New Church Baptism
One of the questions that naturally arises when one contemplates joining the New Church is, Why is there need of a New Church baptism? Since baptism was commanded by the Lord Himself when He was on earth, why, if a person baptized in the former Christian Church joins the New Church, is it necessary for him to be baptized into the New Church?
Note that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance. The Lord was circumcised as a child of eight days and then, on entering His public ministry, He received baptism at the hands of John. But later on, all those disciples who had been baptized by John were again baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who in One Person is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so that they, in joining the Christian Church, were rebaptized. (See TCR 690)
When the disciples and after them the first Christian Church put into practice the Lord's words, "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", we find that they baptized simply into the name of the Lord Jesus.
As we read "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." (Acts 19:1-6)
The belief of New Church people is that the Church of the New Jerusalem is as distinct and separate from the Christian Church about us, as the Christian Church was distinct and separate from the Jewish Church which was about it. It took the Christian Church some time to learn that it was to be a distinctly new church and that it would have to separate from the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish Church.
In the early days of the Christian Church it was at first thought essential to be circumcised as a Jew before becoming a member of the Christian congregation. Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, was a holy day among the early Christians. These primitive Christians thought it essential to keep the Passover and to observe the rites of various washings, feast days, and probably even sacrifices. Also it was believed among these Christians that it was necessary to abstain from swine's meat and to eat only the flesh of animals that chew the cud and split the hoof. All those Jewish rites and ceremonies were at first carried over into the Christian Church.
Then one day Peter, who was a Judaizing Christian, so-called because he was strong in teaching that Christians must fulfill the rites of the Jewish law, received a vision from heaven, in which a sheet was seen let down from heaven with all sorts of meats in it. To Peter's great astonishment, swine's flesh and other things that were forbidden to be eaten by the Jewish law were contained in this sheet, and Peter was instructed that he should eat freely of all of them. In this manner, he was given to know that the Christian Church did not depend upon the rituals of the Jewish Church. Instead, it had two sacraments of its own. (Acts 10:11-16)
Those two sacraments, instituted by the Lord Himself, were the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of the holy supper.
Into the sacrament of baptism were gathered all the multifarious rites of washing which were used in the Jewish Church. The Jews had been given particular instructions how they should wash their garments, the dishes from which they ate, and how they should wash the beds in which they slept; and many other particulars were laid down as laws that they were supposed to observe, if they were to be good Jews and desired to receive the blessings which Jehovah would shower on them. The Writings tell us that everything that was spiritually signified by these washings was gathered up into the sacrament of baptism so that the Lord, when He came on earth, abolished all such representative rituals and concentrated them all in the one simple sacrament of baptism.
Among the rituals of the Jews there were also many sacrifices. They had to sacrifice sheep and oxen and doves and meat offerings and wave offerings. The complicated ritual of sacrifices culminated once a year in the celebration of the Passover when each family had to sacrifice a lamb and eat it with a very specific and minutely prescribed ritual. But everything that was represented by the sacrifices throughout the whole of Jewish history was gathered up into and made available in spiritual form in the institution of the sacrament of the holy supper in which the Lord blessed the bread, saying "This is My body, take, eat," and wine, saying "This cup is the new testament in My blood." In the eating of the bread which was His body and the drinking of the wine which was His blood, He gathered up all the efficacy of the Jewish sacrifices.
In the early Christian Church, these two sacraments were practiced with the simple instruction which the Lord had given. The primitive Christians did not look upon the crucifixion of Christ as a sacrifice made to appease the wrath of an angry Father. The Holy Spirit was looked upon as the very spirit of the Lord, His magnetism, His instruction, His teaching to His disciples, the sphere of His presence in the Church.
The early Christians thought of the truths which made Christianity as the very life blood of Christ, and they thought of the unselfish character which is built up in obedience to the Lord's commands as derived from the Lord's love, which is the very body of the Lord. And so, the faith of early Christianity was built up around the simple belief in these two sacraments the sacrament of baptism as a gate of entrance into the Church, and the sacrament of the holy supper as a means of communion with their Savior.
