Swedenborg spoke of a "New Church" that would be founded on the theology in his works, but he himself never tried to establish an organization. In 1768, a heresy trial was initiated in Sweden against Swedenborg's writings and two men who promoted these ideas. It essentially concerned whether Swedenborg's theological writings were consistent with the Christian doctrines. A royal ordinance in 1770 declared that Swedenborg's writings were "clearly mistaken" and should not be taught even though his system of theological thought was never examined. Swedenborg's clerical supporters were ordered to cease using his teachings, and customs officials were directed to impound his books and stop their circulation in any district unless the nearest consistory granted permission. Swedenborg then begged the King for grace and protection in a letter from Amsterdam. A new investigation against Swedenborg stalled and was eventually dropped in 1778.
At the time of Swedenborg's death, few efforts had been made to establish an organized church, but on May 7, 1787, 15 years after Swedenborg's death, the New Church movement was founded in England. It was a country Swedenborg had often visited and where he died. By 1789 a number of Churches had sprung up around England, and in April of that year the first General Conference of the New Church was held in Great Eastcheap, London. New Church ideas were carried to United States by missionaries. One famous missionary was John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed.
Early missionaries also traveled to parts of Africa. Swedenborg himself believed that the "African race" was "in greater enlightenment than others on this earth, since they are such that they think more "interiorly", and so receive truths and acknowledge them." At the time these concepts of African enlightenment were judged highly liberal; Swedenborgians accepted freed African converts to their homes as early as 1790. Several of them were also involved in abolitionism.
In the 19th century, occultism became increasingly popular especially in France and England. Some followers blended Swedenborg's writings with theosophy, alchemy and divination. What fascinated these followers most was Swedenborg's mystical side. They concentrated on his work Heaven and Hell which tells of Swedenborg's visit to Heaven and Hell to experience and report the conditions there. In structure, it was related to Dante's The Divine Comedy. Some continue to combine the theology of the New Church with ideas from other systems, including Jungian psychology and Spiritualism.
In the U.S., the church was organized in 1817 with the founding of the General Convention of the New Church (sometimes referred to as the Convention,) now also known as the Swedenborgian Church of North America.
The movement in the United States grew stronger until the late 19th century. There was a "New-Church Theology School" in Cambridge. A controversy about doctrinal issues and the authority of Swedenborg's writings caused a faction to split off to form the Academy of the New Church. It later became known as the General Church of New Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as the General Church,) with headquarters in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Other congregations felt doctrinally compelled to join the General Church at its inception. Two Convention congregations in Canada, one in Toronto and another in Kitchener, as well as two congregations from the British Conference, Michael Church in London and Colchester New Church joined the General Church at this point.
In the 1930s, a doctrinal issue about the authority of Swedenborg's writings arose in the General Church. Members in the Hague branch of the General Church saw Swedenborg's theological writings as the Word of the Third Testament, which they wrote about extensively in their Dutch magazine De Hemelsche Leer. Faced with discipline by the leading Bishop of the General Church, those holding this new doctrinal view split off to form the Lord's New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma.
The Swedenborgian Church of North America, with headquarters in Newton, Massachusetts, now has 37 active churches with about 1,500 members in the U.S. today. The General Church of the New Jerusalem, with headquarters in Bryn Athyn, has about 5,000 members in 33 churches. The Lord's New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma, also in Bryn Athyn, now has about 28 active churches with about 1900 members worldwide.
The Lord's New Church is primarily associated with South Africa, although roughly 200 members are found in the United States. It is noted for its concern for social justice. Australia and Germany are estimated to have 504 and 200 members, respectively. Counting additional members in Asia, Africa, and South America, current sources put the total number of Swedenborgians between 25,000 and 30,000.
As of 2000 the most recent membership figures for the Four Church Organizations were:General Conference of the New Church (Great Britain): 1,314
Swedenborgian Church of North America, also known as The General Convention (USA): 2,029
General Church of the New Jerusalem: 5,563
The Lord's New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma: 1,000
Membership in the New Church has always been small, and the different organizations have been heavily involved in publishing activities. In terms of doctrine, there is a striking similarity between the New Church and the Oneness Pentecostalism movement of the 20th century, which developed quite independently of the writings of Swedenborg. Although the movement is completely separate, some members make some acknowledgement of Emanuel Swedenborg, who preceded the foundation of their church by over 150 years.
There are two essential doctrines of the New Church: the first is that one God as one person in Jesus Christ is to be worshipped, and the second is that one must live according to His commandments. "There are two essentials which constitute the church, and hence two principal things of doctrine—one, that the Lord's Human is Divine; the other, that love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor constitute the church, and not faith separate from love and charity." These "two things, the acknowledgment of the Lord, and a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue, which are the two essentials of the New Church." It is by these two essential doctrines that conjunction with the Lord and salvation is effected. "All things of the doctrine of the New Church have reference to these two, because they are its universals, on which all the particulars depend, and are its essentials, from which all the formalities proceed" If one is unaware of these two essential doctrines of the New Church and yet has believed in one God and lived a good life, they will be taught this by angels after death.
Swedenborg held that God is one person revealed in Jesus Christ, which was later independently expressed by modern-day Oneness Pentecostalism. He stated that the doctrine of a trinity of three persons originated in the fourth century with the adoption of the Nicene Creed to combat the heresy of Arianism, but this was unknown to the early Apostolic Church, as shown by the Apostles' Creed which preceded the Nicene Creed.
