Who is Emanuel Swedenborg? Did He Start a New Church?

Dear Readers,

Since Annette and I began this blog in 2012, we have received many expressions of surprise and excitement about the beliefs and ideas presented here. Perhaps it would be helpful, then, to provide more specific information about the origin of our theology, and of the church organizations associated with it.

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) - scientist, philosopher, spiritual seer

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

The beliefs presented on our blog are based on the Bible as interpreted by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), an eighteenth century scientist, philosopher, and explorer of the spiritual world. Swedenborg wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible, opening up a deeper spiritual meaning within the literal meaning. He also presented a new perspective on Christianity—one that is solidly founded on the plain statements of the Bible.

Though Swedenborg wrote about a new era of the church that he said was beginning in his day, he never made any effort to start a church organization. However, fifteen years after his death, a small group of his readers founded the first New Church (Swedenborgian) organization, in London, England. From there it spread around the world.

Despite the relatively small number of avowed Swedenborgians, over the years Swedenborg’s teachings have had a major influence on our society’s changing views of Christianity, the Bible, spirituality, and the afterlife. Much of this influence happened not directly, but indirectly through well-known figures in the subsequent history of Western thought who read Swedenborg and incorporated some of his ideas into their own writings. For some examples, see the article, “Swedenborg’s Cultural Influence” at the website of the Swedenborg Foundation.

The Swedenborgian churches

The various Swedenborgian or “New Church” bodies around the world are Christian churches with ministers and members, churches and worship services, and church organizations that operate much like those of other Christian churches. Though there is a wide variety in the types of worship services offered by the various Swedenborgian groups, many traditional Christians find themselves quite comfortable in the atmosphere of a Swedenborgian congregation.

The main difference is not in what the church looks like and how it operates, but in its beliefs. Though the Swedenborgian churches are Christian, their beliefs about Jesus Christ, the Bible, salvation, and the afterlife distinguish them from all other Christian churches. The various Swedenborgian churches share common beliefs in:

  • A God of pure love and wisdom, who is never angry and never condemns anyone
  • Jesus Christ as God’s own human presence among people on earth and in heaven
  • The Bible as God’s Word containing deeper levels of spiritual meaning
  • God’s presence in all religions and among all people, so that all who live good and thoughtful lives according to their own beliefs will find their place in heaven
  • An afterlife in which we choose heaven or hell for ourselves, based not just on what we believe, but on what we most love to do

Mind you, none of these beliefs are a response to modern enlightened views. All of them, and many more like them, have been fundamental to the Swedenborgian faith from its very beginning over two centuries ago, when such beliefs were universally condemned as heretical by the established Christian churches.

Let’s take a look at the origins and practices of the worldwide Swedenborgian movement.

Why “Swedenborgian”?

Historically, those who follow the teachings found in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg have preferred to be called “New Church,” and to have their religion called “The New Church” or “The New Jerusalem Church.” Swedenborg himself never sought personal fame or notoriety based on his spiritual writings. He published most of them anonymously. His authorship did not become known until a decade after the first of the many volumes of his theological writings rolled off the press.

However, once it became publicly known that he was the author of these unusual books, some of his opponents began to refer to the beliefs contained in them as “Swedenborgianism.” The name stuck. Swedenborg was philosophical about his name being used in this way. In a letter to the king of Sweden dated May 10, 1770 he wrote, “‘Swedenborgianism’ is the worship of the Lord our Savior.” However, a month earlier, on April 12, 1770, he wrote a letter to one of his supporters, Dr. Gabriel Beyer, in which he said that although the doctrine presented in his writings has been called “Swedenborgianism,” he himself calls it Genuine Christianity.

Like Swedenborg, believers in his teachings are of two minds about the term “Swedenborgian.” Some avoid it, since it calls attention to a mere human being instead of focusing on the spiritual message delivered by that human being. Others embrace the name, since it provides a distinct, recognizable name for the church, and leads people to learn about the teachings found in Swedenborg’s writings.

For better or for worse, “Swedenborgian” has became the most widely used name for the teachings presented in Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual writings, and for the churches and people who follow those teachings. However, just as Lutherans don’t worship Martin Luther, and Wesleyan Methodists don’t worship John Wesley, neither do Swedenborgians worship Emanuel Swedenborg. He is considered an extraordinary human being who delivered new spiritual knowledge and understanding from God.

Swedenborg never made any effort to start a church organization based on the teachings in his books. The first church based on those teachings was not founded until fifteen years after his death, by people who had never met him personally. Yet without the books written by Swedenborg, there would be no Swedenborgian churches. So let’s take a look at the person whose writings spawned this religious movement.

Swedenborg the Scientist

Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 29, 1688. His father, Jesper Swedberg, was a prominent Swedish Lutheran clergyman who came from a wealthy mine-owning family. His mother, Sara Behm Swedberg, also came from wealthy mining stock. Young Emanuel Swedberg (later changed to Swedenborg) was therefore provided with a fine education. As an adult he moved in the upper circles of Swedish and European society.

For the son of a minister, a church vocation would have been a natural choice. Instead, Swedenborg chose a career in science and engineering. After graduating from university as a young man, he traveled from his native Sweden to the intellectual centers of Europe, learning from the prominent scientists of his day.

When he returned from his travels, the king of Sweden offered him a position on the Swedish Board of Mines. Mining was the largest industry in Sweden, and Swedenborg took his new post seriously. He again traveled to Europe, this time to learn the newest and best mining techniques and bring them back to Sweden. His post involved many different skills, from deliberating on mining regulations and mediating business disputes to inspecting the mines firsthand and making on-site improvements.

Meanwhile, he continued his scientific studies. He mastered nearly every branch of scientific knowledge that existed in his day, and wrote books about many of them. He made new discoveries and proposed theories to explain some of the phenomena he encountered.

