Communion

Communion
John L. Odhner
March 2012

A Symbol of Love

Food has always been a symbol of love.  In the creation story God’s first gift to people was food (Genesis 1:29).  As food gives life and energy to the body, the Lord’s love gives life and energy to the mind: there is a correspondence between food and love.  

We can receive the love the Lord offers us only when we pass it on to others, for love can flow into us only as much as it also flows out to others (Secrets of Heaven 5828.3). Consequently, the Lord is present when we love others, and not present where love for others is lacking (Secrets of Heaven 1038).  Another way of saying this is that love is only real when it is embodied in useful service (Secrets of Heaven 183.3). When people love one another by meeting one another’s genuine needs, it is a holy moment. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  The love the Lord gives us, like the food He gives, is only effective when we take it in and make it a part of ourselves, so that it becomes the substance we are made of and the energy that moves us, so that what we do for others is motivated by the power the Lord’s gives us.

To express their love for the Lord and for one another, the earliest people ate together (Secrets of Heaven 10160).  They would bring some of the food the Lord had provided them and share it with each other and with the Lord as a symbol of their gratitude and joy for the love the Lord had given them.  Satisfying the hunger of their fellow human beings was an outward act of love that corresponded perfectly with the heavenly love they were receiving from the Lord and offering to one another.

Sacrificial Meals

Shared meals may have been the earliest form of worship, and as time passed, eating together became the dominant ritual among the Hebrews and many other nations.  The sacrifices of ancient Israel were meals, similar to a potluck or barbecue today, but with a sacred purpose.  The purpose was to give a vivid picture of the Lord’s relationship with us.  The people would bring some of their best food to share with each other and with the Lord in a holy feast, and it would picture the hope and the possibility that their Creator would bring the best of His food, which is compassion, love, kindness and service, and would set a delicious, nourishing table for them.  All the sacrifices were prophetic of the Lord Himself coming into the world as the bread of life that comes down from heaven—the Divine love revealed in Human form, nourishing us and healing us with the ability to love one another as He loves us.   

In ancient Israel the meals themselves were not important, and the Lord had no desire for us to worship Him by sharing food without sharing love. The Lord never cared about the actual meals, but about the love they were meant to express. “For I desired Mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). “To love the Lord…and to love one’s neighbor…is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).  

Even though love was lacking during many of those ancient sacrifices, they still foreshadowed the love that the Lord would bring into the world. Many ritual laws specified exactly how the sacrifices were to be carried out so that they could fully portray the Lord’s love.  A variety of animals were used to symbolize the various good desires we receive from the Lord and acknowledge to be His. For example, gentle lambs pictured innocence, while oxen symbolized our hardworking desire for outward goodness. Those offering sacrifices also had to be free from disabilities or defects, and they had to go through ritual washings, to represent the importance of repentance or overcoming sin.  

The End of Symbolic Rituals

When the Lord came into the world, all the meals, all the sacrifices and feasts, were replaced with just one sacred custom—the Lord’s supper, a simple sharing of bread and wine as a way of expressing our love for the Lord and for each other.  The detailed rules foreshadowing the Lord’s presence with us were no longer needed after the Lord actually became present in the world in His own Human form.  It was no longer necessary to wash before eating, for Jesus said that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the heart (Matthew 15:10-20). No more did people have to eat the Passover, eating a whole lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, dressed for their journey with staffs in their hands.  It was no longer necessary to exclude from the feast any who were physically misshapen or ritually unclean. Jesus ate with tax-collectors and sinners, and invited the blind, lame and even lepers to taste of His healing love and truth.  

The Lord in His ministry taught that the ritual laws of the Old Testament should not stand in the way of showing love and mercy and of feeding those who are hungry.  

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12: 1-8; Mark 2:25; Luke 6:3).

The Pharisees insisted on strictly keeping rules of ritual, such as not working on the Sabbath.  They didn’t understand that the only true rest from our worldly labor for gain is when we are involved in the labor of love.  In an incident similar to the one just above Jesus found a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were waiting for a chance to accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath rules, so Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. Then He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, and He proceeded to heal the man (Mark 3:1-6). One of the few places the Gospels speak of Jesus being angry is in this story, where strict adherence ritual rules stood in the way of showing love.