The Lord created mankind because He is Love Itself, and Love seeks to make others outside of self happy. The purpose of creation was that God be conjoined to mankind by the reciprocation of His Love. To be in His Love is to love others, and by loving others one also loves Him. He has always provided through revelation of Himself that this end may be met. When, on account of humankind choosing evil, connection with Him was almost entirely lost He had to reveal Himself in a way that would never lose effect. This earth and all of nature is part of the Lord's Kingdom, and in nature we can see the Love and Wisdom of the Lord manifested, but not apart from written revelation.
The universal principle of faith of the New Church is that the "Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world to subjugate the hells and to glorify His Human; and without this no mortal could have been saved; and those are saved who believe in Him." Further, "It is a universal principle of faith that God is one in essence and in person, in whom is a Divine trinity, and that He is the Lord God the Savior Jesus Christ. It is a universal principle of faith that no mortal could have been saved unless the Lord had come into the world. It is a universal principle of faith that He came into the world to remove hell from man, and that He did remove it by means of contests with it and victories over it, and thereby He subdued it and reduced it to order and made it obedient to Himself. It is a universal principle of faith that He came into the world to glorify His Human which He took on in the world, that is, to unite it with the Divine from which [are all things], and thereby He eternally holds hell in order and under obedience to Himself. As this could be accomplished only by means of temptations admitted into His Human, even to the last of them, which was the passion of the cross, He endured even that."
From this universal principle of faith of the New Church, the Divine Trinity is defined as "the three essentials of one God, and they make one as soul, body, and operation make one in man. Before the world was created this Trinity was not; but after creation, when God became incarnate, it was provided and brought about; and then in the Lord God the Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ." As a trinity of soul, body and spirit exists in every man, so in Jesus this became the Holy Trinity. It is this doctrine of one God as one person which distinguishes the New Church from other Christian churches, most of which define the Trinity as three persons existing from eternity. The doctrine of three persons is regarded as inherently illogical by the New Church: "In the ideas of thought a Trinity of Divine Persons from eternity, or before the world was created, is a Trinity of Gods; and these ideas cannot be effaced by a lip-confession of one God."
In the New Church, monotheism is defined as one God who is one in person, and the immediate consequence of this doctrine is that only the Lord is worshipped, who is Jehovah. Worship and faith in Jesus is not placing worship in a created being: although born with a human body, His soul was the Divine from eternity. When He rose from the dead, He put off the human body he inherited from Mary, and put on a human body from the Divine within Him, which is known in the New Church as the Divine Human. The Father is the inmost Divine which became outwardly manifest in a human form, known as the Son. As the Lord is one with the Father, the Lord's Prayer is directed to the Lord only. In the phrase Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name the word "name" is everything by which God is worshipped, especially His Divine Human, the Son, by which He is approached. In scripture it is known that Jesus at times prayed to the Father, and at other times declared Himself one with the Father. This was because during His life Jesus progressed towards God by gradually making the human body he inherited at birth one with the Divine: the progress towards union with the Divine was his state of exinanition (see Kenosis), and the unification itself was His state of glorification. It was this progress towards unification, completed by the passion on the cross, that is the means by which all of humanity was saved from hell.
A saving faith is in Jesus Christ, who is God and Man, as he who approaches Jesus approaches the Father in Him. A faith in Jesus is a faith in a visible God, in whom is the invisible. Jesus is the image and form of the invisible God, by which focus can be retained on a finite form for the human mind. Without such an image or form for the thought, a belief in God falls into nothing and cannot be retained. The New Church takes this further, and states that God is Man Himself. Inasmuch as a person is in good and follows the truth, so far God abides in that person who becomes closer to being an image and likeness of Him. Whereas formerly the invisible God was worshipped, or God was worshipped by means of angelic intermediaries, or God was improperly divided into three persons, the revelation of the New Church is said to be the "crown of all churches which preceded it" as in it the one invisible God is worshipped in visible human form.
The sum of faith is, that he who lives well and believes alright is saved by the Lord. Faith is not mere persuasive belief: faith without charity is not faith, nor is charity without faith charity, for faith and charity make one in good works. Faith and charity are one in the same way the will and the understanding in every person makes one: but they only become one in acts of good works or repentance. The union of faith and charity is a central tenet of the New Church, for all things of substance and form have relation to the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom, and the will and understanding in each person is a symbolic form or receptacle of God's Love and Wisdom. Thus a person must not only through self-effort learn and accept the truths of faith, but also live by them, and in this manner a person becomes a receptacle and an abode of the Lord's presence. In this union between man and the Lord the faith becomes a living spiritual faith. All the precepts of how one should live is contained in the precepts of the Decalogue. The first act of faith is repentance, which is a self-examination and acknowledgement of one's sins, and turning away from evil.
All of sacred scripture concerns the Lord and his kingdom, and the Lord Himself is the Word. As a corollary doctrine, there are thus three essential doctrines or pillars of the New Church: the acknowledgment of the Divinity of the Lord, the acknowledgment of the holiness of the Word, and a life according to charity. Holy Scripture is Divinely inspired, as the literal sense contains a spiritual sense, which has been unveiled in the New Church through a series of symbolic correspondences. The literal sense, similar to a parable, hides the inner spiritual sense: "The truths of the sense of the letter of the Word are in part not naked truths, but are appearances of truth, and like similitudes and comparisons are taken from such things as are in nature; and thus are such as have been accommodated and adapted to the capacity of the simple and also of children." Scripture will not be properly understood without doctrine, and doctrines of the church should be confirmed from scripture. True doctrine can only be known to those who are in enlightenment from the Lord, and those who are not can derive heresies from it. The literal sense of scripture contains the Divine truth in all of its fullness and power, thus a person becomes conjoined with the Lord and His angels when reading it.