However, as young adulthood gave way to middle age, Swedenborg’s goals moved beyond a search for purely scientific knowledge. He was now searching for the human soul. He focused his studies increasingly on the human body and brain, attempting to locate the soul through scientific observation. But the more painstaking his research, the more his goal eluded his grasp.

Swedenborg the Seer

Later in life Swedenborg would realize that it is impossible to locate the soul through study of the material world because the soul is on an entirely different level—a spiritual level. That realization, however, did not come through his own efforts.

When he was in his mid-fifties, Swedenborg’s life went through a profound change. Through a series of dreams and visions, he felt called by God to leave his scientific work and explore the deeper mysteries of spirit and religion. Yet his scientific studies were not in vain. He realized that every material thing expresses a deeper spiritual reality. His thorough knowledge of the physical world gave him the foundation he needed to understand the workings of the inner spiritual world. And his habits of careful observation and analysis developed through scientific study proved valuable in his explorations of the spiritual realm.

For the remaining three decades of his life Swedenborg devoted himself to spiritual studies. By his account, God had allowed him to be conscious in the spiritual and physical worlds simultaneously. Informed by his experiences in the spiritual world, and by painstaking studies of the Bible in its original languages, he laid the basis for a new Christianity appropriate to an age of intellectual freedom. And yet, he said, these were not his own ideas, but rather were shown to him by the Lord (Jesus Christ) while he was reading and meditating on the Bible.

Swedenborg wrote and published voluminously. Approximately two-thirds of the thirty to forty volumes of his theological works are devoted to explaining deeper spiritual meanings contained within the literal meaning of the Bible. The remaining books explore various spiritual topics. The most poplar of these has always been Heaven and Hell, which is a guided tour of the spiritual world.

These books provide the teachings and Bible interpretations that give the Swedenborgian churches their distinct character and personality.

Swedenborg died in London on March 29, 1772, at the age of eighty-four. Having completed his mission on earth, he happily took up permanent residence in the spiritual world.

The organized Swedenborgian church

It wasn’t until fifteen years after Swedenborg’s death that any move was made to establish a church organization based on his teachings. This was done in 1787 in London, England, by a printer named Robert Hindmarsh and a small group of avid Swedenborg readers. The organization they founded became the General Conference of the New Church in Great Britain. From this oldest of New Church organizations, most of the other Swedenborgian churches around the world owe their origins.

One of those daughter organizations was the General Convention of the New Jerusalem in the United States, whose first convention was held May 15–17, 1817, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today, this organization goes by the public name “The Swedenborgian Church, United States and Canada.” Though it has churches spread across the United States and Canada, its largest concentrations are in the northeastern U.S. coastal states, the Midwest, and California. It currently maintains its central office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its theological seminary, the Center for Swedenborgian Studies, in Berkeley, California. Speaking personally for a moment, this is the church in which I grew up, and in which I was ordained in 1996.

The New Church of Southern Africa was founded independently in 1911 by the Rev. David William Mooki and a group of followers who had accepted the teachings of Swedenborg. It became a mission of the British Conference in 1917, and returned to independent status in 1970, at which time the Rev. Obed S.D. Mooki, the son of the founder, became its first African superintendent. At its peak of 25,000 to 35,000 members in the 1960s to the early 1990s, it was by far the largest Swedenborgian church body in the world. It continues to maintain its own theological seminary, Mooki Memorial College, on the grounds of its home church in Orlando East, Soweto, Johannesburg, and has over eighty churches spread throughout all of the provinces of South Africa, as well as in the country of Lesotho.

The New Church in West Africa, a Nigerian Swedenborgian church organization founded by Africanus Mensah in 1935, has followed an arc similar to that of the New Church of Southern Africa, being affiliated with the British Conference for many years before becoming an independent body. Its headquarters is located in the city of Owo, in Ondo State, Nigeria.

Other significant Swedenborgian organizations around the world that owe their origins to the British Conference are The New Church in Australia, the National Convention of Swedenborgian Churches in the Philippines, and a loose federation of Swedenborgian churches in Western Europe. There are also individual churches or groups of churches in other parts of the world, including South America, the Caribbean, and Asia—especially South Korea, Japan, and India.

The Academy Tradition churches

There is, however, another strain of Swedenborgianism that originated from a schism in the North American church, whose ripples were felt in the various Swedenborgian churches around the world. After a protracted internal struggle over church polity and the status of Swedenborg’s theological writings, a group of Swedenborgians centered in the Philadelphia area broke off from the General Convention in the U.S. to form a separate denominational body that became The General Church of the New Jerusalem, headquartered in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia.

This group maintained—contrary to the position of the other Swedenborgian bodies—that in addition to the Old and New Testaments, Swedenborg’s theological writings are themselves the Word of God. This was based largely on a desire to establish their divine and doctrinal authority. The General Church also adopted a hierarchical, episcopal-style, clergy-led church government organized as a single bishopric administered by a bishop and clergy council in its headquarters in Bryn Athyn. This is in contrast to the more congregational-style lay- and clergy-led church polity of most of the other Swedenborgian organizations. It also set aside the regionalism of the rest of the Swedenborgian movement, and organized itself as a worldwide body. It placed a heavy emphasis on New Church education, maintaining a system of private church schools, including a college in Bryn Athyn originally known as The Academy of the New Church, and now known as Bryn Athyn College.

Though much of the General Church’s membership remains concentrated in and around its original community in Bryn Athyn, with smaller congregations located around the U.S., Canada, and Europe, it also has a significant presence in South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Brazil, and individual congregations in several other parts of the world.