Replacing the Passover

Culminating His life’s work and fulfilling millennia of prophecy,  Jesus sat down with His disciples for His Last Supper before His death and resurrection.  The feast was the Passover, commemorating the escape from slavery to the powerful Egyptian dynasties.  Trapped by the despots’ lust for wealth and fame, the descendants of Israel were forced to build the Pharaohs’ empire by sweat and pain.  Then the Lord sent Moses, overthrew Pharaoh and led them to freedom and a better land.  

Even that epic rescue was just a shadow of the Lord’s real work to come.  The real taskmasters were evil spirits with their desire to dominate human minds with their insane lust and cruelty.  Centuries later the Lord would not send Moses or some other prophet, priest or king, but would come Himself as the final Prophet and King of Glory, who would overcome the oppressors, forcing them back into their own realm of hell, and then would lead His “chosen people”—every human being willing to follow—into freedom and a better place. For many centuries the Jews ate the Passover in remembrance of the deliverance God accomplished through Moses.  Now Jesus was establishing a new passover: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).  Remember My work to resist the attacks of hell, to free you from slavery to sin and to lead you through hell to freedom and peace in My kingdom!  Moses’ exodus was the blueprint; this is the building.  His was the map; this is the journey.  

The Lord had fervently desired to eat that meal with His disciples, because He loved them and wanted them to know His love and to share His love with each other.  He told them then, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in Him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).  The fruit they would bear staying connected to Him was love for each other: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). He wanted His love to be shared between them and sharing the food and wine among them was a symbol of this.  

The Lord’s Final Test

Jesus knew that the most difficult test of all was approaching.  His love for the human race was challenged again and again by the attacks of the hells.  He came to save us from the sin that separated us from Him and from each other, in a conflict between good and evil, between love and hatred, between compassion and cruelty, between humility and contempt.  The hells tried in every possible way to poison Him with their own hatred, cruelty and contempt.  He could not fight this battle with physical strength or military might.  He could not answer hatred with vengeance; that would be a failure of love, not a triumph.  In this challenge He faced the possibility of losing what He prized the most—a loving relationship with the people He created.  Could He overcome the human propensity to hate rather than love?  Could He return complete forgiveness for concentrated malice?  Could He so completely submit to the Divine Love in His own Soul, that that Love would fill and transform Him, uniting His humanity to His divinity and making Him a source of love and strength to all who approach Him?

The Lord knew that this test was coming; He knew that His people would abandon Him and turn on each other.  So He said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).  He wasn’t thinking of grapes, but the fruit that was their love for each other, coming from the Vine that is Himself. The next day, when He was on the cross, this was the lack He felt when He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28).

Eating after the Resurrection

Two days later, after the Lord had been crucified and had risen again, He appeared to two of His disciples, walking and talking along the road to Emmaus.  They didn’t recognize Him, thinking He was a stranger, until they invited Him for supper at their destination. “As He sat at the table with them, He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him” (Luke 24:30-31).  

It is only in the sharing of love that we come to truly know the Lord.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).  

The two disciples ran from Emmaus to tell  the rest how the Lord “was known to them in the breaking of bread.” Then Jesus appeared again, and again asked if they would share food with Him (Luke 24:40-43).  Another day Jesus appeared on the shore of the sea after some of them had been fishing all night, and He shared a breakfast of bread and fish with them (John 21:4-13).  

Later, in one of His final appearances, Jesus said to Simon Peter three times,

“Do you love Me?…Feed My lambs.”

“Do you love Me?…Tend My sheep.”

“Do you care for Me?…Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).

These instances of eating picture the Lord’s desire that we share with each other the love and wisdom that He has shared with us.  

Holy Supper with Early Christians

In the beginning, the Christian church obeyed the Lord’s command to love one another.  This love was expressed in sharing not only food, but all their possessions, and in helping those who were in need.