There are two primary sacraments of the New Church: Baptism and the Eucharist (also Communion, or Holy Supper). These are external rituals that are symbolic of the inner spiritual life. Baptism signifies one's entry into Christianity, and signifies the reformation of the mind, where falsity is washed away by truth. The baptism ritual should be done when one has reached the age of reason to make the decision to follow Jesus Christ, and yet, Swedenborg states that infants who are baptized are assigned a guardian angel until they reach the proper age, to guide them into the Christian faith. The Holy Supper, or Communion, signifies the regeneration of one's will in accordance with God's commandments, which causes the Lord to commune closely with man in his heart. Thus everyone should examine his or her life before partaking in the Holy Supper, in order for the ritual to fulfill its purpose.
A personal sacrament of the New Church is the rite of marriage, as administration by a priest is considered more of an expediency rather than a necessity. It is not mentioned as a sacrament along with Baptism and the Holy Supper. However elsewhere Swedenborg states that marriage should be administered by a priest "because marriages, considered in themselves, are spiritual, and thence holy; for they descend from the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and things conjugial correspond to the divine marriage of the Lord and the church; and hence they are from the Lord himself." Moreover, true marriage love is founded in religion, as they both originate from God. Without a religious foundation, a marriage can turn cold. Marriage that is truly spiritual lasts forever, even in heaven after death. There, the two remain male and female as to form, and become one angel as to their soul. As a couple they live a life of useful service in the Lord's Heavenly Kingdom, which is perfected to eternity. If a person dies unmarried he or she will find a spouse in heaven.
Man is a form of truth, and the woman is a form of love, and the two make one. Marriage love comes directly from the sphere of heaven into all humans, and a life of celibacy interferes with this. Thus marriage is to be preferred to a state of remaining celibate.
Before the universe was created, there was no space and time, and the realm where there is no space and time is the spiritual world. The spiritual world, which is divided between heaven and hell, is where the internal states of the soul become immediate realities. "All who die and become angels put off those two things proper to nature, which...are space and time; for they enter then into spiritual light, in which the objects of thought are truths, and the objects of sight are similar to the objects in the natural world, but correspondent to their thoughts." Instead of time, there are states of being, and instead of space or distance, there are affections and love. The more two souls love each other and are similar to each other, the closer they will appear to each other. God Himself is love itself, and the more one is in love towards God and others, the closer that person is to heaven, and the more one is into the love of self and the world, the closer they are to hell.
The soul is the recipient of life from God, and the body its natural clothing. The beginning of life, or the origin of one's soul, comes from the seed of the father, and the external body comes from the mother. Given this, as Jesus was born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit, His soul was the Divine itself, and He had a pre-existence as Jehovah who always existed As souls originate from the seed of the father, for others there is no such thing as the pre-existence of souls, and thus there is no such thing as reincarnation or metempsychosis. Associated with each person during their life are spirits and angels by which one obtains conjunction with heaven or hell, depending on how one lives their life. Generally, communication between spirits and man is not permitted, however in ancient times this communication was more open. Angels and spirits do retain their memories, and under certain mental states when communication is opened, a person may remember that spirit's memory as if it was one's own. In modern times this kind of mental state can be achieved under hypnosis and is known as "past life regression". It is from these types of experiences that some of the ancients derived a belief in the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation. However this is not true, one only lives once, and how one lives this life determines one's eternal destiny. At death, the soul sheds the physical body, after which one becomes aware of the spiritual society one's soul was associated with. Thus Jesus said, The kingdom of God is inside of you (Luke 17:21).
There is no such thing as purgatory, a state after death where one suffers temporal punishments before entry into heaven. Punishment only takes place in hell. However immediately after the death of the body, one enters the world of spirits, an intermediate state where one awaits judgment to enter heaven or hell. Insofar as the evil feign false appearances to appear good, or those who are good retain false ideas, one remains in this intermediate state until an exploration takes place. Those who are good and at the same time in truth pass immediately to heaven, and those who are in evil and the same time in falsity pass to hell. Otherwise, one gradually withdraws from exterior appearances and fallacies into one's interior intentions and affections in the world of spirits. This process is completed when one acts in complete freedom without any exterior restraint, and everything of a person's character is then made open and manifest. "Thus hidden things are laid open and secret things are uncovered, according to the Lord's words: There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid that shall not be known: whatsoever ye have said in the darkness, shall be heard in the light, and what ye have spoken in the ear in closets, shall be preached on the housetops (Luke xii. 2, 3). And in another place: I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment (Matt. xii. 36)."
When all external restraints are removed in the world of spirits, nothing remains to stop evil spirits except punishment. As evil spirits act according to their nature, they are then drawn downward towards similar evil societies in hell. "Every evil brings with itself punishment, the two making one; whoever therefore is in evil, is also in the punishment of evil. But still no one in the other world suffers punishment on account of the evils which he had done in this world, but on account of the evils which he then does. Yet it amounts to the same, and is the same thing, whether it be said that men suffer punishment on account of their evils in the world, or that they suffer punishment on account of the evils which they do in the other life, inasmuch as every one after death returns into his own life, and thus into similar evils, his nature remaining the same as it had been in the life of the body. That they are punished, is because the fear of punishment is the only means of subduing evils in this state. Exhortation is no longer of any avail, neither instruction, nor the fear of the law and loss of reputation, since every one now acts from his nature, which cannot be restrained nor broken except by punishments." God casts no one to hell: as hell is the internal state of evil, and heaven is the internal state of good, each person enters a state that matches his or her internal nature. Each person will remain to eternity according to his will or ruling love.
