We Worship the One God


We Worship the One God
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Yarmouthport, Massachusett, July 18, 1999


Isaiah 45:18-24 There is no other god besides me

Thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, "Seek me in chaos." I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.

Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge, those who carry about their wooden idols and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that will not return: "To me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear." It will be said of me, "Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength."

John 1:1-18 The Word became flesh and lived among us

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him not one thing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

The Heavenly City #280-282 There is one God

There is one God, who is the creator and keeper of the universe. So he is the God of both heaven and earth.

Two things make our life heaven: good actions done out of love and true ideas that come from faith. We get this life from God; not a single bit of it comes from ourselves. So the most important thing in religion is to accept God, believe in God, and love him.

If we are born Christian, we should accept the Lord-both his divinity and his humanity-and believe in him and love him, since all spiritual well-being comes from the Lord.


There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:21, 22)

It is a real pleasure to be back in Yarmouthport again. I have been cheering from the sidelines for the efforts to renovate this church and restore it to its former glory. Yet as beautiful as this building is and can become once again, there is a greater beauty that shines through this church on these summer Sundays here on Cape Cod. It is the beauty of the heavenly teachings of the New Jerusalem Church.

As a Swedenborgian minister, I am so immersed in those teachings week in and week out that, like the proverbial forest and trees, I am not always able to stand back and see what a beautiful forest it is that we inhabit doctrinally. In the past few months I have had two experiences that have helped me to step back for a broader look.

The first is a six week Swedenborg Newcomers' Class that we recently completed at the Bridgewater New Jerusalem Church, where I serve as Pastor. Having grown up in the New Church, I never had the joy of discovering its teachings for the first time. But I experienced some that joy in others through the eagerness with which the newcomers at the class learned about our teachings and saw their beauty for the first time.

The second experience that has given me a greater appreciation of the beauty of our teachings involves some discussions I have been having on the Internet with various fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. These people are very sincere. But their idea of God as a trinity in three distinct Persons rather than in a single God has led them away from the core of Christ's message, down some rather unfortunate and confused side-paths.

Fresh from these experiences, I come to you with a renewed appreciation of the great beauty of our church's teaching about the Lord. I hope to be able to share some of that beauty with you this morning.

Their beauty is expressed very compactly in the opening phrases of the faith statement that we said together this morning: "We worship the one God, the Lord, the Savior Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world; in whom is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." For those of us who use this faith statement regularly in our service, it is easy to repeat it by rote, without pausing to consider the tremendous power that is packed into that simple opening statement. Swedenborgians assent to it automatically, often without realizing what a radical departure it is from the traditional Christianity out of which our church came-and at the same time how fully it brings the church back to the original Gospel message about the Lord, which was all but lost over the centuries since Christ walked the earth.

You see, as the early Christian Church descended from a spiritual movement to a worldly power, its faith became corrupted through doctrinal conflicts and power struggles within the Church. Various creeds were written, which codified these departures from the Gospel message. Things were going downhill fast when the Athanasian Creed, written several centuries after Christ, for the first time said that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three distinct Persons of God. The confusion caused in the church by this idea of three Persons in one God is reflected in the Athanasian Creed itself, where we read:

For just as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge each person by himself to be God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the Christian religion to say that there are three Gods or three Lords.

In other words, a struggle was set up in the minds of Christians between the idea of three gods-which any reasonable person would gather from the statement that there are three Persons of God-and the clear teaching of the Christian Church that there is only one God.

Into this mental and spiritual confusion roared a multitude of false and contradictory ideas. One of the most damaging was the Vicarious Atonement, with its accompanying dogma that faith alone saves without the need for good works. Here is the Vicarious Atonement in a nutshell: All people are born sinful, and can never satisfy the "perfect justice" of God the Father. Therefore, God has condemned the entire human race to eternal death. God the Father's justice can be satisfied only through the perfect death of God the Son. All who believe that the Son died for them are saved. (This is the "vicarious" part.) All who do not believe remain under divine condemnation to eternal death. So it is faith alone that saves us.

This doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement applies traits to God that we would be ashamed to apply to the most insane, tyrannical dictator on earth. Not even the worst despot would condemn to death every one of his subjects because they fall short of standards that they cannot possibly meet, and then be mollified only by the bloody death of his own son.

Much of Christianity still labors under this gross corruption of the Gospel message. As I talk to people who are still caught in a Vicarious Atonement, faith alone theology, my heart goes out to them. They struggle so valiantly to turn these dregs of doctrine into something beautiful and compelling that will give meaning and purpose to their lives. Of course, there are some harsh fundamentalists who seem to glory in the heavy-handed, us-versus-them nature of faith alone theology. But most fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are basically good-hearted people who sincerely desire the eternal welfare of all people.

