by Tim Martin
Founder: Emanuel Swedenborg
Founding Date: 1798
Official Publication: Chrysalis.
Organization Structure: Several independently directed groups.
Unique Terms: Correspondences.
Other Names: General Church of the New Jerusalem, General Convention
of the New Jerusalem, The Swedenborgian Church, The Lord's New Church,
and The Conference Church.
Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Stockholm in 1688. Most of his life was
dedicated to science. After being educated at the University of Uppsala,1
he was credited with inventions and theories in many areas of study. He
designed mining machinery, a glider aircraft and an airtight stove. It
is claimed that he "investigated every known science of his times" and
"wrote over seventy treatises on subjects such as: 'fossils, earth's revolution;'
and 'fire and colors.'"2
At the age of fifty-five, Swedenborg turned his life's efforts toward
theology. He sought truth by way of meditations and "systematically opened
his consciousness to inner influences."3 Through
opening himself up in this manner, Swedenborg was contacted by a being
who claimed to be Jesus Christ. He learned much about the spirit world
through such spiritual encounters, laying the basis for Swedenborgian theology.
Fifteen years after his death in 1772, the first sect of his followers
were organized in England by a British printer named Robert Hindmarsh.4
In 1789 a conference met in the London church, and has met almost every
year since.5 Swedenborg's teachings reached
the United States in the 1780's.6
The first American society was organized in Baltimore in 1792,
and the first [American] ministers were ordained in 1798. The General Convention
of the New Jerusalem in the U.S.A. was founded in 1817 in Philadelphia.
Differences of interpretation within the convention led to the formation
in 1897 of a separate group, the General Church of the New Jerusalem.7
Currently, there are approximately 5,000 followers of Swedenborg
in Great Britain among 75 societies.8 The largest
numbers of followers can be found in North America, with approximately
13,500 members and associates who are affiliated with three different Swedenborgian
organizations.9 It is difficult to determine
the number of Swedenborg's followers because many are in smaller organizations
in over thirty nations.10
One major publisher of Swedenborg's works is the Swedenborg Foundation,
established in 1849 for the purpose of "keeping Swedenborg's works in print
and available to the public."11 Two regular
publications of the Foundation are Chrysalis, a journal of "spiritual
discovery;" and Logos, a newsletter about Foundation activities.12
Other major publishers of his works are J. Appleseed & Co., Swedenborg
Scientific Association, Swedenborg Verlag, and Seminar Books.13
Educational institutions include (not exhaustive) the Academy of the New
Church in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania; Swedenborg School of Religion in Newton,
Massachusetts; and Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio.14
Since Emanuel Swedenborg's theology is divided into several different sects,
it will not be possible to cover all of them. Hence, the theology covered
herein will be limited to Emanuel Swedenborg's writings, and that of the
General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Swedenborg taught that some books in the Bible had a "spiritual sense"
to them that the others did not have.15 The
spiritual sense refers to his concept of correspondences, defined as speaking
"spiritually while speaking naturally."16
The natural meaning is the plain meaning communicated in the writings of
the scripture. The corresponding spiritual truth in the scripture, however,
could not be found by normal rules of interpretation. These truths were
discernable only to Swedenborg himself, based on his many encounters with
angels and Jesus. Correspondences have a one-to-one relationship with a
truth in the spiritual realm. For example, within the story of the earth's
creation in Genesis chapters one and two, Swedenborg taught that the correspondences
point to the development of the Christian's spiritual character.
The first dawning of light is our ability to see truth in our
minds. The water vapors, as clouds in the sky above the seas, show the
separation and distinction between the waters above (heavenly truths) and
the waters below (truths about natural things). . . .The dry land which
then comes forth, ready for vegetation, pictures man's mind ready for planting
of spiritual ideas.17
Not all books in the Bible have correspondences. Hence, the books that
do not have correspondences are not regarded as Scripture. Since Swedenborg's
works are regarded as revelatory by the New Church, only Swedenborg himself
could define which books have correspondences. Despite the lack of canonicity
in the New Testament books that are not inspired, Swedenborg taught that
these are still useful for the church. Below is a list of the Biblical
books with correspondences:
The five books of Moses, the book of Joshua, the book of Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings, the Psalms of David, the Prophets Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,
Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; and
in the New Testament the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and
It is not that only some portions of scripture have correspondences, but
"there is a spiritual meaning in every single word that the Lord spoke."19
Swedenborg wrote many volumes describing the spiritual corresponding truths
that are in the books he regarded as scripture.
Although Swedenborg used the word trinity, he defined it modalistically.
