New Jerusalem Church
NEW JERUSALEM CHURCH
Known also as the New Church or the Swedenborgian Church, organized in London, England, in 1787 by students of the theological writings of Emanuel sweden-borg (1688–1772). Swedenborg himself never organized a church or even a group. The first organizer in London was Robert Hindmarsh, a Methodist. Subsequently ministers were ordained and other groups recognized; in 1789 the first general conference of the New Church met in the chapel at Great Eastcheap.
Swedenborgian doctrine was introduced into the U.S. in 1784; the first congregation was organized in Baltimore, Md., in 1792. By 1817 the number of existing societies was sufficient to form a General Convention of the New Jerusalem, which met that year in Philadelphia. A separate body of Swedenborgians was formed in 1890, and in 1897 took the name of the General Church of the New Jerusalem with headquarters in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. This group considers itself more faithful to the ideas of Swedenborg, has its own school system, and in government is similar to the episcopal church. The General Convention churches are more liberal in doctrine, more active in ecumenical cooperation, and are congregational in church polity.
A distinctive characteristic of the Swedenborgian churches is their unusual doctrine on God: He is One and is "the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whom is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (Adoramus, a non-creedal formula used in many churches). This seems to be a Trinity of Person, not of Persons. Other distinctive doctrines are derived from Swedenborg's spiritual writings, although local option determines the selection for any individual congregation. Some consider him the heaven-sent revealer of the true spiritual meaning of Scripture; others look upon him much as Lutherans consider Martin Luther or Roman Catholics regard the Greek Fathers. Swedenborgian doctrines more commonly held include the belief that Sacred Scripture is God's Word, revealing Jesus Christ as the "Divine Human" by faith, in whom humanity is saved; the New Jerusalem is a symbol of a new spiritual era, heralded by Swedenborg's spiritual interpretation of the Word; and humans are free spirits temporarily clothed with a material body; death releases them into the world of God and angels, where they make their final free choice of heaven or hell.
Thus a Swedenborgian is a Christian who finds in the writings of Swedenborg a meaning of life that points the way to growth of mind and spirit, resulting in a life of loving service to others. Membership in a Swedenborgian congregation is by baptism or confirmation, or simply with a letter of transfer from another Christian church. Many Swedenborgians enroll in other local churches where no local Swedenborgian church exists.
[d. j. bowman/eds.]