The Lord is the God of heaven, and heaven is made of the Divine which proceeds from Him. In heaven the Lord is seen by the angels as a Sun which provides light to all of heaven, and at times He appears in the midst of heaven in the form of an angel. Thus Jesus stated that He is the light of the world, and at one time the apostles saw the face of Jesus shining like a sun. It is for this reason the ancients aligned their temples to the east to the rising sun. In heaven there are innumerable societies each fulfilling a particular office, each arranged according to one's love. Altogether the form of heaven is that of a human form. Each angel has a spiritual body also in human form, and is a heaven in its least microcosmic form. All angels and demons in heaven and hell originated from the human race, and this is why angels have human form. There is no individual spirit known as the devil or satan: "in the whole heaven there is not one angel who was so created from the beginning, nor in hell any devil who was created an angel of light and cast down; but that all, both in heaven and in hell, are from the human race; in heaven those who lived in the world in heavenly love and faith, in hell those who lived in infernal love and faith; and that hell taken as a whole is what is called the devil and satan."
Free will to choose between good and evil originates from the spiritual equilibrium that exists between heaven and hell. Hell continually influences man to do evil, and heaven continually influences man to do good. It is from this spiritual equilibrium that man has freedom to think rationally, and it is from this freedom that one can be spiritually reformed by acknowledging evil in one's self, then ceasing to do evil, and finally to hold that evil in aversion. The reason why this choice is spiritual in origin is there is a constant spiritual influx into the soul and mind with every thought and action. Inasmuch as one does good one becomes conjoined with angels, and inasmuch as one does evil one becomes conjoined with evil spirits. One must become reformed and saved by means of Divine truth: for it is truth which fights against what is evil and false. When the truth is accepted and one sees an internal evil selfish desire, combat or temptation results. One must resist against evil temptation from one's own effort, which appears as a remorse of conscience, but in reality this is a combat that takes place between the Lord and the devil or hell. Thus "he who thinks that he fights from himself against the devil is enormously deceived."
Salvation or condemnation is a result of one's moral choices in life, based on one's intentions. Good is only considered good once evils are removed, not before. Good must be done for the sake of the Lord our of love, and not for profit or self-honor. And, one must acknowledge that all good comes from the Lord only, and only the Lord can conquer temptation. This is a continuous process during one's lifetime. If this is the case, the question then arises, why was it necessary for Jesus Christ to come to save the human race? The answer to that is before the time of Jesus, the spiritual equilibrium between heaven and hell had become imbalanced, and hell began to gain control and influence over humanity: more people began to choose evil, and an eternal damnation threatened the entire human race. By becoming incarnate in human form, Jehovah could fight directly against all of hell, as Jesus suffered enormous temptations from the body He inherited from His human mother. This process continued until Jesus conquered all temptations, and thus all of hell, even to the point where His physical body was made one with the Divine. From His body the Divine proceeded forth as the Holy Spirit, by which He can directly operate through each person's will for reformation, so that each person can become conjoined directly with the Lord.
Remission of sins is nothing more than their removal after repentance. This is the other point where the New Church differs from the older Christian churches. "The belief that the passion of the cross was redemption itself is a fundamental error of the church; and that error, together with the error concerning three Divine persons from eternity, has perverted the whole church, so that nothing spiritual is left in it." The passion of the cross was simply the last temptation that was endured before the human was made Divine. There is no such thing as vicarious atonement, where sins are transferred from one person to another. Passages from scripture that refer to the body and blood of Jesus refer to the Divine Good and Divine Truth which proceeds from his Divine Human; and these are imbibed or imputed by a life of charity and faith.
The Word of God is contained in the Bible, which has a symbolic spiritual meaning hidden in its literal sense. Swedenborg's visions primarily explain how and why the Bible is Divinely Inspired, and it is methodically delineated word by word in his massive multi-volume work, the Arcana Coelestia (meaning Heavenly Secrets). The symbolic language, where each passage follows the other in a coherent logical series, is what Swedenborg called "correspondences." This inner meaning was kept hidden, and could only have been discovered through revelation, which was made available when mankind was ready to receive it. It is this hidden inner meaning that separates the Bible from other books, and each statement Swedenborg makes is supported through numerous quotations of Biblical passages. The books that have this inner spiritual meaning is what forms the true Biblical canon, as follows:
According to Swedenborg, the original text of the Old Testament is preserved in the Hebrew Masoretic edition, where letters were counted by the Masorites to ensure that the scripture remained accurate and free from corruption. Similar to Judaism, Swedenborg divides the Old Testament into three main divisions: the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The same divisions were specified by Jesus Christ in the gospel of Luke (Luke 24:44). The books of the Bible that have an internal spiritual sense, and are thus divinely inspired, include the Law of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) and the Psalms. Swedenborg's groupings differ from Judaism's, as he assigned Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings to the Law of Moses, while according to the Jewish biblical canon the Law of Moses (the Torah) refers to the first five books, and these four books belong to the Prophets (Nevi'im). However, in other passages Swedenborg states that Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets respectively, and as Elijah appears in the book of Kings that would indicate that this book should belong among the Prophets.
