We Worship the One God
Rev. Lee Woofenden
Massachusett, July 18, 1999
45:18-24 There is no other god besides me
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
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.
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
1:1-18 The Word became flesh and lived among us
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heavenly City #280-282 There is one God
is one God, who is the creator and keeper of the universe. So he
is the God of both heaven and earth.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
is this God who comes to us as a personal, approachable,
divinely human being?
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).
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).
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
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).
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).
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
"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
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.
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.
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.