The General Church, in turn, experienced its own schism in 1930s. A group of ministers and laypeople within the General Church began to maintain that if, as the General Church held, Swedenborg’s writings are the Word of God, then they must also have a spiritual meaning, in line with Swedenborg’s teachings about the Word of the Old and New Testaments. The main body of the General Church rejected this view, leading its adherents to form their own church organization in 1937, which they named The Lord’s New Church which is Nova Hierosolyma. (“Nova Hierosolyma” is Latin for “New Jerusalem.”) The Lord’s New Church is also headquartered in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. It has a church polity and structure similar to that of the General Church, including being organized as a worldwide body. However, its major concentrations of churches are in South Africa and Europe.

Within the Swedenborgian movement as a whole, the General Church and the Lord’s New Church are known as the “Academy Tradition” churches, whereas the rest of the Swedenborgian bodies are known as “Conference Tradition” churches.

Despite its two centuries of existence, the organized Swedenborgian church remains a small movement, with perhaps only 20,000 to 30,000 members worldwide in all of its branches combined. However, its influence on contemporary religious thought has been all out of proportion to its small size. Swedenborgians rejoice in seeing many of their long-held beliefs gradually gaining acceptance in the wider society. For example, though Christian leaders of Swedenborg’s day almost universally rejected the idea that non-Christians could go to heaven, today many Christian leaders and ordinary Christians have come to believe this.

Swedenborgian rituals and worship

The beliefs of the Swedenborgian churches are what especially distinguish them from other churches. But they engage in some of the same rituals that other Christian churches do. Here are some of the rites and sacraments practiced in the Swedenborgian Church, and the meanings attached to them.

Baptism is a sacrament of cleansing and spiritual rebirth. It is a sign that the person being baptized is a Christian, and will strive to live by Christian principles, avoiding doing what is evil and destructive, and doing what is good and loving instead. Baptism itself does not contribute anything to our salvation. However, the self-examination, spiritual cleansing, and rebirth symbolized by baptism are essential to salvation and Christian living. Most Swedenborgian churches practice infant baptism as a sign that this child is to be brought up as a Christian.

The Holy Supper, also known as communion, is a sacrament of accepting the Lord’s love and wisdom into our lives. Communion also does not contribute to our salvation by itself. Rather, it symbolizes our willingness to accept love (symbolized by the bread) and wisdom (symbolized by the wine or grape juice) from the Lord Jesus Christ, and make them a part of our life.

Marriage is a ritual of union between two people. Swedenborgians believe that human marriage has its origin in the marriage of love and wisdom in God. Marriage is therefore seen as a sacred and eternal union that is first and foremost an inner union of souls and minds, and from that an outward union of bodies and lives.

Memorial Services are rituals of passage from life on earth to life in the spiritual world. Since Swedenborg provided extensive clear teachings about the afterlife, these services usually have a comforting and sometimes even a celebratory feel to them. Swedenborgians do recognize our human need to grieve over our loved ones who have died. Yet overall, the Swedenborgian faith provides a positive and hopeful message about death as a natural transition from one life to the next.

Ordination is a ritual of consecration for ministry in the church. Men, and women also in most Conference Tradition churches, who are seeking ordination go through a recognized program of theological training. Once ordained, a minister may be called to be pastor of one of the church’s local congregations, or in some Swedenborgian churches may serve in another form of ministry such as pastoral counseling or chaplaincy at a hospital or hospice.

Most Swedenborgian congregations hold weekly worship services. Some use traditional Christian orders of worship modified to accord with Swedenborgian beliefs. Others use more contemporary worship styles. Each church has its own character. Yet there is a sense of shared faith and extended church family among the members of the various branches of the Swedenborgian movement.

To join or not to join?

Today, many people do not feel the need for organized worship services within a church setting. And with the Internet Age has come much Swedenborgian outreach that focuses on spreading Swedenborg’s ideas to the general public rather than on attracting new members to one or another of the Swedenborgian churches. Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life is one example. This trend seems likely to continue as traditional churches and worship services wane in popularity. Most of the Swedenborgian church bodies mentioned above have declined considerably from their peak membership in earlier decades.

Swedenborgian churches are spread very thinly around the world. Many people do not live close enough to a Swedenborgian congregation to attend regular worship services. However, if you feel drawn to Swedenborg’s style of Christianity, and you wish to join with other Swedenborgians, I encourage you to look up one or another of the Swedenborgian organizations and see if there is a church or group near you. Different churches have different cultures and different styles of worship. Academy Tradition churches tend to be more conservative in their culture and worship, whereas Conference Tradition churches tend to be more liberal in their culture and worship. If you happen to live near a Swedenborgian church, the only way to find out if it’s a good fit for you is to attend a few of its services and meet its people.

One place to look for a congregation near you is the World Map of New Christian Groups, Publishers, Churches and Schools at the New Christian Bible Study website. This map aims to include all of the Swedenborgian churches around the world. Be aware, though, that it is still missing many churches in Africa and Asia. If you are involved in a Swedenborgian church that is not shown on the map, please let me know.

There are also a number of online gathering places for people interested in Swedenborg’s teachings, including the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel and Facebook page sponsored by the Swedenborg Foundation.

If you aren’t finding what you’re looking for, feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll do my best to help.

Meanwhile, you are always welcome to read the articles on many different subjects here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life (use the “Search This Site” box to find what you’re looking for), and to ask any questions you may have in their comment sections. Our goal is to give you the spiritual insights you need in order to live a good and fulfilling life here on earth, and to find your place in the spiritual community of heaven once your time on earth is finished.