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47).

Unfortunately, as time went on, the sharing of food became less about the sharing and more about the food.  Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to address a lack of love at their meals.

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. …When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! … So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup (1 Corinthians 11:17-28).

The Teachings for the New Church greatly elaborate on the importance of examining oneself and repenting in order to approach the Lord’s Supper worthily (see True Christianity 717-729). Here I will just note that in this original example of unworthiness the issues were that the Supper was an occasion for division rather than communion, that “one remains hungry and another gets drunk,” and that they put themselves and their own appetites ahead of the community.  

The Decline of Love

In following centuries love became less and less important in the Christian Church as doctrinal debates became the center of attention, and the Eucharist became less focused on sharing a meal and more focused on the death of Christ as a sacrificial victim. At the same time the focus came to be more on the bread and wine as actually being the body and blood of the Lord (since a “true sacrifice” required the “real presence” of the victim).  Along with this came a greater focus on the priests’ role in acting out the “sacrifice” while the people watched and seldom participated.  The Church introduced many rules about how the sacrament was to be celebrated, many of them focused on the conditions necessary for consecration to magically turn the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus (though it would continue to look like bread and wine).  The Holy Supper became an occasion for arguing about who had the right teachings about it, rather than an occasion for expressing the Lord’s love in compassion for one another.

In 380 A.D. the Church hierarchy became so concerned with doctrinal correctness that they made heresy a capital offense.  Five years later the Bishop Priscillian was the first Christian to be killed by Christian authorities over doctrinal disagreement.  It seems from the edicts of a synod at Zaragoza that among his faults (such as teaching works of love and sexual abstinence) was allowing people to celebrate Eucharist in their homes rather than in the Church.  

When a Church is raised up by the Lord it is faultless to begin with. At that time one person loves another as his brother, as is well known from the Primitive Church after the Lord’s Coming. In those days all members of the Church lived with one another as brothers; they also called one another brothers, and loved one another mutually. In the course of time however charity faded and passed away, and as it passed away evils took its place, and along with the evils falsities too wormed their way in. From this schisms and heresies resulted, which would never have existed if charity had continued to reign and live. Then they would not even call schism schism, or heresy heresy, but a matter of doctrine according to each one’s opinion. That matter of doctrine they would leave to each individual’s conscience, provided it did not deny anything fundamental, that is, the Lord, eternal life, or the Word, and provided it was not contrary to Divine order, that is, to the Ten Commandments (Secrets of Heaven 1834.2).

The lack of love in the church and the resulting accusations of heresy eventually made the Holy Supper an excuse for war.  The Hussites (followers of Jan Hus) believed the laity should receive both bread and wine in the Eucharist.  King Wenceslas (no, not the Wenceslas celebrated in song, but one named after him several centuries later) in 1419 issued an edict forbidding the cup for the laity.  When Hussites marched in protest the town councillors of Prague threw stones out of the window of the council hall onto the Hussites, whereupon the Hussites invaded the hall and threw the councillors out of the window onto the street and spears of the mob.  This incident, the first “Defenestration of Prague,” led to fifteen years of bloody war, including several crusades ordered by the Pope to wipe out the Hussite heretics.

Doctrinal Divisions

Doctrinal divisions about the elements of Holy Supper led to War between the Romans and the Hussites. Differences are inevitable, but they do not have to lead to war.

Regarding the Lord’s kingdom on earth, that is, His Church, because its matters of doctrine are drawn from the literal sense of the Word it is inevitably varying so far as these are concerned. That is to say, one group declares that this idea is the truth of faith because it is so stated in the Word, while another declares that that idea is the truth because that likewise is stated there, and so on. Consequently because its matters of doctrine are drawn from the literal sense of the Word the Lord’s Church differs from one group to the next, and not only from group to group but sometimes from individual to individual within a group. But dissent in matters of doctrine concerning faith does not mean that the Church cannot be one Church, provided all are of one mind in willing what is good and doing it (Secrets of Heaven 3451.2).

