Church of the New Jerusalem
Church of the New Jerusalem
The religious organization devoted to the teachings of Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Shortly after Swedenborg's death, Thomas Cookworthy, Rev. John Cowles, and Rev. Thomas Hartley began to translate Sweden-borg's writings—all originally written and published in Latin— into English. Then in 1783 Robert Hindmarsh called together people interested in Swedenborg's ideas, and weekly meetings began. Originally called the Theosophical Society, the group was reconstituted as the New Jerusalem Church in 1787. Five years later the church was introduced into the United States.
Followers of Swedenborg believe that the Second Coming of Christ took place in 1757 in the form of the revelation of Swedenborg's esoteric interpretation of the Scriptures. They interpret the revelation as a fulfillment of St. John's vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, with the declaration, "Behold, I make all things new." Salvation is regarded as deliverance from sin itself, and hell is considered a free choice on the part of those who prefer an evil life. Jesus is worshiped directly as Creator, Redeemer, the Word, and the Revelation.
The beliefs and practices for the New Jerusalem are put forth in the voluminous religious writings of Swedenborg and are summarized in the introductory chapters of The True Christian Religion (1950) and The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine (1938). A manuscript originally written in 1769 covering much of the same material as the first three chapters of The True Christian Religion was finally published in 1914 as The Canons of the New Church.
In England, the church has taken the name, the New Church. It has more than forty houses of worship administered by a general conference. (Address: New Church Enquiry Centre, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London, WC1A 2TH.)
During its first quarter-century in the United States the New Jerusalem founded some 17 societies. These groups met in 1817 and founded the General Convention of the New Jerusalem. A split occurred in 1840 that led to the formation of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. This later body is now the largest of the several American churches (with more than 3,000 members). It has built a large headquarters and cathedral in the small community of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. The General Convention with over 2,000 members is headquartered at 48 Sargent St., Newton, MA 02158.
In the late 1930s a movement began among members of the New Church in the Netherlands maintaining that, like the Bible, the writings of Swedenborg had an internal spiritual meaning. The immediate implication of the notion was twofold. First, not only is the Bible from the Lord, but the doctrine of the New Church is also. Second, the discovery of the internal meaning in Swedenborg's voluminous writings allows for continuous growth and change in understanding his revelation. Out of this movement emerged the Lord's New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma. It is the smallest of the Swedenborgian churches with three North American congregations. (Address: 1725 Huntingdon Rd., Box 7, Bryn Athyn, PA 19009.)
Swedenborg's teachings had strong influence on the development of the nineteenth-century Spiritualist and occult movements in both Europe and the United States. In America the church found a significant advocate in Jonathan Chapman, popularly known as "Johnny Appleseed," a Swedenborgian who wandered through nineteenth-century settlements planting apple trees and leaving Swedenborgian literature at log cabins.
Through Spiritualist medium Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910), who claimed that Swedenborg was one of three spirits who revealed the secrets of the universe to him in 1844, Swedenborgian ideas flowed into Spiritualism. In fact, a number of Swedenborgian leaders went on to become leaders in Spiritualism, Theosophy, and New Thought. Swedenborg's ideas concerning correspondence between the spiritual and material worlds which led him to write a number of biblical commentaries, also inspired Mary Baker Eddy 's Key to the Scriptures, which was appended to her primary Christian Science textbook, Science and Health.
General Church of the New Jerusalem. The General Church of the New Jerusalem: A Handbook of General Information. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: General Church Publication Committee, 1965.
——. Liturgy and Hymnal. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: General Church Publication Committee, 1966.
Lord's New Church Which Is Nova Hierosalyma. Handbook of the Lord's New Church Which Is Nova Hierosolyma. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: The Author, 1985.
Silver, Ednah C. Sketches of the New Church in America. Boston: Massachusetts New Church Union, 1920.
Woofenden, William Ross. Swedenborg Researcher's Manual. Bryn Athyn, Pa.: Swedenborg Scientific Association, 1988.