctrine is false, particularly where it teaches a false idea concerning the nature of God, these teachings form the basis from which Scripture is read and understood and this flows on into our very attitudes and life. So for example, if God is seen as a punitive judge then when the Scriptures are read all that takes a person’s attention are those things that confirm this idea. If we look into the history and behaviour of the Christian Church when it held onto such an idea, we see the rise of a worldly organisation that looked to amass wealth and used this to dominate whole nations, in the name of salvation the end justified the means. Clearly the church had lost its way – how anyone could profess to worship Jesus Christ and justify the wars and atrocities carried out in His name clearly shows how far things had fallen from any form of genuine spiritual life.

What had begun in love to the Lord and to the neighbour had descended into a love of dominion over others which is the love of self, and a love of amassing wealth from others which is the love of the world. In general terms, the face of the church had come to reflect in its own expression the idea of God that dominated it, it was harsh and punitive, greedy beyond measure and it lacked mercy and compassion. And while there were individuals and small groups who recoiled from what the church had become, its hold on the majority of minds of those in the Christian world was absolute. If ever the Lord needed to intervene it was now, for when love and faith, and by faith we mean truths that teach love, can no longer effect the minds of those within a church, that church is effectively no more. It is spiritually dead and so a church in external form or name only.

It is these kinds of states in a church that sets up the conditions for the Lord’s advent into the human race’s experience. The Lord’s timing is perfect and we may wonder why things have to deteriorate to such an extent before He will act. The reality is that He acts when the conditions are perfect for Him to do so. It isn’t arbitrary in the sense that God wasn’t willing to act one day but decides to do so the next. That is not how it works. His intervention in time is perfect because the conditions or states within the church are such that they demand His intervention for the sake of the salvation of the human race. We can see this in the historical context as it relates to the development of the human race.

Where there is ignorance concerning the true nature of spiritual realities, the human mind dwells in thick darkness. We have seen that ideas are important, particularly the ideas we hold concerning the nature of God, and that these ideas have a direct impact on our quality of our life, for what is true in the pattern of history is true also in relation to the pattern of our own lives. The Lord when He was in the world said that He would come again when His disciples asked what the sign of His coming and the end of the age would be. His response was somewhat cryptic, although this may well have been lost on the disciples who, in accordance with the cosmological view of the times, may well have seen no problem at all in taking his answer literally.

Jesus said that “the sun would be darkened and the moon would not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens…And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory.”

For the disciples the idea that the stars could fall from heaven was quite feasible. For us we know it’s impossible. The words are filled with symbolic meaning and Jesus is talking about the inner states of the church not the physical conditions of the outer universe. This is all He is ever concerned with because it is our inner states that are the focus of His desire to save us from the loves of self and the world. This is why He said that the kingdom of heaven is within you. On its most external level of meaning this statement of the signs of His coming relates historically to the very conditions the Christian church fell into. When Scripture speaks of the heavens they’re not referring to the sky above us, but of states within us and in a more general sense within the collective mind of the church. The heavens being higher in elevation refer to the inner man and the earth being lower to the external or natural man. So the sun, moon and stars being in the heavens refer to things within the inner life of man or a church. So what do they represent?

The sun is the primary ruling body of the solar system, everything in the world depends on the sun for its existence. The primary ruling principle within a genuine church around which everything is organised is love to the Lord who is the source of everything genuinely good and true within it. For the sun to be darkened then is for this love to wane and die due to the church having become infested with false ideas relating to the nature of God from the dominance of the love of self. Now the moon reflects the light of the sun – in the inner world of our minds or spirits it is truths belonging to faith from the Word that reflect the nature of love. Genuine truths always lead to what is good or loving, but when the church loses its focus this light is lost due to the fact that the Scriptures are understood in a way that supports worldly ambitions as people begin to manipulate them to suit self orientated agendas. The descent of spiritual knowledge into the service of the loves of self and the world are described by the imagery of the stars falling from heaven. Stars were the principle means of navigation and so corresponded to spiritual ideas from the Word which can guide us on our journey – but when love and faith cease to exist so too this knowledge is lost.

Like the mind of man the Word has an inner and outer aspect to it. Its outer sense is the literal sense and its inner sense which is contained in the letter is its spiritual sense. The outer sense is understood by the natural man but the inner sense is for the spiritual man. When a church falls from having love as its core focus it looses its ability to understand the Word as to its inner sense. This is because the spiritual sense of the Word teaches nothing other than what has to do with charity or love, so if the mind of a church is not attuned to this it cannot see it and doesn’t even acknowledge that such a sense exists in the Word. Thus these inner truths found in the spiritual sense of the Word grow dark and the focus falls onto the letter of the Word which can be interpreted to support any and every false idea that the natural mind can hatch. This is how what is described concerning the end of the age with the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light and the stars of heaven falling, relates to a dying church’s understanding of the Word.