There can be a variety of opinions, each based on teachings of the Word, because “the literal sense is such that in many places it seems to contradict itself” (Secrets of Heaven 3451.3). This passage gives an example: some people believe that faith makes a person loving, and others that love makes a person faithful.  Either position can be supported by passages from the Word, and people from either position are in the Lord’s kingdom if they act with love for others.  Even if their doctrines are false they have truth in their life and hearts.  Another example: some people focus on the Lord’s teaching that we should do good without hoping for something in return. Others believe in doing good for the reward in heaven, because many passages promise such reward, but still when they do good they aren’t thinking of what they will get for it, and the give the credit to the Lord.  These, too, have truth in their life if not their doctrine.  “So it is with every other example that could be taken” (ibid.).

Views on Leaven and Bread

Historically this has been the case with Holy Supper. People have take different views based on different teachings in the Word or different understandings of the same passages.  For example, people have differed on whether the bread for Communion should be unleavened.  The Catholic position has been that the bread must be unleavened because Jesus used unleavened bread in instituting the Holy Supper, and because leaven symbolizes impurity.  He warned His disciples to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15), and Paul writes, “Let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8).

On the other hand, the Orthodox position is that leavened bread is preferable because of the Lord’s words, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33), and “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:11).

This debate goes back many centuries, perhaps to the beginning of the Christian Church, and there are different opinions about it among New Church people, since there are passages in the Writings which support both opinions.  On the one hand there are passages which say that leaven in the Word symbolizes falsity from evil (Divine Providence 284), and that unleavened bread means pure love (Secrets of Heaven 2342). On the other hand some passages say that the leavening or fermenting of bread (as in Matthew 13:33) means a process of temptations by which a person is purified and receives new life (Secrets of Heaven 7906, DP 25) and consequently leavened bread means a “celestial state of love” (Secrets of Heaven 3880.8).

Views on Fermentation and Wine

Differences on the use of alcoholic drinks go back a long time.  When Noah got drunk after planting a vineyard one of his sons gossipped and criticized.  The other two turned their eyes away from their father’s fault and sought to amend the situation.  It is difficult to know the best way to respond to the abuse of alcohol, but the real message of this story is not about drunkenness, but about the doctrinal errors they symbolize. People who are spiritually drunk doubt and question all spiritual truth, believing only what they can grasp physically and through sensory-based reasoning (Secrets of Heaven 1072).  Isaiah describes them: “They also have erred through wine, and through intoxicating drink have gone astray; the priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, they are swallowed up by wine, they have gone astray through intoxicating drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment” (Isaiah 28:7).  

The question we face is how to deal with a person who exhibits such errors and perversions.  Do we, like Ham, criticize and point out the errors to others? Or do we “notice the good things” in the person, and if we do see things that are bad and wrong, do we “excuse them, and if possible endeavour with that person to correct them”? (Secrets of Heaven 1079).

Jesus said to the Pharisees and lawyers, “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ” (Luke 7:33-34).  John was criticized for not drinking wine, and Jesus for drinking wine, but the real problem was in neither John’s behavior nor the Lord’s, but with those who found fault.

In the Hussite Wars the Catholics killed the Hussites for drinking wine, and the Hussites killed the Catholics for forbidding it.  Which side was in the right?

The issue is still with us today.  Some people who cannot drinking fermented wine take communion with water or unfermented wine instead.  Others say that alcoholic wine is the only drink suitable for communion, and those who have an unhealthy reaction to alcohol should eat the bread without the wine.  The latter may say that the Lord offered fermented wine at the Last Supper, and then said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).  They point out that fermentation pictures the process of temptation, which is necessary for purification and regeneration (Secrets of Heaven 7906, Divine Providence 284).  Moreover, any change to the elements is meddling with and possibly corrupting this Divinely ordained sacrament.