 

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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22 comments on “Who is Emanuel Swedenborg? Did He Start a New Church?
  1. Sean says:

    I truly enjoy this blog. I find the idea of continued spiritual growth espoused by Swedenborg with the creation days used as a set of allegorical symbols to be profound and the idea seems to stick with me and influence my actions daily. I am no longer a Christian in any traditonal sense; I am now a philosophical theist. Despite my “deconversion” I read your articles very often and try to use Swedenborgs teachings on growth, love, and wisdom to guide my life alongside the moral precepts taught by Christ and the other moral universals I can find throughout the religions of this earth.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad you’re finding the articles here enjoyable and helpful. One of the beauties of Swedenborg’s system is that although he himself was strongly Christian, he does not place artificial limits on God’s power to reach people by claiming that God saves only Christians. Instead, he opens the door to God’s presence with people of all faiths, outlooks, and cultures.

      Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

  2. Eric Rosenfeld says:

    Hi Lee. I’ve read numerous articles on this site and have really enjoyed them. Your analysis of the Bible seems very meticulous. I love how careful you are about us not adding our own words to scripture.

    Despite this, I’m still hesitant about trusting Swedenborg’s claims, even though it seems that there is some very logical truth in the things he has written. I just wanted some clarification. Doesn’t God warn us about people who try to contact the dead or speak with spirits? Some examples: Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, and 2 Chronicles 33:6? Just seeking truth, and wanted your opinion on those verses. Thanks

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question, which is a good one.

      For those reading in, here are the three Bible verses Eric refers to:

      Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:31)

      If any turn to mediums and wizards, prostituting themselves to them, I will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people. (Leviticus 20:6)

      He made his son pass through fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom, practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. (2 Chronicles 33:6)

      First, it’s important to know and understand that Swedenborg never sought out contact with spirits. He did not consult mediums, nor did he make any effort to engage in spirit contact. Rather, as is well-documented in his own writings and in the various biographies of Swedenborg, the opening of his spiritual senses came to him unbidden, and according to his own testimony, as a result of the Lord choosing him for a special mission.

      In fact, like the Bible, Swedenborg warns against seeking contact with angels and spirits, saying that for those whom the Lord has not prepared and called, it can be quite dangerous. There are many evil and unscrupulous spirits who will pretend to be angels of light, and mislead people who seek knowledge and understanding via spirit mediums and spirits.

      Meanwhile, the Bible itself contains many stories of God sending angels to people on earth to give them messages from God. If we reject Swedenborg because he said that angels spoke to him, we would also have to reject almost every major figure in the Bible, most of whom also received messages from angels who were sent by the Lord.

      Second, it is important to know and understand that Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences were nothing like those of spirit mediums. Spirit mediums hear voices, and may see shadowy apparitions of the spirits that they contact. Swedenborg, by contrast, was fully awake, aware, and conscious in the spiritual world. He traveled around in the spiritual world among the angels and spirits just as if he himself had died and were one of them, even while still being alive in the physical world. He visited their cities, towns, and homes, sat down to dinner with them, and had face-to-face conversations with them just as you and I could do with each other here on earth. This is completely different from the wispy and often auditory-only experience of spirit mediums.

      Third, Swedenborg actually avoided acting as a “spirit medium” even after it became known that he claimed to be traveling in the spiritual world and meeting people there. People often asked him to carry a message to their loved ones who had died, or to bring them a message from a friend or loved one who had died. His standard response was to politely but firmly refuse to do so. There are only a very few recorded instances in which he agreed to carry a message, and these involved extenuating circumstances that caused him to override his usual refusal to be a bearer of messages one way or another.

      Spirit mediums, by contrast, are eager to carry messages back and forth between spirits and people living in the material world. That’s what they do.

      Fourth, it is a misconception common even among some Swedenborgians that Swedenborg’s teachings are based on things he learned from angels and spirits.

      It is true that Swedenborg tells stories of many conversations with angels, spirits, and even devils in hell. But if you read these stories, you will find that rather than learning from angels and spirits, Swedenborg himself is often teaching things to angels and spirits that they did not know before. And even when he is learning new things from them, he seems to consider this more in the nature of raw material of experience in the spiritual world that he needs to learn in order to understand things that the Lord is teaching him.

      In fact, he specifically denies that anything of his teachings came from angels or spirits:

      I testify in truth that the Lord manifested himself to me, his servant, and assigned me to this task; after doing so, he opened the sight of my spirit and brought me into the spiritual world; and he has allowed me to see the heavens and the hells and to have conversations with angels and spirits on a continual basis for many years now. I also testify that ever since the first day of this calling, I have accepted nothing regarding the teachings of this church from any angel; what I have received has come from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word. (True Christianity #779, italics added)

      Unless we want to accuse Swedenborg of being a liar, we have it on his own testimony that his teachings are not based on things he learned from angels and spirits, but rather are based on what the Lord taught him while he was reading the Bible.

      Some Swedenborgians make what I believe is a serious error in thinking that all of the stories that Swedenborg tells about his conversations with angels and spirits are “doctrine,” and must be accepted as true. But Swedenborg makes no such claim. Rather, these are conversations with angels and spirits that do indeed tell us something about what the spiritual world is like, and how angels, spirits, and demons think and live. But angels, spirits, and especially demons can be mistaken just as people on earth can be. In particular, since they live in the spiritual world, not in the material world, their knowledge of scientific and earthly subjects is no more advanced than ours is here on earth, because their only source of knowledge about physical and material things is from people who have recently arrived from earth. Swedenborgians who think that the statements of angels or spirits in Swedenborg’s writings are “revealed truth” are very much mistaken. And based on that mistaken belief, they have made some of the same mistakes as have people who consult spirits via spirit mediums and think that they have a superior understanding of God and of spiritual reality based on what they’ve heard from those spirits.