The other books of the Old Testament, which are not believed to be divinely inspired, include those that are generally grouped by the Jews under the "Writings" (Ketuvim). In the Greek Septuagint these works were mixed in with the rest of scripture, which largely determined the Biblical book order for all of Christianity. Moreover, the Greek Septuagint introduced other writings among the Hebrew scripture, which Martin Luther removed and placed among the Apocrypha. Among the Writings the Jews included Lamentations, Daniel, and sometimes the Psalms, which the New Church states are divinely inspired and are considered as primary sacred scripture. Of the other books in the Writings, Swedenborg takes special note of the Book of Job and the Song of Songs. These books do indeed contain symbolic representations similar to divinely inspired scripture, but not in a complete series.
The New Church regards the words of Jesus as divinely inspired, and thus the canon of sacred scripture, and among the books of the New Testament includes only the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and the Book of Revelation. Only these books contain an internal symbolism in a series, and are thus divinely inspired.
Although this leaves out the Book of Acts and the letters of the apostles, the New Church holds them in esteem similar to that of the Jews for the Writings of the Old Testament. Swedenborg stated that these books were included as an act of divine providence, as books explaining Christian doctrine were needed for the general public. Paul's letters, although not containing a word for word symbolic correspondence, was still Divinely influenced: "Paul indeed spoke from inspiration, but not in the same way as the prophets, to whom every single word was dictated but that his inspiration was that he received an influx, according to those things which were with him, which is quite a different inspiration, and has no conjunction with heaven by correspondences."
Swedenborg stated that there were a set of sacred texts among an "Ancient Church" in the Middle East which preceded Judaism, but the texts became lost over time. Some of these are quoted in the Bible, such as The Wars of Jehovah (Num. 21:14–15) and another book similar to those in the Prophets (Num. 21:27–30). Another work that Swedenborg said belonged to the Ancient Church was the Book of Jasher, which is also quoted in the Bible (Josh. 10:12–13, 2 Sam. 1:17–18), which Swedenborg stated was still extant in Tartary. A Hebrew midrash called Jasher (see Sefer haYashar) was published in Venice in 1625, and an English translation was published in 1840. The Hebrew text was examined by the 19th century biblical scholar George Bush (a relative of the Bush political family), who later became a Swedenborgian minister. Although the New Church has no official position on this Hebrew text, Swedenborg stated that the first portions of Genesis was taken from the Ancient Word, and these portions do happen to be found in the book of Jasher. Scholars, however, have identified late additions to this Hebrew text.
In the doctrines of the New Church, there is a complete review and assessment of the doctrines of the former churches. Before the New Church can be received, the doctrines of the older churches must be exposed in the open and rejected. This is because the faith of the New Church is so opposite to the doctrines of the older Christian churches that they cannot coexist. An assessment of other beliefs also helps to clarify the position of the New Church, and explains why a revelation was needed to correct the theological direction of the Christian churches.
In the New Church, authority is based on Divine revelation, not on creeds or church councils. All doctrine should be confirmed by scripture. However, one's interpretation of scripture is also determined by doctrine, and one should seek enlightenment from the Lord when reading the Word. As the New Church was established to correct errors that have been accepted as true throughout the history of Christianity, the following is an assessment of the foundational creeds and ecumenical councils of the Christian church:
The Apostles' Creed is the Creed of the Apostolic Church, which contains no explicit statement of a trinity of persons, as indicated in the phrase, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary: also in the Holy Spirit. This creed is in agreement with the doctrines of the New Church, as it does not mention a Son who existed from eternity, but rather the Son born in time to the virgin Mary. In the New Church, the Son is not a separate person, but the human born in time to the virgin Mary by which God became man and man became God.
The Nicene Creed, along with the Athanasian Creed, introduced an idea of a trinity of persons, and perverted the entire Christian Church. The Nicene Creed is a modified version of the Apostles' Creed, and in the view of the New Church a trinity of persons is equivalent to a trinity of Gods, nor does the explanation that the three persons are of one substance or essence remove this idea of three Gods from the thought. The Nicene Creed also introduces the concept of a Son "begotten from eternity," and in the New Church the idea of a Son born from eternity assuming a human body is not only erroneous, but is the source of several theological errors. In the New Church, "the Human, by which God sent Himself into the world, is the Son of God."
As with the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed is incorrect when it defines a trinity of persons. Despite this, in the New Church the Athanasian Creed can be corrected as long as a Trinity of one person in the Lord is understood when the creed speaks of a trinity of persons. Moreover, the Athanasian Creed expresses the correct doctrine of the Divine Human of the New Church, as it states: That our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man; and although He is God and Man, still there are not two, but there is one Christ. He is one, because the Divine took to itself the Human; yea, He is altogether one, for He is one Person: since as the soul and the body make one man, so God and Man is one Christ. In the doctrine of the New Church, the human nature of the Lord was fully glorified and was made Divine.
The Council of Chalcedon declared that Jesus has two natures, the Divine and the human, and is thus contrary to the doctrine of the New Church. As for this particular council, Swedenborg stated that it was revealed to him in a vision from heaven that "those who had the greatest influence in the council, and who were superior to the rest in rank and authority, came together in a dark room and there concluded that both a Divine and a human nature should be attributed to the Lord; principally for the reason, that otherwise the papal sway could not be maintained. For if they had acknowledged the Lord to be one with the Father, as He Himself says, no one could have been recognized as His vicar on earth; and schisms were arising at that time, by which the papal power might have fallen and been dissipated, if they had not made this distinction. Then to give their decision strength, they sought out confirmations from the Word, and persuaded the rest." Whereas most other churches still maintain that Jesus has two natures, the New Church states that His Human was made Divine. The position of the New Church is thus similar or the same as the Monophysite theology of the ancient Christian Churches of the Middle East, which was suppressed by the western Chalcedonian churches.
