Principles and Plan of Order for the International Government of the Church
Recommended by the Provisional International Council for acceptance by all Bodies of the Church. March 27th, 1947
On February 5th of this year the International Council of Priests appointed a Provisional International Council to consider and set forth the principles of order which must govern the formation of the visible Church, and to recommend to the Church a Plan of Order for the government of the Church as a whole, among all lands. Messrs. H.D.G. Groeneveld and Anton Zelling, and the Revs. Ernst Pfeiffer, Theodore Pitcairn and Philip Odhner, were appointed to this Council. This Council appointed Mr. Pfeiffer as its Chairman and Mr. Odhner as its Secretary.
This Council has met regularly on several days of each week since its appointment, and is now prepared to place its recommendation of a Plan of Order before the various Bodies of the Church for their consideration, with the hope that it may be found acceptable by all, and that it may thus be put into effect through its ratification by those Bodies.
The proposed Plan is still of a provisional nature both by reason of the fact that many things of the order seen have yet to be infilled and can only be infilled gradually in time, and because there is as yet lacking a ground of experience in this field from which the better to view the ultimation of the principles which have so far been seen and acknowledged. The provisional features of the proposed Plan will appear in the explanation of it.
It is to be understood that while the Plan itself is for the International Government of the Church, the principles involved apply equally to all the national or local bodies of the Church.
Let us first now set forth the Principles of Doctrine and of Order which this Council sees as governing the formation of the international government of the Church, and then set forth the proposed Plan of Order for that government.
The point to which the attention of the Council was directed is this, that whereas the end of the Church is to enter and receive in mind and heart the spiritual and celestial things of the Internal Sense of the Word, the basis of the Church, the basis for us entry into those things, is ever in the Sense of the Letter of the Word. The Internal Sense of the Word cannot be entered by man genuinely except on the basis of a life changed and purified by the true things of life seen in the Sense of the Letter of the Word. And if on such a basis of the natural life there has been an entrance into some things of the Internal Sense, yet these interior true things cannot remain genuine in the Church, nor can the Church be given anything further of the Internal Sense, except insofar as those interior true things already seen again descend and are as it were given flesh by being given a natural quality through the calling forth of new truths of life in the Sense of the Letter of the Word which lead to further repentance of life on the part of the men of the Church, to further change and purification of the natural mind of man. In this way the things of the Internal Sense of the Word gradually attain their own plane in the natural mind of man, and that mind is also further prepared for entrance into the Internal Sense of the Word.
In this it is seen that in that Internal Church which is to come into existence for the sake of the salvation of the human race, there is a circle of life and light from the Lord, a circle of Spirit and of Life which the Word in itself is, and into which the Church must come. This circle begins in its visible form with the true which calls men to repentance, to a change and purification of the natural life. It then Leads through the opening of the internal man to the development of the spirit in the reception of the internal true and good things of Doctrine, and from thence it proceeds again downward or outward to the taking on of new and more interior truths of life in the Sense of the Letter of the Word for the further change of the natural mind. Within this circle is the proper life of the Church. In the filling of it lies the regeneration of mankind. In it the Lord Himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and He in His Divine Human lives in man and man in Him. In this circle is the daily giving of His Body and Blood, the daily feeding on the Bread and Wine of His Holy Communion.
In this circle, in relation to the common body of the Church, two lines are visible. One is the descending line, the line wherein the truths for the natural mind from the Sense of the Letter of the Word provide a natural quality for the true things of Doctrine and thus prepare man for a further opening of the internal. The other line is the line of ascent into the interior understanding of the Word wherein the Doctrine of the Church is brought into existence. It can be seen that the descending line, looking downwards and outwards to man’s repentance, to the changing of his natural life, involves all things of the priestly function, which is to teach truths out of the Word according to the Doctrine of the Church and thereby lead to the good of life. In this line also lie all things of the external government of the Church, that is, the government of the appearing or visible Church, for this government is the giving and maintaining of external form and order to internal principles, that the life of the Church may ever be in a receptive state in its looking inward to the Lord in His Word. All things of this line have as their object the protection and support of that which is genuine in the natural life and the changing to a new and more interior life. On the other hand the ascending line has as us object the opening of the understanding of the Word, the Doctrine of the Church, in which the internal of life is given. The descending line gives natural form or body to the things of the ascending line, and for this reason wherever there is question of giving natural or appearing form to any development in the visible Church, the function of the priesthood is involved.