      Of course, unlike many of the spirits with whom people on earth seek contact, angels have no intention to deceive. And I believe that the angels who spoke to Swedenborg sincerely believed everything they were saying. I even believe that there is much truth in what they said to him. But when I read Swedenborg’s writings, I distinguish between the things angels and spirits tell him in his various stories from the spiritual world on the one hand, and what Swedenborg himself teaches about church doctrine and the spiritual meaning of the Bible on the other. Even the latter is somewhat complicated by the fact that it had to be filtered through Swedenborg’s mind. But I consider the direct teachings in Swedenborg’s writings to be a basis for doctrine and belief, whereas the statements of angels and spirits are human testimony and example that can throw light on those doctrines and beliefs.

      Further, even having the extensive teachings in Swedenborg’s writings, I believe that it is important for Christians to develop a direct relationship with the Lord, and that this comes especially from reading the Word of God, meaning the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments, with a desire to be taught by the Lord so that we can live a good life of love, kindness, and service to our fellow human beings. If we do this, then Swedenborg’s writings become a light shining on the pages of the Word of God so that we, too, can be taught by the Lord while we are reading the Word.

      For another article that takes up some of these issues, please see:

      Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

      I’m glad to hear that you are finding the articles here enjoyable and helpful. I hope this helps to put your mind at rest about the nature and reliability of Swedenborg’s writings.

      One final thing I would say is that I think it is a mistake to read Swedenborg as “authority,” as some conservative Swedenborgians do. Rather, I think it is best to read Swedenborg as a source of light and knowledge, while continuing to evaluate what we read in his writings in light of our own knowledge and experience, and especially in light of what the Lord teaches us in the Bible. Swedenborg himself completely rejects blind faith, insisting that we must believe something only if it makes sense to us and is in accordance with what we learn from the Bible. To turn around and blindly believe something Swedenborg said just because he said it is to disregard Swedenborg’s own teaching about the nature of true faith. True faith, Swedenborg says, is believing something because we see and know that it is true. This can happen only when we consider a particular teaching with our eyes open and our brain fully engaged.

      • Eric Rosenfeld says:

        Awesome. Very well said. Thanks for the clear response and breaking all of that down simply for me. I do feel more comfortable in learning more about Swedenborgism. It doesn’t come off as cultish.

        You and other supporters of him, I’ve noticed, are very laid back, intelligent, and loving towards one another. It doesn’t seem like you’re trying to force any sort of doctrine. It appears as though Swedenborg’s writings give deeper meanings, not necessarily trying to add on to the Bible per se, but supplementing it.

        I’m still fairly new to accepting religious teachings as a whole. I’m 25, in college, and throughout most of it and high school, I went down a bad path for a while. I didn’t fully give my life to Christ until about 6 months ago, after roughly a year of looking at all of the evidence for it. Monotheism, and more specifically the God of the Christian Bible, seems to have the most sound and practical teachings of the origins of everything!

        I’ve read your articles on other religions. I don’t necessarily disagree with you. You make excellent points on those topics that most Christians wouldn’t like to acknowledge. I think this is mostly because of fear, not clearly focusing on what scripture actually states, and not being open minded enough. I still don’t know enough about other religions. But my goodness, it just seems like the Christian Bible gets everything so right. And I just think it’s better to emphasize Christianity than to support other religions. Regardless, I love everyone and am eager to keep learning and doing what seems righteous. I’ve been reading the Bible every night and growing stronger and stronger in faith.

        Again, thanks

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          Thanks. Glad you found those points helpful.

          We Swedenborgians do have our problems, of course. We’re only human. But in general, yes, Swedenborgians tend to be fairly relaxed, broad-minded, and accepting of people from different religions, cultures, and perspectives because of our belief that God is a God of pure love who reaches out to people of all religions, not just to Christians.

          However, there is a reason I am Christian, and not Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. I agree that the Christian Bible and religion, properly understood, has the clearest, deepest, and most effective view of God, spirit, and what it means to live a good and loving life that leads to heaven. I’ve studied other religions to a certain extent, and I have not found anything else that even comes close to what I have in the church of my birth, which is the Swedenborgian Church—but which Swedenborg himself called “Genuine Christianity.” And that is how I have come to think of it as well. As genuine Christianity—the Christianity that Jesus Christ himself teaches in the Gospels.

          Yes, I have positive feelings toward the various religions of humanity that exist around the world (with the exception of their fundamentalist wings). But I myself am firmly and happily Christian.

        • Eric Rosenfeld says:

          This is rather off topic, so I apologize if this is the wrong place to ask, but I’d like to pick your brain a bit further if that’s possible! I’m just curious and have many questions. Does the historical evidence for Christianity hold any merit to you? I understand that the Bible never claims to be a history or science book.I guess I’m asking, do you think it adds to the truthfulness of its word? It seems that the best possible reason that it could be written was not due to something like a conspiracy but that these people really were inspired to write it for a good reason.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          As far as historically verifying the Gospel story, I do not believe that will ever be possible, nor do I think it would be desirable. By the same token, I do not believe that science will ever be able to disprove the Gospel story, either. We humans must be free to choose whether or not to believe in God, in Jesus, and so on. If there were overwhelming historical evidence that everything the Gospels say is true, it would make such freedom very difficult. It is not good or proper for spiritual knowledge, belief, and understanding to be based on external, physical evidence. Spiritual knowledge must come from spiritual sources, not material ones.

          This doesn’t mean such knowledge can’t come through material vessels. That happens all the time. The Bible, for example, is a physical book, written and edited by human beings, and published in ink, paper, and now pixels as well. But without an internal desire for and conviction about its spiritual content, it’s just a human story. Sociologists and anthropologists can study it as a cultural artifact that gives us insight into ancient human religious and cultural beliefs and practices, without ever thinking for a second that there is actually a God, a spiritual world, or an afterlife. Only people who approach it from an internal conviction that God and spirit do exist, and who turn to the Bible as a guidebook for spiritual life, will see anything more than human culture and anthropology in it.