In Socinianism the Divinity of Jesus is denied, and Jesus is considered to be no different than any other man. Arianism is similar, which states that Jesus was a created being. As the acknowledgement of Jesus as the God-Man or Divine Human is a central tenet of the New Church, this type of theology is regarded as the worst and most abominable of all heresies. The Divine Human is the means by which all of humanity is saved, and as all those who are in heaven are in His presence, those in the Christian church who have denied His Divinity have no other place to go than hell. This condemnation, however, does not apply to those who have been born and lived outside the Christian church. In the revelation of the New Church it was shown that many within the Christian church are Socinian at heart, denying that Jesus is Divine and are thus hypocrites. The reason why this is so is that this thought can be derived from a doctrine of three persons, from dividing Christ into two natures, and from calling Jesus as the mere son of Mary.
The religion of Islam was established according to Divine Providence, in order to eliminate the idolatrous worship of many nations. It is regarded as a partial or introductory revelation, as Islam worships one God, teaches one to live well and to shun evil, teaches that Jesus was a great prophet and was the Son of God by the virgin Mary, and the Quran contains teachings from portions of scripture. Islam is a religion adapted to societies where polygamy is permitted. As polygamy is an opposite love from monogamous marriage, and a marriage between a husband and wife corresponds to the marriage of the Lord and the church, internal spiritual matters were not revealed or allowed to be known in Islam to prevent what is holy from being profaned. It is thus regarded differently from Socinianism or Arianism, because only those within the Christian church can profane what is holy by distorting scripture, and those outside the church such as Muslims cannot. Muslims will oppose any Christian church where a trinity of three Divine persons is accepted. The New Church teaches that there is a society of Muslims in heaven, but only those who reject polygamy in favor of monogamy can be taught the true nature of the Lord.
According to Swedenborgian teaching, the Roman Catholic Church has perverted scripture for the purpose of obtaining primacy and dominion in spiritual matters. Specifically, the intent of the decision at the Council of Chalcedon to declare that Jesus has a Divine and human nature was so that the Papacy could claim to be the Vicar of Christ, and appropriate spiritual powers to the priesthood which belongs to Divinity alone. Thus authority is often claimed by the Papacy and the priesthood over that of scripture. The desire to spiritually rule over others or appearing pious for the sake of self-honor and reputation originates from self-love which is opposite to the love of God and others. Papal primacy is claimed by the Catholic Church from a false interpretation of Matt. 16:18-19, where the apostle Peter is declared to be the rock on which the church will be built, and he is given the keys of heaven. In the New Church, this passage is understood spiritually: the "rock" signifies the truth that Jesus is the Lord, "Peter" signifies faith in the Lord, and the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" signifies the power from faith that allows one to enter heaven. It was from Divine Providence that the Catholic Church was allowed to have spiritual dominion, as it helped spread the gospel and prevented the Christian church from being destroyed by Arianism or Socinianism. Those within the Catholic church who do not read scripture are in external worship only, but this again is from Divine Providence to prevent holy scripture from being profaned. Catholics who have avoided idolatrous worship, and out of a sincere heart adored the Lord alone and have done good works, can receive spiritual truth from scripture more easily than others. The New Church is in agreement with the Catholic Church insofar as both do not separate faith from charity.
Although the Protestant churches have broken away from the Catholic Church and rejected many of its traditions, surprisingly on further analysis the basic theology has remained the same. For the most part, Catholics and Protestants agree on the belief of a trinity of three persons, original sin, the imputation of the merit of Christ, and justification by faith. The main difference is that the Protestants believe that faith alone saves, without works of charity. The reason why the leading reformers separated faith from charity was for the sake of obtaining complete separation from the Catholic Church. Despite this, Protestants do adjoin good works to charity, but in man as a passive subject, whereas in the Catholic Church good works can be done by man as an active subject. In the New Church good works must also be done according to faith in man also as an active subject, with the acknowledgment that all good originates from God and not from self. The Protestant doctrine of separating faith from good works is derived from a single verse from the apostle Paul, where he states that man is justified by faith without "works of the law" (Rom. 3:28). However this is a false interpretation, for by "works of the law" Paul had meant the external rituals of the Mosaic law, not the Decalogue or the ten commandments, nor works of charity. When it is recognized that the doctrine of faith alone is false, and true faith is joined to how one lives one's life, the rest of the theology falls apart. Thus there is no instantaneous salvation by paying lip service to a belief in Christ, at which time "imputed righteousness" is transferred to the believer. Rather, everyone acquires a nature according to their works, and thus everyone must repent of their sins by refusing to do evil. "The faith of the former church is, that repentance, remission of sins, renewal, regeneration, sanctification, and salvation, follow of themselves the faith that is given and imputed, without any thing of man being mingled or joined with them: but the faith of the New Church teaches repentance, reformation, regeneration, and thus remission of sins, with man's cooperation. The faith of the former church teaches the imputation of Christ's merit, and the imputation embraced in the faith that is given: but the faith of the New Church teaches the imputation of good and evil, and at the same time of faith, and that this imputation is according to the Sacred Scripture, while the other is contrary to it." Insofar as Protestant churches withdraw from the doctrine of faith alone (see Sola fide), they tend to be in greater light than other churches, for "the Word is read by them, and the Lord is worshipped, and hence with them there is the greatest light; and spiritual light, which is from the Lord as the Sun, which in its essence is Divine love, proceeds and extends itself in every direction, and enlightens even those who are in the circumferences round about, and opens the faculty of understanding truths, so far as they can receive them in accordance with their religion."