From these considerations it was seen that the government of the Church as a visible or natural body lies in the function of the priesthood, even as is taught in the literal sense of the Third Testament, “Prefects over those things with men which are of Heaven, or over ecclesiastical things, are called priests, and their office, the Priesthood.” (N.H.C.D. 314) (In thus returning to this first principle of order for the government of the Church stated in the Letter of the Word, it is here perhaps in order to say on behalf of the existing priests of the Church that in the definition of the priestly line outlined above they see a whole new life for their existence; and that consequently there can be no claiming of the government of the Church to themselves by virtue of the mere fact that they have been priests in the past; rather there can only be the living prayer that they might now enter and worthily perform that function as it is now seen and understood.) In stating that the government of the Church as a visible or natural body lies with the priesthood, it must also be stated that such government has as its ultimate end the entrance by all in the Church into that other most essential line, which by way of differentiation we may call the line of the men of the Church, through which there is advance on the part of the Church into the understanding of the Word, and from which there arises those internal principles of Doctrine which internally govern all things of the Church.
This first principle of order for the government of the Church, namely, that the government of the visible or appearing Church lies with the priesthood, is not new as to its external form. It has already been seen in the Word and put into practice by the General Church. It has thus been said that already in the General Church the line of the priesthood had received the freedom of its function. Yet it will appear directly from the consideration concerning the principle of the line of the men of the Church that this first principle is now seen in an entirely new way.
The second principle of order arising out of the general principle of Doctrine stated above is, that with regard to the ascending line, or the line of the men of the Church, there is no distinction between priests and laymen, since the entrance into the understanding of the Word, and thus the drawing of Doctrine of the Church out of the Word, is of the spiritual function of all men. In further acknowledgment of the great and essential importance of this line in the circle of the Church, it is needed to state that the Church now recognizes the function and freedom of all men in the Church to enter upon the development of its Doctrine, and also recognizes the need for the organic formation and development of this line within the Church. In the recognition, formation and ordering of the organic forms or bodies for this line there lies that distinctive new thing that qualifies the whole order of this Church, and which distinguishes it even externally from all preceding bodies of the Church. Ft is for the laymen of the Church to see that their true freedom lies in this development, and not in the partaking in the external government of the Church.
In that circle of life seen as the life of the Church as a whole, it can be seen that the woman of the Church also has her complete and most essential part. The quality and strength of a woman from creation, into which she must enter more and more in regeneration, is that she perceives and receives rational truths in natural forms, and nourishes and cares for them in such forms. In the use of this faculty of the woman the Spirit of the Church enters into the most ultimate things of its body, into the domestic affairs, and into the social life, into all that border of the Church which makes the living in the house. In the function of the woman lies the conjunction of the ascending and descending lines of the Church. If the woman with her whole mind and heart does not see and love the rational truths brought forth in the Church in natural forms lying within the domestic and social life, the truths, such as might be presented through her husband out of the ascending line, or such as presented through the priesthood in the descending line, can never have the fullness of their power for the change and purification of the natural life, and the circle remains only weak, and in the end is destroyed. If the woman of the Church feels the need for the rational true as substance for her life, that she might be truly human, she will look to the provision externally of the freedom of the function of the men in the Church, and in so doing she will internally receive and put to life all things of the descending line of the Church. Insofar as the woman of the Church does not feel this need and fill that function, natural life is withheld from all things in the Church.
In relation to the development of the line of the men of the Church, it is seen that this line also must have a visible head, one who is capable of leading the men of the Church in their thinking, of leading them in their entrance into the understanding of the Word, of ordering the various bodies as they are formed, and of unifying their efforts, drawing their conclusions together. And inasmuch as such a one would thus have a visible function in the Church, a function in which there is a certain giving of natural form, and in which there is an external governing or leading also involved, it is seen that this office of the head of the line of the men of the Church is also of the priesthood, but of the priesthood in a distinctly new order or degree. It is seen in relation to this office that it would make one with the highest degree of the priesthood also, inasmuch as those who were in such universal things as to be capable of leading this line of the men of the Church would also be in those things which would enable them to lead the line of the priesthood as to those interior principles which must guide that line in its work. It appears therefore that the head of the line of the men of the Church is one and the same with the head of the line of the priestly, and that this function therefore constitutes the third or episcopal degree of the priesthood.
