The New Church (Swedenborgian)
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|The New Church|
The New Church (or Swedenborgianism) is the name for several historically related Christian denominations that developed as a
The movement was founded on the belief that God explained the spiritual meaning of
The New Church is seen by members of New Church organizations as something which the Lord is establishing with all those who believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and Earth, and that obeying his commandments is necessary for salvation. Therefore, it is thought that any Christian holding these beliefs is part of this New Church movement. New Church organizations also acknowledge what they believe to be the universal nature of the Lord's church: all who do good from the truth of their religion will be accepted by the Lord into heaven, as God is goodness itself, and doing good conjoins one to God. Adherents believe that the doctrine of the New Church is derived from scripture and provides the benefit of further enlightenment concerning the truth, and that this leads to diminished doubt, a recognition of personal faults, and thus a more directed and happier life.
Other names for the movement include Swedenborgian, New Christians, Neo-Christians, Church of the New Jerusalem, and The Lord's New Church. Those outside the church may refer to the movement as Swedenborgianism; however, some adherents seek to distance themselves from this title, since it implies a following of Swedenborg rather than Jesus Christ. Swedenborg published some of his theological works anonymously, and his writings promoted one Church based on love and charity, rather than multiple churches named after their founders based on belief or doctrine.
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
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
In the 19th century,
In the US, 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
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
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
The Swedenborgian Church of North America, with headquarters in
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