There is no "end of the world" where the visible heaven and earth will disappear. Instead, the church has passed through different ages or dispensations, each ending with a Last Judgment that occurs in the spiritual world. The last of these took place in the year 1757. Previous last judgments had occurred at the time of Noah's Flood, and at the passion of the cross by Jesus Christ. The purpose of these last judgments is to separate the good from the evil in the intermediate spiritual world, which lies between heaven and hell. As a result of these periodic judgments, a new age or New Church begins among the people on earth. The Second Coming of the Lord is not a coming in person as the Word incarnate, but His coming is the revelation of the spiritual symbolism in the Bible, and the formation of a New Church as a result of this revelation.
There have been four Churches or dispensations preceding the New Church on this earth: the first was the "Most Ancient Church" before the flood, where contact with heaven was direct. The second was the "Ancient Church" which followed the flood, which was destroyed by idolatry. The third was Judaism, which began with the revelation of the Decalogue to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The fourth is Christianity established by Jesus and his apostles, which over time became divided primarily into the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and Protestantism. The New Church, which is the final phase or dispensation, is a renewal of Christianity based on the Lord's Second Coming. The New Church is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the heavenly New Jerusalem which descends out of heaven in the book of Revelation. Swedenborg stated that the establishment of the New Church would happen gradually, and not in a moment, as the false beliefs of the former Church had to first be set aside.
Some Christians of other denominations have criticised the church's beliefs, due to the denial of a Holy Trinity of three persons and the denial of blood atonement. The New Church believes that there is one God in one person, Jesus Christ, and that his "blood" signifies the truth of the Holy Spirit which sanctifies a person. It is these two doctrines which cause some Christian theologians to classify the Church as a cult.
Others reject the teachings on the basis that Swedenborg claimed to have visions. The late Walter Martin, a well known Evangelical author and apologist, quoted an authority that his spiritual experiences "were admittedly of such a character, that in an ordinary man they would have sufficed to qualify him for an asylum." In contrast, Martin stated that his theological writings were so systematic that "no one can reasonably say that Swedenborg was insane." Instead, Martin argued that "Swedenborg was a rationalist, and paradoxically, a mystic. He was one who absorbed the introspective and subjective philosophy of Rene Descartes, and the empiricism of John Locke, which he combined with the transcendentalism of lmmanuel Kant, thus forming a mold into which Christian theology was poured, and what would not go into the mold (selected Old Testament works, the Pauline epistles, Acts, James, Peter, Jude, etc.), he simply discarded. What emerged was a deeply speculative philosophical system of theology, couched in a redefined Christian terminology, and buttressed with mystical visions, trances, and dreams."
The earliest and most well known example of a dual treatment of Swedenborg came from German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who was a contemporary of Swedenborg. Swedenborg was relatively unknown until 1759 when a fire broke out in Stockholm, Sweden, which threatened to burn down his house and all his writings. At the time Swedenborg was at a dinner in Gothenburg, 480 kilometres away. He suddenly turned pale and described to the guests exactly what was happening, until the fire was put out three houses down from his house. This was investigated by Kant who wrote Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, in which he criticized Swedenborg and knowledge derived from dreams and visions. In private letters Kant stated that he clothed his views in irony, and had great admiration for Swedenborg, but did not publicly admit it for fear of ridicule.
Some Christians argue that Swedenborg was someone who channeled spirits, and that although he himself warned against such, he felt he had been given permission from God to do, and that the spirits Swedenborg contacted were "good spirits." As many of Swedenborg's teachings disagree with what has been established as orthodox theology, they state that he received his information from evil spirits and that the revelation that Swedenborg's New Church has promoted is "among the most antibiblical and anti-Christian material ever printed."
Martin stated that Swedenborg "was apparently well aware of the fact that Pauline theology, if accepted at face value, would vitiate almost en toto his own. So he began with the basic. assumption that he was right, and that the apostle Paul was wrong! In some of his visions and dreams, he stated that he actually argued with Paul, Luther, Calvin, and others. And, as ego triumphed, these great thinkers all retreated before Swedenborg’s new revelations. However, one factor must never be forgotten, and that is the statement that the New Testament is the criterion for measuring all subsequent revelations, and whatever is found to be contrary to it, must be and always has been, rejected by the Christian church.
These Christians emphasize that in distinguishing an evil spirit from an angel of light, true angels must glorify Christ and any teaching must be based on scripture. In response, Swedenborg's apologists argue that Swedenborg would agree, as he stated no evil spirit in hell can even utter the name of Jesus, as the name "Jesus" signifies salvation and those in the spiritual world must speak as they think. They also contend that, unlike many spiritualists, Swedenborg consistently elevates Jesus Christ as the God of heaven and earth, and all doctrines are derived from numerous scriptural references. Moreover, Swedenborg states that none of the teachings originated from any angel or spirit, and that the spiritual world was revealed to him so that humanity may know that there is life after death: "…when I think of what I am about to write and while I am writing, I enjoy a complete inspiration, for otherwise it would be my own; but now I know for certain that what I write is the living truth of God." "That the Lord manifested Himself before me His servant, and sent me to this office, and that He afterward opened the sight of my spirit, and so has admitted me into the spiritual world, and has granted to me to see the heavens and the hells, also to converse with angels and spirits, and this now continuously for many years, I testify in truth; likewise, that from the first day of that call I have not received any thing which pertains to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I read the Word."