          It is true that the general consensus even among secular scholars is that a historical man named Jesus did exist, and that he probably was executed by the Romans. So it’s also not as if Christian believers must reject the preponderance of evidence to believe that there was a Jesus who could have been who the New Testament says he was. But as for events such as the virgin birth of Jesus, the miracles he did, the Transfiguration, and his resurrection and ascension to heaven, we did not have any cameras or other scientific instruments present at the time, so other than a reliance on belief in either materialism on the part of secularists, or on a belief in God on the part of religious believers, there is no way to say for sure whether any of these things happened historically.

          This is as it should be. Once again, spiritual knowledge should be based on spiritual sources, not physical and scientific ones. This doesn’t mean we can’t ever know whether God and spirit exist. Rather, it means that if we rely solely on the evidence of our physical senses for such knowledge, we will never be able to satisfy ourselves of the existence of God and spirit. That’s why atheists and materialists of all stripes will never get the “evidence” for God that they demand. There is no physical, scientific evidence for spiritual and divine things. And that is as God designed it to be. For more on this, please see:

          Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

          Once you’ve had a chance to read that article, I’d be happy to continue the conversation if you wish.

          On the question of whether the followers of Jesus would have said and done what they did if it had all been a fake, I do find that very hard to believe. But then again, I believe in the existence of God and spirit. For people who don’t, a conspiracy theory about the origins of Christianity is one of the ways to maintain their materialistic belief in the face of the Gospel story and the phenomenon of the development and wide spread of the Christian religion.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          For my own statement of why I believe in Christianity and Jesus specifically, please see:
          The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus

        • Eric Rosenfeld says:

          Thanks Lee. Good points. I have read through both of those articles before, but a re-read is necessary! I’ll probably be back 🙂

        • Eric Rosenfeld says:

          Hello again Lee. Everything is beginning to make more sense as I study your posts and Swedenborg’s writings.

          I was unaware of how many near-death experiences there really were. Have you encountered a significant number of NDEs that would contradict Swedenborg’s experiences? For example, perhaps some may report to have been sent to a literal fire engulfed hell.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Eric,

          Yes, thousands, if not millions, of people have had NDEs. It’s just that most of them don’t write books about it.

          And yes, some people do report NDEs that seem to support traditional literalistic interpretations of the Bible, such as seeing people streaming through the pearly gates of heaven or seeing people engulfed in flames in hell.

          But keep in mind that in the spiritual world these things are not really “literal,” but rather are symbolic or correspondential representations of spiritual realities. The pearly gates symbolize the hard-learned truth that introduces us into heaven. The hellfire symbolizes the mutual anger and hatred that reigns in hell. Even Swedenborg saw hell as a fiery pit from a distance. But that’s not how the people in hell themselves experience it, nor how Swedenborg saw it when he traveled into hell.

          Also, NDEs may follow people’s expectations to a certain extent. That’s because in the spiritual world, our surroundings reflect our thoughts and feelings. This means that some people will indeed experience the spiritual world as a reflection of their particular beliefs, especially when they first arrive there and have not yet learned what the spiritual world is really like.

  3. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee what are your opinions of Theosophy that was created by madam Blatavsky ?

    Ive started reading about it as part of a sort of spiritual quest and if im honest it confuses me

    Blatavsky and theosphy says (Like swedenborg )mediumship and chanelling are dangerous yet thats where blatavsky and the people who actually created theosphy got their information from

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      Though I have some awareness of Blavatsky and Theosophy, I haven’t spent enough time looking into it to give it a proper evaluation. Honestly, it just isn’t something I want to spend my time on unless there is a specific reason to do so. Though I know Theosophy, mediums, and so on give some people hope and comfort, what we have in the true Christianity taught by Swedenborg based on the Bible is so far ahead of channeled material that I don’t feel the need to look into Blavatsky and others along those lines.

      But the short answer to your question is that I don’t give Blavatsky and Theosophy a lot of credence, even though there is some truth in it. It’s hard to be completely wrong. I think you’ll find Swedenborg a lot less confusing. However, if you have questions about some particular thing you’re reading, feel free to ask.

  4. Chad says:

    Hi Lee. I was curious about your thoughts on allegations of Emanuel Swedenborg being supposedly, well, insane in his time. His most common critic seems to be the late John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The apparent reason for this strife, so I’ve read, was that Swedenborg and Wesley were, in a sense, “competing” for followers and converts between the New Church and Methodism in the 1700s, although this competition was no doubt perceived mostly, if not exclusively, by Wesley.

    While Swedenborg’s message resonates very deeply with me and makes the most sense, I must admit I was bothered when I read Wesley’s accounts and accusations of Swedenborg being an “entertaining madman” (sic) and referring to his revelations as “waking dreams”. There are other allegations of Swedenborg’s supposed madness that are, needless to say, pretty “out there” as well, (John Wesley wrote an account of Swedenborg supposedly “foaming at the mouth” and proclaiming himself the Messiah in 1744 and published it in the Arminian Magazine).

    How would you, as a studied and well educated man of Swedenborgianism, respond to accusations of Emanuel Swedenborg, and his spiritual ideas, being crazy? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts, because, slander by other faith leaders notwithstanding, Swedenborgianism is the denomination of Christianity I feel best represents the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ, and that I feel most at home with.