History shows that the physical presence of God on the earth in the person of Jesus Christ was not enough to stop the fall of the Christian faith from a heavenly focus and purpose to an earthly one. This fall occurred in part due to an inability of those who belonged to it to counter the various false ideas that arose due to the way in which the literal sense of Scripture was used to support them. The majority of people were relatively simple, being uneducated and had very little choice but to accept the meanings of Scripture as given by those in authority. Using Scripture, when it is accepted to be Divinely inspired, to support an idea, even when that idea is false, makes for a powerful spiritual force that is able to hold the mind in bondage. This is due to the fact the mere association of the idea with Holy Scripture leaves a person in a position of being open to a charge of questioning the authority of God’s Word itself when in fact they are really questioning the interpretation.

If the Lord as love was to be restored as the central idea of the Christian faith then the false ideas that had led to its downfall were going to have to be removed. If this was to be accomplished in a way that would be lasting the Lord would have to come in a way whereby people could never again be shackled in false ideas, seemingly supported by the Word, on the mass scale that they had been previously. A new understanding of the Scriptures would be required that would be able to dispel once and for all the false ideas that arise from a purely literal reading of the Scriptures concerning the nature of God. This new understanding would form the basis for a new Church in which the Lord Jesus Christ is worshiped as the One and only God of heaven and earth.

We have seen how important the ideas we hold are in providing the basis for our connection to the Lord. False ideas separate us from Him whereas genuine ideas are able to connect us with Him. A view that sees Him as love connects us, for love by definition is the basis for connection, whereas a view the sees God as a harsh punitive judge separates us from Him. God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ to show us the true face of God and so for a time dispelled the false ideas that had built up to that point in time. That witness is found in the Gospels. But those who promoted a similar false view of the nature of God within the Christian church, drew from the literal sense of the Old Testament Scriptures what seemed to support this view and unless these passages and others that supported various false ideas were shown to hold a meaning consistent with the face of God that Jesus Christ embodied in His life on earth, it would be impossible for a genuine form of Christianity to be born again.

The key would not lie in having the physical presence of the person of Jesus on earth – but rather it lay in understanding all the Scriptures in the context of the life of Jesus Christ as being the One God who is love and wisdom itself so that they could not be manipulated to say otherwise. This understanding is given for a new Christian Church, a new Spiritual Christianity, that is currently on the rise and it was made available through the opening up of the meaning found in the inner sense of the Word. The revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word is the second coming of the Lord. The Lord is present with us by means of the Word, in fact the Word is the Lord. In its literal sense we are introduced to the historical person in a historical setting in a historical time. This is for us our personal encounter, the Lord’s first advent in our life and it is grasped by the natural man. But within the Word lies what is proper to the spiritual man and this can only be revealed through an understanding of the spiritual sense of the Word. This understanding of the inner meaning of the Word is how the Lord makes His second advent.

The literal sense has the power to attend to the things proper to the external man, it addresses external life and behaviour and effects external changes. But while this is to be encouraged, true change, if it is to be lasting, must ultimately address our inner motivations and thoughts, for this is the domain of the spiritual man. Jesus said at His coming “they would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory.” Again when speaking of heaven the Scriptures are not referring to the sky above but to the inner part of the mind. Clouds in the natural world are condensed water vapour that obscure the light and heat of the sun. Water is the principle element used to quench our thirst and in this idea we have a correspondence and so can come to see what it might represent in relation to the human mind. You have no doubt heard the phrase, “a thirst for knowledge,” phrases like this reveal how natural things correspond to spiritual or mental things. Water is used in the Scriptures as a symbol for truth or ideas related to spiritual knowledge.

Such ideas for us are found in the Word itself – these alone are able to quench our thirst for spiritual understanding. The Lord we are told makes His coming on the clouds of heaven. These clouds then are a kind of truth and because they are said to be heavenly they must be heavenly truths or ideas. The kind of heavenly truths or ideas that obscure things are those of the literal sense of the Word, its letter. In saying that He will come in the clouds of heaven the Lord is teaching us that His coming will be within the letter of the Word which is the foundation for its spiritual sense. The phrase “power and glory” refers directly to the spiritual sense of the Word, which when understood facilitates the Lord’s coming within our hearts and minds, empowering us in our fight against what is evil and false within and so revealing the glory of His presence with us. This is what is meant by the second coming…the very fact that we are able to look at this particular Scripture in this way is open to us due to the fact that the Lord has made His coming through the Word in the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity. Next time we will look at the process of the giving of these doctrines through the Lord’s servant Emanuel Swedenborg and how they are instrumental in understanding what is meant by the second advent.

This earth has seen a number of churches, all of which have in course of time reached their end, and after this new ones have come into existence, and the process has continued up to the present day. A church reaches its end when there is no longer any Divine truth left in it, but only falsified or rejected truth. When there is no real truth, there cannot be any real good, since the whole quality of good is formed by means of truths; for good is the essence of truth, and truth is the form of good, and no quality can exist without form. Good and truth can no more be separated than the will and the understanding, or, what is the same thing, the affection of love and the thought it gives rise to. Consequently, when the truth in a church reaches its end, so does its good. When this happens, then the church is terminated, that is, it reaches its end. (True Christian Religion 753)

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