In response to claims of a Scriptural basis, Christian apologists point out that Swedenborg only held to 36 books of the Bible as being wholly inspired, and that one of the devil's tactics is to masquerade as an entity of light, and Swedenborg's allegorical and esoteric interpretations and paranormal encounters (of a type which are seen as occultic), contradict Scripture and render as spurious any claim to be Scriptural.
In his day Swedenborg had distributed his books to many of the bishops of England, and to the nobility, but although considered well-written they did not think them valuable and instructed as many as they could not to read them. Censorship in the form of omission was claimed by Eric J. Sharpe in the evangelical biographies of Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889–1929). Singh was said to have a number of gifts, including healing and having visions. Although Singh claimed to have seen Emanuel Swedenborg in his visions, Sharpe discovered that all the evangelical biographies would omit this fact, due to the fact they considered the teachings of Swedenborg as unorthodox (see "Biographical Controversies" in Sadhu Sundar Singh). Swedenborg apologists complain that censorship continues to this day as several Swedenborg websites on the internet are classified as a "malicious site" in web filtering software (see "Religious, anti-religious, and political censorship" in Content-control software).
The writings of Swedenborg cover a wide area of subjects. Thus Swedenborg and the New Church have had influence in a number of other areas.
Researcher D. Michael Quinn suggests that Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, was influenced by the writings of Swedenborg. Like Swedenborg, Mormons believe in eternal marriage, but require that the ritual be performed in a Mormon temple (see Celestial Marriage). Also Joseph Smith's idea of three heavens is similar to Swedenborg's view that there are three heavens (see Heaven and Hell (Swedenborg)). Both Swedenborg and Joseph Smith refer to the highest heaven as "celestial", in concert with the usage of the apostle Paul (see 2 Corinthians 12:2) when he described a visit to the "third heaven". Other historians, including William J. Hamblin, seriously doubt whether Joseph Smith, living in rural upstate New York, could have had access to Swedenborg's book and so find Quinn's assertions problematic. However, Edward Hunter, a Swedenborgian who later became a Mormon, reported that in 1839 Joseph Smith told him he was familiar with the writings of Swedenborg.
New Thought is a spiritual movement that began in the United States in the late 19th century which promotes positive thinking and healing. One of its earliest proponents was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a healer who said that illnesses in the body originated from false beliefs in the mind. One of the people he healed was Warren Felt Evans, a Swedenborgian minister, who himself became a healer and published several books promoting New Thought and explaining it in terms of New Church doctrines. Swedenborg had stated that there was a correspondence of heaven with all things on earth, and thus there is a correspondence between the mind and the body. In general, the organized churches based on New Thought (e.g., Unity Church, Religious Science, Church of Divine Science) have developed their own teachings separate from those of Swedenborg and the New Church.
Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, was familiar with the works of Swedenborg. He mentioned Swedenborg's clairvoyance of the fire of Stockholm in 1759 as an example of synchronicity, writing "“When . . . the vision arose in Swedenborg’s mind of a fire in Stockholm, there was a real fire raging there at the same time, without there being any demonstrable or even thinkable connection between the two”".
Notable persons influenced either by Swedenborg's writing or by the New Church include:William Blake: An English poet and painter who wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: a satirization of Swedenborg's work Heaven and Hell. And Blake and his wife, Catherine, attended the first General Conference of the New Jerusalem Church in 1789. It is worth noting; however, that Blake was influenced by an earlier version of the New Church. The doctrine of the church has went through many revisions since William Blake's lifetime.
Daniel Burnham: His parents were Swedenborgians.
Robert Carter III: Became a Swedenborgian in 1787 after his wife died.
John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman: was an American folk hero, missionary and pioneer who planted apple trees throughout the Midwest of America
Robert Frost: American poet who was baptized in the church
Leonard Gyllenhaal: Entomologist and dedicated Swedenborgian.
Stephen Gyllenhaal: Descendant of Leonard who was raised Swedenborgian.
William Harbutt: Inventor of Plasticine was a member at Bath too.
Helen Keller: Wrote Light in My Darkness which advocated the ideals of Emanuel Swedenborg.
James Tyler Kent: Late 19th-century American homeopathic physician who incorporated Swendenborgian principles into homeopathic theory of disease, as described in his Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy.
Lucius Lyon: "In politics he was Democrat, in religion a Swedenborgian."
William Rainey Marshall: Fifth governor of Minnesota and advocate for black suffrage.
Mehmet Oz: He has been influenced by the mysticism of Sufi Muslims, as well as the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg
Sir Isaac Pitman: inventor of shorthand was a prominent member of the Greek styled New Jerusalem church in Bath, England.
Arthur Sewall: Democratic candidate for vice-president in the 1896 U.S. presidential election.
Ernest George Trobridge: an architect and developer who was active in domestic architecture during the first half of the 20th century, especially in the North Western suburbs of London.
Lois Wilson: Founder of Al-Anon, raised Swedenborgian. (Her husband Bill W, of A.A. fame, married her at her family's Swedenborgian chapel. Still the influence of the faith on him is disputed.)
There are 25 churches left in England and a handful of ministers. The denomination in the 19th century had over a hundred churches in the UK, often very grand churches very Anglican in style with large chancels, side pulpits and altars. Nearly all of these churches have closed or were rebuilt in the late 20th century.