In connection with this office consideration was made of the degrees of the priesthood. Although the establishment of the priesthood in its various degrees is not immediately before us in connection with the Plan of Order now proposed, the principle of order concerning these degrees is throughout involved in the infilling of the proposed plan in the future, and therefore mention should here be made of those degrees as they are now seen by this Council. The first or lowest degree of the priesthood is seen to be constituted of such who have the love of the priestly office, and who have been instructed, prepared and ordained, but who have not yet any independent part in the ascending line, or in the understanding of the Word. Such a state is seen as possible owing to the fact that the love of the priesthood is in the beginning a natural love, a natural quality which a man may have as it were from birth, whereas an independence in the understanding of the Word can only genuinely be given in the course of a man’s regeneration. Such priests of the first degree should when possible be placed under the supervision of priests of a higher degree. The second degree of the priesthood is seen to be constituted of such who are capable of taking an independent part in the internal development of Doctrine, and of giving it its proper natural quality through new truths seen in the Literal Sense of the Word. The third or episcopal degree is seen to be constituted of such who are in universal things such as lead both the thinking of the men of the Church in their line and also the governing of the priests of the Church in the internal of their function. In a bishop therefore the two lines of the priesthood and of the men of the Church find organic conjunction, and in the filling of this degree of the priesthood the whole plan of order for the Church finds its real form. Then only does the plan begin to drop away its provisional features and become an established form.
In relation to the third or episcopal degree of the priesthood a further principle was discussed and agreed upon, namely, that the Church in each country or in each district or Diocese, should have its own bishop. This means that there should not be one bishop for the whole Church in all lands, no one bishop who presides over the Church throughout the world. It is seen that no one man can have sufficient roots in the Church in all lands, and thus not sufficient contact, to be able to lead both lines in all places. Nor is there any principle seen which would make the setting up of one bishop over the whole Church either necessary or desirable. Therefore the future government of the Church as a whole is seen to lie in a house or council of bishops, having a chairman with no extraordinary powers.
In relation to the government of the Church it is seen that the internal of the finances of the Church, that is, the determination of the uses for which funds are to be expended, lies within the function of the priesthood. There can be no external government without a certain control of expenditures. For this reason it is seen that the priesthood at all times should have a real grasp of the financial standing of the Church, in order that it may know what is possible and what is not possible financially before determining upon the enactment of ultimate uses. The external of the finances, that is, the receiving and investment of money, and the execution of expenditures, is seen to lie in the hands of the laymen, because this function calls for contact with the civil law and order of the world, and also requires specific qualities and abilities lying outside the priestly function. The external of the finances belongs to the civil things of the Church. So it is that the two lines of the Church meet together in the finances, the outmost things, even as they meet in the inmost things.
Because at this time, in these early beginnings, the existing priesthood cannot fill its function alone, it is seen to be necessary that laymen be called upon to aid provisionally in the filling of it. There must however be no confusion in the minds of anyone from this temporary necessity. It must not be allowed to dim the distinction between the essential orders or lines in the Church, nor to obscure or undermine the principles which must govern those orders. Whenever therefore laymen are called to take part in the governing councils of the Church, ii must be understood that in so taking part and while so sitting on those councils, they sit as priests and enter upon the priestly function. It must not be thought that because they are laymen the function they then perform is rightfully of the laity. And it must be recognized that their place there is provisional, waiting upon the infilling and strengthening of the priesthood.
The immediate need which was before the Council was that of a government for the entire or international Church. This arises out of the general need to see the Church as one visible body in all lands. It arises out of the need for a common ordering, a common law, in regard to those internal principles which must direct the work of the priesthood in each land. Ii arises out of the need also for a proper and responsible governing of the affairs of the Church in those lands in which there is as yet no priesthood or no local government. Such conditions exist at this time in varying degrees in South Africa, Sweden, France, England and China. To fill this need the following plan is submitted in the light of the above outlined principles.
International Council of the Priesthood.
1. There should be established in the Church a Provisional International Council of Priests for the determination of the principles which must govern the work of the priesthood in all lands, to govern all relations between the local governments of the Church in all lands, to govern the development of the Church in lands wherein there is as yet no priesthood, and to act as a court of appeal for the solution of problems which the local governments of the Church cannot solve for themselves.
2. This Council should be looked to as the source of authority in episcopal matters in all such countries in which the episcopal degree of the priesthood has not yet been filled. For example, the authority to ordain priests must now come from this Council, until such time as there may be a bishop in that country in which the priest is to be ordained.
3. This Council should be elected by the existing priesthood of the Church. During this transitional period the elections should be held yearly.
4. Because of the weakness of the existing priesthood at this time, laymen also may be elected to sit on this Council, and it must be recognized that they in so doing enter the priestly function, and are to be considered as priests while so sitting.
5. Properly this Council should consist of the bishops of the Church, but until such time as the Church in any country has a bishop election must be made from such priests or laymen as are seen suitable for this office.