In the course of time, however, primitive Christianity passed away. The Lord foresaw this when He prophesied that He would have to come again to establish a genuine Christianity, the Christianity which is now set down in the doctrines of the New Church.
In Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg disclaims any authority of that work for himself personally but he says it is the report of things heard and seen by an act of Providence through the opening of his spiritual eyes. The Christian Church had departed from the simple, clear tenets of Christianity, and so the Lord prophesied that the time was going to come when there should be wars and rumors of war. He said that the day was approaching when not one stone would be left on another of the great temple in Jerusalem, and He said that this generation would not pass until all these things came to pass. And then He said that the sun would be darkened and the moon would not give its light and the stars should fall from heaven and then should be seen the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and the Lord and the angels coming, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24)
In other words, the time would come when primitive Christianity, through the selfishness of men, through a rising love of dominion, and the increase of the love of the world, should fall away from its original truth and should be darkened by beliefs which would destroy the real idea of one God. This came to pass at the Council of Nicea which was held in 325 A.D., three centuries after the Lord had been crucified and had risen from the dead.
By that time the pagan world had made a great impact upon the Church. The old Greek culture, which had led the world in its day and had brought the human mind to its loftiest achievements under Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno the Stoic, and other renowned philosophers, had been polluted by skepticism and superstition, and various Gnostic sects had exerted an influence upon Christian theology, so as to de-personalize God, remove from man the idea of the Divine Humanity, and make of God an invisible abstraction. Other effects on early Christianity are traceable to the customs and thoughts of the Romans. The Roman holidays and many other Roman elements came into the Christian Church by adoption. Many of the names of our months were taken from the Roman calendar. July, for example, is named after the great Julius. Sunday is named from the god of sun worship.
We ourselves carry on many Easter customs which are completely pagan in their origin, having nothing to do with the resurrection of the Lord. The countries into which Christianity spread already had spring festivals and the old customs and superstitions were taken into Christianity.
In the beginning of the fourth century the central doctrine of Christianity that of the Deity of Christ was challenged by a presbyter of Alexandria, named Arius. Influenced by pagan traditions, he asserted concerning the supposed persons of the Trinity that the Son was indeed begotten before the world, yet was not God but the first of all created beings. Many Christians saw that this would inevitably lead to the idea that Jesus was but a man. A Church cannot be founded upon a man, but it must be founded upon Divinity. Many recognized that unless the Divinity of Christ was affirmed, Christianity would soon perish. The Council of Nicea was called, and many bishops were there and they debated the question of the Trinity; but the more they sought to solve the problem, the more difficult it became. Finally the Christian prelates adopted what has become known as the Athanasian Creed, and that Creed says that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, yet there are not three Gods but one God. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord, yet there be not three Lords but one Lord. And it goes on through the Creed, completely dividing the person of God into three persons and just as stoutly maintaining that although there are three persons in the Trinity, there is only one God. Then, because its contradictions are so palpable, the Creeds ends with this curious statement: "For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by Himself to be God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there are three Gods, or three Lords." (Cited in Apocalypse Explained 1091; Doctrine of the Lord 56,58)
The Writings tell us that the Council at Nicea marked the spiritual death of the Christian Church. By that we don't mean that individuals in the Christian Church from then on were necessarily dead, but we mean that the fundamental accepted doctrine of the Christian Church, from that time on, was dead and that doctrine could not lead to any true theology. For that doctrine involves a Father whose sense of justice demands that a penalty must be paid for the original sin of Adam. Humanity, in its aggregate, has committed innumerable sins through Adam. But not a single one of us, by anything that he can do, can pay a big enough penalty to atone for the evil which he has committed. But, it is said, the Lord Jesus Christ, as a Divine and Infinite Son of the Father, when He died on the cross paid not only the penalty of mortal man, but He paid an infinite penalty. He made an infinite satisfaction for sin to God the Father, so that anyone who will make use of the penalty that He paid, can be sure that all of his sins will be forgiven because of his faith in the Lord as his Savior. Then after his sins are blotted out, the Lord will 'send to him the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who will regenerate and sanctify him.
