General Church of the New Jerusalem

A global Christian movement founded on the revelatory teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, emphasizing spiritual regeneration and the interpretation of Scripture.

The General Church of the New Jerusalem, also known as the New Church or the Swedenborgian Church, is a Christian denomination that traces its roots back to the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian. Swedenborg himself did not establish a church; rather, his writings inspired followers to found the church after his death, with the belief that they were the basis of a “New Church,” which they associated with the New Jerusalem mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation.

Origins and Historical Development

The inception of the New Church can be linked to an 1838 decree by the General Convention of the New Jerusalem, which called for member societies to organize under a unified rule of order. This led to a series of organizational changes and eventual splits within the movement. The General Church of the New Jerusalem officially separated from the Swedenborgian Church of North America, or the General Convention, in 1890 due to doctrinal disagreements. This split was largely influenced by the establishment of an academy by William Benade, who emphasized the authority of Swedenborg’s writings and proposed the formation of a priesthood, a concept present in Swedenborg’s texts but not previously formalized by the church.

Beliefs and Practices

The New Church holds several unique theological positions:

  • It views the Bible as having a spiritual meaning beyond its literal text, revealed through Swedenborg’s writings, which are considered the Word of His Second Coming.
  • The church teaches that every individual has the potential to become an angel in heaven by rejecting evil actions and embracing the Lord’s presence.
  • It believes in the spiritual marriage between one man and one woman, which continues into eternity.
  • Nature is seen as a manifestation of the Lord’s kingdom, with both the natural world and Scripture revealing divine truth.

Structure and Global Presence

The church is known for its liturgical form of worship and emphasizes spiritual interpretation of the Bible. It practices two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and celebrates traditional Christian festivals alongside New Church Day on June 19. The General Church of the New Jerusalem is episcopal in its governance, with bishops and a general assembly electing national church officers. It has affiliated congregations worldwide, including in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Brazil. As of the 1980s, it counted 2,618 members and 31 congregations in North America, with additional members globally.

Education and Mission

The New Church operates several educational institutions for all age levels, from preschool through higher education, such as Bryn Athyn College and the Academy of the New Church Theological School in Pennsylvania, USA. These institutions play a crucial role in training future ministers and providing religious education based on Swedenborgian principles. The church also has a strong mission focus, particularly in Africa, where it trains ministers locally.

The General Church of the New Jerusalem represents a distinctive branch of Christianity that integrates the mystical and theological insights of Emanuel Swedenborg into a comprehensive religious framework. Its emphasis on spiritual regeneration, the inner meaning of Scripture, and the potential for human transformation into angelic beings offers a unique perspective within the Christian tradition​​​​​​.

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