We watch as their human decency struggles with the harshness of the faith they have been taught: that all who do not believe what they believe will be condemned to eternal death. And we watch the sad spectacle of needless conflicts that fundamentalist Christians get themselves into with so many people of good will whose primary "sin" is that they do not and cannot share that harsh Vicarious Atonement faith.

Knowing this dark background in which our faith arose, we can give special thanks that the Lord has, in his merciful providence, given to the world a beautiful, harmonious, and Bible-based faith to overcome the harshness of human error that crept into Christianity over the centuries. We can thank the Lord that he called his servant, Emanuel Swedenborg, to deliver a message that both renews the simple faith of the Gospels and brings it to a deeper and higher level than humankind was ready for two thousand years ago.

The most beautiful and precious gem in this renewed Christian faith is the teaching that God is one, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is that God. In Deuteronomy, right after the Ten Commandments, we find these words:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deut. 6:4, 5)

These very same words are quoted by Jesus in the New Testament when he is asked which is the most important commandment of all (Mark 12:28-30). The one God of the Jewish religion is the same God as the one God of the Christian religion.

Yet something new and precious has been added in the Christian religion. For our faith is that God did not remain invisible and unseen in heaven, but that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, he has "torn open the heavens and come down" (Isaiah 64:1). Our faith is that the Word which "was God" (John 1:1) "became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Who is this God who comes to us as a personal, approachable, divinely human being?

First, God is not a being of wrath, but a being of love. The Apostle John tells us, "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). And again, "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them" (1 John 4:16).

Second, God is not a being of arbitrary decrees, but a being of truth. God, the eternal Word, is the true light that enlightens everyone. And as we are told in John's Gospel, the truth of God is expressed in the person of our Lord. We read, "The law indeed was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

And third, God is not a being of arbitrary condemnation, but a being of righteous acts of kindness toward all, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). In the words of the Psalm, "Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things" (Psalm 71:19).

This is the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we worship. We worship God the Father of Love, God the Son of Truth, and God the Holy Spirit of loving and righteous actions toward all created beings. We do not worship these as three separate persons, but as three aspects of the one Person of God, who is at once Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-Love, Truth, and Action. As Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).

Swedenborg tells us that "the most important thing in religion is to accept God, believe in God, and love him" (The Heavenly City #281). Further, our idea of God determines everything else in our faith. As Swedenborg says in another place, "The whole body of religious faith depends upon a correct idea of God just as a chain hangs on its first link" (True Christian Religion #163).

The first link of the New Jerusalem Church is made out of pure gold. It is our beautiful faith in one God, who is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We do not have to struggle with the confusing and contradictory notion of a God who is at once three Persons-three Gods-and one Person-one God. We do not have to struggle with a God who contains contradictory traits of wrath and love, truth and arbitrariness, kindness and condemnation. In a word, we do not have to struggle with a God who is both good and evil.

For "We worship the one God, the Lord, the Savior Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world; in whom is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." We worship the one God who is pure Love, pure Truth, and pure Kindness. We worship a God who never condemns us, but who came to save us from death by freeing us from slavery to our own destructive compulsions-from our own sins. We worship a God who knows us fully and intimately-even the parts that we would be ashamed or embarrassed to admit to others-yet continues to love us completely, unconditionally, with a love beyond anything we can ever conceive.

This is the love that can overcome all our evil. This is the love that, if we open ourselves up to it, can overcome every false thought and every wrong and selfish motive in us. This is the pure, infinite, unbounded God of love that is far, far stronger than all human evil put together. This is the Lord our God, who has fought against the power of hell and overcome it, so that we need never be slaves to hell and to our own lower selves again.

This is the God of infinite love, infinite wisdom, and infinite power that we worship. This is the beautiful and precious gem that is the center and soul of all genuine Christianity. This is the Lord who has revealed himself to us in a brilliant show of truth, which, for those who seek and find it, flashes like lightning from east to west across the heavens of their minds. This is the new and beautiful light that the Lord has shed on his holy Word and on our lives through his servant Emanuel Swedenborg. This is the beauty that continues to shine forth from this church on summer Sundays here on Cape Cod.

This beautiful truth is also our greatest challenge. The same Lord who fully understands each one of us, and loves us with an infinite love, gives us a great task to do-a task that our statement of faith leaves us with each week. Speaking in the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment: that you love one another, just as I have loved you" (John 13:34). This commandment is enough to keep us busy for a lifetime, and for an eternity afterwards. For we will never reach the end of God's love, and we will never run out of opportunities to show that love to our fellow human beings. Amen.