Some of the first passages of the Bible I memorized and learned as a child were the last chapters of Revelation. For nearly as long as I can remember I have known the words about the “holy city, New Jerusalem… prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:3). Even as I memorised it I liked the imagery but didn’t understand the idea.
My dad is a General Church pastor, and I have been raised with the ideas of the New Church. The church organization has significantly affected the trajectory of my life since that is what dictated where my family lived. I am now married to a General Church pastor, so still most of the major life decisions I’m making are directly affected by the church organization. This impact hasn’t always been easy and tidy, and after years of ups and downs I have at times seriously questioned the benefits of a humanly established church organization. Recently I had a few things connect for me about the teachings of the church being the bride and wife that have helped me resolve some of these questions.
I have been a wife for nearly 7 years and a mother for nearly 5. I feel like I’m finally starting to understand what these roles really are for me. Particularly in the last 2 years I have spent significant amounts of time developing my understanding about what it means to be a mother to my children—on a deeper level than just being the person who makes decisions for them, arranges school plans, and gives them food. I have wanted to understand what it is to nourish and feed them; to give them emotional skills so that they can have a successful and connected life of loving other people; to raise them in a way that their questions about the Lord and the church have answers that will prop them up when life gets hard. My efforts to understand these things in order to teach them to my children have taught me a lot.
The exploration of these topics (motherhood, parenting, and developing as a wife) has led me again to look at what exactly the church is, what it means that it is the bride of the Lord, and how it can be a mother. I found this passage on the New Christian Bible Study’s page about what the church is, and it speaks directly to my questions:
“It is well known that in the Word the Lord is called bridegroom and husband, and the church bride and wife. The reason these terms are applied to the Lord or the church is because of the linking of good and truth in every individual in heaven and in the church, who has the church within him. For the Lord exerts His influence on an angel or a member of the church from the good of love and charity. The angel or member of the church who is governed by the good of love and charity receives the Lord in the truths of teaching and faith he possesses from the Word. Thus a linking takes place, which is called the heavenly marriage. This marriage is present in the details of the Word, and since it has this in its details the Word may be called the heavenly marriage.” (De Verbo 8)
The passage goes on from there with more interesting details about how this applies in heaven. But even in just this much of the passage there are SO many levels and subtleties, so many pieces about what the church is, how a person has the church within him, what the levels of marriage are since they obviously don’t only apply to human relationships…. I feel my brain struggling to keep all the pieces clear. Before I explain more I’ll share another useful passage. While the whole chapter obviously deals with this topic (it is titled “The Marriage of the Lord and the Church and Correspondence to it”), Conjugial Love 116 is a good overview of the fundamentals:
“This chapter also takes up the marriage of the Lord and the church and correspondence to it, because without a knowledge and understanding of the subject, scarcely anyone can see that conjugial love in its origin is sacred, spiritual and heavenly, and that it comes from the Lord. Some in the church indeed say that marriage has a relationship to the marriage of the Lord with the church, but they do not know what the nature of that relationship is.
In order to make this relationship perceptible to some sight of the understanding, therefore, we must discuss in detail that sacred marriage which exists with and in those people who form the Lord’s church. They, too, and not others, possess truly conjugial love.”
In some ways I want to just suggest that you go read the section for yourself, but the overview of the chapter provides a great synopsis:
“To explain this secret, however, we must divide our treatment into sections under the following headings:
- In the Word, the Lord is called a Bridegroom and Husband, and the church a bride and wife; and the conjunction of the Lord with the church and the reciprocal conjunction of the church with the Lord is called a marriage.
- The Lord is also called Father, and the church, mother.
- The offspring from the Lord as Husband and Father and from the church as wife and mother are all spiritual offspring, and this is what is meant in the spiritual sense of the Word by sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, and by other terms which have to do with descending generations.
- The spiritual offspring that are born from the marriage of the Lord with the church are truths, from which come understanding, perception and all thought; and also qualities of goodness, from which come love, charity and all affection.
- From the marriage of good and truth that emanates and flows in from the Lord, a person acquires truth, to which the Lord joins good, and in this way the church is formed in the person by the Lord.
- A husband does not represent the Lord and his wife the church, because both husbands and wives together form the church.
- Therefore neither in the marriages of angels in heaven nor in the marriages of people on earth does the husband correspond to the Lord and the wife to the church.
- Rather, the correspondence rests with conjugial love, insemination, procreation, love for little children, and other things of a similar sort that occur in marriage and result from it.
- The Word is the means of conjunction, because it is from the Lord and thus is the Lord.
- The church comes from the Lord and it exists in people who go to Him and live according to His commandments.
- Conjugial love depends on the state of the church in a person, because it depends on the state of his wisdom.
- So, then, because the church comes from the Lord, conjugial love comes from Him as well. ”
What has become clear to me through all this feels like only the tip of the iceberg in some ways. But here are my conclusions:
Any person can be a church. By looking to and loving the Lord and His teachings, I can be a member of the Lord’s church regardless of my denomination.
I WANT to be a part of the Lord’s church and have that be something focused outside of myself because the teachings I have studied, embraced, and taken on in my life actually do change my life and make it better. And although I may still quibble about terminology and human organisations, I have come to see that I want that change for other people. I don’t want to share the church because I want the human organization to grow; I share it because if I can help other people to be happier, I want to do that.
I have experienced what it feels like to “mother” someone. It is a term and an experience that I recently have come to understand in a new way: mothering someone includes that, as a vessel for the Lord in this world (a part of His church), I want my children to know that they will always have me as at least one person in the world who loves them no matter what; who always sees the Lord in them; who values them for their individual selves that they are what the Lord has created them to be. Purely because of that—and for no other reason—I will mother them. I will love them as unconditionally as I can and help them to a better life as best I am able, by reaching them and teaching them where they are regardless of their life path. This is how I can best represent the Lord’s love in the world.
I don’t mean this to be love without instruction, without boundaries, without consequences, or without ramifications. Rather, this is to be a love that creates a relationship with me in which they can make mistakes, explore and learn, and I will still love them to the best of my abilities. For it to be a true love it has to have that partner of wisdom or truth. As a mother, sometimes I need to allow my children to get so angry or so frustrated or so sad that they can’t keep from screaming. I want them to know and feel confident I love them and am there to support them and help them to process, understand, and grow through their feelings. It isn’t pleasant to watch sometimes, but when I stick with them through the difficulty I get the privilege of seeing their understanding and ability grow. This to me is the love married to wisdom that goes in to my unconditional acceptance and support of my children.
This is a new level for me of how the church is the bride of the Lord and a mother to match the Lord’s father. What I would want a mother to do—what I want to be doing as a mother—is what I want the church to be doing for people. I want to be a part of the church because I want people to know that the Lord loves them. I want to be a part of a group of people of both genders who are working to be receptacles of the Lord’s good and truth and working then to spread those to people who are in need. I want everyone to know that, if they will do the work to become a part of the Lord’s church, they will have a place where all are loved unconditionally, are welcome, are wanted and can belong.
I’ve reached a new level of understanding about how the church—something that is not gendered in and of itself—can be a bride and wife. And yet I feel as though I’m barely on the edge of understanding. Are there other levels you see to it? Places you disagree? Should we be discussing this in terms of both fathering and mothering if both men and women are part of the church? I would love more input as I put this puzzle together for myself.