The Academy Position
A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Mitchellville, Oct. 17, 2004
This weekend, many of us are celebrating Charter Day, the anniversary of the date that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave the Academy of the New Church a charter to operate a library and a theological school, and to publish books.
For the past hundred years, individual and societies throughout the world have put a great deal of time, effort, and money into creating and improving the various schools that make up the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA, and the various other "academies" such as the British Academy Summer School and the Midwest Academy. And yet, ironically, the Academy was not at first a school, but rather it was a doctrinal position within the General Convention, the original Swedenborgian church in the United States. The seeds that would later become the Academy of the New Church were planted with discontent over quality of Theological Instruction within the General Convention, questions about the nature of Swedenborg’s inspiration and the related questions about the authority of the Writings.
The ministers and laymen with the General Convention who believed in the Divinity of Swedenborg’s inspiration, the authority of the Writings, and the related doctrinal and governmental issues began to gather around Rev. William H. Benade for support and leadership. The began to refer to their point of view as the "Academy Position." The history of how this informal gathering of people of like minds became the General Church of the New Jerusalem is quite interesting, but is both too lengthy and too much involved with non-doctrinal issues to go into here. Let’s just say that after going through several earthly dispensations, the Academy movement found its home in the General Church of the New Jerusalem under the leadership of its first executive bishop, W. F. Pendleton, in 1897.
In 1899, at the 3rd General Assembly of the General Church, W.F. Pendleton gave an address where, for the first time, all the principles of the Academy movement were gathered into one document. In 1958 Bishop deCharms said that they still reflected the doctrinal position of the General Church. They are not a dogmatic statement of faith, they are not binding on the conscience of the church, but rather a statement of the doctrinal opinion generally held at the time, but open to modification as the church matures.
The Twelve Principles
The Writings are the Second Coming of the Lord.
The Divine Human appears in the Writings. The Writings are the Divine Human appearing to the New Church
The reason a judgment on the former Christian Church was required was the falsity and ignorance both in the natural world and in the world of spirits. Swedenborg was not only one chosen to record and report these events, but was the instrument that caused the judgment by revealing the truths given to him by the Lord in both the natural world and the world of spirits.
This view sets the Academy apart from all other churches, and justifies its independence, its existence as a separate dispensation rather than as a movement within the Christian Church.
The former Christian Church is consummated and dead, with no hope of resurrection.
There cannot be a genuine church except with those who separate from it and join the New Church.
The New Church is to be distinct from the Old because they are distinct and separate in the world of spirits. The New Church in the heavens and in the world must act as one. The New Church in the world cannot be fully united to the New Church in the heavens until it casts out the falsities of the Old Church, the Old Church spirit, the Old Church life.
The priesthood is the appointed means for establishing the church
It is an appearance for the sake of freedom that priests are appointed and chosen by men. We may speak and act according to the appearance.
Essential truth is that they are appointed by the Lord, and chosen, taught, and prepared by Him for the use of the office.
Therefore, the priesthood is not to be placed under external bonds. In other words, lay councils and priestly councils, and any church official (such as an executive bishop) cannot force a priest to act apart from his conscience and enlightenment received while reading the Word except in the case of disorder or disturbance
Baptism is the door of introduction to the New Church, and conjoins with heaven.
By baptism a man becomes a member of the New Church in both worlds.
Only those who are baptized should be eligible for membership in the church in general.
Holy Supper is the most holy act of worship
And it is a purely representative act (no miracle of conversion into flesh and blood)
Holy Supper wine is to be pure, fermented juice of the grape.
Apparently there was an issue about wine in the late 19th Century. The Academy position is that fermented wine was used in the events reported in Scripture, that history confirms this view, and that such a practice is confirmed by reason and common sense. Also, from time to time a paper is presented in the Council of the Clergy which gives many deep and detailed reasons as to the importance of fermentation because it symbolizes man’s regeneration.
Conjugial love is between those of one mind, one faith, one religion.