    Chad

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chad,

      Thanks for your good question. Before responding myself, I’ll let Swedenborg have his own say, in words that he wrote long before any of this controversy happened—indeed, before the first person ever read a word of his theological writings, since this statement appears toward the beginning of the first volume of his first published theological work, Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven):

      The Lord, in his divine compassion, has enabled me to understand the inner meaning of the Bible. This meaning contains deeply hidden secrets that no one has ever had the slightest conception of before now. It would be impossible to understand them without knowing what the other life is like, since this is what most of the Bible’s inner meaning refers to and describes. Now, however, I can tell about what I have heard and seen while I have been with spirits and angels during the last few years. I realize that many people will say it is not possible for anyone to talk with spirits and angels while still living in the body. Some will say I am hallucinating, and some will say I am writing these things just to get a following. Others will make other objections. But none of this discourages me, because I have seen, I have heard, I have felt. (Secrets of Heaven #67–68)

      Swedenborg himself was well aware even as he first began publishing his theological writings that we would be accused of insanity (“hallucinating”), of wanting to make a name for himself, and of many other things, by people who could not accept what he wrote. But he wrote them anyway, as commanded by the Lord and supported by his own first-hand experience in the spiritual world.

      For Wesley, I suspect it was not competing for followers, given that the early “New Church,” as it was called, was nowhere near as successful numerically as Wesley’s Methodism. But it probably did annoy Wesley that some of his own ministers made the jump over to Swedenborg’s teachings, and became some of its earliest exponents. In fact, Robert Hindmarsh, generally credited as the founder of the first New Church body in the world, the General Conference of the New Church in Great Britain, and his father, the Rev. James Hindmarsh, had been Methodists before they encountered Swedenborg’s writings and became convinced of their truth.

      There is a fascinating story, told by the Rev. Samuel Smith, another of Wesley’s ministers who later became a Swedenborgian, that Wesley once received a letter from Swedenborg saying that Swedenborg had heard in the spiritual world that Wesley wished to meet with him, and that he (Swedenborg) would be happy to receive a visit from Wesley. This astonished Wesley, since he had never expressed to anyone this wish that he had turned over in his mind for some time. Wesley replied in a letter to Swedenborg saying that he would be away on a journey for six months, but would visit Swedenborg when he returned. As the story goes, Swedenborg replied that this would be impossible, since on the twenty-ninth of the next month, he (Swedenborg) would enter the spiritual world, never more to return. (Swedenborg’s housekeeper also said that he predicted the exact date of his death.)

      Perhaps Wesley’s view of Swedenborg would have been different if this meeting had taken place. But given Wesley’s later attacks upon Swedenborg, I suspect it was providential that they did not meet. Wesley had already set his course. Accepting Swedenborg as genuine would have derailed everything Wesley had worked for and built up so far. And that’s not something he would likely have been willing to do. He would have had to come up with some way to reject Swedenborg in order to cement his own legacy as the founder of Methodism.

      As far as Wesley’s charges of insanity against Swedenborg, they were carefully investigated soon after they were published, and no eyewitness to any of the scurrilous charges against Swedenborg could be found, nor did they square with any historical evidence. All who knew Swedenborg said that he was always thoughtful, level-headed, and gracious in his manner—though he was quite capable of politely but firmly silencing people who made insulting charges against him and his writings to his face.

      The account published in Wesley’s Arminian Magazine a decade after Swedenborg’s death, of Swedenborg going insane, proclaiming himself the Messiah, and so on, was written, not by Wesley himself, but by the Rev. Aaron Mathesius, a Lutheran clergyman who was an implacable enemy of Swedenborg and his teachings. Given that those who investigated the charges could find no one who had witnessed any such events, it is most likely that they were simply fabricated by Mathesius in order to discredit Swedenborg. It is an irony of history that Mathesius himself later went insane while preparing to deliver a sermon at the Swedish church in London, and had to be dismissed from his pastorate.

      In short, though there have been various charges of insanity leveled against Swedenborg by his theological enemies, there is no historical or eyewitness evidence whatsoever supporting such charges. Everyone who knew him described him as being entirely sound in mind and body right up to the end.

      For a decade after he began publishing his theological works, no one knew he was their author (because he published them anonymously—so much for “making a name for himself”), and no one noticed any difference in his behavior. He continued to do his work, to attend parties, to participate in governmental affairs, and so on, and no one was the wiser.

      The posthumous charges of insanity made against him were merely the defenders of the old and corrupt “Christianity” fabricating lies about him in an attempt to discredit his teachings when he was no longer present to defend himself. But others came to his defense, and exposed those lies for what they were. Still, to this day traditional and conservative “Christians” continue to quote them as if they were true—and for the same reason: to discredit his teachings. If they accepted Swedenborg’s teachings, they would have to abandon the old and false “Christianity” that they continue to cling to. And they’re not going to do that.

      But as Jesus said, it’s best to “let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22). People who are stuck in the old corrupt and unbiblical “Christianity” can never accept the biblical truth that Swedenborg calmly and voluminously proclaimed, as commissioned by Jesus Christ himself. I don’t concern myself with people who come to this blog all full of invective against Swedenborg and his teachings. Usually I just delete their comments because there is no gain in attempting to show the light to a blind person, nor am I willing to subject my readers to so much darkness of mind and heart. Let the dead bury their own dead.

      I am, of course, willing to debunk any of the other false charges against Swedenborg that you may have heard. But I would suggest not paying any attention to them. The people who spread these charges have a theological ax to grind. They are only too eager to spread false rumors about Swedenborg without bothering to investigate those rumors for themselves. They have no excuse for their ignorance. All of this is very well documented. If you want the real story, I can recommend several good biographies of Swedenborg.

      But most of all, I would recommend that you read Swedenborg’s writings for yourself, and consider in your own mind and heart whether they have the ring of truth about them. The truth is its own best defense.

      • Chad says:

        A very well-put and thorough response, Lee. Thank you very much for addressing my concerns.