6. Meetings of this Council should be held yearly during this provisional period, or more often as need may arise. Meetings of this Council may be held in person or by mail.
7. The Officers of this Council shall be a President or Chairman, and a Secretary, to be elected by the members of the Council.
8. The rules governing the conduct of the business of the Council must be determined by the Council, within the general limits laid down in the principles governing its inception.
9. The purpose of this Council being to provide an international government of the Church, and to supplement the local governments where they are lacking, it is clear that this Council is not to interfere with the existing local governments of the Church except on appeal. The Council is to encourage the development of the local governments of the Church. The more the government of the Church can be infilled in any country, the less this Council will have to do directly or externally with its local affairs.
1. In order that the work of the Provisional International Council of Priests may be implemented financially, that Council is to be accepted as the budgetary financial committee of the Church, for the setting up and the allocation of funds for such uses as come under the government of that Council. The best possible plan at the present time appears to be to use the present Corporation of the Church in America in connection with this purpose.
2. In order to insure a real and active relationship and understanding between the proposed Council and the Board of the Corporation, thus between the internal and the external of the finances of the Church, the President of the Corporation is ex officio to attend all meetings of the Council in which financial matters are to be discussed and determined. The President of the Corporation would thus have a voice but not a vote on the Council.
In some respects the Plan may be said to have the effect of reducing the participation of the laymen in the government of the Church, inasmuch as it clearly defines that government as belonging to the line of the priesthood even down to the internal of the finances, leaving only the external or executive things of the finances in the hands of the laity together with such interior responsibilities as must remain theirs in accordance with the civil law. On the other hand, in accordance with the principles outlined in the beginning of this paper, the Plan directs the whole end of the government of the Church towards the provision of an order in the Church which will allow for the development of that other line in the Church in which the men of the Church may enter into the understanding of the Word, into the things of the Doctrine of the Church. Through such provision the work of the Church in this line also may become visible and objective to all through the formation of such organs as will be found necessary for its full development. The call of the Council proposing this Plan is that the laymen may come to see and feel that their real place in the Church lies in this ascending line. In this line lies their real freedom and their place.
The Order of the Line of the Men of the Church.
1. The beginning of the order of the line of the men of the Church must be seen in the meeting of all the men of the various Societies, in their Societies or Diocese, for the study and understanding of the Word. Such bodies as the Swedenborg Gezelschap, at the Hague, and the Acting National Council, in America, regarded as to its function in considering doctrinal matters, are examples of the beginning of this order. While such bodies may have been instituted under the leading of the priesthood, still it is to be seen that the priests take part in them as men of the Church.
2. Out of such bodies of all the men of the Church there should next arise interior bodies, elected by those larger bodies, composed of those men who are capable of entering more interiorly and independently into the understanding of the Word. Through this more interior formation the development of the understanding of the Word in the whole Church would be greatly facilitated, even as, to use an external comparison, the advance of students in a school is facilitated by their being distinguished into grades or classes.
3. The development of the organic forms of the line of the men of the Church must be seen in connection with the needs and abilities of the priesthood of the Church in that particular place. If there is no priesthood which can receive the substance to be provided by such bodies of the line of the men, there can be no real order in that development, no completing of the circle; for the things brought forth would then remain as it were in the air without any corresponding ground. But where the priesthood looks to that substance and feels the great need for ii, the development can take place in order.
4. In general it may be said that the form of order in such bodies should be democratic, the interior bodies being elected by the larger bodies. This can be seen in general from the fact that this is an ascending line, in which there is ascent from the more general to the particular, from the more outward to the inward.
5. In relation to the principles that the civil things of the Church are to be in the hands of the laity, it is seen that in such places as where there is but one priest, there must be a council for the pastor, elected from the laymen by the Society, to determine the financial and civil matters of that Society.
As to what further developments this line may undergo in the future we can hardly estimate at this time. As to whether there will be in the future a still higher or more interior degree of this line, developing in connection with the third degree of the priesthood, as to what form this whole line may take within the Church in any country when it has received its own head in the episcopal degree of the priesthood, it is not now our place to say.
We can see however that in the development of the line of the men of the Church the internal Church comes into flower and fruit. In the development of this line, and in the corresponding development of the priestly line, the whole Church moves forward in its progression towards being a genuine Spiritual Church. Through the ordering of the line of the men of the Church the opening of the minds of all in the Church to the reception of the internal things of the Word is directed to the forming of the Doctrine of the Church, and thus to the increase and deepening of the Spirit and Life of the Church out of the Word of the Lord.
(Approved by the Members of the Church in America and in Holland.)