On the other hand, those who favor unfermented wine or water may point out that the Lord does not actually mention “wine” in instituting the Holy Supper (just “the cup” and “the fruit of the vine” and His “blood”); in any case the words for “wine” in Latin (vinum) and Greek (oinos) are also used to refer to fresh, unfermented grape juice (Matthew 9:27, Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37,  5120, Apocalypse Explained 359, 376, 377, 920, 922, True Christianity 328, 377).  

Again, for some the issue here is separating the bread and wine. Taking bread by itself changes the symbolism of the Holy Supper, “for the wine in the Holy Supper means holy truth and the bread holy goodness; but when they are divided the wine means profaned truth and the bread adulterated goodness” (Divine Providence 257.6). “What is more detestable than to divide the body and blood of the Lord, or the bread and wine in the Holy Supper…?” (Apocalypse Revealed 753; see also 795; BE 105, 108; True Christianity 177.4, 634, SE 6059).  They may add that leaving a person without both food and drink that they can take is contrary to the Lord’s purpose that we share food in love. “For the foolish person will speak foolishness, and his heart will work iniquity: to practice ungodliness, to utter error against the Lord, to keep the hungry unsatisfied, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail” (Isaiah 36:6).  

People who favor water for those who cannot tolerate alcohol may point to the Lord’s words, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1); “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17); “Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).  “If we consume food or bread without water or wine, all they do is bloat our stomach.  Water and wine mean truth that relates to wisdom and faith” (True Christianity 367.6).

The Nature of Correspondences

Groups have debated not only the proper elements for Holy Supper, but also the nature of the Lord’s presence in it.  Catholics have held that there is a “real presence” of the Lord in the bread and wine since the bread actually is His body and the wine actually is His blood.  Some Protestants believe that the Lord is present only symbolically, and others believe He is present in the Holy Supper only through the reading and hearing of the Word at that time.

In the New Church we understand that the Lord connects Himself to us through correspondences, and consequently that we can understand the true use of Holy Supper only with a knowledge of correspondences. There is power in the correspondences in the Holy Supper, yet there is disagreement on the conditions that create that correspondence.  Some note that the Writings explain the meaning of unleavened bread and fermented wine (which were used at the Last supper) and say that therefore unleavened bread and fermented wine must be used for the correspondence to be present.

Heavenly and spiritual things were represented by the unleavened bread that they were to eat on the day of the Passover; and lest these things should be contaminated by anything profane, that which was leavened was so severely forbidden that whoever should eat of it was to be cutoff; for whoever profanes celestial and spiritual things cannot fail to perish (Secrets of Heaven 2342).

Others note that in explaining the Holy Supper itself, as in New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 210-220, the Writings explain the correspondence of bread and food, wine and drink, flesh and blood, eating, drinking and sacrifices, but they never mention whether or not bread or wine should be leavened or fermented. An explanation for this is that the rules regarding leaven have been abolished (Secrets of Heaven 10659).

For when a person worships the Lord in faith and love for Him, which are internal things, he has no need of the external things serving to mean them; for then those internal things themselves reside with him, and not types and shadows of them. All this was so with the commands that the feast of unleavened bread should be kept in the month of Abib and that during it unleavened bread should be eaten for seven days; …that the feast of weeks should be celebrated, and also the feast of ingathering; …that they should not offer sacrifices with anything made from yeast…. Obedience to these outward laws has been set aside… (Secrets of Heaven 10637).

The Writings never state that certain kinds of bread or certain kinds of wine are necessary for there to be correspondence in Holy Supper.  The condition that is said to bring about correspondence is that there is love among the people who partake.  

They who are in the goodness of love and of faith are in correspondence (Secrets of Heaven 8615.3).

Nor does any correspondence exist if that person is not endowed with charity, for charity is the means which brings about union because the good of charity contains life from the Lord (Secrets of Heaven 5133).

Only one thing can make the natural subordinate and bring it into a state of correspondence, and this is good that has innocence within it, a good which in the Word is called charity (Secrets of Heaven 5168).

So far as a person is in love to the Lord and in charity towards the neighbor, to that extent, his actions are uses in form and are correspondences (Heaven and Hell 112; see also 499, Secrets of Heaven 2935, 1832).