        Indeed, I have started reading Heaven and Hell, and the images and teachings about the afterlife it presents instill in me peace and confidence regarding the hereafter, and great reassurance of our Lord’s overflowing, wonderful love for us.

        The faith expounded by Swedenborg is so different from the Biblical literalism and religious conservatism I grew up with, but I feel so much happier and at peace, both with myself and the world. I do feel it was the Lord’s will and calling that I discovered your site and, by extension, Swedenborgianism.

        God bless!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Chad,

          Glad to help. I have come to realize more and more as the years go by how literalism—which is just a religious form of materialism and physical-mindedness—vitiates and destroys both the Bible and Christianity in the minds of those who are stuck in it. Time after time as I read the doctrinal positions of various so-called Christian churches, I see the mark of literalism preventing the clergy and laypeople of those churches from seeing the real truth in the Bible.

          This literalism and physical-mindedness is not new. The Bible itself speaks of people who are stuck “in the flesh,” and cannot see the spirit within the words of the Lord. The Lord himself used this as a tool to separate those who could be his followers from those who could not. See:

          Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

          However, as Christianity became the accepted state religion of much of Europe, people became “Christians” not because they understood and accepted the true meaning and spirit of Jesus’ teachings, but because it was what they were born into and taught by the religious authorities. Over time, “Christianity” became just as fleshly and physical-minded as those hearers of Jesus who were offended by his teachings because they could understand them only literally, not spiritually as they were intended to be heard and understood.

          When people come to this website asserting various literal interpretations of the Bible, I generally don’t put a lot of energy into replying. I know they will not be able to understand what I am saying, and what the Bible really means. Their minds are stuck in the letter that kills, so that they miss the spirit that gives life. But those who are ready to make the transition from literalism to spiritual understanding can move forward very rapidly in their spiritual life.

          I am glad that you are among those who are making that transition from materialistic darkness into spiritual light.

  5. AJ749 says:

    Hi Lee i have a question regarding spiritual experiences of all types excluding genuine visits from angels and ADCs

    so Mediums, OBEs, NDEs, Channeling , meditation etc. Is the furthest they go in to the spirt world the world of spirits?

    As i know they are seperate things but of course you see all these people who say i went to heaven in a NDE or who have OBEs amd say they know what the spirit world is and how it works

    • Lee says:

      Hi AJ749,

      The spiritual world is a complex place. But usually mediums and channelers would be contacting spirits in the world of spirits, not in heaven or hell. That’s because the spirits who surround us during our earthly life are mostly ones living in the world of spirits, since they are the ones that are in a spiritual state closest to the state we are in here on earth.

      People who have NDE’s, however, would usually be in contact with angels rather than with spirits from the world of spirits. That’s because they are in a state of dying, and when we are dying we are met by angels rather than by spirits from the world of spirits. However, we may also be met by deceased relatives and friends, who may still be in the world of spirits.

      OBEs usually involve traveling to different places in the physical world, even though we see them through our spiritual eyes. So that’s a different thing altogether.

      In meditation we don’t normally have open communication with spirits, so that’s also different. Of course, there are spirits around us all the time, so yes, they’re present in meditation, but not usually speaking to us in an audible voice.

      And sometimes the Lord does send angels to speak to us if the Lord sees that it’s something we need. So not all of our contact with the spiritual world is with spirits from the world of spirits.

      Once again, the spiritual world is a complex place. It’s best not to make hard-and-fast rules about exactly what’s happening in any particular person’s spiritual experience or contact.

      • AJ749 says:

        Many thanks for the reply lee, i especially liked the last comment about not making hard and fast rules,

        Regarding OBEs , if they do not happen in the physical world but in the spiritual world would it be logical to say its in the world of spirits? , as swedenborg says that in the world of spirits our minds are key to what we experience so everyone sees it differently and has different experiences.

        And as i remember you said either in one of your articles or in a comment how the enviroment of societys are more set in stone if that makes sense so two neighbour angels would experience the same rather than one experiencing dessert and the other snow and ice

        • Lee says:

          Hi AJ749,

          I’m using “OBE” in the stricter sense of seeing objects and events in the physical world (such as one’s own body lying on the operating table) from a perspective outside one’s body. However, “OBE” is sometimes used more broadly to include NDEs in general, especially by materialistic scientists and doctors who don’t believe in the existence of a spiritual realm.

          Yes, two neighbor angels would experience their community as being pretty much the same as one another because they share a common “mindspace,” to use a contemporary term. Angels who live together in the same community do so because they have common loves, values, and outlooks on life. Their surroundings reflect that shared unity of mind and heart—though with the usual smaller variations in perception that even we here on earth experience when we are in the same physical location as other people.

          However, people who visit from other communities, especially if they are very different in mind and outlook, may perceive a heavenly community quite differently than its inhabitants do. To use an extreme example, an evil spirit from hell who attempts to enter a community of heaven without preparation will experience its atmosphere as suffocating and excruciatingly painful, whereas to its inhabitants it is balmy and beautiful.

          For a milder example, Swedenborg once described some good spirits from the world of spirits visiting a heavenly community and being shown a magnificent spiral arboretum, but at first they couldn’t see it at all, except for one tree in the middle. Then their eyes were opened to see the garden. At first they were not in a mental state to be able to see the rest of it.

          In other words, though angels who live together in a particular community will see it pretty much the same as one another, visitors from elsewhere may see it differently if their minds and hearts are not brought into full concordance with the atmosphere of that community.

          Also, just as here, communities in heaven aren’t “set in stone,” but do change and progress as they grow in numbers, and as the people living their grow in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Communities in heaven don’t radically change, because the basic personalities of their inhabitants don’t radically change; but there are new developments and more subtle changes as things go along.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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