Conjugial life is the home life. If conjugial love is not in the home, it is not anywhere. The conjugial in the home is the pillar upon which the church rests and by which it is supported; take away this pillar and the edifice is in ruins
The conjugial in the home consists in the husband and wife thinking together in the things of religion, and from this in other things. If they do not so think together they are not together in the spiritual world, and their spirits do not dwell together in the same society, and they are internally in collision and conflict.
Interference with the law of offspring is an abomination.
Marriage is the seminary of the human race
The end of creation is a heaven from the human race, which is fulfilled in marriage.
God provided marriage so that heaven would be provided with angels.
Opposing creation is a sin against God, heaven, and earthly society
The laws in the latter part of CL are given for the preservation of the conjugial.
Specifically numbers 444 to 476 (Fornication and Concubinage)
Again, we must realize that this was an active issue in the church at the time, with quite a few people claiming to be shocked at what they considered to be "obscenities" contained within CL.
There were many who said that the book should be edited, that the forgiveness for moderate fornication and orderly concubinage were "mistakes" and should not be included in the Word.
Since the work was under attack, and since the attack was really a judgment at the question of the Divine authorship of the Writings, the Academy people responded it to it far more strongly that we would expect from our perspective.
The doctrine of the NC is revealed from God out of the inmost heaven.
Again, a response to an attack from others within the New Church community, specifically those who were guilty of "false celestialism," as when Benade claimed that the Academy was an internal church for those who were regenerated, and that his enlightenment was superior because of its "celestial" source.
Therefore the NC is a celestial church, but accommodated to every state. There is no perception of truth outside of doctrine.
Doubt gives reason for delay; there should be "essential unanimity."
In heaven, there is government by unanimous consent. This principle is impossible to achieve in this world, but it must be sought and protected where found.
Doubt is an indication of Providence that the time is not yet right. There is need for further though and reflection to make a rational judgment.
Delay is not just to substitute unanimity for majority, but a protection of the internal
Make a habit of thinking together from common affection
A ruling principle of the choirs of heaven.
Laws should reflect present needs and uses; laws other than this are hurtful.
We cannot legislate concerning Divine revelation
Nor can we reason about it.
Nor can we legislate for things contingent or remote.
Therefore, we should limit ourselves those things we can see: present needs and uses.
The future belongs to the Lord alone.
Man’s work lies in that which is immediately before him.
The most fruitful field of Evangelization is with the children of NC parents.
Writings teach that few from the Old Church will receive the New.
200 years of experience confirm these teachings.
Not profitable to hold to the belief that there will be a mass conversion from the former Christian churches
Where NC bodies have neglected their children, few have become adult members (i.e. Convention in the US.)
It is reasonable to hope that children will become adult members if we cooperate.
If the Lord is acknowledged in His Second Coming
If the distinctiveness of the Church is seen and protected
If the laws of order in marriage are preserved and followed
If the sphere of the church is in the home
If there are New Church day schools
In order to conduct this work, there must be New Church Schools
The Academy decided to occupy this new field of Evangelization hoping that it would provide the main source of new adult members.
This is the most fruitful field in which to seek new members
It is the field that is nearest: in our very homes
The Academy will provide for growth in quality as well as numbers
The resolve of the Academy was to provide for the future of the church in both the quality of understanding of the doctrines, and the numbers to support and perform the uses of the Lord’s Church on earth.
In essence, the Academy position is receiving the Writings as the Word
Sincere application of the teachings according to the light of the time. I think it can be seen that these twelve principles cover all aspects of the church.
The nature of the Lord and the Word
The connection between Regeneration and Conjugial Love in marriage
Principles to govern how larger groups interact and govern themselves
Real world applications and the creation of New Church Schools
These principles do not prescribe how one must believe to be a member of the General Church today, but rather describe what the generally held view was in our historic past.
Some of these principles we would willingly embrace today. Others we would find difficult to embrace wholeheartedly. But certainly, on the anniversary of the external embodiment of the Academy movement, it would be useful for all of us to reflect on our doctrinal heritage, and turn to the Word for ourselves to establish the principles on which we will base our life’s decisions. Amen.