Perhaps you will not find many people who realize that that is the teaching of the orthodox Christian Church, but you find it in their books. You will find it in their Creed. The fundamental concept of the orthodox churches is that we are saved through accepting the infinite sacrifice of Christ.
This review of the general doctrine of the Trinity accepted in the orthodox Christian Churches today leads us to the consideration of what baptism means in the Christian Church and what it means in the New Church. Early in the history of the New Church, many people insisted that Christian baptism, that is, baptism into any of the orthodox Christian Churches, was just the same as baptism by a New Church minister according to the forms prescribed in the New Church, and that it was impossible to have anything that we could call a distinctly New Church baptism. But let us see what happens in baptism. Fortunately we are not left in any shadow of ignorance in the New Church as to what the New Church idea of baptism is because a whole chapter of the great theological work True Christian Religion (numbers 667 to 697)written at the very end of Swedenborg's life, when he was eighty-two years old deals with baptism. I want to set forth the teaching of this chapter in order to show that baptism by a person who believes in the Trinity of Divine persons and who believes in atonement through belief in Christ's merit cannot constitute an entrance into the New Church.
The first thing that the chapter tells us is that baptism cannot be understood without a knowledge of correspondences. What is baptism? It is a washing, either sprinkling with or total immersion in water. That is one factor. The other factor is what the officiating minister or the priest says. The chapter points out that washing the body can in no way cleanse the soul, for the worst robber, a most hardened criminal, can wash his body fastidiously and can be externally clean while evil dwells in his spirit. In such a case the waters of baptism would be meaningless. But baptism is effective when we understand its correspondence, for its cleansing waters correspond to that pure truth from the fountain of all truth, the Word of God.
You do not need to be reminded that the law of correspondences is very simple and easy to grasp. The spiritual thing to which a natural thing corresponds will do for the mind of man what the natural thing will do for his body. Water corresponds to truth and, just as water cleanses the body and slakes the thirst, so the truth cleanses the mind of man and satisfies that mental thirst which we call curiosity or the love of truth or the love of understanding; so that, as soon as we realize that the real function of water in baptism is not the external act which is applied to the body, but what is represented by that act, namely, the truth applied to the mind, here we note a sharp distinction between New Church baptism and baptism performed in the present Christian Church.
What does the water represent? The water of baptism in the New Church represents the truths that are revealed in the Writings of the Church which constitute the Lord in His second coming. Those are the truths which, when seen within the truths of the Old and the New Testaments, shall wash man's spirit and cleanse him and shall render it possible for him to be regenerated. On the other hand, if a person subscribes to the creed of the former Christian Church, then the truths which are represented by the waters of baptism are not truths at all but are falsities that teach that there are three Divine persons, and that man can be saved by the bloody atonement of Christ, and that there is no marriage in heaven, and that the world is coming to an end, and so forth. They are the doctrines of the present-day Christian Church which are represented by the waters of their baptism when it is performed by a minister of the old Christian Church. The difference is vast.
There is even a difference in the words that we use in baptizing. In baptismal services of the Church of England, of the Baptist Church, and of the Methodist Church, the words used are from Matthew 28:19, where the Lord said, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." So, in the baptismal service in those churches the minister, after applying the water, says, "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." He does not mention any name. He just says they are baptized into three attributes, but not into any name; whereas in the New Church, when a minister baptizes a baby or an adult, he follows the actual practice of the disciples, who, as we have seen earlier in this chapter baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. For they realized that the baptism of John was not the baptism of Christ; therefore they had Paul baptize them again, and he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus. That is what we do when we baptize a child or an adult. The minister says, "I baptize thee into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen." That is, into the name of the one God in one Person, whose essential attributes are called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
What are the uses of baptism then? We cannot understand the uses of baptism, the Writings say, without understanding its correspondence, but then we see that it means the washing of truth and that involves the whole revelation upon which the New Church is based. The second heading in the chapter states that the washing of baptism is a spiritual washing, and the third shows that baptism was given to the Christian Church by the Lord to replace the ancient Jewish rite of circumcision which was the gate of entrance into the Church. And in every single case, wherever a person was converted to the Christian Church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, he was baptized, confessing his faith; for Christians early recognized that baptism was the gate of entrance into the Church.