Bread and wine do not produce this effect—there is nothing holy about them (True Christianity 621, 727; Apocalypse Revealed 224, Secrets of Heaven 10208).

We have various ideas about the best elements for Holy Supper.  Some choose only fermented wine, others grape juice or water.  Some choose leavened bread, some unleavened.  Some see the rules as very narrow and specific, others as broad and flexible. Some focus more on the physical elements, others on loving the Lord and the neighbor.   Each of these groups of people could identify many more passages to support their opinion than the few I have referenced.  Certainly this paper does not provide complete arguments that would allow one to evaluate each position.  In addition, there are a number of related issues I haven’t even touched on, such as whether the bread must be from wheat, whether we should use a common cup and whether a priest must be present to serve the communion. Perhaps though, there is enough here to confirm that “one group declares that this idea is the truth of faith because it is so stated in the Word, while another declares that that idea is the truth because that likewise is stated there, and so on” (Secrets of Heaven 3451.2).

Responding to Doctrinal Differences

More important than the different doctrinal positions we take is the way we treat people whose ideas are different from our own.  “A person who is in goodness of life does not condemn another who is of a different opinion, but leaves the matter to his faith and conscience” (Secrets of Heaven 4468).  In the ancient churches they would share their beliefs with others as an act of love, but “they would not become indignant if one did not accede to the opinion of another’ (New Jerusalem 9).  “If charity was ruling and alive, they would not even call schism schism, nor heresy heresy, but a doctrinal matter in accordance with each person’s opinion; and this they would leave to each person’s conscience, provided such doctrinal matter did not deny first principles, that is, the Lord, eternal life, and the Word; and provided it was not contrary to the Divine order, that is, to the commandments of the Decalogue” (Secrets of Heaven 1834).

The Writings tell us that churches these days are divided from each other because they focus on doctrinal differences rather than on love for one another.  

This would never be if they would make love for the Lord and charity toward the neighbor the starting point of faith. Doctrinal matters would then be only varieties of opinion concerning the mysteries of faith, which truly Christian people would leave to everyone to hold according to his conscience, and they would say in their hearts that a person is truly a Christian who lives as a Christian, that is, as the Lord teaches. Thus from all the differing churches there would be made one church; and all the dissensions that come forth from doctrine alone would vanish.  In fact, all hatred of one against another would be dissipated in a moment, and the Lord’s kingdom would come upon the earth (Secrets of Heaven 1799).

We might ask, though, whether this is true of Holy Supper, a very holy act of worship.  Are teachings about the bread and wine matters to be left to the conscience of each Christian?  

In fact, the previous passage addresses this very matter:

People may believe that in the Holy Supper the bread and wine have some symbolic meaning, or that flesh and blood are present in some way or other which they are able to explain. But whether they express the one or the other of these views about the Holy Supper, it makes no difference provided that two things are characteristic of these persons: Few people in fact give the matter any thought at all, and if any do give it any thought it makes no difference which view is held provided, a) It is done from a simple heart because it is what they have been taught, and b) They are leading charitable lives. When they hear that the bread and wine mean in the internal sense the Lord’s love towards the whole human race, and the things that go with that love, and man’s reciprocated love to the Lord and towards the neighbour, they believe it instantly and rejoice that it really is so. This is never the case with those who possess doctrine yet lack charity. They dispute everything and condemn anyone who does not speak—though they say it is to believe—as they do. From these considerations it may become clear to anyone that love for the Lord and charity towards the neighbour constitute the internal dimension of the Church (Secrets of Heaven 1798).

The Lord wants us to unite in mutual love; He doesn’t want doctrinal conflict to create congregational division.  The Lord is against the shepherds who feed only themselves and let the flock be scattered, and He is against the sheep that muddy the water and trample the food for the other sheep.  He promises a time when we will eat together in peace: “ ‘I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,’ says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 34:1-21).  Negative emotions will not longer devour innocence and goodwill: “ ‘The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25). “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore” (Revelation 7:16). “I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking” (Jeremiah 23:4).