"These three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are the three essentials
of the one God, which make one, like the soul, the body, and operation
in man."20 This can be compared to the three
roles a man might have; father, husband and engineer. This does not mean
that the husband is different from the father, it is merely a different
mode in which the one man operates at a given time. According to Swedenborg,
this is the same with God. The Father is God in His essence, while Jesus
is the same Person, but revealed in man. Thus, Jesus is Jehovah who came
in the flesh. Swedenborg taught that the historic Christian doctrine of
the trinity was "'hatched' by the Nicene Council, and perverted the whole
of the Christian Church."21 When Jesus referred
to God as a person Who was different from Himself, He was speaking of "His
indwelling Divinity - as though separate from, and greater than Himself."22
Instead of a person, the Holy Spirit is described as "breath, typifying
the life giving influence which proceeds form the Lord," (p. 7). He is
described as "divine truth" and the "proceeding divine" that comes from
Jesus.23 The Holy Spirit proceeds from Jesus
"as heat and light from the sun."24
Humanity's foremost problem before Jesus came was that humans lost the
ability to do good. Christ's redemption restored humanity's ability "to
shun evil, and to do the Lord's will in a life of holiness and righteousness."25
Since humanity now can overcome sin, they are obligated to do so. They
must be "resisting and overcoming every inclination to evil, [then] he
may lose his life of sin, and gain an eternal life of holiness."26
This process of shunning evil and following the Lord is the experience
of being born again. It is not a one time event, but a process in which
"the heart and mind become freed from evil affections and thoughts, and
filled with holiness, purity, and love from the Lord."27
Humanity and Angels
The purpose for the creation of humanity is so they "may be prepared
to become an angel, and thus be useful and happy in heaven for ever."28
Hence, an angel is merely a human being after death. Swedenborg arrived
at this conclusion by having many conversations with angels.29
From these encounters, he discerned that they are exactly like humans,
having "faces, eyes, ears, bodies, arms, hands, and feet, that they see
and hear one another, and talk together, and in a word lack nothing whatever
that belongs to men."30 The only difference
is that angels do not have physical bodies. The identicalness of angels
to humans even allows for men and women to continue to have marital love
for each other after this life. Since marital love continues, there will
be marriages in heaven.
Swedenborg taught through correspondences that the New Jerusalem, spoken
of in Revelation chapter 21, referred to a new church that was to be established
on earth. Swedenborg started this new church with his own writings. This
New Church was necessary because the churches in his day had become destitute.
They were depicted in Revelation as false prophets, the dragon, the harlot,
and the beasts. Since wickedness had perverted the Christian church, the
truth needed to be reestablished. It was done so through the writings of
1. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct persons in the Bible. This
is obvious in many passages where two or more persons of the Godhead were
present (when Jesus was baptized, the Father said from heaven that "this
is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."31
2. Angels and humans are distinctly different beings in their essence.32
3. Salvation is based on God's grace alone, not on our efforts.33
4. There is no clear reason to accept Swedenborg's writings as revelatory.
He discounts over half the Bible as from God based on his authority alone.
There is no way to verify his claims on the lack of inspiration of these
books, or the inspiration of his. His teachings are against what the Bible
teaches, and what has been taught in Christianity through the ages. For
him to enter the world's theological arena with a new theology based on
his spiritual encounters with Jesus and many angels, he becomes subject
to the tests of Deuteronomy 13:1-3, and he fails.
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1 Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed.,
"New Church," p. 437.
2 N. Crompton, Pa.: Swedenborg, The Man
Who Wanted to Know, (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1993), p. 8-9.
4 Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia,
vol. 25 (1996), "Swedenborg, Emmanuel," p. 46.
5 Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 633.
8 Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia,
9 Jane Williams Hogan, PH.D., "The Role
of Written Text in the Founding of the Swedenborgian Church," Logos,
winter issue 1998, p. 1.
11 Swedenborg Foundation. Swedenborg
Foundation (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1993), p. 5.
13 Swedenborg Foundation [Online]. (1999,
January) URL http://www.swedenborg.com/links.html.
15 Emanuel Swedenborg, Posthumous Theological
Works, trans. J. Whitehead, (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1954),
16 "Swedenborg, Emmanuel," The Doctrine
of the New Jerusalem Concerning The Sacred Scripture, (London: Swedenborg
Society Inc.), p. 30.
17 H. Cranch, Pa.: "The Language of Parable,"
(Illinois: The Swedenborg Center, 1983), p. 4.
18 Emanuel Swedenborg, The Arcana Caelestia,
vol. 12, trans. J. F. Potts, (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1978), para.
19 Emanuel Swedenborg, Love in Marriage,
(New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1953), p. 46.
20 Samuel Warren, Compendium of Swedenborg's
Theological Writings, (London: Swedenborg Society, 1954), p. 86.
21 Marguerite B. Block, The New Church
in the New World, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1932), p. 41.
22 Edmund Swift, Manual of New-Church
Doctrine, (London: James Speirs, 1912), p. 18.
23 Warren, p. 83.
24 Ibid., p. 84.
25 Swift, p. 16.
26 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
27 Ibid., p. 53.
28 Swift, p. 39.
29 Emanuel Swedenborg, Life After Death,
(New York: The New-Church Press, date unknown), p. 10.
30 Ibid., pp. 10-11.
31 Matthew 3:17.
32 1 Corinthians 6:3; Hebrews 2:7.
33 John 5:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5.
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