The New Church was not slow in recognizing that baptism is the gate to the Church, a gate ordained by the Lord. And the holy supper, they teach, is the gate to heaven because it represents the appropriation of Divine good through the bread which He called His body, and the appropriation of Divine wisdom by drinking the wine which He called His blood. Thus the holy supper is the gateway to heaven. In the chapter on Baptism (TCR 677-685), three uses of baptism are definitely given. The first purpose is that the person may be known as a Christian. Baptism is a sign of Christianity. Many illustrations are given of how various insignia are used as signs of the office or of a particular use which is to be performed. For example, the robes of judges, the miter of priests, the crowns of kings, the standards that mark the different divisions of an army, the insignia that captains, majors, and common soldiers wear. All these are signs for the preservation of order. But the first use of baptism does not end in this world, according to our New Church doctrine, but it provides for insertion among Christians in the spiritual world; that is, a person who is baptized has an insignia and a sphere perceptible in the spiritual world which makes it impossible for a Mohammedan spirit or a pagan spirit, or any spirit but a Christian, to associate spiritually with him. (TCR 678) By New Church baptism, a person is not just introduced into the sphere of Christians in the spiritual world, but is introduced into the new Christian heaven, into the association of angels who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one only God of heaven and earth.
The second use of baptism is that the person who is baptized may acknowledge or be led to acknowledge, if an infant, the Lord Jesus Christ as the God of heaven and earth and follow Him.
The third use, which is the final use and the very end which the Lord had in view in instituting baptism, is that the baptized person may be regenerated. The Lord points out in the Writings with utter clarity that baptism confers neither faith nor salvation. Some churches teach that an unbaptized infant cannot go to heaven. That, of course, is abhorrent to any of us. Some churches teach that baptism has a certain sphere of good fortune about it, and other churches teach that baptism is the very sign that man is saved; but the New Church teaches that baptism confers neither faith nor salvation, but that it testifies that a man will be saved if he is regenerated. In other words, it is the very sign that salvation is possible to a person, if he shuns his evils as sins. He has first to examine himself and find those evil things in himself which render him detestable in the sight of God, and then he has to shun them, one at a time, as sins against God, not merely as injuries to his own reputation, or to his own chances of success in the world, but as evil in the sight of God. And if he does that, then step by step the testimony of his baptism becomes evermore truly a reality.
It is worthy of note that it is not recorded that the Lord ever baptized anyone. (See John 4:2) A minister does not represent the Lord in administering baptism. He acts as a servant of the Lord, which is what the word minister means. And he baptizes into the name, not in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord's command was: "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," (Matthew 28:19) and the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ. That is His name. The name of the Lord is the most precious, the most holy thing that there is in the world because it embraces all His truth, everything that points out His qualities is His name, whether it be a truth of science or whether it be a truth of religion. If it indicates something of His order and wisdom, it is a part of His name. To baptize a child into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is to hope that his life, as a tiny mirror, may image that life into whose name he was baptized, because we have been created into God's image and likeness and the Lord has told us to be perfect, 'even as My Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) When a child has been baptized into the name of the Lord, we must "teach him the Ten Commandments, that he may learn to shun evils as sins; (and) let him learn the Lord's Prayer, that he may be introduced into the worship of the Lord." (Liturgy and Hymnal for Use of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, p. 60.) When this has been done we may be sure that we have cooperated with the Lord to the end that the child may grow in love and wisdom and may learn ever more clearly how to keep holy that precious name into which he has been baptized. On the one hand, shunning as a sin against God all temptations "to take His name in vain"; and on the other hand, learning ever more deeply how to "hallow" that SACRED NAME.